Sunday, May 29, 2011

Losing Sight

Time for another post. This sculpture was one I made of Zsofia Polgar, international master and woman grandmaster chess player at 14. I made it when I was studying chess with my husband and making pots at UCSD. I am glad I took this picture, because someone stole the sculpture before it was glaze-fired, or after it was glaze-fired but before I could pick it up. Alas...

I now sit, so many years later, in Green Valley where I can pick up the thread of playing chess. I may be playing chess more. I am already playing tennis more. I am enjoying, more than ever, doing things for the joy of doing them.

I also had a rude shock this week as the Mother of all Floaters (the eyeball kind) made its appearance in my left eye with attendant cloud of thousands of micro-floaters. Eye exam, and follow-up retina specialist eye exam, revealed that I had somehow torn my retina. Within 24 hours I had laser surgery, which is a biological welding job tacking the tear against the back of the eyeball so that further damage--retinal detachment--will hopefully not occur. I am now in the healing stage where we wait and see if the weld holds, and I may be allowed to read, and to go back to playing tennis (writing, being slower, does not require my eye to dart back and forth much). The floaters will resorb eventually and the current cloudiness in my eye will give way to my usual 20-20 vision.

Perhaps my incontinentia pigmenti (a genetic defect with which I was born) gave me weak retinas from the beginning, and the decrepitudinification of aging kicked in like a one-two punch to cause this completely unexpected and rare event. I do not suffer from nearsightedness (the main cause of retinal tearing), nor diabetes (the second most common cause). I didn't get kicked in the head recently. I just noticed the Motherfloater one day (a Sunday, my day of rest and worship) in the middle of the afternoon.

So I feel a bit philosophical. I don't know whether to write about my reexamination of life options (faced with a future of uncertain sight), my increased level of compassion for others with struggles, the sheer panic of contemplating eye surgery, my comfort at getting a priesthood blessing--or to write about how I came to understand and translate the sparse and unintelligible opthalmology jargon I found on the internet in terms of jello and coffee.

Jello and coffee sound good right now. It seems that the vitreous humor of the eye (nowadays shortened to "the vitreous") is a gel, which tends to shrink and to become more liquid with age. Picture a cup of jello. Turn the cup from side to side, and the jello goes with the motion. Picture a cup of coffee, and turn the cup from side to side. The coffee pretty much stays in the same place, while the cup moves back and forth (if you are one of the rare people who has not noticed this fact of physics, please go try it out yourself. You may substitute cocoa for coffee, of course). Notice, too, that although the middle of the liquid in the cup stays pretty much put, the liquid where it meets the inside of the cup is subject to lots more friction and torque.  By analogy, the eyeball of a young person is like jello and there ain't a lot of torque goin' on, but the aged eyeball, being more coffeelike, is undergoing more torque.

I am really trying to slide in the pun "torque is cheap" but I just can't figure out how to do it...

Anyway, the torque at the outside of the eyeball where the retina resides, flakes off little floaters but occasionally can cause a full-on tearing. Then, blood gets into the vitreous (that's the thousands of little micro-floaters I see) and the vitreous can sneak behind the retina and cause it to lift off the back surface of the eyeball--that's detachment, and it gets really serious. We're talking major go-under-the-knife surgery to attempt to repair that one, and to keep you from going blind.

Ah, yes, the nearsightedness. Nearsighted people have elongated eyeballs. Picture a cup of coffee in an oval cup. This is a thought experiment because where are you going to find an oval cup, really? You just have to figure that the torque and friction around the cup edge has got to be crazier than around a circular cup, and that's why younger people with nearsightedness can get retinal tears.

So, it would seem that older people shouldn't watch ping-pong matches. Nah, just kidding--retinal tears are not common among even the aged. But as a warning, here's this one--if you ever experience a Motherfloater GO DIRECTLY to the optometrist at Wal-Mart and get your eyes checked. I am glad I did, because time is of the essence, he referred me immediately to a retina specialist, I obeyed, I got an in-office laser welding job and the whole thing wasn't as painful as I thought it would be. It was a miracle, actually.

So why I put up a picture of a sculpture I thought of as some really nice work I did, which got stolen, is for the metaphor effect: You never know when something precious may disappear.

Next time, I may philosophize more, as I come to grips with reality as it continues to unfold. Thanks for reading.