While I’ve had issues with my eyes as a kid, a sudden bout of double-vision had me visiting the Ophthalmologist. A globe-trotting, golf-playing, see-you-in-three-weeks-Ophthalmologist.
“…the other reason for the double-vision could be…” the optometrist paused, unable to say the words out loud, as the thought she planted urgently formed in my head.
“A tumour?” I said, “pressing down on the back of my eye?”
She nodded, and we both went quiet.
I’ve had trouble with my eyes ever since I was a kid. The jam-jars of youth became a thick wall of glass, (then scratch-resistant high-index Perspex lens with anti-glare coatings) separating me from the world. I was comfortable behind those walls. Without them, I have a half-a-hand span of clarity before that world dissolves into confusing blurs. But this was definitely something new.
Myopia (short-sightedness) was the first gift I received from my parents. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. Presbyopia (long-sightedness) joined me in my mid-forties. It led to the dissatisfying torture of bifocals. Now, this.
I booked an appointment with my local GP. I needed her to hook me up with an ophthalmologist who could then book me in for a brain scan. I told her of my dilemma, she knew the perfect guy.
“I’ll send you to an ophthalmologist I know. He’s a friend of mine. He’s very good, the best.”
I felt instantly relieved and buoyed up with hope.
“But… he’s currently golfing…”
“Well,” I replied, “that shouldn’t take too long.”
“It’s a competition. He’ll be back in three months.”
Now rattling through my potentially tumored bonce was the thought I should’ve requested a non-friend, non-golfing, non-globetrotting ophthalmologist who could’ve booked me in for an MRI immediately. One working in the same country, perhaps, where I was living with my time bomb.
Every cell in my body told me it wasn’t a tumour, it was a lazy eye, a twist, something simple, but there was one annoying voice outside my body murmuring, ‘tick-tock’
The months of waiting for the MRI were interminable. I focussed on the positive as much as I could. I wondered how I’d react if I was given bad news. I wondered if I would be glib, or if the enormity of the situation would connect with me at all.
I wondered if I’d be shocked or shaken, impractical or pragmatic. Some days I’d lapse into doubt.
I looked at my son, and my loved one, in different ways.
After three months the momentous morning arrived.
I arrived early for my 8 o’clock, nervously concerned. To complicate matters, I had a 12 o’clock flight. I’d given all the details to the receptionist when I made the appointment. My eye doc’s a busy man: it was eight or another long wait. I was told not to worry, I’d easily make my flight, my examination would take two hours, tops. I had four up my sleeve. Plenty of time.
The two women at reception made me feel welcome keeping up a steady stream of banter with everyone who came through the door regardless of whether they were patients, referrals, deliveries or parcels.
I sat and watched the ladies admiring their efficiency as patient after patient arriving after me saw the doctor(s) before me. 8 o’clock came and went.
Not being one to make a fuss, but sweating profusely from worry, I approached the receptionists.
“Sorry,” I stammered, “I have a flight and I’m concerned…”
“Oh,” they giggled lightly, “we forgot about you completely.”
The assistant specialist took me for my pre-doc eye-exam. The assistant was softly spoken and her office comfortingly dark as she placed drops in my eyes saying they would take time to work.
She directed me back to my seat. As I was now quite familiar with waiting, I waited again.
Eventually, an impressive tower of a man opened the door to his office and invited me in. He was very personable as he sat me down and heard my dilemma.
He looked at my eyes. Then he looked at his watch. Then he looked at my eyes and shook his head. He couldn’t really make an assessment in the time we had.
I returned to my receptionists, paid for the pleasure of being forgotten, and wondered if I’d just been gamed.
I booked another appointment, which was difficult because “he’s a very busy man” and, with my pupils rapidly expanding, I headed to the airport.
When I reached the airport I realised instantly it was the worst place for rapidly expanding pupils. It’s all white, it’s all god-damn white. Floor-to-ceiling windows, great slabs of marble, bright reflective everything turning my red raw peepers into pain crazed squinting slits.
Every bounce of light poured battery acid into my eyes. I may as well have been bathing in bleach or staring close-up into the face of God in the arctic wasteland during the summer solstice.
Half-blind, cross-eyed, sweaty, panicky, and with a persistent unanswered question still pressing down on me I began my three weeks of waiting.
The final indignity – everyone on the counter, at the gate and on the flight, and until about four in the afternoon, thought I was having a good ol’ uncontrollable man-weep.
*All times and dates are only approximations.