Note: I wrote this on February 27, 2014.
Coming Out of the Dark
Today is the one-year anniversary of our nightmare and our miracle.
On February 27, 2013, Aaron prepared for surgery for his third consecutive retinal detachment in his only working eye. He had already spent the majority of the past four months blind, or nearly so, and forced to sit, sleep, eat, and walk with his head down, face parallel to the floor, while a gas bubble held his healing retina in place. Except that it wasn’t working. Fluid was entering his eye again and would soon cause a fresh tear in his fragile retina. It was a fresh tear in our hearts.
For months he had endured—darkness, stiffness, pain, isolation, helplessness, dependence—propelled only by the hope that this obedience would make the difference, would save his right eye unlike the surgeries on his left eye when he was a teenager and did not follow these rules. Each day he sat alone, all day, save visits from friends to give him shots or help with meals. He lived on phone calls and text messages read by Siri and coffee drunk through a straw because he could not so much as tip back a mug and casseroles from church folks and the asiago cheese bagels my mother kept bringing to fill her own need to do something, anything.
As he sat, I ran, in frantic circles, overwhelmed by keeping up with work and after-school arrangements and care calendars and appointments and the neverending dishes he used to do so religiously and well-meaning questions with no answers to give but wait-and-sees and hopefullys and those damn, damn unknowns.
All of November. All of December. Most of January. Now February . . . and this last wound seemed worst than the first, for the doctor gave up hope that another gas bubble would work and planned for this third surgery to use silicone oil to fill the eye. It would not require the facedown positioning but also would not go away—it would be left in indefinitely, leaving Aaron able to see only what he could see through the oil, which we doubted with his already damaged eye would be much of anything.
It felt like a theft. Aaron’s vision had been improving, but because of the encroaching fluid, on Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. the doctor was going to take it away. He was going to make my husband functionally blind, to save some of his sight.
On Wednesday at 7:00 a.m. we reported to the surgical center for the third time. Two pastor friends sat with us in the pre-surgical area, encouraging and comforting and sharing gallows humor. After a parade of nurses and techs came dear, trusted, ever cheerful, resolute Dr. G. As they talked about the procedure Aaron said to him, “I’m just wondering, do you ever change what you do when you get in there, based on what you see? I mean, is it possible you could do a gas bubble again if you saw something different than you expected?”
The doctor glanced at me with a look that said, “I hope you don’t have your hopes up,” and said to Aaron, “Well, we’re always prepared for all possibilities when we go in, so yes, I could change my mind. But in your case . . . with your history . . . I think what your eye needs most is time. And the oil gives you that, much more time than a gas bubble can. So I really do think that’s the best thing to do for you.”
Aaron said that was fine, he understood, he just wanted to know and to let him know that he trusted him to make that decision based on what he thought. “Can I pray for you, Dr. G.?” And he prayed for his wisdom, and his hands, and his skill, and I made him look me in the eye one more time, and I walked out to wait.
My mother waited with me an hour, then had to leave, but I was alone only perhaps a half hour before the doctor came out and sat in front of me. “It’s funny that Aaron said that to me, about the gas bubble. Almost like he knew what I was going to find in there. The eye looked better than I expected, actually better than when I looked at it last week—much better, in fact. I couldn’t find any tear in the retina. I didn’t even see the fluid, in fact. So I did laser all along that side where I had seen it before, and I gave him another gas bubble instead of the oil.”
I almost started laughing. Couldn’t find the fluid so he got a gas bubble—a bubble that goes away!
Forty minutes later, in the recovery room, Aaron sat groggy, hunched over, with his head down, perhaps as much as out of habit as anything. “Did they tell you?” I asked him. “Do you know you have a gas bubble in your eye?”
“I have a gas bubble?” He started to lift his head a bit to look at me.
“Yes. Keep your head down—you have a gas bubble! He couldn’t find any tear. The fluid had gone down. So he gave you a gas bubble, just like you wanted.”
Never has a man been so happy to keep his head down for six weeks!
Vision is a miracle, it really is. They can give you someone else’s eyeball, but no computer can yet duplicate the mysterious miracle of how the optic nerve translates light into images in our brains. But sometimes it takes a miracle within that miracle, or the suspension of that miracle, to fully recognize the preciousness and fragility of that gift.
I wish I could tell you that every day since our miracle has felt supernaturally wonderful, but we all know that would be a lie. The next day after surgery Aaron’s eye hurt terribly. The next week after that he was still getting painful shots twice a day. The next month and a half after that he was still stuck in a chair, back and neck aching, bored to tears, missing out on things. The next summer he was declared legally blind, assigned a caseworker, issued a white cane.
Life’s not easy for Aaron, but he never once gave up on doing what God has called him to do. His vision’s not great, but it’s enough. God did a miracle to provide it. Or perhaps we should see that all provisions are miraculous and all miracles are provisions for His purposes.
Thank you, God, for this miracle ongoing: just enough light for the step we’re on.
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
20 I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
21 Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
26 it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
28 Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
29 Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope. . . .
31 For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
32 Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
33 For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone. . . .
40 Let us examine our ways and test them,
and let us return to the Lord.
(Lamentations 3:19–29, 31–33, 40)