Look at it. Really look at it, you know?
About five years I went to see an ophthalmologist.
Stay with me, this gets better.
Ophthalmologists love me because I have virtually every problem you can have with a human eye. I’m near-sighted, color blind, have almost zero depth perception and even have something they call a “wandering eye,” which means that when I look long distances one of my eyes just checks out and move over in its socket, leaving me to look a bit like Igor, Dracula’s helper.
I have a decent sense of humor about it, though, and my doctor sensed it. I had never been to this ophthalmologist before, and so we were doing the whole battery of tests. Because I’m a human eye experiment, he had a great time.
Such a good time, in fact, that he asked if he could invite in the intern. And once the intern came in, he asked if he could also invite in his practice partner.
Fine. It’s 4 p.m. on a Friday. Ophthalmologists deserve their fun, too.
So they subjected me to all sorts of questions and tests, and after I failed all of them we all had a good time about it.
“Can you parallel park?” they’d say, laughing.
“Not a bit,” I’d say.
“Have you ever hit a baseball?”
“I’ve tried. Struck out a lot.”
“How do the girls react when your eye suddenly moves to the side of your head?”
“About as well as you’d expect.”
They had a wonderful time pulling out tests they don’t usually get to give to people. I felt like I had given my body to science, without the being dead part.
Eventually they dilated my pupils and put me into a machine that allowed them to look into my retina. We were all laughing about all my problems, and I didn’t think anything of it when both partners looked through the microscope.
“Ever see any ‘shadows’ or dark spots in your vision?” one of them asked. I had no reason to believe wasn’t part of the game, and I didn’t even notice at first that they weren’t laughing when I told them I did. Then there’s that moment where it’s quiet for a bit too long, the kind that you only experience in a doctor’s office.
“Well,” he said after he put the microscope away. “It’s probably nothing. It’s just that we have these new machines.”
“And we can see things we’ve never been able to see before,” the other doctor said. And it’s odd, because my eyes are dilated and I can’t see them clearly. And because I can’t see them or maybe because of what they’re saying I don’t really hear things correctly, either.
“Spots.” “Probably nothing.” “Don’t worry.” “Monitor.” “Ever lose vision?” “Not worth thinking about, really.”
I hear enough to know we’re dancing around something, so I just finally come out and say it. I ask them if they’re telling me I have cancer.
“No. We’re not saying that,” one of them says. “We’re saying it’s an abnormality. That’s all. We should monitor it.”
“Abnormality?” I say. “Like cancer.” The humor in the room is gone. So is the intern. I ask them to just let me have it. Say it is cancer, I say. What’s the worst case scenario?
“Not worth talking about,” he says.
“Talk about it,” I say.
The worst case is that they diagnose me with cancer and that grows and that I lose my vision and they have to take out my eyes. I have spots on both of them, so they’d probably take both eyes. But this is the worst case scenario.
“Don’t worry,” he says. “We’ll watch it. That’s all. Unless your vision gets worse or there is blurring, don’t worry about. Really.”
So I leave. It’s 5 o’clock on a Friday. I can’t see very well yet and they give me cheap dollar sunglasses to help with the glare. I don’t want to go home. My wife is there with our three young kids. She has been home with them all week, and when I get home I know that she’ll give me that look that says, “I need to get out of here before I murder your children.”
I won’t blame her. But when you’ve just been told you might have cancer, you feel like you want to tell someone. At least I do. I can’t tell her, because she loves me more than anyone and she’s at a point in her life where she’s taking care of everyone’s needs. She’s overwhelmed with needy people. She doesn’t need to add my eyes to her list.
No way I tell my Mom, either. She’s a worrier and will no doubt tell everyone in no time. It’s not something I want to tell my buddies. They won’t know what to say, and I wouldn’t blame them. I wouldn’t know what to say.
So I decide to call my brother, Tim. I decide on him because he won’t over react and because I know he won’t tell anyone. We have more than enough secrets between us to guarantee mutually assured destruction. An ear and a tight lip is what I need right now.
So I show up at about 5:30 on a Friday, which is very strange for me, but he doesn’t let on. He throws in a pizza, makes small talk and waits. He finally asks me if I need some money.
“No,” I say. “I mean, yes, but that’s not why I’m here.” I start slowly at first, with only a few details, but soon it all comes spilling out. My fears about going blind, about cancer spreading other places, a thousand other disconnected thoughts.
He listens, stoic, without saying anything while I drivel on. I pause a couple of times for him to jump in, but when he doesn’t I just fill the space again. Finally I can’t stand it anymore and ask him what he thinks.
He takes a deep breath and says, “Well, I never thought it was true...that you could go blind by masturbating. But you have proved that theory wrong, and I’ m concerned about my health now.”
In another moment he says, “I have some rum around here somewhere. Let’s drink to your eyes.”
It’s 6 o’clock and my going blind is as good of a reason as any. So we drink, and while we do we come up with ways to make the situation better. We talk about which fake eyeballs I’m going to get.
“If they do take my eyes,” I say, “I’m going to get cat eyes.”
“You should get a magic eight ball,” he says. “People could ask you a question and you could shake your head, give them an answer. ‘Try again later.’”
Maybe it’s rum. Probably it’s the rum. But by the time I leave I think that having cancer my eye is pretty damn funny and isn’t as bad as I thought. He swears not tell anyone if I promise to cut back on the masturbating. I tell him I can make no promises. At the door, though, he says the first serious comment of the night.
“If I were you, I’d go home and look at stuff. Really look at it, you know?”
I nod, but I don’t know if I really know.
I’m over three hours late, and I know my wife won’t be pleased. Especially because I’m drunk. But I’m determined to look at things, and so when I walk in the house I tell her that she has never looked so beautiful. I mean it, despite the fact that she’s in a mangy-looking Minnesota Gopher sweatshirt with baby drool on the shoulder.
She is not amused, but this new seeing things makes me invincible. For the rest of the night and for the next few days I am mesmerized by the world.
“Look at all these crayons,” I tell my seven-year old son. “Look at all these colors. Aren’t these colors amazing?” I have no idea what colors they are, of course, because I’m color blind, but whatever. I take the family out to the country for a picnic (a picnic!) and demand that we spend time on our backs looking at clouds. I point out things to look at. My wife pulls me aside and asks if I had more than just rum at my brother’s house. I feel reborn.
It doesn’t last, of course. It can’t. You can’t live your life with that intensity. I slowly start to scan the world again and stop telling other people and myself to see stuff, to really look at it, you know?
Each year, though, I’m reminded. I get a card in the mail from my ophthalmologist reminding me to come in for a check-up. I’ve never told my wife, and I’ve never been back to the doctor’s office. This is probably poor health management, but I don’t care. They told me not to worry, and so I don’t.
Instead of fretting, I use the card as a reminder to heed my brother’s advice – stop masturbating so much. Also, his other advice – look at stuff. Really look, you know.