Doctor My Eyes 

When good eyelids go bad.

A couple months back, I was squatting behind our backyard home plate, and daughter Jess was firing drop balls at me. As she paused between pitches, she asked, Dad, do you have your eyes closed?

Daughter, I said, you re throwing drop balls, the most evil pitch known to a catching daddy without a cup. I have to catch them all, or pay a heavy price. So, don t you know, my eyes are open.

Okay, just asking, she said, as she fired another one that started at my chest, then arced down to where my cup ought to be. But you still look like your eyes are closed. You re not flinching back there, are you?

I knew that my eyelids had gotten a little droopy over the past few years. It happened gradually, so I didn t pay it much attention. But when Jess thought I was sleeping through drop-ball practice, I knew it was time to go see the eyelid doc.

I went to see Dr. Louise Mawn, an oculoplastic surgeon over at Vanderbilt. She agreed with Jess: My lids were too low. Then, she and a busload of other docs ran endless tests to prove that my lids were too low. One was the visual-fields test, where I had to stare into a big white bowl and click a Jeopardy-style buzzer when I saw a dot of light moving down from the top of the bowl. After a round of testing with my low lids, a kind and gentle woman taped my eyelids up, so I looked like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange. Then I did the whole see-light/click-buzzer routine again. By the end of the day, all the docs, machines, and measurements were in agreement: I would see a whole lot better, especially at night, if I got my eyelids raised. As a no-extra-charge bonus, I d also look better. Not that I wouldn t still be ugly as pan-fried dirt.

So we set a date: October 3rd. That morning, I reported to Vanderbilt, went to my room, gowned myself up, and waited for somebody to come get me. I sat in the recliner chair and tried to relax. Then it hit me: I have walked into this hospital voluntarily and I have actually asked somebody to take a knife to my eyelids.

Then I started pondering: There s not much to an eyelid. It s not even half as thick as a saltine cracker. What if the knife slips, and they cut one of my eyelids off? They ll never get that sumbitch sewed back on right. I ll have to get a prosthetic eyelid with a motor that they ll mount to my temple, with big bolts, like a mag wheel. I ll have to raise and lower my plastic eyelid with a Jeopardy buzzer. It ll have to retract up into a slit in my skull. The fake eyelid will clank and whirr when it goes up and down. For the rest of my life, I ll be Eyelid Man. Children will mock and fear me. Here he comes, Mama. Eyelid man. Listen to him clank and whirr. Should I laugh or run or what?

So, when the anesthesiologists came in, I begged them: If y all cut off one of my eyelids, just kill me. Turn up the gas, put a kink in my air hose, give me a horse-dose of morphine. I don t care how you do it. Just do not send me home eyelidless.

Well, I learned right then that you don t joke with the anesthesiologists about killing you during surgery. That s not funny to them. As soon as the words horse-dose of morphine left my lips, they stepped outside my door and started whispering. I heard every word. Long story short, I almost smartassed my way into a psych consult.

Lucky for me, the next doc in the room had a sense of humor. I talked to her about her work, and she shared this: Y know, a lot of cataract patients think we pop their eyeballs out, fix them, and then put them back in. I think to myself, Who doesn t know that there are no body parts that pop in and out? But I don t say anything to the patients. I just let them keep that image of popped-out eyeballs in their heads.

A few minutes later, some people I don t remember wheeled me into the operating room, where those anesthesia people knocked me out calmly and professionally. Well, I assume they were calm and professional. Truth is, I don t remember anything until I woke up and heard Dr. Mawn telling me to open and close my eyes. She pulled on little threads, which pulled my lids up like windowshades, until she got the lids just right. When she was satisfied with the job, she sewed me up and sent me back to my room.

Now, almost a month later, I can go outside at night and see things I haven t seen for years. The only downside to the eyelid surgery is that I had to wear ice bags on my eyes for two days. Despite the ice, I had a fair bit of swelling and bruising for about two weeks. When people asked, What happened to your eyes? I just told em: Every morning, my wife gets out of bed and beats the hell out of me. I think a few people believed it.


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