A couple of weeks ago I noticed an odd, crescent-shaped blurriness hovering way over on the left side of my field of vision. Not being one to put off such things, I hightailed it to my ophthalmologist, who poked, prodded, and promptly pronounced that I had a small tear in my left retina and should see a retinologist right away – as in, immediately. Within an hour, I was sitting back in a chair having pulses of laser light zapped into my left eye – as the retinologist put it, he wanted to “spot-weld” the retinal tears (he discovered another one while setting up for the procedure) and stabilize the eye before deciding what to do next. A few days later, the spot-welding proving inadequate for the longer-term, I was checking in to Norther Westchester Hospital for an emergency vitrectomy and a scleral buckle – I won’t gross you out with the details, but suffice it to say I needed general anesthesia to get through the whole thing, as I generally pass out if anyone gets even remotely close to my eye with a surgical instrument.

Today I sit here with a surgical rubber band around my left eyeball, a bubble of perfluorocarbon gas floating around in my eye, and vision best described as seeing the world through a bowl of dense, semi-opaque Jello. I should recover completely in about six weeks (but may need a more powerful prescription for my left eye, since the shape of that eye has changed, being squeezed as it is by its new rubber band), but I have to say that I was really blind-sided by the whole episode and reminded of the old Yiddish proverb: “der mentsh trakht un Gott lakht,” man plans, and God laughs – I had to cancel or amend all plans for competing in the Westchester Triathlon, flying to Costa Rica, doing another motorcycle track day with our son Max, and anything else that involved moving my head around in a vigorous manner. We can’t see the future at all and truly must be prepared for whatever the universe may toss our way while we’re busy planning – that’s something I can see much more clearly now.

Visual puns aside, what does my left eyeball really have to do with freedom? To me, the reminders for personal freedom are two-fold:

  • You may not be able to control your circumstances, but you can always control your reaction to them
  • Although expanded physical health and physical capabilities can enhance personal freedom and create more possibilities for personal expression, they are not necessary conditions for freedom – someone confined to a wheelchair can be as personally free as someone with full use of their limbs, although it may be much more challenging

I was in a funk for days, catastrophizing and thinking I’d never fully recover the sight in my left eye. Well, so what? Helen Keller managed to free herself from her prison of darkness and silence with Anne Sullivan’s help, and in turn helped those with sight to understand that those without sight could be just as smart, creative, and free, and could make just as great a contribution to the world. In fact, she realized that what was imprisoning her was not her lack of sight or hearing but her attitude; her disabilities had paradoxically given her great insight into what it means to truly live a free and complete life, and that those who are truly free are those who face life head-on, confronting fear and doubt and overcoming them day by day, no matter what their personal circumstances. As she wrote:

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

I agree; as I continue to learn, any security we may have (or think we have) today in physical, mental, or financial health may not be there tomorrow. We can, and must, plan for the future, but we must be prepared to adapt those plans continuously as circumstances change and must not be discouraged for having to do so – life is a continuous process of adapting to change, of growing as we face and overcome new challenges: in short, a daring adventure. Would you really want it any other way?

4 Replies to “How my Bum Retina Made me See the Light”

  1. Beautifully written, Tony! This message means all the more because it is from someone I know and like. I hope we can all hold on to your insights whether in health or not. I wish you a full recovery.

  2. What an inspirational reading! Can’t wait for future thoughts and insights! Wish you all the best and speedy recovery!!!

    1. Thank you, Serafima! It’ll probably be about 6 weeks or so before I can see normally again out of my left eye, but I’ll get there 🙂 … talk soon!

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