I called the specialist’s office back the next morning at 8AM, determined to demand that the receptionist write my name on the calendar, to discover that Dr. Jordan had done my work for me.
“You can find all the new patient forms online, if you’d like to fill them out ahead of time,” Sherry said.
“Thank you,” I said. “Um, by the way, how much do these appointments typically cost? I don’t really have insurance – it’s a sharing program, so we pay all the bills up front.”
“You’re self-pay?” Sherry asked.
“I guess so,” I said.
“For self-pay clients, you have to pay $250 up front when you arrive, then the rest after the appointment – depends on the tests they do. They usually do an ultrasound on the first appointment. Could be up to $1200.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Wow,” I said. “So, the doctor actually already took photos of my eye… could we use those instead so we won’t have to repeat tests?”
“Sorry, these doctors like to take their own photos,” she said.
“I see,” I said.
“We can do a payment plan, if you need it,” she said.
“Maybe,” I said.
“But we give you a 20% discount if you pay on the same day,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, frowning, wondering if we could make it work with our anemic bank accounts.
“Plan to be here about 3 hours for this first appointment.” Sherry said, “And we’ll see you at 8AM on Monday, Elizabeth.”
I hung up the phone, shut my eyes, and put my chin to my chest, stretching my shoulders. I took a couple of deep breaths: next Monday’s appointment left me six wide open days to imagine a cancerous mass throbbing behind my eyeball.
Fortunately, I had all of the normal things on my to-do list, besides imaging my own radioactive demise: I wiped kids’ snotty noses, changed diapers, washed mounds of dishes, slept next to my husband each night, and I saw my friends, all of whom were determined to pray for me, though I’d been scared to tell them my news.
My friend Sheryl asked if she could bring me a Tupperware for dinner. My friend Joel copied a whole Psalm into a text. My friend Kiley texted to ask if she could babysit my kids while Jeremy and I went to the specialist on Monday.
A few days after my appointment at Dr. Jordan’s, I called another friend, Maggie, to discuss the findings. I stood in the kitchen, leaning on the stainless steel island as my kids napped in their rooms; she talked from her home in Georgia, her kids playing in the background. I described my fuzzy vision, what the doctor had said, and my upcoming appointment. Then I told her, “You know, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I lost my right eye.”
“Is that a possibility?” she asked.
“If it is cancer, I imagine there’s not much they can do for it – like they might need to take my eye out to contain it,” I said.
“But you don’t know for sure yet if it’s cancer, right?” she said.
“Right…,” I said. “But what else can it be? Like, any mass of cells seems suspicious, you know?”
I heard one of her kids crying in the background, and I began to pace back and forth on the tile.
“Yeah…” she said.
I continued: “I’ve been thinking that if I had to lose it – if there was no other option – or even if I became blind, I think I’d be okay. I could still read and write and even become a counselor or go back to school down the road if I wanted to. I guess I’m saying, it wouldn’t change my life that much.”
I paused, then continued: “Of course, I’d need to figure out another way to get around, since I couldn’t drive, but I could still do everything I need to, basically.”
My mind called up all the ways that what I’d reasoned just wasn’t true: I pictured myself chopping vegetables, taking photos of my meals to post to Instagram, leaning toward the bathroom mirror to brush on mascara, reading picture books aloud to my children. I ignored the images.
“Or at least,” I said, “I could figure out a way to make my life work. Right? Like, maybe we’d need to move to a bigger city with better public transportation…”
I stopped pacing and leaned against the kitchen counters, the granite cold on my forearms.
Maggie was silent for a moment, and then she said. “Wow.”
“What?” I said.
“Liz, you’re really catastrophizing.” I bristled at her diagnosis.
“I mean, when I feel really anxious, I do the same thing – I plan out the worst-case scenario,” she said.
I sighed, frowning, and then, I smiled. This is exactly why I love Maggie: she tells me the truth.
“You’re right,” I said, amazed that she could call me out, even from a distance of hundreds of miles. “I have been really anxious. It feels so terrifying not to know what this thing is.”
“Does it hurt?” she said.
“Not at all,” I said. “I guess there are no nerves in the retina.”
“Thank God,” she said. “And by the way, I have no doubt that if you lost your eye, you could find a way to make your life work for you.”
“Thanks, friend,” I said, smiling.
This post is part of my “Through A Mirror Dimly” series about a health issue I’ve been experiencing. I started telling this story during the season of Lent as a way to make sense of the ways that my own suffering teaches me about the suffering of Jesus Christ.
I also invite you to engage with your own suffering through this series: how does your personal pain illuminate the suffering of Jesus for you? And what can your pain teach you about the life of faith?
I’d love to hear your thoughts – comment away!