Thursday, January 19, 2012

An eye for an eye, but in a good way

(Image by Stock.xchng vi)
I emerged from the ethereal fog of anesthesia far more rapidly than I would have imagined was possible, largely, I guess, because of the long needle that had been inserted into my left eye to administer an antibiotic.

I had been warned something this might happen.

No, it was not the age-old childhood warning “You’ll put an eye out” running around the house with a sharpened pencil or stick in hand. All the same, I now had a very clear understanding that darn near everything I’d experienced in life, short of witnessing a violent death, was far better than this "sharp stick in the eye.”

No, my warning had come several days prior from the surgeon, Dr. Jon Gieser, a retinal specialist at Wheaton Eye Clinic who performed the vitrectomy on my left eye on Oct. 13, 2003.

He had explained that anesthetists try to strike a balance while plying their skills to ensure the patient does not remain unconscious too long after surgery, and he had said that patients sometimes awaken during surgery. In my case, because it was surgery involving the retina, Dr. Gieser said that it was very important — very, important — that if I did awaken, I not move. At all.

So here I was, on my right side in an operating room at Central DuPage Hospital with one eye open and staring at the underside of a white, shroudlike cloth as someone inserted a needle into my other eye.

My first waking thought was neither profound nor profane. Had I been fully conscious, I’d have been sorely tempted to use a rather long series of obscenities and phrases that I learned to string together effectively as a teenager. I’d spent several years as a young adult refining these idiomatic expressions, seeking just the right mixture of cadence, consonance, assonance and related devices to use them with such poetic license as can be imagined only by someone looking for an excuse to justify a foul mouth. I spent years trying to unlearn this questionable “talent,” which I confess still erupts from time to time, most typically when a computer is not behaving as I think it should.

But at this, all that would escape my lips was, simply, “OW!”

Of course what came out was a cursory “Ungh!”

“Ah, somebody’s awake,” came a cheery-sounding voice from the other side of the shroud covering my head. I remembered the warning — that I not move. At all. So I did Cheery Voice a favor and refrained from a sudden, urgent desire to reach up and slap him. No one should sound that happy when I have a needle in my eye, dang it.

Actually, I was too frightened to move a muscle. Now, I could even feel the fluid within the hypodermic coursing into my eye socket. “OW!” That felt better, I’d actually managed to say it audibly this time.

I write OW in all capital letters because, in my head, that’s how I intended it to come out. In reality, however, it was a much more timid “ow.”

I felt some relief as the needle slid out and asked “How’d it go?” I was relieved to hear Dr. Gieser explain what he had found.

Exactly one week earlier, I had awakened to find I was blind in that eye. A blood vessel inside had burst, and because blood is opaque, no light could enter my eye. My vision loss sparked a rapid series of visits with eye doctors and other specialists that culminated in this surgery.

As my grogginess slowly lifted, Dr. Gieser explained that he had found some abnormal blood vessels inside my eye and had cauterized them during the surgery, which he assured me had gone as well as could be expected.

To be sure, I had come to like Dr. Gieser in the week leading up to this surgery — he’s a compassionate man and is willing to take the time not only to explain all the details in layman’s terms, but also to make sure the patient’s questions are answered.

But I did not know anyone else in the room — and because there was a white sheet over my head, I’ll never recognize them again even if I bumped into them in a hallway somewhere.

I was, however, grateful.

I learned early in my career there seldom is time or consideration for expressing gratitude or appreciation for another’s work. I suppose that’s because at the smaller papers I’d worked at during those early years, there was a greater expectation to produce more stories and photos per day, which meant a lot of formula writing and fewer opportunities to be creative. Still, some of what I consider the highest praises I received in my career came from bosses who gave little time or thought to such niceties, because they frequently had too many plates spinning at once to even consider passing on a compliment. Yet from time to time, they would do so, and I learned to savor those moments.

But a couple of former colleagues I worked with at The Courier-News in Elgin taught me there always should be time to pass along a good word. Marty O’Mara and Paul Harth remain employed by Sun-Times Media, and I am grateful for that. They taught me more than simply how to encourage others over the years we worked together, but I came to realize that boosting another’s spirits from time to time was something they did well and with sincerity, and it was a trait I’ve tried to emulate.

So as they prepared to wheel me out of the operating room, I said, “thanks — you guys ROCK!”

“Rock?” asked Mr. Cheery Voice. “That’s good, right?”

“That’s very good,” I replied.

I have no clue how it was received, but I imagine there was a smile or two as they moved me down the hallway to the recovery area.

My point in sharing this tale is that, from time to time, we all need encouragement, we need to be told we’re doing something right. A layoff or some other catastrophe can cast all kinds of doubt on a person’s self-esteem, sense of self-worth, even their sense of value to those around them.

Today, I am 48 days into my second year as an underemployed individual who still has a passion for the career he was called to nearly three decades ago. Over the past 13 months or so, I have learned some new things — blogging and the use of social media, for example. But there have not been a lot of people in what I’d call my innermost circle to offer that key piece of encouragement when I really needed it most.

That’s perhaps just one reason the part-time work with BocaJump and have been so good for me. There are some really great people in my corner on both fronts there.

But there has been some encouragement from unexpected fronts that I also have come to appreciate. Occasionally, someone will  post a comment on this blog that validates what I had set out to do when I started this. Other times, it has been a Facebook message or a friendly “tweet” from a former co-worker, a friend or from some of the people I have met or interviewed while working for BocaJump.

The bottom line is people need to hear a not-too-occasional word of encouragement, and there are people out there who are ready, willing and able to offer it, often with enthusiasm.

To those who do I offer this: “You ROCK!”