Monday, August 25, 2003

Book of Hours

Have you ever seen these illuminated manuscripts? The most famous example is called Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. I can't do a link right now, so go look them up yourself. They are gilded and shine out with a stunning beauty.

Okay, that's what my world looks like now. Illuminated. Golden. Gorgeous. I can't even begin to describe the ecstacy of what I am now seeing --- but I'll try.

At 7:30 am I arrive for cataract surgery. At 8:15 am, they are done. The prep takes longer than the 7 minute operation where they suck out my old lens, put in a new one perfectly matched to my sight -- like a little internal contact lens -- to give me 20/20 vision.

Nothing hurts after the drugs they put into the IV in the back of my hand. Nothing hurts once they put so damned much novacaine in your head it feels like the wooden boat known as Kon-Tiki. You could wack me in the head with a canoe paddle, I'd smile.

There is a hand-holder. A nurse who just holds your hand and says it's going to be all right -- how's that for extra cool high tech -- I appreciated it. You knew you could dig your nails into their hand if you wanted and if you were scared. My hand-holder was a man, a very nice man.

Your eye is so numb and they are irrigating it with so much water you really can't "see" anything, but you are awake to see. You look up at a pretty bright light which looks like a supernova, has slightly pink and yellow edges.

They have a robot voice that announces the stages of the operation. I ask, "Who's the British babe?" She has a lovely voice, "Begin Irrigation," she commands with a nice BBC tone.

The doctor laughs at my question, explains she's computer-generated. I'm surprised any male surgeon is cool with taking orders from a British babe, robot or not.

It's faster than any dental procedure I've ever had. They wheel you out quickly and let you get clear of the drugs, slowly raising your dental chair with wheels. Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you. You are strapped into your own rolling dental chair which goes from upright to supine as you are prepped and then operated upon.

After you eat something (fig newtons) and drink something (orange juice) they make sure you know how to put the eyedrops in -- three kinds and you do them three times a day -- be sure you don't get an infection.

They give you an african violet plant. Cool, eh? You think -- a purple african violet -- like I'm going to see so much better it will look different? With your eye bandaged up with tape, you're a doubting thomas. Just wait.

Of course my brother-in-law who's accompanying me is a florist and we're going back to his house where he and my sister have so many flowers and plants this seems pretty laughable. But we take the african violet.

Everyone but me is about 75 years old. I'm shamed into being brave (also it was so painless and easy after all) since I'm such a youngster compared to everyone else.

They unhook IV and all and make me walk. I have worn my black velvet Spanish dancer high heels -- I know it was risky, but they cheer me up and make me feel like dancing the flamenco, an irreverent act worthy of a day one is getting surgery I figure. I'm feeling fine. My brother-in-law and I walk out and go down to the car.

I'm not really fine, I'm a little oozy woozy from the drugs still, but much better than I expected.

We're home by 9:30, my eye taped up, my old eye doing the heavy lifting. My sis tucks me into bed. I sleep like a stone.

I wake, it's noon, she's made me tomato soup for lunch. We look at one another. I'm supposed to take the bandage off my eye at noon. Shall we eat lunch first or not? We eat. Good choice.

We go back to the guest room which happens to be full of alll the beautiful art, flowers, paintings, sculpture my sister and brother-in-law have throughout their house.

My sister pulls the tape off my eye. It's like clear packing tape and we're totally grossed out and half laughing like fools because as she pulls the tape it nearly takes off my eyebrow -- did I REALLY need that ?-- and yanks my lid 3 inches out like a badly behaved window shade. Something like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Something he would do to Daffy Duck and Daffy would end up with his beak coming out his ass. You need sisters for moments like these. My eye is tearing a storm of crying tears and laughing tears and "What the hell are you doing to me, you crazy girls?!" tears. My sister's a braver man than me.

And -- of course -- we don't know what the hell to expect -- blood, puss, bruising, a rotten eyeball like an overcooked hardboiled egg?!

Surprise, the eye looks almost fine -- a ton of tears, but not bad at all.

Now get ready, fasten your seat belts guys. I look over at a wooden carved bird and a painting of bamboo very pretty very Japanese right behind this bird. With my old eye, they are muted and Rembrandt-like in dull browns, something dirty trying to look like gold, some soft-edged greys.

I open my new improved eye.

Okay, I am freaking out. The bird is so resplendent in color and gold leaf. The colors are so vibrant. The edges are so clear and ... I hardly know the word ... try CRUNCHY ... that I can barely believe it. The delicate detail of the bamboo leaves on the painting are exquisite. I am gasping.

I tell my sister, "You can't believe what I'm seeing."

I close the new eye -- go back to the old. By the way, the old eye has a level horizon, the new eye is off by about 15 degrees, to the left of the 90 degree right angle -- freaky, but this adjusts after a few minutes.

The old eye is pure Rembrandt, 50 coats of varnish. Lovely if you go in for Flemish painters -- not a helluva lot of help reading signs on the highway.

I open the new eye again, now I look to the right and see a vase of pink day lilies. "Oh, my, God," I say slowly.

I am in some rapturous drug trip. I don't even want to think of how much I WAS NOT SEEING.

I see a clock -- the second hand is SCREAMING at me -- hi, Halley, hi, Halley! I go into the bathroom, the chrome faucet looks like it's on silver fire, I jump back from it to avoid getting scalded by light. My sister and brother-in-law are watching me freak, suggesting I go back to bed. I'm a little scary.

I am in the kitchen, looking at plates -- blue ceramic -- a blue so stunning, I'd like to dive into them and swim away. I open the silverware drawer -- "oh shit," I mutter.

Finally, I take the acid test. I look in the mirror. I start laughing. I'm just laughing and laughing. I've seen her before, I think. Look at her. She looks okay, but what about all those wrinkles ... shit, that damned doctor must have added all those wrinkles this morning when I was all drugged up. But really, she looks good. Pretty damned good. I like her. And it's so nice to SEE her.