Dr. Hulking and Fish Eyes

5 years ago
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“So how old are we now?” My mother’s ophthalmologist asked, as if he hadn’t seen her in centuries.

This might seem a blatantly rude question if coming from a less hulking posture of a man dwarfing his own office to the size of a dollhouse broom closet; whose formidable stature matches his renowned expertise.

My mother was undaunted: “I’ll be 95 in September. And I plan to live a long, long, long time!”

I was glad then that Dr. Hulking whisked in front of her face the eye-machine thing, so that we could not make eye contact, as I spewed a little cough of a polite laugh, as if my mother has not already lived a long, long, long time.

The latest digital eye thing, something like this:


I was on this side of this latest digital apparatus – I was sitting in a chair against a wall behind Dr. Hulking. Seeing what he could see: An obscenely enlarged image of my own mother’s eye.

So enlarged, her eye did not look like an eye. More like a fish. Her lashes were fins. An extremely at-once-rotundish-and-elongatedish finned fish.

Until Dr. Hulking zoomed in closer. Her pupil morphed into a tar-black wobbly moon. Blood vessels snaked like cobras in her whites. She blinked. Her eye became a horror film.

Children do not enjoy seeing their parents naked. But even as my mother’s body has aged, I find those naked moments far less obscene than such closeup shots of her eyeball (as well as of her heart ventricles). Not only are such close close-ups obscene, but intrusive as well, and despite my fascination, as with road kill, I forced myself to look down at my phone. I played a round of Bejewels.

“Ahhh, you’re still the queen of astigmatisms,” he said, “But your lenses are beautiful.”

“Well, thank you,” my mother giggled.

On the precipice of 95 “beautiful” takes on a whole new meaning.

“But my glasses are terrible,” she went on. “Haven’t been able to see with them at all. We went to this terrible optician – “

“Your prescription is fine. It hasn’t changed,” he interrupted in his usual blatant way. “It’s macular degeneration.”

“And what does that mean?” she asked.

I wasn’t sure either, but I gathered it wasn’t good.

The screen went blank. He moved the apparatus away from my mother’s face.

He started to explain something technical, about the back of the eye, deterioration of the macula-something-or-other, but he was looking at me, so my mother snapped, “Talk to me. This is about my eyes.”

Without missing a beat, he blatantly shot back, “I’m talking to you both.”

“Well I can’t hear you. I’ve gone a little deaf. Speak up.”

Other perhaps more easily daunted doctors might be daunted by my mother’s own undauntedness.

But not this undauntable man who then yelled out, “Your eye is like a camera. Your lenses are fine. But the film in your camera is shot.”

My mother blinked.

He then wrote down the name of a retina specialist. Mumbled something about taking zinc to slow it down, depending on whether the diagnosis was “wet” or “dry” degeneration.

I typed zinc on my iPhone notepad, the only one feeling daunted – a small 50 -year-old little girl sitting in a tiny dollhouse chair that felt too big.

Later that night, away from all the daunting people, both hulking and frail, I Googled macular degeneration. Essentially a gradual but progressive and incurable blindness.

“So what did all that mean?” My mother had asked as I’d driven her home, before I’d had a chance to Google.

And I had answered what I would say later, when she’d ask again because her short-term memory, as well as hearing and her camera "film," is a little "shot."

I couldn't make eye contact with her any more than I could when she had said she planned on living a long, long, long time. In that plan at least, was eyesight. Her visual delighting  in the magnificent blooming of her dogwood trees.

“It just means...we need to see a specialist. And maybe you need to take some more vitamins.”

I quickly changed the subject to her upcoming echocardiogram, suggesting we get the "heart" stuff out of the way before we move on to the eyes. To those blind spots that eventually, if she does live a long, long, long time, might obliterate her favorite, sunsets through stark winter trees out her bedroom windows.


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