Monday, July 31, 2023

True Love

Tiny but powerful, my mother possessed influence. Barbara Jo managed both our family and a larger social circle. Her friends were charming people with exotic names, names no longer fashionable. Like Gertrude and Walter, Cliff and Muriel, Frank and Edith. Born in the 1930s these people prospered in post-War America. My favorite name among them was Willie Wenker, a German immigrant who founded a successful fuel oil company. Willie Wenker -- it slides out of your mouth as if poetry.

Barbara Jo felt fierce commitment to our family. After raising two boys my parents moved to Florida where they settled into a comfy new home. My mother's final years (1985-1991) were spent relaxing in well-earned leisure. During that period she regularly mailed me monthly checks, unsolicited gifts designed to ease my financial situation. It was the beginning of my law career and I could use support. 

My first legal job was found after a long, desperate search. My boss, an exploitive tyrant, paid me the least he figured he could get away with in tough market conditions ($10,000/year). I later discovered our secretary was making more money than I was.

The monthly gifts from my mother were appreciated. In addition to enabling me to enjoy a slightly better life-style her checks represented something else: reminder of her maternal love. Emotionally the mail erased geographical distance between us.  Envelopes arrived with the reliable frequency of a Swiss timepiece.

Near the end of my mother's life she struggled with physical pain from cancer. She never complained and refused to even acknowledge her illness. The only clue was her new wigs and turbans. Barbara Jo was stoic and strong to the end.

Checks from my mom were written in a steady hand -- the same hand that had cradled me as an infant, fed me as a child and led me through life. I viewed her steady hand as a pillar, something always there that could be counted on. As certain as the Sun rose in the morning, my mother's love existed and sustained me.

Then, suddenly, something happened. One day I casually opened my mail and saw a check written in shaky handwriting, manifestly unlike its predecessors. This check stopped me in my tracks. Looking at it I shuddered. The check's paper, account, amount and envelope were all same as usual but my mother's infirm hand betrayed her deteriorating health. I realized she couldn't really write any more and had slowly, painfully forced herself to spell out my name letter-by-letter in a heroic act of devotion. A last, significant act powered by sheer will. 

I'll never forget that check or its significance. Barbara Jo taught us to care deeply and be Herculean in our devotion to loved ones. I honor her by following that example and spreading her lesson. 

Monday, July 17, 2023

Riding Through The Storm

Have you missed me?

I've been struggling with my eyesight for the past five months. Initially my blindness was called a temporary, normal effect of illness. Later it was misdiagnosed by an optometrist as cataracts (which can be easily fixed). Then an ophthalmologist corrected that mistake and announced the condition is glaucoma, not cataracts. Glaucoma causes irreversible damage to the optic nerve and permanent blindness. 

Glaucoma has already destroyed all vision in my left eye. We're trying to save my right eye from the same fate. Five eye doctors are treating me, including specialists like a neuro-ophthalmologist and a renowned eye surgeon. 

I took powerful glaucoma medications for months. They had horrible side-effects: e.g., constant nausea, erratic sleep, digestive distress. I lost 20 lbs. and now need new belts.

The medication helped the glaucoma but not enough so I then began a series of eye operations. The first surgery (laser iriodomy) drilled two holes in my head. Literally -- the doctor used a laser-beam and drilled new holes in my head. That certainly wasn't on my Bingo card. The surgery helped a little but not enough. Glaucoma was still causing dangerously high pressure in my eye and threatening total blindness.

Last month I had two more surgeries in a single operation. One installed a drainage-shaft shunt in my eye-socket. The combined operation took over five hours and was excruciatingly painful. The surgeon kept me awake and used only local anesthesia. He did that so I could assist him by moving my eye during the procedure. He sewed fifteen filaments onto my eyeball to anchor the shunt. The pain was worse than anything I've ever expeerienced -- including the time I laid dying on a cold roadway twenty years ago after being knocked off my motorcycle by a reckless motorist. (During that trauma I struggled to breathe despite four broken ribs and a collapsed lung.)

In this operation the surgeon also removed my eye's natural lens and replaced it with a new artificial one. I was given official laminated cards for explaining to TSA/security in the future why I have multiple foreign objects inside my head.

Nobody knows how well these treatments will work. I'm trying to avoid despair and instead focus on re-building my life. There are many practical adjustments available to improve things.

I couldn't have made it this far without extensive assistance from Robin. She transports me to doctor appointments (2-3 each  week), puts drops in my eyes (5-6 each day) and leads me by the hand through grocery stores. Robin even learned how to help with cooking: she's now a talented sous-chef which surprised her as much as you. 

Poor eyesight makes everything difficult. At first I couldn't put toothpase on my brush and had to figure out a work-around. You're also vulnerable to injury from collision with poles, objects, pedestrians and moving cars. I have bruises to prove this. 

We never know what's ahead of us and life can sometimes become very hard. When it does the only choices are struggle or surrender. That's where I am today.