Eye News #6 – Weeks 8, 9, 10 – The Gas Menace

You probably haven’t heard about the critical nationwide rattlesnake anti-venom shortage (and just as well, you’re probably thinking). Well, it’s true – the only company that manufactures anti-venom in the U.S. shut down their factory in February for upgrading, and they don’t expect to be back on line for at least another month or so. There was a story about this on National Public Radio last month, with one poison control center saying that they would normally like to have 10,000 units on hand to meet demand for the rest of the season, but that they only had about 45 units. A single bite can take 125 units to treat, so that’s not much of a stockpile. The company that made the anti-venom wouldn’t say how many boxes they had left in their stockpile, but they were releasing them on an emergency need basis.

This used to be a worry in my life, because during the week of August 28, I was scheduled to be going on vacation with Sylvia, Sean, Sylvia’s mom, and Sylvia’s brother Bill’s family. We would be rustically ensconced amidst the big trees — giant sequoias, in fact. There would be happy hikes among the trails, perhaps featuring fatal snakebites – mmmmm.

But, alas, it was not to be. After my third eye operation, only the week before, I again had an eyeball that was filled with dangerous, lens-corroding gas. I wasn’t even supposed to go above 4,000 feet (pop!), and the pass leading into the campsite was at 10,000 feet (kapow!).

Still, no reason why Sylvia and Sean shouldn’t go — this vacation had been planned for months. So, they left me alone and lonely, forlornly sitting in my chair, looking down. (Everyone asked several times if I would be ok, and I assured them that I had an adequate support network).

This was a good excuse for me to try http://www.homegrocer.com , and to take advantage of their introductory offer: $20 off my first order and free delivery, too. (If you try them, be sure to mention me, Tom Chappell — I’ll get a $15 kickback for referring you). It was an unalloyed pleasure — the smiling, uniformed delivery man arrived in his attractive, peach-decorated van, brought the groceries up to the door, slipped on little plastic bootie covers, and carried them into the house. All of the items were first quality, even the meat and the produce.

I didn’t do very much cooking, though — it was mostly a life of looking down. My good friend John Blackburn took me for my one-week check-up, and the doctor said that the good news was that the retina had excellent luster, that the cornea was healing nicely, and that the band (a.k.a. the buckle) that he had added was well positioned and nicely indented. The bad news was that long acquaintance with the evil sulphurous gas was causing my lens to develop a bit of a cataract (“almost unavoidable, after that much gas exposure”). He did say that young people (“and I include you in that category”) quite often heal these kinds of cataracts, and in any event, he could deal with a cataract, if the darn retina would just stay in place. My mother, after all, has artificial lenses in both of her eyes, and drives all over the mountains daily.

I was still in an amazing amount of pain. I asked the doctor about this, and he laughed and said that I had been in much more pain after the second operation, but that people (mercifully) don’t remember pain very well. I took my Vicodin and waited for time to pass. Finally, about eight days after the surgery, I was able to take off my eyepatch without screaming, “The Sun! The Sun! Ahhhh, what a world, what a world….”

John and his wife Karen had me over for a delicious dinner, and a rousing game of Scrabble afterwards. I’d like to say again how much everyone has helped me over the past 10 weeks, particularly my wife Sylvia and my friends Larry & Sally, Ron & Georgia, and John & Karen. You really know that you have friends when they go out of their way to help like this.

At this point the vision in my evil eye was weirdly cloudy, and I was again reduced to being able to tell that people have fingers on their hands, but not how many. I was plagued by an extremely peculiar horizontal line across my vision that mysteriously came and went, and also, sometimes I thought that I could see (clearly!) evil debris and corruption on my lens. This mystery was solved a few days later, when I realized that between the effects of the buckle, the swelling, and having an eyeball full of gas instead of liquid, my natural focus distance was about 1/4 inch away from my eye — I was focusing in on my eyeglass lens (which was sometimes dirty), and on the topmost rim of the glasses, which I could see perfectly sharply. Nothing else was in focus, though.

Two weeks after my surgery, I again saw the doctor and he still liked the look of the retina. I hadn’t seen much evidence of very much fluid production yet, but he said that this was normal because of the kind of gas he put in my eye — the especially long-lasting kind! It turns out that keeping your head down, and having gas against the retina, is very important for giving the retina a chance to heal properly — it’s not just a good idea because of keeping the lens wet. The cataract didn’t look too bad. He said that I didn’t have to be paranoid about walking for exercise, and gave me permission to work, but said that I would have to remain paranoid about working, because of the temptation to not keep my head down — it’s very important to keep it down.

I ended up going into work for three days and helping my teammates prepare for going to France. I couldn’t take the plane over because of the gas in my eye (kaboom!). I ended up staying at home the next week, but was able to attend the last few hours of each day’s meeting in France over the telephone. And all this time I’ve been keeping my head down, using a special flat-panel display that I’ve purchased, and looking at printouts.

The pain has been all gone since early this week, and at this week’s check-up the doctor again praised me for having kept my head down, and said that the cataract in the lens had improved quite a bit. My eye is still probably 85% gas (he used the long-lasting gas!), but I was noticing today that if I was looking down, I could easily count the number of fingers on my fully-extended hand, and in general everything looks much less dark and cloudy.

I’m starting to become less apprehensive about the ultimate conclusion to this whole affair. I probably won’t send another bulletin out until the gas is completely gone and I’ve gotten a new eyeglass lens for my evil eye, which may be quite a while yet — possibly several months (although I’ll be able to hold my head up high long before then).

If you don’t hear from me, assume that everything’s going well, and I’ll certainly send a short update by Thanksgiving.

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