Ready. Set. Eye Cancer Surgery!
Having my eye cancer tumor removal surgery performed in a place called “The Eye and Ear Infirmary” conjured up images of the Middle Ages, iron tools, doctors in wigs and screams of pain coming from the hospital rooms. Instead, my husband dropped me off in front of a modern building in Manhattan. On the way to the reception desk, I encountered people whose eyes or ears were in different stages of bandage. Everybody was with somebody, guiding them through, helping them sit down, opening doors for them. I sat down and tried to rein in the rising panic. What if I lose my sight? What am I going to look like? Will I be disfigured? Will the cancer spread behind my eye into my head? I had a full blown meltdown the day before at home, telling my husband that if I go blind, he would have to go to the bad part of the city and get me some drugs so I could commit suicide. He calmly replied that he would not help me kill myself.
When the receptionist called me to go in the back, I had to sign a stack of papers with various permissions, warnings and authorizations that I didn’t have time to read. A red binder with my name and with all those papers in it was shoved in my hands and I was to report to the third floor. When I arrived there, a nurse took me to a locker room and instructed me in her thick Polish accent to pee in a cup, then pour it in the test tube she gave me, change my clothes and come out.
I emerged wearing cotton pants, sock-o-shoes: socks with plastic dots on the sole, a cotton shirt that opened in the back and a dark blue cotton bath robe. Another nurse took me to a room and questioned me about everything including whether or not I have painted toenails. Then she proceeded to drip eye dilating drops and antibiotics in my left eye – the bad cancer eye. The way she did it was that she held the dropper about 12 inches above my tilted face so by the time the drop reached my terrified eyeball, it hit it like a water balloon. She got mad that at the last second I kept closing my eye and the liquid dripped down my face. I told her to just pull my lower eyelid away and drip the drops there but she looked at me like I just asked her to give me her first born child. When the collar area of my hospital gown was thoroughly drenched in various eye drops, she finally released me to a big waiting room with a bunch of arm chairs surrounding a nurse station. I attempted to read my Kindle but the dilated eye was making it almost impossible.
Finally they came for me. In the operating room, I laid down on the table and the anesthesia drugs’ warmness flooded my vein. Instantly, I felt like I downed 8 shots of vodka. This feeling lasted for about 30 seconds in which I managed to wave a drunken Hi to my surgeon, Dr. F., and passed out.
Next thing I remember is the squeaking of my bed as it was being wheeled, cold wind sweeping over my face and something being yanked out of my throat and mouth.
Not sure how much later on, I woke up in the post anesthesia room. Instant nausea rose up in my body. I tried to open my eyes but only the right one opened. Barely. Everything was blurry and really bright. I touched my face and felt a big bandage covering my left eye. There were long pieces of tape over it stuck to my cheeks and forehead. I said out loud that I felt sick to my stomach. Then I fell asleep again.
Next time I woke up, I saw four shadowy figures standing at the foot of the bed. Everything was still blurry. I touched my good eye and felt something oily and sticky.
“It’s ointment we had to put on”, I heard Dr. F. say, “Did you know you sleep with your eyes slightly opened?” He continued.
“I feel sick to my stomach.” I said to the figures and closed my eye.
“Everything went well”, Dr. F. continued, “the nurses here will give you the eye drop prescriptions when you leave.”
“OK”, I said, “I feel really sick to my stomach.” Did nobody care?
Some time later, my husband showed up and a nurse stopped by my bed. I felt so nauseated I wanted to cry. Which in turn made me nervous because I just had two tumors cut out of the surface of my eye and I had no idea what crying would do to the wound. I repeated my plea to her while trying to open my good eye as much as possible. In about half an hour, she came back and squeezed some medicine into my IV. The nausea evaporated almost instantly.
I ate some saltines. They stuck to the insides of my cheeks, my tongue and my teeth. I drank some ginger ale. First time I had soda in ages. This was satisfactory behavior in order for me to be asked to get up and go pee. I was told I had to pee before I could go home. I got up and swayed so much I almost fell. Fortunately, my husband was holding me on one side and the nurse on the other. I rolled the IV stand with me into the bathroom and peed, cautiously waiting for the first pangs of pain to start throbbing in my eye. Nothing happened. Encouraged, I came out and got slowly dressed.
I was able to make it to the nurse’s desk where they gave me some prescriptions and paperwork with directions on what to do at home. I didn’t remember anything they said after that. All I remember thinking was how bright the day was outside the window. The hour long drive home consisted of me putting on my sunglasses, holding the palms of my hands over the glasses and still feeling like it was too bright out. Going over any small bump in the road felt like an earthquake. The nausea started to return too. By the time we pulled in our driveway, I was on the verge of throwing up.
“I’m gonna throw up.” I told my husband as I swung my feet from the car’s passenger seat onto the asphalt driveway.
“Let me get you inside.” He rushed around the car to help me.
“No, I mean, like…I’m gonna throw up right now.” I insisted and stood up, heading for the flower bed in front of the house.
My husband gently steered me to the front door: “No, no, no, wait, I’ll get you to the bathroom.”
As soon as we stepped inside the house, I felt the saltines and ginger ale surging from my stomach up to my mouth and out. I slapped my palm over my mouth but it was too late. I fell on all fours and threw up right there, in the middle of the living room, on top of my husband’s sandal that just happened to be in the way. Our dog came over to me, curious as to what was going on.
My husband cursed.
“I am so sorry.” I stuttered, still on all fours, not knowing what to do because I couldn’t see anything. Things were still blurry and opening even my good eye was starting to be painful. My husband picked me up by my waist and led me upstairs into the bathroom. I rinsed my mouth, blindly feeling for the faucets, toothpaste, toothbrush and the towel. While he was cleaning up the downstairs, I patted my way to the bedroom, sliding my hands on the walls, groping for the furniture edges and door frames. The bedroom was blissfully dark and soothing. After a while my husband came up and told me he was going to go buy my prescription eye drops. I settled in the bed with a plastic bucket by the side.
Later, I heard him come back home, climb up the stairs, enter the bedroom, and turn on the, what felt like a million watt, light. He announced that no pharmacy in the 20 mile radius has my antibiotic drops that I was supposed to start using several hours prior. The scene of him leaving and coming back, turning on the light and telling me he had no luck repeated a couple more times until almost midnight when he finally found the drops in a Walgreens 35 miles away.
It was time to take off the bandage. We carefully peeled away the tape and lifted the layer of gauze. There was a plastic shield with little holes in it over my eye with more gauze beneath. He gently lifted it away from my face. I tried to open my eye. No luck, the light was too painful. We turned off the main light and opted for the bedside lamp. I slowly peeled my eye open. I could still see! I tried to watch my husband’s face for a reaction. He said it didn’t look too bad. There wasn’t even hardly any blood on the gauze. We dripped the medicine in my eye, slowly, one stinging drop at a time.
It wasn’t until weeks later when he told me that night my eye looked like it got hit by a shrapnel.