13: Re-Attaching

13: Re-Attaching

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive


Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor.

~Dr. Alexis Carrel

When I came to, both eyes were bandaged shut. I could open my right eye inside the bandage, but everything was still black. My head throbbed as if it had been tumbled in a cement mixer, and the pain was beginning to claw through the numbness on the left side of my face and forehead. The surgeon had fitted a silicone buckle around my left eye to hold the retina to the back wall — his second attempt to re-attach it. The first operation had held the retina for only a month. This one had been far more invasive — “the whole nine yards,” as he put it. And he warned there might be additional laser procedures to make it adhere cleanly. Then, if all went well, two more operations would repair some of the damage caused by the reattachment surgeries. My life had been forever altered.

“Are you awake?” a woman’s voice asked. “How do you feel?”

I did not answer. I was angry, so nail-spitting, window-smashing angry I did not dare to speak. I wanted to stay shut in this dark cave. Even if the buckle held the retina in place this time, my vision was already permanently impaired — double vision, lack of peripheral sight, poor depth perception, and all-around fuzzy and crooked pictures of the world, none of it correctable by glasses. I had a great surgeon, but it was impossible to line up the retina exactly to where it had been and the retinal tear and the laser stitching would distort how I saw. Without surgery, of course, I would have soon lost all vision and the eye would have to be removed.

“How do you feel?” the nurse said louder.

I did not want her to rip off the bandage over my good eye yet — I didn’t want to face the world as a handicapped man. I didn’t want to start a life in which I could never again do anything that might jar loose the retinas of either eye, for the good eye was now at high risk as well. No jumping, running, softball, tennis or heavy exertion. No stomping on the plastic rocket toy with the grandkids.

After the first operation, I had trouble judging depths and often took awkward stutter steps at stairs and curbs. With diminished peripheral vision, I had collided with people in supermarkets. Once I’d walked through a screen door, which was both comical and unsettling. These embarrassments forced me to walk in slow motion. My whole life had become about holding back and being careful. With double vision, I often reached for the ghostly doorknob instead of the real one or stabbed the plate instead of the bean with a fork. After this second operation, I’d have even less vision. The miracles of modern technology would not magically transport me back to my previous self. I did not know who I was and did not want to leave the darkness and expose this strange person to the world. I didn’t want people thinking this person was me. I didn’t want this to be me.

“How do you feel?”

How did I feel? Here’s what I wanted to tell the nurse:

A. This was not supposed to happen to me. Most retinal detachments are either genetic flaws that run in families or are caused by impact injuries from things like boxing gloves, car crashes or explosions. My family had no history of retinal problems and there were no bar fights on my résumé. This problem belonged to someone else. The FedEx guy ought to reclaim it and deliver it to the right address.

B. I have things to do — an agenda to finish before I grow feeble or handicapped. Just let me finish a few things in the next five or six years before springing this on me. One day during a leisurely walk, poof! My retina detaches. The next day, people are slicing into my eye, vacuuming out its natural gel, strapping a buckle around it and filling my eye with oil. There should have been warning signs.

C. My life is over. Oh, I’ll go on breathing. But what’s the point of living a maimed life? I’m not tough or noble enough to be a brave handicapped person.

I spoke none of this aloud, but that’s how I felt. I lay in the hospital bed like stone. Then my wife’s hand touched the back of mine. Her fingers ran around the IV tube and up and down my fingers. Her touch softened me. In my mind I told her, “I want to live again. I don’t want to be like this for you.” Carol said nothing aloud, but as she stroked my hand, I heard her speaking to me.

A. There does not have to be a reason for this to happen. It did happen. It’s a fact. Something happens to everybody. We don’t get to choose what or when. You’ve been lucky, husband, very lucky, that something big did not happen before this. Maybe now you can appreciate better what you had. This is your life — none of it belongs to anyone else.

B. You have an agenda? Nature does too. And guess whose agenda wins? So you need to revise yours. This might be an opportunity to try new things, take new paths you never saw before. Maybe your goals were too limited. As for warnings, life isn’t the Weather Channel.

C. Your life is over only if you believe that. We cannot control what happens to us, only how we react to what happens. Joys and sufferings are both written into our contract for life. If you react with anger and despair to the suffering, that’s what you’ll have left. If you react with courage, energy and humor, that will be you. Your life will be worth living if you want it to be. You can’t control your eye being detached, but you can decide if you want to be detached or not. And, pal, no matter what condition you are in, you and I are attached.

My wife shuffled aside as the nurse — now a bit peeved — leaned closer over me and repeated, “Are you awake, Mr. Bauman?”

I whispered hoarsely. “I’m getting there.”

~Garrett Bauman

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