Dr. Polonski removed the stitches from my lower eyelid the day before yesterday, on my birthday. This time, for the first time, after looking at his work closely, he said, “Lynne, I’m happy.” I had a scare that night, though, thinking that the skin was slipping. He saw me the next morning and assured me that all is looking as expected and that I could expect the appearance of the graft to change and vary considerably over the next few months. I’m still nervous about the skin, but the rest of the graft seems to be holding well.
Well, it turns out that reconstructing an eyelid is hard. The graft is holding, but it’s going to take another surgery for each lid to refine them properly. Sigh. Guess I’m going to frightening strangers with my naked eye for at least a few months more.
I go in this afternoon for surgery to reconstruct my lower eyelid. Dr. Polonski will use a graft of skin and cartilage from the back of my ear to make a lid that looks relatively normal (though it will lack eyelashes) and that will (fingers crossed) be able to function. Most exciting, when it heals I should be able to go without an eye patch. Exposing my eye may not look so pretty for a while, but it will give my eyelids more practice blinking, and that should strengthen both the muscle and the nerve (if nerves can be said to have strength) and get me a big step closer to having full vision again.
I will be under general anaesthesia for this. I was supposed to get a local, but that changed yesterday when I went in for an unscheduled visit with Dr. Polonski. I called him because my face has been swollen. At one point all the swelling had gone down, but in the past few weeks it has returned. Dr. Polonski says the lymphatic vessels are not draining the fluid properly, and he is going to try to help that during this surgery. He may also remove the tiny tube in my nose that has been allowing for drainage from my tear duct. I seem to be able to tear normally, so I think the tube is no longer necessary. These additional procedures will be painful, he says; hence, the need for general. I hope I wake up more easily this time.
Think of me blinking! Thank you all again for sharing with me your positive thoughts, prayers, energy.
I don’t know why I sent out the original email blast announcing my accident. It was uncharacteristic: I have become, over the last couple of decades, reflexively private, tending to answer personal questions, however friendly, with a vague word or three, and an edge of “Why do you ask?” underlying my tone. So why share something so personal—and continue to share, through my blog—without even being asked? What impulse led me to this uncharacteristic act?
I don’t know. At the time, it was beyond question, just something I should do. Whatever the reason, the repercussions of following that impulse have the potential to change me radically, if I can allow it.
The flood of good will I received in response to my email astonished me. I figured I would hear from friends, but acquaintances and strangers alike have taken the time (!) to write me, sending messages of sympathy and solicitude, sincerely wishing me well. Some have forwarded the news to others, who have also responded. People have prayed for me, in all the various forms of action and energy prayer can take, and many continue, months later, to keep me in their thoughts. Some have opened up and shared their own encouraging stories of injury and healing. Some have thanked me (!) for sharing my story, for motivating them to work more safely. Some have offered help—real, genuine help. I am not accustomed to letting people help me.
My beloved, traumatized partner stepped up to take care of me in a way neither of us knew she could, setting aside her fears to tend daily to my ugly injured eye. My sisters dropped everything and came straightaway. My older sister, Amaranth, stayed for four full weeks, taking over my care during the day so that Karen could get back to work and applying homeopathy to help me heal. My younger sister, Angie, could only stay a week but remained on call to fly back if she was needed; she tracked my recovery faithfully and enlisted practically everyone she knows to pray for me. My mother lovingly cooked for me, foods soft enough for me to eat without chewing, comfort foods that nourished me body and soul. Sharon, a friend from long ago who had no reason to care so much in the present, wrote beautiful visualizations that showed me how to heal even when I lost my bearings. My friends Pat and Darcey stayed with Karen at the emergency room and during my retina surgery and have been constant sources of humor, support, treats, and substantial help (it was they who just enabled me to participate in the open-studio tour). My friend Art rigged a remote control for my fan so that I could stay comfortable tucked upright in my chair, and brought bags of DVDs and audio books to entertain me. Karen’s family continues to provide long-distance support for both Karen and me. Many more friends have offered help that we haven’t yet needed to call upon (but may still).
And gifts. Flowers and food baskets. A Zuni fetish dancing bear. A lovely poem. Money. The local woodturning club (which I helped found, back when I had just learned to turn) voted to give me a substantial donation toward my medical expenses. I cried when I received the check. My collectors all bought work, as did some friends who I’m pretty sure didn’t need it. Someone who doesn’t want to acquire any more stuff slipped me a check in a card. Someone else paid twice the amount for an item and wouldn’t take change. Another person quietly handed me an envelope containing a lovely note—and another check.
Such kindness is a revelation. I had not realized how cynical I had become.
I don’t know how to take in all this goodness. I am utterly humbled by this generosity.
What have I ever done to deserve all this?
Amaranth says I don’t have to have earned all this; that it is enough for me to just be who I am. I believe that is true for the rest of the world; I even occasionally feel it is true for me; but something in my heart persists in crying out, “I am not worthy!”
If I can answer this cry, how different might I be?
When my friend Art, ready to take umbrage on my behalf, mentioned recently that a prominent Buddhist teacher had just declared flatly that all bad experiences are due to karma, I realized that I haven’t been experiencing this injury as “bad” (not that my karma might not justify a bad experience). Day after day, what I have been experiencing is goodness, gratitude, grace.
Perhaps this feeling won’t last, but perhaps it will: perhaps in the end this will have been not an injury but a blessing.
And should I prove unable to fully accept this blessing and its deeper healing, I will, at the very least, endeavor quietly to be worthy of it.
The past couple of days have been good ones. Not only did Karen’s parents in New Jersey finally get their power back on (hurrah!), but there is definite progress in my healing. My retina is flat, as it should be, although there is a patch of wrinkling to one side that Dr. Harris will fix using a laser at her office next Tuesday. And my left upper eyelid is definitely beginning to move in concert with the right when I blink! I’m so excited! Further, in about three weeks, Dr. Polonski will reconstruct my lower lid using skin and cartilage grafts from the back of my ear. And he is no longer considering whacking my face with a mallet: now that the swelling has gone down more, he is pleased with how symmetrical my face is looking. And my grin is only a little lopsided now. It gets bigger every day too.
I have been officially cleared for all normal activity, including sleeping any way I want and chewing on the left side (no jawbreakers though!) and lifting heavy-ish objects. I have been spending time in my studio cleaning up for visitors this weekend, and it feels good to be dirty with sawdust again, even if I am not yet making anything. Next week, I will start to play with making. I have washed my bloody apron and work pants and cleaned my bloody respirator, and I am happy to be wearing them again to work.
Both doctors essentially admitted this week that I am recovering much better than they ever expected, given the severity of my injuries. I am glad that I did not know their expectations or reservations before now. I am still planning on a full recovery—with the help of all of your good wishes and prayers.
Because of my injury, I had to cancel the shows I was planning to participate in this fall, but one event had already published my participation, and since it involves minimal setup and I will have help from a dear friend (thank you, Pat!), I have decided to go ahead with it. I will welcome visitors to my studio as part of the Tucson Open Studio Tour this coming weekend, November 10 and 11, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. I encourage you to come earlier in the day if you can, since I cannot guarantee how long my energy will hold up. (Please be patient with me if I need rest breaks throughout the weekend.) At present, this will be the only event this fall at which I will be selling my work, so please do come by for some of your holiday shopping. Pity purchases are welcome—I’m not proud and I do have a stack of unplanned-for bills to pay. If you cannot come but are interested in buying, please email me or call me at 520-760-8938 to arrange to see what work I have available.
For my address and a complete list of the artists and locations participating in the Tucson Open Studio Tour, see the Tucson Pima Arts Council web site.
Thank you for your continued support. I hope to see you this weekend.
I was scrutinizing my eye last night while Karen changed my dressing and noticed that there appears to be movement in my injured upper eyelid when I blink (not wink) my good eye! It is just a twitch, and it could be the eyeball moving beneath the eyelid, but I think it is the lid twitching. This would mean that the nerve is healing and that I’m on the way to being able to open my eye! Fingers crossed!
I just washed the dishes!
I’m getting back to normal life, improving by leaps and bounds—at least, that is how it feels. Yesterday, I took no pain killers; showered and shampooed by myself; wore a pullover T shirt instead of a button-up shirt; was awake (if not entirely alert) for twelve hours straight; had a long visit with friends without dozing off; ate some normal (still soft, but not soup!) food, which I got for myself; pooped; watched TV; and did some research online. Such are the earmarks of nearly normal life.
I am weak from five weeks (!) of inactivity. I have lost a lot of upper-body strength, and my diminished three-dimensional perception leaves me feeling a little wobbly—it’s not quite vertigo, but a sense of unsteadiness and a tendency toward motion sickness. How profoundly reliant on binocular sight we humans are! It will take me some time and experience to adjust to being temporarily monocular.
Regarding my sight, my understanding is that I can expect to be pretty much in a holding pattern for the next five months. All three of my doctors repeatedly stress that I suffered a severe trauma and that I need time to heal. I have some vision in my left eye now (when my eye is held open). I can see light and motion and make out shapes even without a lens. The lens will wait, I assume, until the surgery to remove the silicone oil, in about five months. I have a black area at the center of my vision in my left eye, due most likely to hemorrhaging behind the retina; I also have a clear area within the black that appears to me to be getting bigger. My hope is that the black will disappear as the blood clears away. I picture the black getting erased or chipped or eaten away, bit by bit, as the underlying cells heal.
The other part of the challenge to my vision is my eyelids. I will need another surgery to reconstruct my lower eyelid, most likely in early December. I have been growing new tissue on the lid since Dr. Polonski debrided it some weeks ago. He will graft some cartilage and skin from behind my ear to finish it. I may lose my “Yamaguchi ears” in the process, which I have always been fond of, though apparently sticking straight out is not the preferred aesthetic. One more change in the mirror to look forward to. More concerning to me is my upper eyelid, which is still not yet functioning. Dr. Polonski’s attitude is to stay patient and positive. In the original surgery, he repaired the lid layer by layer and thought everything looked good. That said, there was concussive damage to the nerve that controls the muscles of the lid, and it needs time to heal. That, along with clearing the black, is my primary focus. After all, what good will a functioning eye be if I cannot open my eyelid?
So join me, if you will, in envisioning me with two open, clear eyes—and always a big, big smile. Thank you for smiling back!
Sorry for the long silence. I feel like I have been asleep for most of the last two weeks, since my retina surgery. As my sister noted, the surgery itself took four hours, nearly twice as long as expected, very long for eye surgery. It was outpatient surgery, but it took me many hours afterward to wake up enough to go home; though I went in at 6:30 a.m., I was one of the last patients out. Ever since, my days have been cycles of sleep, eye drops, medication, food, sleep, eye drops, food, medication, sleep . . . interrupted by frequent doctor visits. I have been reading even email only every few days and have managed only a couple of actual replies. In many ways, I feel like I still haven’t woken from the surgery.
This week I can finally feel that I am getting stronger when I am awake, however. And the surgery was successful: my retina is firmly reattached, and when my eye patch is off, I have some vision even with the lens removed. My next goal will be to get my eyelids working again.
Yesterday’s visit to Dr. Harris marks a milestone: After two weeks of sitting up, I no longer have to be upright! I can now sleep on my side (either) or stomach. The first thing I did when we got home yesterday was to lie down on my bed for a nap. Blessed relief! I cannot describe how strong is the urge to lie down when you cannot. But not sleeping on my back has its own challenges. I have always moved a lot during sleep. Even with pillows at my back and a lump bound to my back to make lying on it uncomfortable, I was a challenge to police. Karen lost a lot of sleep trying to watch over me. I cannot tell how much sleep I got myself; today again I spent mostly dozing—upright in my chair when no one is here.
So, again, thank you for all the positive thoughts, and forgive me for not replying. I trust all this sleep is therapeutic, but I don’t know when I will finally be awake enough again to feel like life has resumed. In the meantime, keep those bad jokes coming! Turns out I can still laugh.
I am clean and scrubbed, ready for tomorrow’s surgery. This is an important milestone. It will be the first true assessment we have of the condition of my eye. All the information we have had so far is indirect, because blood is still obscuring any view of the retina. Tomorrow’s surgery will reattach the retina and also show us the road ahead for maximum recovery of my sight.
Because of damage to my facial nerve, I have the sensation of a large hole in my face, an absence in the whole that is my head. Sometimes that hole feels very cold and very black. I’ve been envisioning instead a space filled with a small gentle sun; a clear, peaceful, healing light.
Feeding this light is all the positive energy all of you are sending me. I cannot express how grateful I am for all the warm wishes I continue to receive from so many of you. It is so unexpected and such a blessing. Thank you.
Picture me looking back at you with both eyes and a big grin on my face.
I’ve taken to watching in a mirror the redressing of my eye. It makes me even more grateful for my caretakers, especially my partner. How brave she is to look at my wound again and again, to face down her fears to take such care of me. And the gravity of my trauma is finally sinking in: how lucky I am to have even survived such a blow, to still have an eyeball, to still have a recognizable face to look into. What good fortune is mine to have love, to have help and care, family and friends. And, by gum, to have insurance. And gifted surgeons.
May such good fortune bless all of you.