An old Led Zep song starts out with the lyrics,
"IN THE DAYS OF MY YOUTH I WAS TOLD WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A MAN..."
"GOOD TIMES, BAD TIMES, YOU KNOW I'VE HAD MY SHARE..."
As a boy, I was a constant source of worry for my poor mother. I was an adrenaline junkie. Always questing for the next dose, with absolutely no regard for the outcome, as it pertained to me. For reasons I can't explain, I loved to play with the things I was warned not to mess with. And on several occasions those unheeded warnings cost me dearly. One specific warning was over my affection for fire works, bottle rockets, specifically. Unlike many of the boys I grew up with, I didn't smoke cigarettes. But I did use cigarettes. I would hold a lit one in my mouth and use it to light the fuse on a cherry bomb or an M-80 so I could launch them from my slingshot and achieve that most sought after effect, "THE LONG RANGE AIR BURST." I would also use the smokes to light the fuse on bottle rockets and throw them in the direction of opposing team members in a game we called "ROCKET WARS."
On July 5, 1968, 8 short weeks before my 16th birthday, I stepped out into my front yard with a box of matches, 1 Bel Air cigarette and 5 dozen bottle rockets. The first rocket launched perfectly, went approximately 50 feet up and disintegrated in a loud bang. I put the second rocket in the same hole in the ground as the first one and lit the fuse and stepped back to watch the launch. The fuse sputtered and hissed just like the previous one did. But the launch was a failure, a DUD. That thing cost me like 3cents and I was pissed about being ripped off. Cussing under my breath as I stepped up and leaned over to pull the rocket from the launch hole, the frigging thing took off and hit me squarely in my left eye, throwing me literally to the ground. The pain was blinding, and so was the rocket strike. I must have yelped in pain because my mom was at the door in a flash. Covering my right eye and looking into the bright Carolina sun with my left eye, proved that I was indeed blinded by the hit. All I saw was a total blackness. The rocket had torn my iris at the top where it attaches to the white of my eye, leaving an opening in the shape of an arc that went from 10:00 - 2:00. The tear filled the interior of my eye with blood and that blocked light from striking my retina.
A CLASSIC DEFINITION OF THE WORD BLIND!
A quick ambulance ride to the Naval Hospital, Camp Lejeune. Admitted to the ophthalmology ward for treatment. I don't recall the doctors name. But he told me there was a 10% chance, if I did exactly what he told me, that I would regain the sight in my left eye. He wrapped my eyes with white bandages and ordered me to lay flat on my back for 2 weeks to let the blood drain out of my eye. everything was going fine until i had to use the toilet. The corpsmen refused to let me up and brought me a bed pan instead. After using it once, I vowed to never do it again. And for the remainder of the two weeks I refused to eat anything. When the staff questioned my lack appetite, I told them I felt sick to my stomach and didn't feel like eating.
At the end of the 2 weeks, when the doctor removed the bandages, for the second time in my life, I could see with both eyes. But because of the extra hole in my eye, bright light was painful. So I wore a pair of teardrop sunglasses during most of my waking hours. When school resumed in September, my first class I was told by one Mr.Daughtry,
"no wearing sunglasses in his classroom without a note from a doctor."
His jaw dropped so hard, you'd think he got sucker punched, when I walked up and handed him my doctor's prescription giving me permission to wear sunglasses during all daylight hours. A plus for having been blinded . And my classmates believed I was a stoner because I wore shades constantly. There were even some rumors that I had blackmail evidence on some teacher, and that's why they let me wear my Raybans in class.
Fast forward 43 years to Wednesday 22 June 2011, at VA Hospital San Diego, Ca. One of the unexpected side effects of my chemotherapy is a complete cataract of my injured eye. For the second time in my life I was blind in my left eye, only this time laying on my back for a few weeks made no difference. Cataract surgery is not a laser procedure. It is an interocular operation that entails surgical removal and replacement of the clouded lens. But because my eye had a damaged iris (the mechanism that holds the lens in place) lens replacement was a bit more complex (ain't that just like me?).
So, as the gurney crossed the O.R. threshold I prayed this little prayer:
Dr. KARIN THOMAS IS THE GREATEST EYE SURGEON THAT GOD EVER LET DRAW BREATH. AND IN HIS INFINITE WISDOM AND MERCY, HE HAS PLACED ME IN HER CARE...
2 HOURS LATER I LOOKED LIKE THIS
The pain was bearable but constant. It felt like someone was pressing on my eyeball with a large thumb. After beating a four year morphine/vicodin jag, I definitely didn't want to start up on narcotics again. And for the third time in the short history of me, I can see with both eyes...
NEXT WEEK I GO IN TO HAVE THE STITCHES REMOVED FROM MY CORNEA.
DID YOU EVER SAY
"STICK A NEEDLE IN MY EYE?"
SAY IT AGAIN... I DARE YOU!