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I opened my eyes the next morning and noticed a green flashing in the corner of my vision, like a stutter, as my pupil adjusted to the light coming in through the curtains. I rolled over, shut my eyes, and pulled the comforter over my head: I wanted to hide beneath the covers and never come out.
“You okay?” I heard a muffled voice.
My cheeks were wet. “I feel like it’s all my fault,” I said. I felt pressure on my stomach — Jeremy had draped an arm over me.
“What do you mean?” he asked. I lowered the blanket, turned on my side to look at him. He blinked sleepily, smiled at me.
“I guess I’m afraid I’ll miss something – like I’ll have some visual symptom I don’t notice until it’s too late,” I said.
“Like what symptom?” he asked.
“Like, I have a flashing green light in my eye this morning, and what if that means my retina is tearing and I don’t catch it in time? What if I could have prevented something awful but don’t because of my own ignorance?” I said. I wiped my cheeks.
He sighed, said, “I’ve heard you mention this blame thing a lot — but what’s happening to your eye is not your fault. And it’s okay to be ignorant. It’s okay to ask for help.” I took a long breath in and out. He continued: “And I think you should call the doctor about the flashing.”
I smiled. “Okay,” I said. “Thanks.”
I called and left a message a couple hours later, after I’d finished my workout at the gym. A couple of hours passed until I received a call back. The triage nurse answered my questions: no, it’s not a macular oedema, it’s not a retinal tear or detachment, and it’s definitely not cancer. (I couldn’t stop thanking her.) The nurse couldn’t explain the flashing. But, I wasn’t seeing a lightning streak across my whole eye at all times, was I? I told her no. Good, she said. That meant that whatever it was, it wasn’t a symptom that required an ER visit. Oh, and had she heard yet whether Dr. Patron had asked his colleagues about my eye? Did they know anything else? She’d ask Dr. Patron to call me, she said – I should expect to hear from him either today or tomorrow, at the latest.
The next morning, I felt the phone buzz in my pocket as I cracked an egg into a pan of oil for breakfast. The kids sat at the table, whining for food, and Jeremy buttered toasts on their bright plastic plates.
I held the phone in front of my face. I read “Colorado Retina Associates” on the caller ID. I felt my breath quicken as I pressed the green button to answer the call.
“Jeremy!” I bellowed, motioning to the pan and the frying egg as I rested the phone against my ear and said, “Hello? This is Elizabeth.”
“Hi, Elizabeth, this is Mark Patron,” the doctor said.
“Hello, Dr. Patron,” I said. “Thanks for calling me back.”
“Of course,” he said. “I have talked with a few of my colleagues, and I wanted to give you a call back about it.”
“Okay,” I said, rustling in a basket on the counter for a pen and snatching a piece of unopened mail for scratch paper.
He said, “One of the doctors in our practice was able to identify what you have.” My mouth fell open; time slowed; seconds stretched to days, weeks, to the swirling galaxy light years away. I was so small amongst these ancient stars, my entire planet just a thin dot on the horizon, my world this microscopic lesion. Somewhere a toddler cried as his toast tumbled to the floor, and a father bent to retrieve it.
“It’s called UAIM,” he said.
I returned to this place, fumbled with the pen cap, then said, “You said it’s called U-A-I-M?” putting separate emphasis on the letters in turn.
“Exactly,” Dr. Patron said. I leaned on the kitchen island, scribbling. “It stands for unilateral acute idiopathic maculopathy – that’s unilateral, meaning only occurring in one eye and not the other; acute, meaning sudden onset; idiopathic, meaning not associated with any other bodily disorder or disease; and maculopathy, meaning ‘of the macula.’”
“Uh huh,” I said, scratching words into the envelope. “Okay…” I said, standing up straight. “I see,” I said, leaning onto the island again to reread what I’d written.
The doctor continued: “UAIM is very rare — we do know that it is caused by a virus and it affects young, healthy individuals, such as yourself. Most of the time, the lesion comes and then goes on its own.”
“So, how did this happen? Do you have any idea?” I said.
“We do not know why it occurs; possibly it’s related to a particular virus, but there’s no way to prevent it,” he said.
“And it’s not related to any sort of auto-immune issue or anything?” I said.
“No, no, not at all. It just seems to be a rare immune response to a virus,” he said.
“Huh,” I said. My son sobbed in the background, and Jeremy escorted my daughter to time-out in her room. “So, are there any medications or treatments that might help the lesion shrink?” I said.
“No,” he said. “The best course of action is simply to keep watching it. We’ll want you to come into the office monthly so we can run tests and see how the lesion is progressing.”
I sighed, dreading regular mornings like the one I’d just experienced. “Okay,” I said, resigned.
“Do have any other questions?” he asked.
“Um,” I said, frowning. “Do you all have any idea how this will affect my vision long-term?”
“The lesion could go away and your vision could return to normal. But we don’t know for sure,” he said.
“Really?” I said.
“We’ll have to wait and see,” he said.
“Oh,” I said.
“We really don’t know much about the disease,” he said.
“Okay,” I said.
“And you had mentioned flashing in your eye, correct?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s why I called,” I said.
“I’m not concerned about that,” he said. “When the retina is irritated, sometimes you’ll see flashes — but as long as it’s not a streak across your whole eye or present at all times, then it’s not out of the ordinary.”
“Okay,” I said, “Yeah, it just seems to appear when I look at a bright light and then move into a darker space.”
“That’s not a problem,” he said.
“Well,” I said.
“Let us know if you have any other questions, and we’ll try our best to answer them,” he said.
“Thank you so much, Dr. Patron,” I said.
“Of course,” he said. “I’m glad we have something to tell you.”
“It helps to have a name for whatever this is,” I said. “Really, thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. “We’ll see you in a month. And call if anything changes.”
“Will do,” I said.
I hung up, and turned to look at Jeremy, who stared at me. I said, “We have a diagnosis.”
This post is the LAST in my “Through a Mirror Dimly” series – but the story is not over. I’m hoping to write a book to finish the story! So if you like this, would you do me a favor and personally share it with a friend? It would mean a lot (and would help me publish the book, when the time comes)!
I’m also taking a break from blogging for a bit so I can get organized for my next season of writing. Expect to see me back at it in October! 🙂
Thanks for reading – I feel grateful for each of my readers.