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“Hello again, Elizabeth,” Dr. Patron said as he sat on a black rolling stool.
“Hi,” I said, as I stood to shake his hand again and then raced into the exam chair in the center of the room, perennially the straight-A student and now, aspiring perfect patient.
“Let’s just take a quick look at your eyes before we discuss the results of these tests, alright?” he said.
“Okay,” I said, willing myself to smile but aching inside – here he was with the answers, and I needed to wait for him to fiddle with a machine or two before he tells me what he knows?
He swung the mechanical arm and the metal mask toward me and rolled toward it on his stool to gaze in its eye holes.
“Glasses off and rest your chin right there please,” he said, and I complied, hooking my glasses onto the edge of my collar.
He flipped a few dials, then moved part of the mask to focus a handheld magnifier on my broken eye. He held it with his pointer finger and thumb, a small glass object, somewhere in the space between my eye and his, and he shone light straight into my pupil as he did so – all this to see with his own eyes into the depths of mine. He mumbled some medical terms I did not understand to his medical tech; she furiously tapped the keyboard; I tried not to blink or move as my eyes watered. Then he switched to the left, studied it, mumbled more medical jargon, which was memorialized digitally, and then he turned off the light and returned the mask and arm to its resting place to the left of the chair.
“I want to show you these images of your eye that we captured, Elizabeth,” Dr. Patron said, standing and bending over the computer. His assistant rolled backward to give him space, and I shoved my glasses onto my face and frantically flipped to a blank page in my notebook, pen in my hand, so I didn’t miss anything. A few clicks and I was looking at what could be a black and white photograph of a sand dune.
“This is your left retina,” he said, “You can see the layers in your retina and how you have a sort of plateau on each side, and right in the middle, there’s a dip. That’s normal.” He tapped the computer again and brought up another image of a sand dune – but this time, a hill rose in the center. “This is your right retina,” he said, pausing to let us take it in. I stared, disbelieving.
“What does that mean?” Jeremy said.
“It’s a lesion – and other than that, I’m not sure,” said Dr. Patron.
“What?” I said.
“We can tell you a few things for sure: it’s not a tumor, so it’s not cancerous; it’s not infectious – at least not an active infection. And it’s not treatable,” he said.
I was sure I could hear the fluorescent lights buzzing overhead. Finally I asked, “So, that’s the hill in the photo?”
“Yes,” he said. “Here—” he turned toward the computer, clicked a few buttons, and brought up a color photograph of my whole eye — “you can see it as a yellow spot in your eye.”
“What is it made of?” I said.
“Well, it’s not fluid,” he said.
“So, just skin? Protein?” I asked.
“Probably,” he said. He flipped back to the black and white close-up. “The bad news is that you can see here—” and he pointed to the layers of retina, which looked like dark and white lines — “these layers look atrophic. You can see in this other photo of your left eye,” he switched back to the other photo, “the clean layers of retina. In your right eye”— he flopped the photos again, “The retina looks ratty.”
I take a deep breath to take in the word: “Ratty.” My eye looks ratty. Perhaps the most important sensory organ in the body—and one out of two of mine looks ratty.
To be continued…
This post is part of my “Through A Mirror Dimly” series about a recent health issue I’ve been experiencing. I started telling this true 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?