While this post has nothing (much) to do with horses, it does have much to do with happiness.
By the time I was 8 and in 2nd grade, I was reading at 8th grade level. (so I remember being told.)
I read everything I could get my hands on. The children’s section didn’t have a book about horses (especially) and animals (in general) that I didn’t read. I’m not sure how old I was when I was admitted (at a younger age than was usual) into the library’s adult section, but I’m certain it was because by then, I’d devoured everything in the children’s section that interested me.
Once I was allowed into the adult section (long before most children were reading at their age appropriate level), I ran unbridled. It was as if I’d been eating crackers and cheese my whole life, then allowed into a gourmet restaurant.
My guide was the encyclopedia. I’d pull a letter volume and go through it, and what subject piqued my interest sent me into the stacks, searching for books on it. I read about Japanese samurai culture and learned how one sailed a 1700’s era ship of the line. I read about earthquakes and volcanoes long before plate tectonics explained it all. I planned to be a falconer after reading “As The Falcon Her Bells”. I wanted to live with otters in Scotland after reading Gavin Maxwell’s “Ring of Bright Water” . Joy Adamson and Elsa in “Born Free” so enchanted me that I still dream of living with lions in the Serengeti.
I read about the Aztecs and the Zulus. I read anything I could find about the Mongols, to include Marco Polo’s “A Secret History of the Mongols”.
Of course, being totally animal fixated, if the book had an animal in the title, I naturally thought it was about animals. This sometimes led me to read books that I was too young/naive to understand. “King Rat” by the incomparable James Clavell, completely confused me at the time, as I had no knowledge of World War II. “The Red Pony” by John Steinbeck, (a wretched tale with a horrible ending) so traumatized me that I have avoided Steinbeck’s works ever since. (with one exception: I was required to read “The Grapes of Wrath” in high school and found it to be so relentlessly black, demoralizing and depressing that it’s no wonder Steinbeck committed suicide.)
I don’t know if I became a voracious reader because I was nearsighted, or if I became nearsighted because I was a voracious reader, but, either way, my eyesight began to go bad.
My grades began falling. My alert and sympathetic 3rd grade teacher realized that my academic failings were not due to misbehavior or lack of intelligence, but because I couldn’t read the blackboard. She managed to convince my penny pinching father that I needed glasses. Daddy Dearest was furious that I was costing him even MORE money-but submitted.
So I have worn glasses since the age of 9.
Now I am almost 60. I have never not needed glasses. I tried contacts once. After having them blown out of my eyes twice, I never used them again.
This past spring, I went to my doctor with problems with my vision. It’d always been bad, but it was getting worse. My vision would be ‘okay’ and suddenly it was if I was trying to see through cooking oil. I didn’t know what to think. Was I going blind?
No, thankfully. I had cataracts, he said. Oh, and I had a little astigmatism, and did I know that my left eye had amblyopia (lazy eye)? I knew that. Lefty had always seemed to be merely along for the ride. It was just there, you know, an eye in my head, but it never seemed as if was working as a team with the right one. I could see with it, of course, but I just knew it’d been lazy, my entire life.
But my cataracts weren’t bad enough to warrant the risk (however small) of surgery. He didn’t want to take that risk. (also, as I learned later, he was about to be transferred to the East Coast.)
But-they have a new eye doctor on board, one who’s only done 80 or 90 of these procedures, and would like to get more experience, and there will be a board certified ophthalmologist, a certified eye surgeon, right there with him. Would I be willing to have a rookie take out my cataracts?
I talked to Dr. “Rookie” at length. At first I was wary, but I could see he really had my best interests at heart.
Cataract surgery involved taking out the lenses I was born with and inserting artificial ones-ones that were prescription, not just clear plastic. In a way, the new lenses were like new glasses, except without frames.
I thought it over and decided, what the hell. My eyes are so bad now, even though ‘they’ say the cataracts aren’t that bad. I was tired of going through life squinting through my eyes dingy yellow, oily windshield.
So I agreed.
I opted for the worst eye, my lazy left, to be worked on. If it came out all right, I’d have the other one, the right one, done next.
The surgery was non-eventful. I had to start taking antibiotic and steroid drops three days before hand. The hardest part was the fasting before the surgery. I’d stopped eating at dinner the night before, and now it was ten AM. I was ravenous.
My team was waiting for me as I was wheeled in.
“How are you feeling?” said my cheerful doctor.
“After this, you can eat. What do you want for lunch?”
“Half an elephant, please, braised in wine. Rice pilaf and some steamed broccoli.”
“Hey, we’re going out with YOU!”
They told me they were going to have to put me out for a few moments, in order to inject an anesthetic.
In order to know when I was ‘out’, I was asked to sing.
“You do NOT want me to sing”. I said. “I don’t sing. I can’t sing.”
“We need you to make some sort of noise,” my doctor said. “Something. Anything.”
“I know”, I said, “I’ll recite my dressage test.”
“Never mind”, I said, and I began. “Enter arena at A at a trot. Halt at X and salute. Walk to C. Turn right. At M….”.
Then I was awake, wanting to stay asleep.
From then on, the surgery went quickly and without problems. I was awake for it. It was painless. I promise you, it didn’t hurt a bit.
The next day, I went back to the hospital to have my bandages removed.
The nurse who did the procedure was smiling as I walked in.
“This is the best part of my job” she said.
She removed my bandages.
Now, if you’re one of those lucky people who’ve never had bad eyesight, who’ve always been blessed to have good vision, you have no idea what this moment was like.
Oh my god.
It was INCREDIBLE.
I could SEE.
She handed me a mask to cover my right eye and said, “Read the smallest line you can on the eye chart.”
“Printed in China”.
She burst into laughter. I was kidding, but I could read the tiniest line on the chart. Without glasses. With my lazy left eye. I was astounded. I could SEE. She tested my eyesight. From a dismal 20/400, I was suddenly 20/20 in my left eye.
“You’ll be wanting the right one done, now, I suppose?”
“Your doctor will tell you that.”
After a month of eye drops and healing the left eye without problems, I could have the right one done.
Walking outside in the most wonderful summer, I was enchanted. Not only could I see out of my left eye, I could see clearly. I removed the glass lens from my glasses, because I still had to wear them for my right eye. The dichotomy of having a 20/20 left eye and a 20/400 right eye gave me a migraine headache one day.
I wanted the next surgery ASAP.
I had it about six weeks later.
This time the surgery, while the same procedure, was strangely different. I couldn’t tell you how. No pain, of course, but the experience was different. Same doctor, different team, but a different, and, really, faster procedure. Maybe because I knew what to expect?
This time, though, I wasn’t asked to sing. They just put me out, and I came right back out of what had seemed to be a nice nap, but was really just a few moments of unconsciousness.
This time, though, I came out of surgery with a black eye. I wasn’t concerned. It’s superficial, and it gave me a chance to have fun. “How’d you get the black eye?” I was asked by my friends at the barn. “Oh, I got into a bar fight and got my ass kicked.”
The answer, of course, was a laughing ‘Oh you are just so full of shit!”
Again, the bandage removal was a revelation. I could SEE, now with both eyes, 20/20.
What an amazing thing it is to be able to wake up in the morning and see, without having to fumble about for my glasses. To be able to wear a helmet without the temples pinching my ears. To not have to constantly push my glasses back up my nose. To not have to worry about losing them, breaking them, or having them fall apart off your face when the minute screws have fallen out. To not experience them being knocked off your face by a head tossing horse and then hearing that sickening crunch under his hooves-and then having to drive home, in the rain, after dark, without your glasses.
Now I can see like a freaking eagle. I can see clear to Siberia. I can see the individual leaves on the trees. The colors of the world are so bright and vivid. It’s incredible. I had lost not only clarity of vision but color, as well. It was like being reborn, like going from a dark dungeon into a world of rainbows and sunlight. I can read the signs on the highway from forever away. I can see the antlers on an elk while they’re still merely dots.
After a month, I went back for a checkup with my doctor. He was pleased with my recovery. I asked him about the differences in the two surgeries.
“Do you remember the first one, where we put you out?”
“Yes,” I laughed, remembering their reaction to my reciting the dressage test.
“Well, we do that because we have to inject an anesthetic into your optic nerve. We can’t afford for you to move, not a millimeter, because otherwise you’d be injured.”
“Okay…..” I’m glad he told me this AFTER the procedure. I’m glad they put you out for that. No matter how brave one is, it can’t be comforting to see a needle coming for your eye.
“The difference is, in the second surgery, we put you under and discovered that your right eye is differently shaped. We couldn’t get behind it to inject the optic nerve. That’s what caused the black eye.”
“You mean I went through the second surgery without a numbed optic nerve?”
He had to tell me that. I never felt it. Had he not told me, I’d be none the wiser.
There was NO PAIN. NONE.
Being able to see has its downsides, meager though they are.
I can see that my face is older than what I thought.
I can see the dust on the bookshelves. I can see cobwebs in the corners.
That I look odd without my glasses.
I need reading glasses now. I can’t read small print.
But the ups are overwhelming. I can see without glasses. Reading glasses cost 20 bucks, a hell of a lot cheaper than the many, many prescriptions I’ve purchased over the years.
I bought my very first pair of non-prescription sunglasses ever. They are Just Too Cool. When I look at my reflection while wearing them, I hear Don Henley singing “The Boys of Summer”. I think, whoa, that is one cool, savvy chick there. (even though I know that cool savvy chick in the mirror is almost 60).
I know. It is silly. It is vanity. But when you wear glasses your entire life, you miss out on things. It is true that boys rarely make passes at girls who wear glasses. You really DO get called “Four Eyes.” You really DO get treated like you’re a dork. You’re always squinting, because (at least in my case), poor parents can barely afford to keep a kid in glasses, never mind sunglasses. You’re forever being afraid to do things, like put your horse into a full out gallop, or play volleyball, or any sort of ‘violent’ physical activity, because losing your glasses is so incapacitating.
But you also become incredibly intelligent and well read. I wouldn’t trade my life with glasses for what may have been without. No, I wouldn’t. I cannot tell you how much I learned, so much more so than I ever learned in school, all because I loved to read.
My new world, my new vision, is such a treat. Such a wonderful thing, so late in life, to be able to see as if I were a young child again.
I can see. The world is bright, bright blue, green, silver, fawn, grey, chestnut, bay. I can see. I can see the individual feathers in the vulture’s wings as he flies over me in silent, soaring flight. I can see the wind ruffling the grasses, like some giant, invisible hand stroking an equally giant fur.
I can see the stars at night-bright pinpricks of light on a blackened sky, not lighted round globes.
I can see the laugh lines around my eyes-ones that hadn’t existed before I remarried, seven years ago. I can see the silver creeping up into what is left of my husband’s hair. I can see that special look in his eyes when he looks at me. I didn’t need glasses to know it is there, but to see it now, from afar, as well as from my pillow-well, there is nothing more precious.
This is the best present I’ve ever given myself.