I weep the tears of the just man.
So there I was, dear reader: strapped down to a hospital bed in a Taiwanese veterans’ hospital. I mean, c'mon, who hasn't done that? My neck was held fast in a medieval device that would have made Burgess weep manfully and I felt that old familiar tugging in the depths of my soul that one always gets when someone is pulling the tendons (totally medically accurate term according to google) in your eyeballs across your face, with everyone staring down at me and talking in Chinese, when a thought occurred:
This is pretty fucked up right here.
But I digress. How did I get there? Why was I the only Westerner in a Taiwanese hospital? And what kind of idiot would get extensive eye surgery done at a facility where he couldn’t communicate with anyone in case something goes horribly wrong?
I was, and proudly am, that idiot.
Long story short, I wanted to take a crack at fixing my eyeballs up (read the original tale of woe here). For years I was told there was nothing that could be done. My brain was too old, too set in its ways, like a neurological Archie Bunker with a sweet skull couch. Last year, however, my mother mentioned a book to me (Fixing My Gaze) which, while not changing my life like getting an Atari 2600 back in the day did, gave me a glimmer of hope. Armed with that, and a spate of new research done by doctors who, unlike my childhood version, are not useless ghouls, I looked into possibilities.
Turns out these days, in some cases, case studies have shown that surgery, along with therapy, could help alleviate or even (sometimes) cure lazy eye and other similar conditions. Being how I was in Taiwan at the time, I took a chance and found the only doctor in the country who was qualified to perform the surgery on adults.
She was a very nice lady who spoke no English but had a nurse who could translate, haltingly. I had to go through five different examinations to determine my fitness for the surgery. In a funny moment, after examining my scar tissue from the original procedure, she was so angry that she wanted my old doctor’s number so that she could scold him, as the translator put it. She was shocked that I hadn’t stayed in touch with my sawbones from 25 years ago. Apparently, he hadn’t even done the first (long delayed) surgery right, as the large amount of scar tissue built up would make it nigh impossible to anchor the tendons (I’m a lover, not a doctor) sufficiently to cure my condition. She could help strengthen the alignment though, straightening the eyes at least a bit over the course of three surgeries. I dove right in, Pete Rose style.
So that is how I spent my last thanksgiving in Taiwan. It was a morbid day (not as much as it was for the turkeys, I am sure). In lieu of happy conversations around a food laden table, I could hear the weird sucking noises of the tube thing sticking out of my face, the random beeps and boops, the dripping, and the odd wooshings one associates with operating rooms the world over.
The operation was simple, at least from my perspective (see what I did there?). She would ask me to move my eye as far as I could to the left and hold it there by saying “please, now, Masho (My name means "horse doctor" in Chinese. Kick ass.), left, please. Now, stay. Okay. Keep stay.” This, by the way, is why I had to be awake for this procedure. I would comply and she would then pull the tendons to the right and urge me to “fight her.” Thus followed the most terrifying game of tug o’ war I have ever played. It felt like my eyes were on strings- I could feel them grinding along the back of my skull. Seeing my area of vision moving on someone else’s command also played havoc with my equilibrium. It didn’t hurt, but was creepy as hell.
This was followed by clipping sounds and a slight loosening sensation in my face. She would shine a light, throw some drops down my gaping eye hole, hook up the blood vacuum (hardcore!) and repeat. After a few hours she moved on to the next eye and the whole thing started over.
The whole ordeal lasted five hours, with a short water break (and, oddly enough, a foot rub). It went pretty smoothly except for the painkillers. They gave me these shots (in my eye- oh god IN MY EYE) to numb them. It worked as well as can be supposed but they had to keep reapplying it and I was worried they would run out before we were done. I brought that up as they were tying me down and they did their best to reassure me.
“Masho, if pain, you say pain. Okay? What you say?”
“I say pain.”
“Oh, very good, Masho!”
So, soon after we started on the second eye, it happened. A sudden burning, like a small sun going nova behind my right eye.
The burning flared up and exploded in my head- it felt as if Chris Christie was trying to eat his way out of my face.
“Um, pain? PAIN.” I am pretty sure I started squirming, but was strapped in. I didn’t yell though, cause Taiwanese hate that, those mellow bastards.
They began hurriedly talking amongst themselves. My limited Chinese led me to understand that they had no more anesthetic in the room and they sent a girl running down the hall to get a refill. Meanwhile I was in a very small, very localized, pit of hell. I tried to move my hand up to my face but it was tied down.
I tried to blink but my eyes were wired open.
My stomach was heaving. Through the blur, I saw the upside down face of the doctor. She looked down at me, winked (I think- I dunno, could have been my eye trying to escape) and placed a finger on my forehead.
It was cool to the touch.
She pressed down gently.
“Shh. No pain soon.”
Oddly enough, that actually helped for a second, long enough for that sweet, sweet needle to plunge back into my eyeball.
Oh, you sexy, soothing son of a bitch.
After that they gave me a shot every five minutes or so, just to be safe. I like to think it was because I was so tough the drugs didn’t work on me, but it was probably my lack of Kung Fu Rage.
When I got out of the hospital that day I was wearing bandages on both eyes, rendering me blind. This made paying my bill ($215, which is the cost of either a great steak dinner in Kinshasa or five Thai prostitutes), hailing a cab, and explaining where I lived all very interesting. Getting home was an adventure (I was woefully unprepared and, due to a miscommunication, had no one to take care of me or make sure I didn't die for the first two days after surgery) but at my apartment the building guard walked me upstairs, opened a beer for me, put it in my hand, and led me to my couch. I will never forget the words he left me with as I sat in my dark world, the beer bottle warming in my hand.
“Do not pour beer into your eye. That bad.”
The wisdom of the sages.
To read part 3, click here!
To read part 3, click here!