Under the Knife Part 3

I’m going under the knife. Again.

This will be the third surgery in less than 18 months. The first was in July ‘11 for a digestive issue that had been bothering me for several years. Result: all cleared up! The second was after I fell down the steps in January. Results: still limping but at least I can walk (kinda).

This time, I’m excited about the surgery. In a little less than three weeks, I’ll be the recipient of some dead guy’s cornea. Due to a degenerative corneal disease, I’ve been legally blind in my left eye for three years, and mostly blind in my left eye since Bill Clinton was president.

What you see

What Joe Sees

I started noticing something was wrong way back in high school when those 3-D posters started popping up everywhere. They looked like bad Jackson Pollock paintings and I’d think “What the heck is that?” My friends thought they were cool. “That’s neat!” they’d say. “Look at that dinghy!”

It took me a while to realize they were serious and not just making suggestive jokes at my expense.

After a while, I noticed something was wrong. I’d go for walks in the park close to my college apartment and, when I looked at the leaves, I could see a distinct difference between camera 1 (left eye) and camera 2 (right eye). Driving at night became increasingly difficult, and I never quite got the hang of first-person-shooter video games because people were always jumping out of dark corners to shoot me in the back of the head.

I hate it when that happens.

I went to the eye doctor and was quickly diagnosed with Kerataconus. Kerataconus is a degenerative corneal disease in which your cornea this and distends like one of those volcano islands in the pacific. It’s always changing, so your new prescription lasts maybe six months. There was no known cure at the time. My only options were: hope it stops, wait for my eyeball to explode so I could have surgery.

Thus, I dubbed the disease “Exploding Eyeball Syndrome” or EES for short.

I found a really good eye doctor here in Columbus and we managed my increasingly poor eyesight for several years, starting with thick glasses then moving through a series of expensive (but thankfully covered by insurance) custom contacts until about two years ago when the contact in my left eye just wouldn’t stay in. I’ve been “driving home with one headlight” for the last two years now and, while I’m usually okay, I get lots of headaches and the sight in my left eye has regressed to the point where I can only see are the kinds of things that inhabit Tim Burton’s nightmares: kinda scary, but mostly strange and sometimes oddly endearing.

At my most recent visit, The Really Good Eye Doc(tm) told me he couldn’t help me any more, and that I’d probably need surgery. I saw the surgeon earlier this week and I’m scheduled for early November.

Despite the fact that having somebody cut out part of my eyeball with a scalpel and replace it with some dead guy’s cornea sounds about as much fun as having Mike Tyson punch me in the face for an hour, I’m excited. For one … pain meds! For two … I’ll be able to see things again.

Back when my contacts worked, I always looked forward to the day when I got the new set. I’d walk outside and everything looked more Real™. It was weird. It reminded me of the time we first got a big screen television with HD. We’d had this small television set for years and, sure, the picture was kinda blurry, but that’s how it always was so we were used to it. Then we got the new television! We’d flip that baby on and stare in wonder as even commercials for Bob Johnson’s used car lot seem like works of art.

Imagine that, but with everything, not just on t.v.

I’m looking forward to later this year, when I can take the bandages off my eye and look at my wife and my kids, seeing them as they really are, not just the balls of blurriness they’ve become. I can’t tell you how excited I am for that day.

I might also get to see what those 3-D posters were all about, too.



Gravity Is A Cruel Mistress, And Other Lessons I Learned Falling Down The Steps To My Basement

Gravity is a cruel mistress. She tempts. She teases. She torments.

I learned my lesson earlier this year when I was on my way to the basement to do some laundry. I got halfway down the steps, stuck my foot where I thought the next step would be. The only problem was it wasn’t there. I missed, and that’s when Gravity reached out from the depths with her icy hand and pulled me to the ground below. My knee when CRUNCH. I went “AHHH” and I hit the floor hard, like a sack of wet meat.

At the hospital, they said I tore my patella tendon, which is what holds your kneecap in place and let’s you do fun stuff like stand and walk and kick things. I had surgery followed by several months in the torture chamber known as “Physical Therapy” and, even though I’m still limping, I’m finally on the mend

It’s been a long road, and I learned three lessons along the way that have helped me get through. They might help you, too, should you find yourself on the wrong end of Gravity’s good graces.

Lesson #1: There are 256 divets in the ceiling above the couch in my living room.  I know. I counted each and every one of them … many…many times.

Everything slows down after an injury. I knew that. But I wasn’t prepared for just how slow things can be. Just getting out of bed was an ordeal. And showering? Lord have mercy! You can’t just get in and get out. You have to find a way to maneuver over the lip of the tub without falling, which is especially difficult when you’re naked and dripping wet.

I’m sorry for the image of me that leaves in your heads, but it had to be done.

There’s a process for everything: getting up the steps, getting into a car, sitting down to eat, using the bathroom. It’s exhausting. Sometimes it’s easier to just lie on the couch and count the divets.

But if you hang in there long enough, eventually it gets better. The crutches go away you think, “Yes! I can do all the things I used to do!”

Which leads us right into lesson #2: You can’t.

You might think you can finally get back to normal life, but you can’t. Not yet, anyway. Here’s what I’m talking about…

I was late for work, and I couldn’t find my keys. My wife had already left, so I was stuck. Then I remembered the bus stop down the street.

“It’s only a half mile,” I thought. “I can walk that, right?”

No. I couldn’t. I got just a few blocks away and I was stumbling along, drenched in sweat, waving at passing cars like it was Mardi Gras in New Orleans and I was on the main float. I got to where I could see the bus stop when I hear a familiar “woop wop”   behind me.

Uh oh. The police.

“Was I speeding, officer?”

“We had complaints of a disturbed man wandering down this street,” he says.

“Well I saw this one guy in a speedo running the other way not too long ago and … OH you’re talking about me, aren’t you?”

“Uh huh,” he says with his arms crossed in front of him. “Sir, I’m going to need you to walk this straight line.”

I put my arms out like I’m walking a tightrope and stumble along the imaginary line the police officer drew in front of me.

“You don’t understand,” I tell him. “I fell down the steps, ripped my patella tendon. I had knee surgery so I just LOOK like I’m drunk.”

“Uh huh,” he says, writing something in his notebook. “Sir, please touch your fingers to your nose.”

I alternate hands, touching  my nose perfectly.

“I’m only out walking ‘cause I lost my keys,” I tell him. “I have a meeting at work and I’m late, so I was in a hurry.” I lean over to look the police officer in the eye.

“You know how that goes, right officer?” When I lean back, I accidentally hit myself in the face with my own hand. My eyes start to water.

“Uh huh,” he says, opening the door to his car. “Sir. I’m going to need to you to come with me.”

“Wait wait wait! I can prove it! I have a scar on my leg! Look!”

I start to remove my pants and get them halfway to my knees with it finally occurs to me that if I’m trying to convince this man I’m not drunk or mentally distubed, disrobing in public is not the best way to accomplish my goal. I crumble.

“I’m sorry, officer. It’s been a horrible day and I have this meeting and I lost my keys and my knee is killing me …. And … I’m going to jail, aren’t I?”

“Patella tendon, huh? I tore mine last year playing basketball.”

“Oh thank God!” I said. “Not that you hurt your knee… I mean..”

“It’s fine. I’ll give you a ride … And sir?


“ Please keep your pants on.”

Lesson #2: If you think you can… you can’t. Remember that.

Lesson #3:  Just like your knees, Pride goeth before a fall  

We were building backyard playset for the kids. They delivered the lumber and I was in the process of moving it into the garage nice and slow so I didn’t hurt myself. I was proud of myself for this; too proud, in fact; Which is why, when my wife came out to help, I said something very stupid.

“Look, honey,” I said. “I’m taking it easy so I won’t fall and hurt myself again.”

I hadn’t even got the words out of my mouth before I stepped on an odd patch of grass, fell, and hurt myself again. And that’s how, three months past surgery, instead of cruising into recovery, I found myself right back at lesson #1, lying on the couch, counting divots.

When suddenly I felt a tug on my jeans. It was my six month old. Micaiah. He put both hands on my leg, pulled himself up to a standing position, and grinned.

I wasn’t home when our oldest started walking. I missed his first steps and his first words. But this time I got to see it. This time I was part of the story. And I would have missed it if I hadn’t fallen down the stairs.

The truth is we all slow down. Whether you hurt yourself or just get old, eventually you’ll look at the things you used to do and to say “I can’t. Not anymore.” When this happens, you have a choice. You can rant and rave and say stupid things or you can give up your pride and accept the good things right in front of you.

We all slow down. It’s HOW you slow down that makes the difference. It’s small, sure, but it’s big enough for me and I intend to make the most of it. I hope you do, too.

One last lesson, though. The next time you’re doing laundry, take it from me. Watch where you’re going, okay?