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  • September 02, 2016 09:26:51 AM
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Author Elizabeth Charlotte Grant publishes short/flash literary creative nonfiction explorations and artful scenes from her love story.

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27 | Diagnosis

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...

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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.”

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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.

 

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26 | Aftermath — Part 3

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...

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“I should put the kids to bed,” Jeremy said, standing. I nodded and sat in a chair in the living room with a sigh: my shift was over. I pulled up a photography app and scrolled through photos while the kids wiggled into their pajamas in their rooms.

A sneaking thought entered my mind: just because my doctor couldn’t diagnose me, didn’t mean I couldn’t do some research of my own. I had avoided it before– of course it’s a terrible idea to diagnose yourself on google. But now I felt compelled — 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 on a link from the mayo clinic, a summary of the all the ways an eye can break. I scanned, clicked to dive deeper, frowned, backtracked, opened a new screen to ask the search bar, “what does macular oedema mean?” I found myself in need of a dictionary in order to decipher the most basic of medical terms.

I sighed, decided to start over. This time I typed “eye lesions” into the search bar. As it loaded, I heard Jeremy say, “Tiiiger! Please be quiet. I’m trying to read!” The kids erupted into giggles; I smiled.

I looked down at the list of websites collected by the search engine and immediately noticed that nearly every result had “cancer” in the title. I shivered. I clicked, read: “Conjuctival tumors can be deadly to a patient.” I scanned, holding my breath until I reached the end of the page and a new link appeared, titled “Eye and Optic Nerve Tumors.” I clicked and read, “Tumours in the eye principally occur in the middle layer and inner layers of the eye. The middle layer consists of the uveal tract: iris, ciliary body and choroid; the inner layer of the retina and optic nerve.” I gasped — “the retina!” — and scrolled quickly, studying each type of eye cancer from which I might be unknowingly suffering.

A heading caught my eye: “Tumors of the Retina,” with two links below it. I could hardly tap fast enough. The page loaded and I read like my life depended on it, like I was running out of air at the bottom of the ocean, like an asteroid hurled toward the earth’s surface that very second and all that existed would soon be obliterated in a cloud of ash. I scrolled with a shaking hand.

Of course, I ignored the introduction that came before the list of malignancies, disqualifying my disease as cancer: “Most tumours of the retina are extremely rare, the slightly more common ones (such as naevi) being benign.” And I ignored the sentences that followed, disqualifying me to diagnose myself of anything: “All…of these tumours…are managed by opthalmologists, usually in specialist or superspecialist centres…” Instead I named myself superspecialist, and I named my lesion cancer.

Accordingly, I focused in on treatment methods. At the words “surgical excision,” I imagined a sharp utensil slowly descending toward my eyeball as a metal contraption held my eyelids open. At the words “retinal detachment,” I saw my vision slowly blinking out in a flash and tear of tissue from tissue. At the words “laser photocoagulation,” I envisioned James Bond strapped to a table as a laser traced a path toward him, evil scientist skulking in the background.

Then came the phrase “treatment is with enucleation of the eye,” and I gasped, not knowing exactly what “enucleation” meant but having a hunch. I looked it up to be sure: it meant “removal of the eyeball.” By now, all the particularities of each disease had run together, their distinct symptoms and treatments seeming to add up to one massive, inescapable disease that I most certainly had contracted, its tendrils holding me captive. All thought of God and the “wonderful plans he had for my life” vanished; I felt I had been left at the bottom of a well to starve slowly in the dark.

I remembered how my first instinct, upon hearing a lesion had sprouted in my retina, was to hear legion instead of lesion, recalling the oppressed girl in the gospels whose demons speak for her as Jesus approaches to free her: “I am legion, for we are many.” Now I felt the weight of that mishearing; I felt crushed by my fear, and perhaps by something more. “Help!” I prayed, unable to move from my chair, breathing fast, imagining my own horror story, hoping to be healed instead.

Just then, I heard a door open, shut, and footsteps in the hall. Jeremy appeared at the hall entrance. When he saw me, he stopped, frowned. “Are you okay?” he asked. I sighed, stared at my phone, immediately embarrassed by my choice to torture myself with false diagnoses provided by anonymous doctors on the internet. “Liz?”

“Just go away,” I said, pointedly studying the screen.

“What’s up?” he said.

“I don’t want to talk right now,” I said.

“Alright,” he said quietly.

“I’m in the middle of something,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. He stood just feet from me, and I could feel him watching me. “Do you want me to sit with you?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Just go.” I couldn’t lift my eyes to look at him.

He hesitated, then said, “If you need me, I’ll be downstairs, okay?” He strode through the living room and kitchen, and I heard footsteps on the stairs. Now I was truly alone.

The tears started, and soon, I was weeping, shoulders shaking, my throat thick with mucus, moans escaping irrhythmically. I threw the phone to the floor and it thudded along the pine boards.

I stared at the plaster ceiling and thought, “How can I live like this? How can you ask this of me?” A sob escaped my mouth, and I brought my head to my knees and rested my face in my hands; tears pooled in my palms. I rocked, moaned.

Suddenly my phone buzzed; I ignored it, pressed my forehead harder into my hands, gripping my hair. But that message irritated me, and after a minute, I looked up. I knew it was him, downstairs, worried about me. Something in me shifted: I wanted to be with him. I gulped a few times until my breathing calmed. I wiped my cheeks, my chin, my neck — even my knees were wet. I looked down at my hands and noticed smudges of mascara.

Then I stood. I ambled step by painstaking step through the kitchen, down the stairs, and collapsed onto the couch opposite Jeremy. He stared and I stared back. Then he bridged the gap between us, stretched out his arms, and held me close.

<< [Next] | [Previous] >> [Back to the beginning] >>


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?

And just a reminder: these words represent days in February of this past year – which means all of this that I’m documenting are past realities and feelings. I know it’s hard to keep track when you read only once a week! But the place I’m in today (both medically and emotionally) is different from what I’m representing in these blog posts. Thanks for your concerns and prayers in any case! They are not wasted and are very much appreciated. 🙂


25 | Aftermath — Part 2

“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...

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If you like it, share it!

The only compensation I receive for this blog is reader support, which will hopefully give me the platform to publish a book soon. So send a link to my blog on to a friend! 😉 (Go on, you know you want to…)

The tearful February day of the appointment plodded mercifully onward, minutes growing to hours. Finally, the sky darkened, and I laid down to sleep. I woke the next morning with swollen eyes, roused by the creeping light, and I rustled out of bed and into the living room, curling into a leather chair, where I wrote down everything I could remember in my journal: how it began, what I could see (and couldn’t), my un-diagnosis.

Then dressing, breakfast, and herded to the car, buckling car seats and calming toddlers worried about who snatched batman out of whose hands and whose rightful turn for play it is anyway. I walked my daughter into preschool; then I rode a stationary bike at the gym; then I warmed hot dogs in the microwave for lunch; then I laid my children down for afternoon naps; then I heated frozen dinners for us all; and later, my husband and I watched “The Office” before we again settled beneath the sheets to rest: a normal day.

But by the very next day, peace had exited. At dinner, Jeremy and I fought about who to tell about my health and when – I wanted to hide in bed without broadcasting news of my demise to the whole neighborhood, a feeling my husband could not understand. After all, he had already given Joel permission to pass along our news to the church elders, a fact I discovered only after one elder emailed me his condolences.

“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 looked at him and smiled weakly. Then I looked down at my hands again. I said, “One of the book of common prayer readings yesterday was about gouging out your eye if it causes you to sin because it’s better to have one eye than to be thrown into hell with two.”

Jeremy frowned, said, “Has your eye been causing you to sin?”

I looked at him and hesitated. “Well,” I said, “Yes and no. It’s that idea of God withholding deserved judgment from us. Like, do people who die in tsunamis deserve it? Yes, because we have all rebelled against God and we all deserve death for our sin. But is there hope through Jesus? Yes.” He thought for a minute, weighing my words, nodding. Then I said, “And of course I can’t help wondering if maybe I did do something, if I’m guilty and deserve whatever this is, or maybe if God’s trying to send me some coded, passive-aggressive message via my stupid bible reading plan…,” I said.

“No,” Jeremy said firmly.

“I know, I know it’s ridiculous,” I said.

“You aren’t to blame for this,” he said.

“I almost wish I were,” I said, “That might be easier.”

“I don’t think anything about this could ever be easy,” he said.

I nodded, then said, “Maybe you’re right,” and I stood and walked into the kitchen, stepping on the lever that lifted the lid of the trash can and scraping the crumbs off my plate with a fork. They fell into the bag, an unspoken prayer.

To be continued…

<< [Next]  |  [Previous] >> [Back to the beginning] >>


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?

And just a reminder: these words represent days in February of this past year – which means all of this that I’m documenting are past realities and feelings. I know it’s hard to keep track when you read only once a week! But the place I’m in today (both medically and emotionally) is different from what I’m representing in these blog posts. Thanks for your concerns and prayers in any case! They are not wasted and are very much appreciated. 🙂


24 | Aftermath — Part 1

“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....

[Image Credit]

If you like it, share it!

The only compensation I receive for this blog is reader support, which will hopefully give me the platform to publish a book soon. So send a link to my blog on to a friend! 😉 (Go on, you know you want to…)

Dr. Patron left; Jeremy, Zeke, and I filed out of the exam room and down the hallways toward a desk where we scheduled an appointment a month out and handed our credit card over the counter. Then we received the only good news of the day: we owed $314, not $1,000+. Jeremy and I exchanged smiles, grateful, and I stuffed a curling shade between my glasses and my face, to protect my dilated pupils on the ride home.

We rode the elevator down a floor and walked slowly out of the building, Zeke catching a ride in the stroller. Tears dripped down my cheeks, off my nose, into my mouth.

We walked in silence until we got to the car. Then Jeremy turned to me and said, “I can’t believe this.”

“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. He held me, feet from our car, surrounded by two-story office buildings and asphalt and abandoned vehicles. When I pulled back, I noticed a splotch of mascara on his shirt.

“Sorry about that,” I said, smiling.

“I’m used to it by now,” he said, smiling.

after specialist appt
In the parking lot of the doctor’s office, about to drive home after my first specialist appointment.

We didn’t say much in the ten-minute ride home. When we pulled into our driveway, Kiley was under the carport at the far end of our driveway, hands on her hips and grinning as she watched my daughter holding her son’s hands as he took wobbling steps forward on our lawn.

“How’d it go?” Kiley said, frowning when she saw my red face.

“Well,” I said, looking at Jeremy.

“Not great,” Jeremy said. We gave her a recap of what the doctor had said, had shown us, had not known about my condition.

“Wow,” she said. “So, they have no idea what it is or how it got there?”

“Right,” I said.

“And there’s literally nothing they can do to fix it?” she said.

“Yep,” I said.

“But it’s not cancer?” she said.

“That’s what they said,” I said, “Although I’m not sure I’m convinced – I mean, I do have an unexplained growth in my eye!”

“But they said it wasn’t cancer,” said Jeremy.

“Right,” I said, “But I just can’t imagine what else it could be.” Jeremy shrugged.

“I can’t believe they don’t know what it is,” said Kiley

“Yeah, me either,” I said. Jeremy nodded.

Kiley shook her head slowly, then studied my face for a few seconds before she said, “Liz, I just can’t imagine. I’m so sorry, friend.”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling my eyes fill again, “Me too.”

She left a few minutes later, and while Jeremy played in the yard with the kids, I sat in a chair in the living room with the sun on my face and scribbled notes in my journal, a catchall for my racing mind, which sought to make sense of my circumstances in the way I always did – through writing.

So I recorded the events and words spoken at the appointment; I thought of Joni Erickson-Tata teaching herself to paint with her mouth; I remembered my friend Beth’s son with the neurological issue, the one who committed suicide; I made a note to study blindness in the Bible (“Blind Bartimaeus,” I scribbled); I recorded which Psalms I had read that morning before walking through the doors of the doctor’s office (“Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge,” from Psalm 16, and “Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance,” from Psalm 32).

I wrote the words “cherishing my body – body positivity,” and mid-sentence, I heard my phone ding in my backpack, and I looked up. I reached into my bag and studied the phone: it was Jeremy.

“You okay?” he texted from the yard.

“Yeah,” I texted back, “Just needing some time to myself to think and journal.”

I put the phone away and walked to the bathroom, sat on the toilet, urinated, wiped, stood. As I went to flush, I did a double-take: my pee was neon yellow, just like the medical technician had said it would be. Finally, something predictable, I thought as I smiled and flushed it away.

To be continued…

<< [Next]  |  [Previous] >> [Back to the beginning] >>


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?


23 | Specialist Appointment — Part 9

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...

[Image Credit]

If you like it, share it!

The only compensation I receive for this blog is reader support, which will hopefully give me the platform to publish a book soon. So send a link to my blog on to a friend! 😉 (Go on, you know you want to…)

Jeremy continued the conversation without me as I focused on my “ratty” retina: “You said it’s not treatable…?” he asked.

“Right,” Dr. Patron said, “It’s possible that the lesion could just get better on its own and that the eye could heal itself, so we feel the best way to deal with this is simply to watch it closely, particularly because we’re not sure what it is.”

Zeke coughed and nuzzled into Jeremy’s arm pit. I looked at Jeremy, aghast. He looked equally amazed.

“You have more questions?” Dr. Patron asked, motioning toward my notebook on my lap.

“Yes, I do,” I said, skimming the list of questions I’d written the night before: 1. Is there any doubt about the diagnosis? 2. What are the possible treatment methods?

“Of course most of these don’t seem to apply,” I said, still studying my list.

I settled on number 3, firing off every iteration of the same question all at once: “Okay – I’m wondering, is this issue hereditary? Is it possible it could happen in my other eye? Do we have any idea how this happened?”

Dr. Patron sighed. “I consulted with our hereditary physician on staff, and he was also unsure about this – he confirmed it was not hereditary though. Because you don’t have any family history of this, you’re healthy, and it’s not bilateral, there’s really no markers that indicate a genetic disorder,” he said.

“What’s bilateral?” I said.

“In both eyes,” he said.

“Got it,” I said.

“This doesn’t resemble any genetic eye issues that he or I are aware of,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. “So that means it’s unlikely that it could occur in my left eye or that it could be passed to my kids?”

“Exactly,” he said. “And I’ll ask my other colleagues as well to see if they have any idea what this might be.”

I nodded, then asked, “So as far as how it formed, do you have any guesses about why this happened, or even how to prevent it happening to my other eye?”

“None,” he said. “It looks as if it formed spontaneously. So there’s no reason why it happened and there’s no way to prevent it.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I wish we had more to tell you,” he said, grimly.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I’d rather have the truth and just deal with whatever it is than nothing at all.”

He smiled sadly. “Do you have any more questions?” he asked.

“Let me see,” I said, as I took a deep breath and returned to my notebook, blinking back the well of emotion that would spilling over any minute now.

“Can I still drive?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “You can keep driving legally.”

“Good,” I said, grateful.

I decided the rest of my questions are irrelevant, and when I look up, the doctor is patiently watching me, hands in his lap, and I feel emboldened by his calm.

I asked, “I guess I’m wondering… I mean, would it be best if the lesion went away on its own? Where it is in the eye…I mean, would it be better if it stayed or if it healed and disappeared? It’s in a sort of precarious position, right?”

He sighed and spoke slowly, seeming to choose his words carefully, “We don’t know for sure what would happen if the lesion went away. There is the possibility that its disappearance could damage those already-damaged retinal layers further. So in my professional opinion, I think it’d be better for you if the lesion stayed put.”

“Say the lesion does go away,” I said, “Could you fix the damage to the retina – like with surgery or medication or something?”

He said gently, “No, we can’t fix the retina.” He paused, and then said, “I’m sorry.”

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.

To be continued…

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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?


22 | Specialist Appointment — Part 8

“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...

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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…

<< [Next] | [Previous] >> [Back to the beginning] >>


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?


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