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In the waiting room in the podiatrist’s office, it’s an hour and a half past my appointment time. Do I exist? I say to the receptionist, “My transportation will be here soon and I’m depending upon it.”
“Well, you don't live that far,” she said.
“Well,” I said, “I can’t walk 10 miles as the crow flies. For me it’s far. And my appointment was for 10:00 o’clock and it is 11:30. Why is everybody going in ahead of me? What about me?"
“All right. If you like, I can give you a different appointment.”
“You mean you want me to leave after I’m waiting all this time?”
“Well, what else can I do?”
I take matters into my own hands. I open the side door to find the doctor. He’s got a nurse standing guard. I tell her my bus won't wait.
“Well,” she said, “we’re running a little late.”
“My corns, my callous. They don’t kill you, they only make you suffer. Can’t you help me here?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
In 5 minutes, the doctor takes off my corns and I’m out and there’s my bus. So I had a happy ending.
The Silent Ophthalmologist
At the Shiley Eye Clinic for my routine examination. After the girl takes some history and checks my eyes, Doctor comes in, takes a fast look at each eye and walks out. A little while later the girl came back saying, “The doctor says you can go. You can leave now.”
I said to her, “What do you mean? You’re not even telling me how the chart read compared to the last time. And he didn’t come back to say anything to me. I’m to just get up and leave? How about the glaucoma? What did the pressure show?”
“Well, you were just here six months ago. Would you like to talk to the doctor?”
“Yes, but my bus driver may be waiting for me,” already I am out in the corridor. The doctor comes along, all smiles, hands in his pockets.
Boiling inside, I say sweetly, “Doctor, you didn’t even give me a chance to say thank you. Am I all set? I’m all cured?”
Laughing, he is still hiding his hands.
I say, “Well, what about this cataract in my left eye? We had talked about it several times. Now what? If I can stay in the hospital overnight after the surgery, I’ll take that chance.”
Hesitatingly, he says, “Well, maybe you could get along without surgery.” Then an afterthought, “Come back in six months.”
I’m so damn old. What’s the use of him bothering with me? I’m going to die soon anyhow.
Several days later, I get a brilliant thought -- I ought to have an ophthalmologist closer to home.
Recommended to another ophthalmologist, I call his office. The secretary answers. Yes, she can give me an appointment.
“What’s your Medicare number?” I give it to her.
“Do you have supplementary?”
“Yes. Blue Cross / Blue Shield.”
“What’s their number?”
I say, “They have just changed their number but because I’m legally blind, it’s a little too difficult for me to read it. When I come in, I’ll bring in the cards and you can get it right into your
“You mean you don’t know that number?”
I said, “No. Like I just told you. I can’t read it. They just changed it. I know the old number.
I’ll give you that.”
No, she wants the new number.
“Well, I can’t give it to you because I can’t read it. I’ll bring it with me.”
“I never heard of such a thing,” she said. “You don’t know your number?"
I said, “No. I’m sorry. They changed their number. I will bring it in.” A broken record.
“Well, then, all right. But when you come in, you will just have to wait.”
I said, “Then would you please cancel my appointment. Good-bye.”
Sitting in her office, I say, “I told a lot of people about you, Dr. Shirley.”
“And I’ve told many about you,” she said.
“My tearing eye -- you just touched it with an instrument, moving tissue away, as you said. And the tearing stopped,” thinking about the ophthalmologist who recommended plastic surgery after getting down into the tear duct, at the same time to fix my nose and face to make me look like sweet sixteen.
Dr. Shirley saying, “If you can believe that I can give you more eyesight – I can arrange for your overnight stay in the hospital. Then in the morning they’ll wheel you to my office – I’ve just operated on an elderly man who had a terrible time with an eye same as yours. So he was afraid to take off the other cataract. Tomorrow when we take off his bandage, I hope to see good results. My own father also hesitated for years. After the procedure, going to the window and seeing a clearer world, he said, ‘Whose idea was this anyhow?’ He believed I could help him. And that's how I would
like you to be – to believe me.”
I tried my best to believe her and hoped to go along with her plan.
Today I’m reading a note from her: “I have already made arrangements for you to stay overnight in the hospital after your surgery, then to be seen in my office the following morning. This will be comfortable and convenient for you. At this point in time, your vision has diminished to 20/400 in both eyes, and as we discussed, this limits your functioning. Do let us know your decision -- March 22, 2002.”
I hesitate. I’m afraid.
Breaking My Hip
Anyway, if I hadn’t gone with Kitty to the movies that night -- I feel as young as she is and anybody else and I can get overtired same as the next guy, this time falling and breaking my hip one
step away from my kitchen door. “Kitty! Kitty!” Already running from her car -- luckily she had been waiting for me to get in and turn on the light -- calls the ambulance and stays all night with me in the hospital. I blamed this all on the cactus shadows that looked like animals of the night jumping
I wake up to a warm sunshiny day. Now, maybe they won’t be telling us at every turn to save energy over the radio and television. I lost a lot of my energy after that hip operation. A therapist walking me down the hall after the second day, taking a few steps by the help of her hand, picking up each foot and putting it down. That excruciating pain was with me a whole month. Mayo had come from New York to be with me. Watching me walk, giving me encouragement, boosting my
spirits. I had only taken 5 steps, finally making it back to my bed. A nurse came in and gave me a shot.
“What’s that?” I ask.
She said, “Morphine.”
I said, “How dare you do that without asking me. Don’t you ever do that again.”
“Well, we just want to help your pain.” I felt that I had replaced who I was. I had lost that, too, with the pain. Breaking a hip is fighting for your life.
The chaplain came to my bedside. “I must be dying.” I said. I’m thinking back to the 1900’s. My grandfather when visiting his dying son. The priest came in and said, “May I pray for your son?” And my grandfather, the tower of orthodoxy, said, “Please do. We are all praying to the same God.”
The chaplain listens carefully. “I remember you now,” he said. “You were here once before telling me how children sang the familiar hymns to you of your childhood, touching you and making you well.”
For a while there, my redone hip was giving me a lot of trouble, from sitting to standing in pain. The implant, a piece of metal about 10 inches long, has replaced the bone.
“How does it hold?” I once asked my surgeon.
“With cement,” he said.
“It must weigh five to ten pounds,” I said, holding the sample.
“Is this what I’ve got in me? No wonder the muscles are objecting -- thought I was progressing going from walker to cane. I know. I feel that I’m going backwards.”
One sunny morning soon afterwards, expecting to have a great day for myself, visiting museums in Balboa Park, instead I was suddenly consumed with pain. That steel bone in my left hip
is acting up again. The muscles around it, tearing away.
Later, I’m saying to Dr. Applestein, “I’m for the glue factory.”
He said, “Oh, no. Not you.” After moving my leg around, he said, “It’s not your hip. You’ve got arthritis on that side.” He saved me from the gallows. I was never so thrilled in my life. It’s only arthritis. Take Tylenol. Two in the morning and two at night. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else I
can do for you just to make you comfortable.”
“I’m going to invite you to my 100th birthday party,” I said.
He said, “Well, we have a long way yet to go.”
Not the way I count on my fingers.
Mayo had stayed with me those first few precarious days after the hip surgery and watched metake those first few painful steps with the walker.
At night I rang for the nurse asking for another robe I felt so cold. She came back with it. “Here it is,” she said coldly taunting, holding it up high like a scorpion with a smile to match, that is, if a scorpion smiles, “Come and get it.”
I reported her to the supervisor the next morning. That got me her private telephone number for my problems. Next, the news that I was going home. How? With two people to turn me over?
Saying to my doctor, “If you want to discharge me you just go ahead, and leave me at the curb.”
Instead they sat me in a wheelchair and let all the machinery pick me up and get me into an ambulance and into another bed at a high class convalescent home with a baby grand in the lounge.
Weak piano keys played “Home Sweet Home,” and I got a strong cane for a present. A friend came to visit and had dinner with me. The therapist in the morning walking me on different levels of grass – at home his service would be forty dollars an hour. He said to me that of all the nursing homes he’d worked at, I was in the best of the worst of them.
All I had to do was get my feet on the floor, push a walker over to the piano and sit in the dining room. Be happy about this, Laura. You could be peeling onions over a hot stove.
From their office, someone would come with papers for me to sign. “I am legally blind.” I said. “I can’t sign anything without a lawyer.” They insisted. They were determined to get me to
sign papers. They wore me down. To this day I don’t know what I signed. Whatever it was, I was going to die anyway. What difference did it make?
The nights were difficult in that convalescent home. One night, as usual, the sides of my bed were up. I couldn’t make it to the bathroom with the walker. I rang the bell several times. What am I going to do? The sides of the bed restricted me. I couldn’t get off the bed. I tried to turn on the side of the phone. I toyed with the idea of calling the police. As my French teacher said, “If you get in a spot in Paris, just say you’re going to call the police.” That came in handy. I’m going to call the police for help. I’ve got to get off this bed. I kept ringing, nobody came. I turned but I couldn’t reach over to get the telephone. I laid back, kept ringing, finally a girl came in great anger. She stood
at the foot of the bed, fists clenched. I was scared to death. I thought she was going to jump up on that bed and kill me. Where did I read or where did I hear that they hire released prisoners on probation?
“Help me -- my walker. If you can help me, I thank you, but for god’s sake don't hurt me.”
Loosening up, she said, “Everybody wants me at one time—no time to take water to my mouth. Twelve patients—I’m only one person.”
After one week of convalescence, Medicare will not pay for more; I have to leave, so I accepted a caregiver’s offer to take me home.
That first night, I was afraid to get out of bed. In the morning, the lady from the home health care came, but only for an hour. I was overcome with dread when she left and I was all alone in the house. Home health care, a half to an hour twice a week to help me wash and dress.
There is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Mayo still helping me from afar. He is seeking permanent help for me. He arranged through his synagogue in New York to another in San
Diego, from one rabbi to another, for a volunteer helper in the meantime to do my food shopping.
She became my dearest friend.
The breaking of my hip was not that great an idea. I was hard hit years before that when my vision went down to legally blind. After three surgical procedures, I suppose that’s why some shadows turned into fleeing animals, knocking me over. Now, a health care woman was sponging me, washing my feet.
“Is this me?” I cried to myself. Somebody has to wash my feet, I can’t bend down and I can't lift my foot to get over the bathtub to take a shower. The nights were long, and
In my 40s, I was hired by City College to lecture in a nursing home on French paintings and poetry. In those days I expected sick people in wheel chairs to believe that French paintings in
Appreciation of Art will send them out dancing. “You have to fight, not give in with tears.” Mostly I thought I was helping them to try and heal my own emotional pain. In my nursing home, I wasn’t entertained by French paintings. After three and a half years, I’m walking with a cane now. I have to
go back to see my doctor. That steel implant inside is causing me a lot of trouble. That pain going down my legs, up and around my lower back. I can hardly walk.
I had begged the supervisor of Home Health Care to send me assistance for the showering heat treatments that I could not do myself. I contacted the hospital for my X-rays to send to my orthopedist, my distress was such, I was sure I had another fracture. Always busy, always in surgery, I was unable to reach him.
I jump to my personal life like fighting with the superintendent at Home Health Care. I said,
“It’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Every day you were sending someone to help me. I just want to tell you if you want to send somebody, send them and be done with it. And if you don’t, well, then don’t.” It took that kind of talk to get some help from them. But I did get it. And I didn’t like the
way the orthopedic secretary spoke with me. She talked as though I were an imbecile and I resented it and told her so. What did all this get me? I was beating my brains out unnecessarily.
“Come and see me,” Dr. Applestein said, his voice very reassuring, very calming. And I felt better already. I knew that he had spoken to the orthopedist when he had called me.
He is saying, “I have the X-rays in front of me. Everything looks fine. You never know though. There could be a small fracture that doesn’t show on the X-ray but from what you say, Mrs. Simon, certainly no operation is necessary and I think you will be doing okay, my friend.”
I wanted to say I love you. Instead I said, “I am very grateful, doctor. I would say more but I don’t want the buttons to pop off your shirt.”
“Just let me know how you’re doing and come into the office. I want to make sure. I want to see you again.”
My philosophy instructor at Loyola once said, “It’s strange when you say something how it seems to travel in the wind.” Home Health Care called. Someone is coming to help me with my warm shower treatments. Besides, I got a lotion rub-down.
As soon as she left I lay down on my sofa and I fell asleep with the promise that she was coming Friday, and Saturday too. She will be calling at 7:30 in the morning, and I knew that she
Services for the Blind
While recovering from my broken hip, I received friendship calls to lift my spirits from the San Diego Services for the Blind, from a department called Telephone Assurances. Now, anxious to return that service, I called the social director asking for names of a few of the blind that I could get
acquainted with over the phone. She said, “We dropped that department. But now that I hear about it, I’d like to pick it up again.”
“I have an idea now of what it’s like to be legally blind, very well learned from some of the films you used to show in class on how some sighted people turn away from the blind. Some are afraid of the blind, others wonder how to talk to them. They can’t understand that blind is the same as sighted in feelings, in kindness, love, understanding and intelligence.”
She was impressed with the idea, but never called as she promised.
Was It Cancer?
What’s that pimple on my arm? Who sent for it? Who asked for it?
“Looks like cancer,” the first dermatologist said, already taking half a pimple for biopsy, setting a date for surgery.
“Surgery first? And then the biopsy?”
“I’ll get the information, don’t worry, but it takes time.”
A few days later his secretary calls. He’s giving up his practice and going to China someplace to be a missionary to help the Chinese. He wants God to bless him and for me to come in for my surgery.
“I’ll see,” I said.
My second opinion is more thorough. He finds another pimple. It’s on my forehead.
“They look cancerous,” he explains to a few young students just then in his office, picking his biopsy samples. I’m to have two surgeries at once – at my age?
“I have to ask my guardian,” I said. To myself, Mannie’s voice saying ‘just don’t panic, Laura, never panic.’ That’s what the captain of the Titanic said to his listeners as they all went down with the ship.
My third dermatologist is saying, “Cancer? Is that what he said? What’s he been drinking? There’s nothing on your forehead!” as he searches under the sheet, at my age I'm wrinkled every place, “no place, you don’t have cancer any place.”
‘Forget it’ his goodbye hands are saying, and with that my half-pimple on my arm gets a quick spray of nitrogen. “And you don’t need a biopsy,” he said.
No place -- nothing cancerous. Calling his attention to a scar on my cheek. “That dermatologist operated there on my face for cancer,” I said, “and for years I’ve wondered about it.
Do you think it was cancerous?” I ask.
Silence is also a force.
The Forgetful Ophthalmologist
Don’t feed the alligators. Your eyes could be playing tricks on you. It could be a crocodile and with one swoop get you in the middle, swish you around and down you go splash into the water -- only to be coughed up and spit out. “Oh my God! An aging female!” His eyes played tricks on him too!
Getting up one morning and closing one eye at the mirror in the bathroom, my face was gone.
Moving my head slightly my face stretches out as if I'm in a crazy mirror in a museum. Funny Laura making fun of herself. Not so funny but it will go away. Yet the unpredictable goes on. There is a spot on the sun, or why is there a blotch on the wall? At night the usual lights of the city turn the world miraculous -- sparkling, swirling lights everywhere.
Fortified with Medicare card, Blue Cross, Blue Shield, I visit my ophthalmologist, and wouldn’t you know it? An associate ophthalmologist is taking his place, one I have never seen
before. Besides a roomful of patients from this doctor and that doctor, there are receptionists, nurses and attendants, one of whom leads me into a room to test my eyes by letters on a chart on the wall. She writes the results down and promptly leaves.
Before I had a chance to wonder how long the doctor would be, in he came with a quick hello, already scanning the report before him on the desk, and saying, “Your eyesight shouldn't have been that before if it is like this now. Someone made a mistake.” I’ve survived many mistakes, I could give him a long list, but bringing him in from the beginning I tell him how I fell in the supermarket, how I stood in a long check-out line with my one and only lamb chop -- who do I have that I need more? (Now sounding like a confession) Oh, well, anyway, unbeknownst to me the manager put up a chain behind me to close the aisle, and when I turned to get into a shorter line, my
feet got caught in the chain that had dropped, and I went flying across the store. Five men came rushing from all directions to pick up the body.
“I'll be right back,” the doctor says, rushing off. Not that I expected him to stand and hold my dying hand, but I did want to ask him to remove that spot from the sun for me. I’m all alone at home. . . My thoughts now interrupted by a nurse dashing in to dilate my eyes and with a nice big smile, which should be part of his job instead of a vacant stare. Handing me a piece of Kleenex for my smarting eyes, she flits out leaving the door wide open behind her. I wait and wait.
Doors open. Doors close. The whole place buzzed with people, doors opening and closing. Did I talk too much?
Without a watch I didn’t know what time was doing to me. Am I to retreat into myself for the rest of my life? And how does blindness fit? Would I know if there were ants on my sink? A shower of ants flew about in the sink once. Everybody clear out your cabinets! Laura’s got ants! Top and bottom! The exterminators are coming and her eviction notice if she doesn’t let that man in with the tank on his back and mask on his face! But my eyes were just playing tricks on me. I had to empty
my kitchen into cartons -- it did help to get rid of relics of long ago.
I don’t know if I dozed off, but I was just sitting there endlessly. Suddenly, I don’t hear any noise in the corridor, no talking. I get off that chair, I open the door. There’s nobody around.
Beginning to feel uneasy. Did the doctor have an emergency? Why do I have to wait this long?
Have patience, Laura, I say to myself. He will be here. You’re not the only pebble on the beach.
When I see me I don’t see me. Watching television, close one eye and the whole set is gone, screen and all. Through the side I can see beautifully and without glasses. Close the good eye while waiting for the bus on the corner and the whole bus is gone, the curb across the street one long running hump. . .
So now where is the doctor? My eyes medicated, pent up, I wonder about the stillness in the outer offices. I get up out of that patient-chair, and walking out to the reception room find three “nurses” huddled together, talking, laughing, a very giggly threesome. One stares through me to the door and I already have the feeling that I’m disappearing. Or were her eyes playing tricks on her?
“Where’s my doctor?” I ask, rather surprised by my hysteria. “I’m in there waiting for him...” and pointing to my dilated eyes.
The three look at each other puzzled. Doctor? Who is this crazy woman? “Sitting there in that room,” about to show them, “it must be hours.”
“He left,” one said. “He’s in surgery.”
“In surgery?” How not speak like a fool? “And he leaves me sitting there for hours? Get me a doctor right away. Now. Right now.”
They are quite calm, waiting for me to say more, shrugging their shoulders. “You can wait here if you like.”
“Wait here? Until when? Tomorrow?”
Their eyes question each other. Do we know how long she’d have to wait? Stepping back with no intention of helping me. I fumble for my sun glasses -- they couldn’t care one way or the other -- maybe the day after tomorrow or forever.
The hallway is too dark to crawl through, and too startling bright out in the sunlight. Traffic to the right, I follow some bushes along the sidewalk, then to a wide open space. The hospital I know a block away. Is this what blind will be like? A person difficult to handle? Anyone I bump into will make decisions for me? Humored or ignored entirely? My feet, careful of obstacles, lead me along the sidewalk, and I turn where it turns, scratched in the face by a protruding branch.
Inside the hospital, taking off my dark glasses, quickly changing to my other pair. The doorman asks “What's the matter?"”
“I need an ophthalmologist right away. Emergency. My eyes were dilated and he left me sitting there and forgot all about me and I must have a doctor right away.”
“Fourth floor. The elevator that way.”
So many halls, so many corners to turn. “The elevator? Where is the elevator?” Finally stepping into moving space. Counting each button up to four, I walk out, hoping. And now to
where? Into smells of laundry soap and medications and questioning everyone in sight. “The eye department. . . Where? I need an ophthalmologist right away.” Explaining this to a receptionist and the whole gory story.
“But your eyes have been dilated,” she said, seemingly knowing. “Who . . . where is your doctor?”
Again, and giving her the doctor’s name, the office number which she is promptly calling. He left me sitting there forgetting all about me. She is relaying the message, she’s got a patient here who . . . . Hanging up.
“He’s in surgery”, she said, “and right down the hall here.” The solution to this problem not up to her, she is quite thankful when a “nurse” comes to take me, gently, by the arm.
After all, I’m an old lady and might break. “Look. He’ll be right out and take care of you.”
“No,” I said. “I want another doctor and right away. Now.”
“Look, that's fine. You can have whoever you like -- but didn't you ever make a mistake?”
Sweetly leading me to a chair at the wall. We sit down. “The dilation is good for six hours …”
“I don’t care. Find a doctor for me.”
She held my hand. It was taking a lot to get my eyes to stop playing all these tricks on me. I couldn’t afford the luxury of tears. “There’s Doctor...” said to herself, “and Doctor Top of Department Here, but they are probably with patients and you’d have to wait...” In that begging tone for me to please be patient. “Wait here a moment. I’m going to see if he’s through now.”
Yes. Through now. Coming in with her he is absolutely shaken. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “so terribly sorry. Please...I am so sorry. If you’d like to come back to the office with me I’ll take care of you right away.”
I said, “No, I am very sorry, I am going home.”
“Don’t do that,” he said. “Please come back to the office. I want to help you. Can’t you understand that I had all these surgical procedures to do, and I’m only human. It just escaped me.
Give me a chance, come back to the office.”
I said, “No. I am going home.”
As Mannie once said to me ages ago, “Why do all these things happen to you, Laura? It doesn’t happen to me.”
“Because you don’t look,” I said, referring to the time the girl at the supermarket weighed in all my vegetables with the front part of the cart that she laid down on the scale. I didn’t know who my heart was to go out to first, to him, or myself, looking at him through dilated eyes. This handsome man and how he was spending his time, carrying such a load, dividing himself up into little pieces, taking so much on to himself, so that he didn’t know where he was at half the time, and still I didn’t want him. And it is true -- everybody makes mistakes. And my heart
did go out to him...
“No,” I say. “I want another doctor.”
He just stood there for a moment, then turned and walked out, with the lady secretary still assuring me of the doctor’s expertise, and how he was all for his patients.
Outside. I could call a taxi, go home and call another doctor, or I could say to hell with doctors and people for whom I don’t exist. I can enjoy myself. I can enjoy my new night sky, and
see the stars on fire and the planets swirl. I will glory in
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the way I see. I will even enjoy my own disappearance. There is something magical and liberating about not being seen...
The Wrong Diagnosis Blinds
At last I found the perfect doctor to remove that cataract. He’s saying, “There is nothing to it! Ninety-eight percent of those operations are successful.” Everything that I had in my intuition in my whole body was telling me not to go ahead with this doctor. He treated me, when I came into the office, as though I were a piece of wood. I couldn’t believe myself. He had such a fine reputation. I sifted through many surgeons, as far as I could see to the horizon and back. I still believed that he was the best, and he would do the best for me. But my gut, my intuition, was saying, “Don’t! He doesn’t talk to you! You can’t ask him any questions! You don’t know what he is doing! He’s not explaining anything to you! What do you need him for?” I argued against myself, insisting that he
was the best for me.
After my surgery, a couple of weeks go by, you can’t get him on the phone, I’m seeing all kinds of sparkling lights, I am not seeing that well, and something is happening in my eye. I need to talk to him and need to see him. The office girl becomes the doctor. “Everybody has these problems after surgery,” she says. “They do like hell!” I said, thinking about a woman who had a cataract removed the day before, now reading her program to me in the theater. “I want my doctor,” I say.
“Where is he?”
“He’s on vacation,” she said. “He isn’t in. He can’t, he doesn’t. There is nothing wrong with your eye.”
Again a few weeks later, I am seeing my regular and first ophthalmologist, Dr. Boyden, who doesn’t do surgery on cataracts, and that is why I didn’t have him. “What’s happening to me?” I ask him. He examines my eye. “You have to have that implant removed right away! It’s floating! If you
don’t take that out, it can float behind the eye, and who knows where to? And you will have more problems. You must have it taken out right away! I am calling a surgeon to help you. You’re not going home, you have to have that implant taken out now.”
The surgeon sees me. I’m in the hospital. He is going to get another doctor to take that implant out? while he stands by to put the new implant in. I am to have two surgical procedures
immediately. I'm on the operating table. The other surgeon that he brought looked to me like a little Boy Scout. “You said you were going to have doctor so and so. He is somebody else!” My surgeon said, “He’s well-qualified and I’ve worked with him before.” I say, “No.” turning to the other doctor. “Who are you? What is your background? I never saw you before.” He’s mumbling and I am saying, “Get me the phone. I want to talk to my son in New York. . . . Mayo,” I say from the
operating table, “they got a new doctor to take the implant out. I’m on the operating table. I don’t know who he is. What should I do?" Mayo is saying calmly, “Mother, trust your doctor. Everything will work out. You’ll see.”
I sit here this evening writing in long-hand in dead stillness after dinner thinking of those two surgical procedures, one surgeon taking the floating implant out of my eye, the other inserting a new one. It’s done. I am whole again, still in the same two percent that have to keep on doctoring. An
infection keeps me there.
Then later, Dr. Boydon handed me a letter, “To whom it may concern: Laura Simon is permanently legally blind.”
And Deaf, Too?
But, first things first, onward to the Jules Stein Eye Clinic in Los Angeles, Mayo has the job of meeting me at the plane to deliver me, to get a special formula from Japan, regular doses special delivery to my home, the doctor promising return of my eyesight. But meanwhile, my audiologist tells me that I have a hole in my eardrum. Now I must be legally deaf, too? When it all settles down then she can adjust my hearing aid.
Ready to celebrate. I can still hear on the telephone, “Hooray, I may be able to see again!” I call Syd, my long distance calls will cost me a fortune, quickly hanging up, and now I can't hear again. “Call the police if you ever have a problem,” as the French Teacher said.
Dye in My Veins for the Picture
The problem was about my eyes. One hot day I had gone to an eye clinic. The ophthalmologist took photographs of the back of my eyes, first injecting some dye into my veins causing me great distress. I took the bus home, not having the sense to take a cab. I found I had to change buses and walk in the heat and I was suffering from what I thought was heat exhaustion
when I got home. I must be dehydrated, I thought. All I would need is to drink some water.
A nutritionist once at the ICL said, “You can drown yourself by drinking too much water.” And that’s what I was doing. I didn’t eat. I was just guzzling water and forgot to stop. I was drowning and didn’t know it. I became sicker and sicker, called the doctor, who said, “Go to the hospital.”
I’m on the table in the emergency room being examined by an intern of some sort. He said, “There is nothing wrong with you. You can leave now. You can go home.”
I said, “No, I can’t. What are you saying? I’m too sick to go home!”
“But there is nothing wrong with you. You can’t stay in the hospital.”
“Yes! I am staying overnight! I want to be in a room, I want to stay overnight, I am real sick!”
He said, “I am very sorry, the hospital can’t keep you if there is nothing wrong with you!”
“I’m too sick to argue. I’m dying, I tell you. Call the police! I am staying overnight. You’ll just have to call the police. I am not getting off this table.”
Not knowing what to do with me, he must have made a telephone call, “I have got an old lady here on the table. She doesn’t want to leave, there is nothing wrong with her. She wants to stay in the hospital.”
Soon the doctor came to me in the emergency room. It was Dr. Jeffrey Applestein. He immediately ordered a blood test, and said, “You are depleted of potassium. You must have
potassium right away.”
Quickly carried away to a private room, nurses come in and connect me up to all kinds of things. I thought I was breathing my last. My granddaughter Anne, a medical student, came running into my sickroom. “I told the doctor,” she said. “My grandmother is not a hypochondriac. If she says she’s sick, she’s sick. And I told that intern who said there was nothing wrong with you, ‘she couldn’t open her eyes -- they were all swollen. She couldn’t see me! How could you say she wasn’t
sick?’” He answered, “Excuse me! I just made a mistake.”
I thought it wasted effort to see another ophthalmologist. How wrong I was. Surprisingly, this one returned my telephone call.
“Dr. India,” I said, “this speaks very highly of you. Doctors don’t return calls so easily. And we all like to be treated as human beings.”
“So, what would you like me to do for you?” he asked.
“Just give me more eyesight,” I said.
“How would you like it without surgery?”
“I can’t believe it,” I said, making an appointment with him.
However, after the eye examination, that wasn’t how it worked out. He would need another surgeon to assist him. And he can’t promise me anything.
“If you don’t remove that cataract,” he said, “it’s so dense now, it won’t have any room to grow and you could get glaucoma. Still, the decision has to be yours, but we will do all we can – send you for a second opinion or third maybe. We’ll see.”
“How many years do I have left? And how long can I live? Three, four years? I don’t want to spend it recovering from surgery.”
“I’ll talk to your internist and your family. We’ll have conferences,” he continued. “Perhaps we may consider laser treatments to stop it from growing.”
“What about my right eye? The tearing?”
“Your tear duct is all blocked. I can do something about that, but it will only come back.
Behind that eye it is all scarred. It looks like it went through the war. No wonder you can’t see.”
“If you must know, I’m thankful that I can hear again. I was deaf and blind.”
“That’s scary.” Almost scaring me out of writing this book. I just need one foot in front of the other. Glad to be above ground.
Taking his time, he pointed to the picture near us on the wall. “In that frame,” getting up to show me, his hand across the glass, “in this square is a picture of an eye, and all this over here are the prints of that eye just like finger prints. I will study the prints of your eye until I know them.”
In the meantime I am looking for a forty-diopter magnifying glass.
My Second Cataract
Last night in my dreams, Mannie is saying, “You’ve gone to enough ophthalmologists, Laura,” as I get into my dream convertible. “In a few days you’ll be better – so wait,” holding on to the car door – “don’t go – stay put – you’ll be better.” A dreamy solution to my problem. “Just keep your feet on the ground, Laura – stop flying around.” Even in dreams I am still trying to find myself. I must want to have a highway named after me.
Hanging on to my cataract and walking into walls is not a solution to living independently.
How can I continue to live independently? I’m getting so old. I’m writing to all the seniors in the world. “You’ll be told where to sit, the time for a walk, the songs to listen to – we pick your
entertainment, the food you eat. You’ll lose who you are. You won’t count to anyone.”
“Make yourself do it,” I demand of myself.
“I’m still accumulating memories for this book,” I argue with myself. “Later you’ll look back to your life,” that is, if I get up to new beginnings – to the one thing you insist on doing – to write, to live independently, to keep in some kind of step in this changing world – with the changes in our health, in our bodies.
“Laurishke,” Mannie popping into another dream after a sleepless night, “you’re so naïve,” kissing the palm of my hand, “I don’t know why I love you – what are you going to do, keep that cataract the rest of your life?”
“It would be wise to do it,” Dr. Brown said to me after re-examining my eye at the clinic. His technician comes in to take my history.
“Have you ever had tuberculosis? Ever been in the hospital? Recently?”
“With pneumonia,” I said.
She is very busy writing my answers, reading the questionnaire.
“Have you been out of the country in these past months?”
“No, and not for years.”
Still insisting. “Have you ever had cancer? Anyone in your family have cancer? No? Trouble breathing? Diabetes? No? No?”
Finishing up that page and turning it over.
“Are you allergic to medications?
Interrupted by Dr. Brown who took over. “No,” he answered my concerns. “No, not ultrasound –“confirming a previous ophthalmologist who said, “In India, they do it the old way -- a cut.”
The choice of how and when deliberated, the pressure of should I or should I not is over.
Night before surgery four drops in that eye and one in the morning. The driver will come to pick me up.
I’m busy preparing food for after surgery -- God forbid I should go hungry -- chicken soup, remembering the kosher bouillon cubes, kasha, apple sauce with apricots and raisins, some cranberries, potato salad, not to forget the Greek olives to ease a heavy heart. All for the freezer, stacking up hot-and-cold-coffee cups, arranging for a student nurse to be here. Only God knows if she will appear.
I arrange my precious writings in folders, drop-leaf table open to hold it all. Thoughts of being a famous writer set aside with piles of handwritten, laborious words, promising myself to get back to it after a week or so of rest after surgery, as if the seniors of the world depend upon my writings. I want to make my mark in this world, hoping that a little more eyesight will help me to find out who I am.
I have to wait my turn in the surgery suite, as though waiting for a seat at the movies – a heavy door opens to a sweet voice. “Don’t be impatient, Mrs. Simon. It won’t be long now.” I feel that usual muscle spasm in my leg sitting this long, the others waiting quiet and downcast, suddenly stir, maybe my turn and get it over with.
“OK. Mrs. Simon.” Oh, at last. I follow the nurse into a cubicle of a room.
“Dark in here like in a house of prostitution,” I say.
“And how would you know?” As if I had insulted her eye clinic that smelled of medicine all over the place. “By the bunches of flowers around here?”
Knowing I said the wrong thing, I’m all silence and just follow instructions
“Take everything off but your panties and shoes.”
“Do you think you’re over that pneumonia?” said a nurse, opening the curtains.
“My internist seems to think so.” A fine time to ask.
“If you cough, take cough medicine.” Disappearing.
“And after surgery,” said my personal nurse, “just don’t bend down,” giving herself a rise up and down, touching the floor handily with both hands, “or pick up anything heavier than a book,” taking me by the hand, “or jump out of an airplane or go square dancing,” helping me up on the operating table, needle already into my arm. “Your IV. This isn’t hurting, is it?”
“Oh no?” Needle up my arm – to put me into a twilight sleep, into dreams of floating gardens where there are no walkers or canes, no blindness, no hip replacements, no nursing homes, no hearing aids, only singing birds just like in fairy tales, and glass slippers, a place of happy endings.
Twilight dreams. “Your doctor does procedures that no other doctor can do,” the voice of my bus driver, kind words to a worried one. Moonlight in the darkness. I’m comfortable as a baby in a blanket. Voices of adults and caring hands pressing my forehead above that dead eye to make it come alive. “Why aren’t you more careful with that shopping cart?” a voice is demanding. Bumping square into her.
“Ultra sound,” I hear.
I’m in a crying whine to let him know I hurt. Maybe it’s the shopping cart jumping back at me.
Pressure again. I cry, I whine. His creative hands are taking care of me. Doctors put together things that are not in the book to make of us better people.
“I tried to do it the other way,” my doctor said to me a few days later over the phone, “but I couldn’t do it so I had to use ultra sound.”
I’m awake. “What would you like to drink,” my nurse at my side wheeling me to the phone to talk to Mayo.
“It’s over, Mayo. It’s over. I’m getting a cup of hot chocolate and cheese crackers. Just as the driver told me -- refreshments to bring up my blood sugar.”
I suppose he wheeled me to the bus. I suppose it was a smooth ride home. My student nurse was already at the door waiting.
“Just pamper me,” I said when she asked what to do. “Just pamper me.” I could hardly move.
I use a reacher to pick something up, like the keep-the-grass-clean man in the park. I wear dark glasses to watch TV or walk out into the sun, the light so sharp. My dead eye has come alive! Now it’s too bright, too sharp.
Surprise! I can read some passing words on TV. “Foods On Tour.” All by myself! I could hardly believe what I read. I must be careful. Nothing should happen. I open a magazine and read large titles. I can’t believe it.
“What about those sunbeams in my eyes?” I ask my doctor. “Could that hurt my eyesight any?
And my eye lashes are sticky in the morning – and the drops are steroid – that worries me. The side effects. My throat is dry. At the same time,” I don’t let him off the phone, “you can’t imagine the feeling to read something suddenly – just afraid, scared my new eyesight will close down on me –
after so many years – everything blacked out. Now masses of sunbeams will surely blind me -- ”
“I don’t know what to do about that,” he said when I caught him in the corridor. “You just complain too much.”
Fighting with him in my thoughts, I didn’t want him sending in another doctor to take his place. I don’t want anybody else touching my eye. If I am not for me, who will be for me? Yes, I
complain. I want to preserve this new eyesight – I’m not just ‘Oh, she’s an old lady, so what the hell does she know?’ I’m not going to let him bully me. “Baruch Hashem,” I keep saying to myself, “Baruch Hashem.” Bless God.
“He’ll call you,” his secretary said.
“Tell him I can see with the operated eye better than the other one. I’m a survivor, that’s what I am. I battle every day all by myself. I remember what happened to the other eye. The implant started to float and it took two surgical procedures, three years of doctoring – so I’m not complaining – he just looks at it and walks away and doesn’t tell me.”
“He’ll call you,” she said again.
I call her again and make sure that I am tactful. “You know, you won’t believe this but on the chart the other day I could see every letter down to the ‘L’ with the operated eye.“
“I know. It’s great!”
“I’m so happy about that.”
“But at the same time, I have to tell you – I am so worried about the continual flashing lights – do you think it will take away my new eyesight? That wonderful, beautiful eyesight that he gave me? Hoping that he doesn’t think I complain too much.”
“I’ll find out about that, Mrs. Simon. He’s downstairs now and I’ll try to reach him.”
“And what about the stickiness in my eyes too, remember. And those steroid drops are giving me terrible heartburn. I don’t know what to do so please ask him.”
“I’ll find out about all this, Mrs. Simon, and I’ll call you back.”
She calls back a few hours later. “He said don’t worry.”
“I’m so glad about that but what about the stickiness? I asked him if I should wash my eyes and he said no I’m not a fish in the water. Fish wash their eyes. And the heartburn?” I insist on
knowing. She’ll call me back again--
“Could I talk to him? He’s my doctor.”
Later. “For your heartburn take something over the counter.”
I look at my face in my hand mirror. “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the most beautiful of them all?”
I have eyesight. I can see. I am suddenly filled with horror. I haven’t seen my face like that in a long time. Years has it been? I wanted eyesight. To see myself old and decayed?
Pneumonia Is No Picnic
I thought this was it when I called the ambulance to take me to Scripps Memorial. Five days later I’m able to drag myself up the corridor, a volunteer at my side.
“These hospital gowns were made for prostitutes,” I said.
“Look. Tie. Untie. I haven’t got the energy. Pneumonia is no picnic. And I haven’t got time to be sick. I want to get home. I’m writing a book on history as I have lived it through the last century.”
“Oh,” she said with a heavy sigh. “I can’t even draw a scarecrow. My hand is no good for writing. I’m talented with a broom, sweep up dried leaves and let Post Office Etc. laminate them into placemats – brought them all the way from Wisconsin to have autumn on my table – look – there comes your wheelchair.”
“You’re going for x-rays`” the orderly says to me, already wrapping me in a blanket. “Off we go,” wheeling me past bedridden patients.
“Not so fast – dear God, take care of my children. One is a hundred, one is one hundred and fifty and I’m two hundred.”
He smiles. “Aw,” he said, “religion is a pain in the ass, especially when you see a man have his leg amputated, and then they grind out a new one for him and other such stuff.” He shook the wheelchair as a wail came from one of the rooms, then waited for a group of doctors to pass by.
“I suppose you can call that creative,” I said.
“This whole hospital is creative,” wheeling me into the x-ray room.
“Just don’t leave me here alone like you did the last time,” talking to a wall of x-ray creativity, wondering if my lungs are clear now or – am I on the way to a nursing home? To a hospice?
Strangers taking my hand while they give me a morphine drip so I die in peace . . . “Nothing is good or bad,” winding up some Shakespeare, “only thinking makes it so.”
“Don’t move,” the x-ray technician disappears and reappears. I can go now.
Another orderly is at hand to wheel me to the elevator – this hospital transportation as dependable as the MTS – slow as molasses in January.
“I’m Indian,” he said. “Did you ever see an igloo? In New Mexico ours was bigger than that.
Yet my mother had to cook on the outside for the ten of us. Three of my brothers went into the Navy, and I became a fireman.”
“I suppose you could make more money that way,” said an old man as he stepped out of the elevator, a tired-looking couple holding their laughter. I was afraid of coughing.
“I always have my beading needle,” said my wheelchair driver.
I’m back in my room and into my bed, the nurse saying to me, “Where were you? You look terrible.”
“Terrible? Get me my doctor,” I demanded.
He came rushing in. “Is this what you called me for? You look terrible?” Rushing out.
“I’m dying,” I said into the loudspeaker, to a voice without a person. “Get me another blanket. I called before.”
“Lunch.” In comes a young woman in blue apron, tired, worn-out, bringing me a tray, as if she had cooked that chunk of pork and potato herself. Dragging her feet.
“I’m an artist,” I bragged to the nurse, waiting for a compliment. “Better than being in a care center,” still hoping.
Finally, “Are you creative at all?” I asked her.
“It takes all of my skills that I can get together to handle five people at once,” she said, “to know what to say to each one. It’s when they are quiet or too quiet that I’m bothered. How can I tell them the truth? I grope for the words – I talk in circles – take odd things and try to put them together to make sense. It’s all abstract made to sound real.”
The doctor now at my side, “I’m discharging you, Laura.
Tomorrow you go home.”
“Home?” All panic inside. “Maybe just as well after that night I had.”
A night to remember. Where is everybody? What happened to
my sound bell? The call bell?
Replaced by a string, I pull it. It’s stuck. I manage to crawl out, stand at my open door to an empty corridor.
“Where are the nurses?” I yell to nobody. “Nurse? Nurse!”
Three doors open and three faces show up, blank, bewildered ‘who is she?’ One comes shuffling along.
“I need a blanket. I’m cold,” I say to this outer space woman who opens the toilet door and gives me a dirty look. “There’s no blanket in here.” As if I were crazy.
There’s no place like home. I’m back to problems of getting food delivered, back to my tape recorder, to my canvasses, my acrylics, my collection of rice paper and junk, my samples of silk from the yard goods store for collages.
I call student employment at Point Loma Nazarene College. “Post the ad up on your board: ‘Wanted -- mother’s helper willing to go on errands, supermarket, pharmacy and ice cream store. To fit your hours.”
In the Hospital Again
That which has happened before has happened again. My hip. My dark glasses flying. I am on the ground. My prosthetic hip is hurt. If so, this is really it. I have to crawl out of the laundry room.
The hot sun is penetrating. Not a neighbor around to say it’s a beautiful day. Or we meet at the dumpster again or in the laundry room where I am on that cement floor trying to brace up against the washing machine. I can’t make it. I am crawling out of the laundry room into the dirt. I must get over to that chair at the fence. My back, my hip. I am trying to rest. “Don’t panic, Laura.” Mannie again. “Whatever you do, don’t panic.”
But how will they hear this medic alert through the brick
wall of the laundry housed to the alarm box on my table in the kitchen? It’s like a graveyard here with smells of cooking cabbage, barbequing hamburgers and sputtering fat and with cars driving by honking horns. Can I call out for help to invisible mummies? It’s nice to hear an argument once in
awhile. If I can get to that chair, I’d sit on it. I am pressing my medic alert and still no response from anyone. I finally take the chair, and heavy as it was, I am lifting it. And I am walking with the chair around the laundry room to the sidewalk. A real person may be coming along. Afraid that I am breaking my alarm by pressing it continuously.
I hear the ambulance. I really hear the sirens. They are coming for me. I see that it’s good to have a medic alert around your neck. They’re driving up, “Laura Simon?” “That’s me.” Telling them what happened. The paramedics making out a report. How I fell and what happened. The nurse is taking my blood pressure. 130 over 90 I thought she said and in the ambulance it was 144 over 65. I didn’t want to go to the hospital. I prefer to stay home thinking that rest would take care of it. But the medics insisted explaining that I needed X-rays of my hip and my back.
“Another problem,” I said. “My first bill was $550.00 and now a total of $1100.00.” Their office doesn’t follow through on the claim with Medicare. I have to keep calling them, “Send the form to Medicare, to Blue Cross, Blue Shield my secondary.” They just send me statements. I felt that I was pressuring myself and I didn’t want to call the medic alert office to help me to call them, to remind them to process the claim and get their money. I pestered the hospital, “I want my medical records for the ambulance services.” It was taking all of my guts and energy to get them to send out the forms. And when they did finally, they received their money. I thought I am going to get so sick from trying to get them to process the claim that I would need the ambulance again.
As for the medics, money does not pay for everything as I have learned many times before. They were intent upon doing the best they could for me. I rode away in the ambulance comfortable in the thought that they had looked into my house to see about the stove, the refrigerator, locked the door, brought me my keys as if they were my close friends. I appreciated their sympathy and understanding, their promise to talk to the hospital to get this bill processed through them.
Just entering the hospital does not solve all the problems. They put me on a table, wheel me through the corridor and set me outside the X-ray room to wait. Nobody is around. How long should I wait? As long as it takes until someone decides to come and take you into the X-ray room.
After the X-rays, I have a long wait again, thankful when the doctor came over to me and said,
“No fractures. Everything is okay. You can go home.”
“I love you too,” I said.
The X-ray technician saying, “Come on. You’re getting off this table. Let’s see how you can walk.” One of the young volunteers came to walk me around the corridor and then got a voucher and sent me home. In the midst of all that waiting for the doctor to come with the report of the Xrays,
I wasn’t going to waste a chance to make a friend. The X-ray technician and I had a nice talk.
She was telling me about her divorce, how she has to work in the hospital at the same time taking care of her children at home. Her young daughter, unfortunately, is a very slow learner. She spends all of her spare time reading to her. And it’s very difficult. I alert her to the fact that she can get the
child’s lessons on recording so she can hear them for herself over and over again. She should apply to a university, to a handicap department. She was grateful. “Don’t forget the ice on your hip every two hours,” she reminded me. “For three days and then heat. Thank you, Mrs. Simon. I’ll be getting
the recordings.” Giving me a big hug.
I have lived through another day.