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  • Writer's pictureShana Ritter

My Visionary Fall

Updated: Jan 3, 2022


There are many stories. One of actions, one of affects, and one of effects. Another of could have, should have, if only. There is a story of challenges and gratitude, there is one of fear and another of remorse. Other stories have the surety of hindsight, or the wishes of happy endings. Stories of lost opportunities and disappearing time. All those paths, walked, turned from, imagined, hoped.

At the same time, it is all the same story. And each is mine.

It has been more than a season with sight at the center. Its beginnings were in summer, in the months after the vaccine when we felt safe gathering in the long days, the late dusk. There was jazz and coffee on terraces, a new play in a wooded clearing, a concert in the park. That evening everything suddenly blurred to my left, as if someone had covered my filed of sight with a spray of ocean, with vapor, with Vaseline. A friend shouted out “hey didn’t you see me?” I didn’t I answered, I don’t know why, but I didn’t.

The next day I call the eye dr., go to see him and find out that after more than 25 years I am having a corneal transplant rejection. I have a long history of eye issues, a degenerative corneal disease that I have been fortunate enough to keep finding ways to hold onto. Enough vision to drive and read and hike and play with grandchildren. At least up until now.

There are many ways to tell a story/ from the center of a room/ or opening all the windows and doors/ from the wind that passes through /or the stillness of the sky

one voice or two or more/ the threads of the past/ the extensions of the future

from this moment now this breath/ then this one as if no one could hear

as if everyone was listening.

This is the short of what happened:

I woke before dawn with a shooting pain in the eye that had already been through so much. I couldn’t see. For a few minutes I fought for the belief that it was a dream. But I knew I was waking with a dreaded eye infection. I woke Manolo, we called the doctor, drove to Indy. More injections, more drops, more nothing. Just pain and an eerily gray weight pressing on me from my left. For weeks before my vision had been returning after the transplants. I’d overcome a previous complication, infection after the first surgery. Made it through a second transplant, followed all the instructions.

This is the very short of what is happening:

a cliff face sky an hour before dawn

a hemisphere once an expanse

presses against me on the left

At the office of the dr. who had been taking care of my eyes for the last quarter century, and recovered my vision many times over, he said, “The horse is out of the barn”. Meaning there was no reversing the rejection that had begun for no apparent reason. Surgery was scheduled, but then there was a reconsideration, a preliminary graft to strengthen the thinning edges of my cornea would be needed first so a new transplant could be properly situated. And then a week or so later my vision came back. Then went, then came back. More visits, more measures. On the day of that first surgery, my actual birthday, my vision was clear. I double and triple checked that the surgery was still needed, I was assured that the clarity of vision wouldn’t last. This was the best option.

This first surgery was called an on-lay graft. It felt terrible, as if something was in my eye that didn’t belong there. Well, of course there was something in my eye that didn’t belong there. And then a few weeks in there was an infection, a rush to emergency surgery, weeks of hourly drops and it cleared. Much to my relief the second surgery, the corneal transplant to restore vision was at the end of the first week of November. I was glad to be entering into the next stage, to be moving toward restored vision. It had been almost two months much of that time spent in discomfort, some of it in pain.

After the transplant it seemed as if things were healing well. On Thanksgiving, all the family here, we gave thanks for my returning vision. I was only a few weeks away from looking at glasses or contacts. And then, that Saturday after Thanksgiving some time before dawn I woke with a horrible pain and an unsettling darkness, different from the one outside.

It was a serious bacterial infection (endophthalmitis). We rushed to the Drs’ office he injected me with specially ordered antibiotics. The next day he referred me to a retinal specialist, the next day surgery again. Weeks of more hourly eye drops. Unsureness at first if we’d be able to save the eye itself. We hardly mentioned vision.

It is not a “blind spot” not a lack of vision but a shape I cannot name that I must carry with muscles I do not yet have. It presses on me like a cave wall in the dark, I do not have a lantern, I do not have matches, when I reach out there is nothing to touch but the feeling still that something is there. Something I cannot yet name. And the barely whispered fear that it will not remain the dark side of the moon but become my whole galaxy. Far flung, a different dimension that I will not just have to straddle but wade through, ride in, lie down and embrace. Another geography I do not understand but inhabit.

Weeks later we’ve gone from lots of medication to drops every two hours, and oral steroids. Working to bring down the inflammation, to keep the infection contained and continue to overcome it. My energy is beginning to return. Feeling positive, though not definite, about saving this left eye. No vison though, not yet, and a good chance of never. Sometimes I am scared to close my right eye when I go to sleep. I am afraid I will wake up to the enveloping gray dark. Sometimes, I feel fine, I can do this. One eye will get me through. I can adapt. I will see two specialists in January beginning the quest to preserve the sight in my right eye. Researching, getting references, making the appointments gives me some feeling of agency. It may well be an illusion, but it is something. And something is not nothing.

And all the while the pandemic goes on and on so that everything is moving enveloped in a kind of vapor, everything is tinged with virus. Sometimes we recognize it and sometimes we don’t. But it feels like our pockets are holding scales we pull out at every decision to measure the relative risk of seeing a friend, going into a store, visiting family. We move differently now. I think all of us are tired. As this year becomes another, we put one foot in front of the other, or sideways, or backwards, or just stand still. It commands an effort of balance we have not learned yet, or at least I have not. Sometimes we just lie down. And yet the full moon rises, the children grow taller, the dog is glad for a walk, the sunrise over my pond doesn’t fail to catch my breath and bring me into this moment, if only for a moment.

In the new year

we won’t know if the droplets of music

become water or the droplets of water

become music. We may never know

if the tune is carried on the wind or if

it tossed the wind into a song. if the melody

was the sky at dawn or if Dawn turned

the melody to rose and mauves

shadow blues and stone grays.

We may never know what comes first

or second or after or last, we won’t

even know if it is last. But we can

stand or lie on this place in between

listening. We can name the water

under us, over us, within us

we might just open to sky.

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