There are distinct advantages to growing older. For one thing, you become wise and can dispense your wisdom at will. More so than when you were younger, you can say what you want to say (regardless of how wise it is), you can wear what you want to wear, butter your bread any way you want, disregard consequences, abandon caution, go for broke. As you wish. Let the world think what it wants.
Of course there are downsides to aging as well. Last week while making a bench in the basement with my 80-year-old Uncle Ernie, he said several times (usually after trying to move without the full cooperation of his body), “Don’t get old.”
“What is the alternative?” I said.
Nevertheless he didn’t stay in this chair very long.
It’s true that in later years the body stops cooperating as well (if it ever did! some would argue). Ernie’s legs don’t necessarily go in the direction he intends. Older people will sometimes tell you about other non-cooperative bodily functions that are best not discussed at the dinner table. (Feel free to tell them when they cross this line.) Sometimes the non-cooperation is gradual as in, “This pan seems heavier than it used to be.” Sometimes the shift is a little more sudden, as in, “Whoa, where did the subtitles go?”
That’s what happened to my mom last week. On Tuesday her vision seemed a little off. She thought maybe her glasses were smudged. She cleaned them and carried on, but felt her vision was still a little off. So she cleaned her glasses again. She played the ignore-it-and-maybe-it-will-go-away game. The next day she was watching a movie and noticed that if she covered her right eye, the subtitles were there as they should be. When she covered her left, they disappeared.
This is a problem. Need to call the eye doctor pronto. The tech to whom she described the situation on Thursday morning advised that she come to the office to be checked. A few hours later the doctor said the words “ophthalmic vein occlusion” in practically the same breath as “I hate it when I see this.” Basically, an important vein in Mom’s eye burst. Then further hemorrhaging happened, and some swelling. Vision was 20/200 in that eye.
The image on the right is what the wall of the retina should look like (Mom’s left eye). The mountain on the left is the swelling that resulted from this event (right eye).
Not pleasant or comfortable. Definitely scary. We appreciate having good eyes. We want our eyes healthy. The good news is that this is not a disease nor anything degenerative. Sometimes the veins can heal themselves, the doctor said. Sometimes not. In a year your vision could be back to what it was. Or not. Best to see a retina specialist. An appointment was made for Monday morning.
The time between Thursday and Monday was long. Mom experienced disorientation, fatigue, and no small measure of anxiety about the long term prognosis, as would anyone. She slept a lot and mostly stayed in. To help combat the challenge of seeing normally with one eye and very weirdly with the other, her dear friend Jerry got her an eye patch at the local drug store. He got the kind you get at a drug store, black and somewhat conical, presumably to allow you to blink more easily. Mom described it as a falsie. A what? You know, the thing that in other settings has another one next to it and tassels hanging from the points…
The falsie idea sounds good except when you want to wear your glasses. The point sticks out too far. (Some women would kill for this problem, I mean, uh, when the falsie is in its usual place….) After Mom mentioned this problem to me on the phone, I pawed through my scrap fabric boxes and got to work. A few hours later I texted her and asked if I could stop by quickly. I’m sure she was not expecting what I brought, but in the middle of a tough day, it had exactly the effect I hoped for: She laughed and laughed.
I want the world to see how genuine her smile is, how bravely and positively she faced this challenge, how game she was! I tell you, when my mom gets out of the box, she gets out of the box!
She tried on one after the next and kept on laughing. Jerry got into the act and played right along. They are quite the duo!
Those are little watermelons on Mom’s – perfect for July, right?
The specialist on Monday was as encouraging as the situation allowed him to be. He gave her a shot to reduce the swelling so the veins can more easily regrow, and explained what she can expect.
On Tuesday we went to Sam’s Club together. Mom wore a patch with no qualms, finding one-eyed navigation easier than the disorientation of using both eyes. Her glasses fit easily over it. She sported the orange flower-power patch on the right. It went with her outfit the best.
When we returned to her apartment building, we ran into some of her friends in the hallway. They got the story, expressed concern very kindly (“Why do these things have to happen to the good people?”) and then said, “Leave it to you to be so stylish with your patch!” Leave it to Mom to face a difficult situation with humor, grace and determination.