The doctor 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 their toast tumbled to the floor, and a father bent to retrieve it.
“It’s called UAIM,” he said.
Of course it’s a terrible idea to diagnose your disease on google. But I had to know what was wrong with me. Before I could lose my nerve, I typed “eye issues” into the search bar on my phone. A cascade of results appeared.
“Where to start?” I thought to myself. I felt like I stood at the edge of a waterfall, doubtful if I should throw myself into the pounding current.
I held my breath and clicked…
“It’s my news to tell,” I said.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know it would bother you,” he said.
“We haven’t even told our families yet!” I said.
“I’m sorry,” he said. We sat in silence, staring at our plates. Jeremy scratched at the uneaten food on his plate; my eyes felt hot.
“I’m just scared,” I said.
Jeremy sighed and touched my shoulder. “I know,” he said.
“I can’t believe this,” Jeremy said.
“Yeah,” I said thickly. “They don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“I never expected that,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You okay?” he said, stopping to look at me.
I sighed and buried my face in his chest.
In the silence that followed, I heard what he was not saying: my retina is irreplaceable, one-in-a-million. Which means there’s no reversing the carnage already enacted on my ratty retinal layers, and in fact, it could get worse. There was no going back.
“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?
I walk into the exam room and sit in a mauve chair on the edge of the room. I text Jeremy, squinting to see the letters and hoping auto-correct will help me communicate the gist of what I mean to say: “I’m in exam room 2 now. Looks like dr will come in here. Want to come?”
“Z is continuing to throw up,” Jeremy texted.
“Oh no :(,” I texted.
“So, I’ll give you a shot in the arm with a red dye. The dye then flows through your veins and toward your eye, illuminating the blood flow in your eye for us. It’ll give us a better idea of what’s going on in the back of your right eye. The only real side effect is that occasionally people feel woozy once the whole dose enters the blood stream,” she said. “Oh, and your urine will be neon for awhile, and you might look in the mirror and your skin might look a bit yellow – that’s all normal.”
“Okay,” I said, nodding and reaching for the paper and pen she held out to me across the desk. “Doesn’t sound too bad.”
“Nah,” she said, shaking her head.
“I am totally fine with yellow pee,” as I scribbled my signature.
I waited, listening to the tapping, to the computer fan quietly humming, as my eyes adjusted back to the dim room, the orange fading like my first grade teacher’s name.
A song flitted into my mind. We had sung it, Jeremy and I standing side by side in the pew, that previous Sunday: “You’re a hiding place for me / you preserve me from trouble / you surround me with shouts of deliverance…” I let it pull me back into my body. I noticed my feet touching the floor and I felt them tapping in time with the melody. I imagined myself melting into my chair, firmly rooted. I felt my heart bump in my chest as I breathed deeply, each inhale and exhale a prayer.
“This will all be over soon enough,” I thought.
The nurse strode out the door; I followed, Jeremy and Zeke rolling behind me. We snaked along another hallway until Amy stopped before a door. On the frame, a plastic green flag laid flat against the wall. Amy reached up and flipped it toward the hallway, then opened the door. “In here,” she said.
I walked inside the beige room while Amy stood in the hallway, scribbling on her clipboard, and I sat in one of the two mauve chairs edging the room. I noticed a computer and stool to the right of the doorway.
“Actually, Dr. Patron will need you there,” she said, looking up and motioning to the black exam chair in the center of the small room.