By Aaron Aradillas | Press Play April 1, 2014 at 1:50PM
The on-call doctor took my pressure and turned out not to be that high. The first thought was maybe the cornea was rejecting. (I had had my third cornea transplant back in 1996.) My brother and I had prepared to stay overnight and come back first thing in the morning when the office would open for business. The next morning the cornea expert ordered an ultrasound of my left eye. It turned out there was a massive amount of blood in my left eye and they couldn’t tell if my retina had detached. It looked as if it was still attached, but didn’t know for sure. We were referred to a retina specialist in San Antonio who would be better equipped to help me. I was also told that I should just rest because it was going to take time for the blood to dissolve. It was January 2nd, and I realized that this was something that wasn’t going to resolve itself in a couple of days. It was at that moment I decided to let go of the idea of finishing my applications to grad school. I just knew that whatever was happening, trying to carry on and finish an application was simply impractical. Surprisingly, this didn’t get me too down. Sometimes being forced to let something go can be a good thing.
An appointment was made for Wednesday the 8th. My doctor turned out to be one of the best retina doctors around. Nevertheless, It
was a long and intense appointment. The fact that it was my first appointment
meant I had to provide an extensive and detailed rundown of my medical history.
Being born with Glaucoma, multiple surgeries, cornea transplants, and much more
were discussed. I realized halfway through giving my history that I’d been
through a lot. I was stunned that things had gone so well for so long. I
remember having the thought that maybe I was lucky my vision had lasted this
long and this blurriness meant things were finally shutting down. I also
realized this was the first major development with my vision without my mom
taking charge. As she had passed six-and-a-half years ago, I hadn’t had to deal
with any kind of medical emergency without her knowing all the answers. With my
older brother now taking point, it hit me: the possibility of losing my vision
meant I was going to have to take charge. I flashed forward to an image of
myself as a blind old man and was having to get around without any assistance. Fear
Another ultrasound was done and it showed that there was a lot of blood and also floaters in my eye. Dr. Mein referred to it as “trash,” and that he needed to first clean out the trash before he could truly determine if my retina was attached or not. An out-patient procedure was scheduled for the following Thursday. (“Out-patient procedure” is a more soothing way of saying “operation.”) As a kid I would literally get sick to my stomach the night before an operation. While I didn’t get sick, I did regress to that level of dread. I knew the procedure was necessary. My vision had deteriorated so badly that I could no longer see the blinking red star on the Christmas tree. At one point my vision had gone all pinkish-red due to the amount of blood in my eye. I dreaded nighttime. I slept lightly because the act of waking up in the dark when you knew it was daylight was pretty rough.
The morning of my eye procedure was also the day the nominations for the Oscars were announced. My brother read me the list while we waited to be called to get prepped. I wondered if I would get my vision back in time to watch the telecast. I was excited that The Wolf of Wall Street got nominated, and then realized I might not get a chance to see a Scorsese movie for a second time in theaters. I always see a Scorsese movie at least two or three times in a theater. Was it going to be the last Scorsese I would actually see?
By the time they came to wheel me away I told my brother, “I’ll be right back.” I was awake for the entire procedure. They numbed my eye, then they put a speculum under my eyelid in order to keep it open. (Think Alex in A Clockwork Orange minus the ultraviolence.) My vision became like an out-of-focus animation cell. I figured I was staring into the light. I started to see these Tylenol-red lines floating around. I assumed it was the blood in my eye. Then, I would hear this bzzz sound, and the red would go away. Dr. Mein didn’t play music but I thought I heard some soothing ambient noise. His voice was calming as he whispered to the other people in the room. He was good at whispering to such a degree that I couldn’t make out anything he was saying. You know that old saw about when you lose one sense the other four are heightened? It’s mostly true, but not in a David-Strathairn-in-Sneakers kind of way. You become acutely sensitive to every sound or ache or surface—and you usually assume something’s wrong. You retreat into your mind, and that’s not always a good thing. I remember at one point during the procedure, I flashed back to High Jackman’s final scene in Prisoners. One of my favorite movies of 2013, the movie is all about a survivalist who is constantly preparing for the worst-case scenario, and when it comes he realizes being prepared is not the same as being ready. I realized that I was always prepared in the back of my head of going blind, but now, in the middle of surgery, I realized I was far from ready.