They said in unison, “You will be all right.”
It was a well-meant word of reassurance. I tried hard to find some comfort in my unease.
I had gone earlier to an optometrist for a normal refraction testing. One look and an ominous frown marked the young doctor’s placid face, “You are about to lose your right eye.”
He quickly called a retina specialist and I heard him drop the word “emergency.” I was rushed to the specialist who barely took a glance before saying, ”The retina in your right eye is detached and the condition is serious.” I heard the word “emergency” a second time as he called the hospital to arrange an immediate surgery.
Now I was in the hands of Joanna and Pauline, who took my weight, height and pressure and kept dripping drops of caustic liquid in my eye. My shirt and trouser had already been switched to a floral-design cotton gown and a long needle inserted in my left arm.
I was wheeled into a mammoth operation theater, a team of doctors and nurses introduced themselves, and I meekly explained how my name is pronounced while they strapped me to the gurney and fixed my head with tapes. More drops, some anesthesia, more tapes, and finally some opaque stuff on my eye.
I have gone through unpleasant medical procedures before and have learned a trick or two. When I am immobile in a position and can do little else, I simply make the best use of the time: I go into meditation. I sense calm, I feel I am making a good use of my time, and I certainly experience less pain or discomfort.
The anasthesia is local and I can hear the operating staff talk. I can hear the surgeon tell his assistant, “Let’s over to the other side,” and, more interestingly, a nurse talk of her vacation in the Bahamas, “The warm sand felt quite wonderful on my bare feet.” She might have followed with something more salacious, but I returned to my practised rhythm of breathe-in, breathe-out. I felt calm and assured, no matter the outcome.
I was wheeled back to my alcove by a slender, attractive nurse. The anasthesia notwithstanding, I knew my mind was in good shape as I kept wondering how she looked with her hair flowing, without the constraint of a shapeless hospital cap.
Lina, my daughter, came to retrieve me, and I instantly spotted her look of shock. With a massive bandage obscuring half my face, anybody would be excused for fearing she had encountered Frankenstein’s monster. A stern-faced nurse gave me my discharge instructions: no aperitif (just what I needed then), no shower (the thing I most wanted), the lightest of meals, and, worst of all, three days of keeping my head constantly down. This was worse than the worst punishment any school master had ever dealt me. I consoled myself with the thought that it was symbolic of the way most people, especially most women, seem to spend their whole life: they keep their head down and do whatever others expect of them.
A week has since passed. The bandage is off, but the right eye still sees little. Vision, I am told, will take longer to return, if I am lucky. People may be in a quandary to decide what wacky kind of an alcoholic am I that I can maintain a normal white left eye while my right eye is blotched and blood-red. I suspect I might look even wackier were I to don dark glasses during these dark wintry days in Washington. Whatever my ghastly appearance, I can now stand up and look around and see the world – and not, as it seems, with the most of mankind, keep my head down.
That is possibly what Joanna and Pauline meant when they said that I would be all right.