Friday, February 27, 2009

The Wood Between the Worlds: Reflections on Moving

...About to embark on my 23rd move (I think that is the final count). This one is from Texas to somewhere in the NYC metro area. Growing up I attended 10 schools from 1st grade on, and as an adult I have continued in the moving tradition, albeit in the civilian world.

In bit of cosmic humor, one week after the For Sale sign went up in the yard, the Allen, Texas (our town) "Welcome Wagon" called to send me a packet and welcome us to Texas. That's how we roll. We relocate before the Welcome Wagon can catch us!

The house is up for sale on MLS, and the bedrooms are abnormally clean and half empty (thanks to underbed storage). Lamps are tastefully lit in rooms where there are no people. I am burning vanilla on tinfoil in the oven on purpose. Come in to my house, said the spider to the fly.

It's like a pretend family lives here, like that house in the desert in that recent Indiana Jones movie, the set of a movie. The computer is set to all of the online listings sent by our realtor in New Jersey several times a week.

Here, in this sunny southern town -- a town where we have played little league and bought groceries and attended congregational meetings -- we suddenly have now have become short-timers.

And I have begun especially appreciating the things I always liked about this house that I am about to vacate. There are big brown bunnies that come right up to our long kitchen windows for bird seed...right where we do the pledge of allegiance and our calendar each day! I'll miss the woodpecker that lives in the tree behind us on the creek, and his little red head and his busy work at his hole. I'll miss the gorgeous, rich and textured, handscraped hardwood floor the last owners installed. It feels nice and gently bumpy on barefeet. The soft, warm pale yellow color of the walls. My neighbor who is always good for a mid-day chat session by the mail box.

I look at the folks in our loving church and see them with a certain warmth and affection brought by new distance. I suddenly notice that there is one lady at church who seems to help with everything. That is, I vaguely knew it before, but now it hits me with the force of clarity. I notice the new people at church, and suddenly realize they almost belong here more than I do. I notice that an elder looks tired and that the Hot Topic everyone is caught up in will actually probably work out fine either way. I think I begin to see things from the perspective of "When We Stop Back To Visit In Two Years."

And within myself, I feel a drawing back, and moving ahead, even as I realize I have no home yet to go to. It's a funny, Navy kid feeling. An in-between feeling, like the Wood Between the Worlds in that CS Lewis book about the dawning of time.

A softness steals over me as I withdraw -- not my affection, but something else -- like ownership. There is sadness, yes, and, strangely, also a bit of a relief, an almost spiritual sort of shedding of cares. When you are forced to say good bye to things and people you love and don't want to leave, you find you are a little sharper in thought, a little more streamlined in your life and person, a little more dependent on fundamentals.

The busy-ness suddenly becomes more internal, now that I am withdrawn from ministry obligations, from kids' sports, from whatever good and right plans I would have been making for a Texas summer. I find my focus narrowing. I am still busy -- actually more so -- but in a focused, wagons-circled kind of way, an inward way, and my outward view broadens and perhaps clarifies.

I am even more simply a wife and mom concerned with making and finding a home and a church -- discussing options and plans with David, schooling the kids, working on the special issues with them, keeping the house very clean, calling movers and getting estimates, finishing up with doctors and dentists.

We both, David and I, go back to some our old timeworn jokes and ways, we revert back to our more original selves. "Love yer show babe," I say. I think about when we were engaged. I think about the Ryder truck to California. I think about the drive to Denver.

I remember that sometimes this kind of thing would happen when I was a working girl, with respect to work concerns. Some giant issue would suddenly loom up at work, and we would all drop our other work concerns and hunch together and give all of our days to handling this event, or paper, or issue. There is a sort of purgative relief in streamlining like this.

And yes, it makes the eventual falling back into the variety of settled cares a relief and a novelty, too. Vive la Variety!

Eat, drink, learn, reflect. The Wood Between the Worlds.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Re-posting in honor of my friends who have recently had children: Jenn, Cindy, Laura... and Sarah, who is about to...

Drawing Room

It seems to me that babies are sprouting forth in other families all around me, so here I sit thinking about babies and pregnancy, of all things.

I am thinking, pregnancy is masculine. This is only right, for after all, a man is closely involved. The womb is New York City, it is a large, rumbling construction site of vessels and muscles and belly, swollen with doings and slow traffic and shut down for days, months, longer than predicted. All kinds of activities and such re-routed, things grind to a standstill, then a rush of activity.

Mom at Work! There should be orange Detour signs, No Traffic Today, Not This Month, Not This Summer, Expect Delays! Go the other way! Ok, Stand and Watch, but Stay Back behind the tape. We should all be wearing hard hats and giving cat calls and surveying the scene with our thumbs in our pockets. The baby finally emerges and looks like he has been in a brawl, red and blue and puffy and gasping and clenched.

But, of course, pregnancy is also feminine. It is, as the Psalmist says, like knitting.

There is fine needlework being done deep down in the womb -- a genteel drawing room, private and hushed. There are delicate, tiny, original stitches... the infinite, infinitesimal, industrious click-clicking of molecule upon molecule weaving and fitting, a little friendly gossip between the soul and body, the DNA taking tea.

Did you know, the face forms itself from the outside in? It meets in the middle and leaves it's little calling card, which is the dimple and bow of your upper lip. In a child born with a cleft lip, like my boy, Ben, you can see where the face did not meet, the introduction wasn't properly made, and there was a scandal. And always the placenta pours the precise mix of blood and vitamins in, the little toes and hands grasp and push away the cup. There is the clink of saucers, a polite chuckle, a murmur. Then -- shhh -- the baby is sleeping!


An Inch and a Universe

I write this on an old spiral after a day at dog obedience school, clearing out branches and logs from the storm, and shuttling to and fro the repair shop... the flotsam of suburban life.

I look down at my Vestal belly, untroubled by improvements and besotted with metaphor. It is Greek Hestia's belly, or the Victorian "Angel at the Hearth," or the Hearth itself where babies are warmed, a Garden where babies are grown.

In college it was tight and brown and good to look at, good for tanning and pink bikinis. But it has been about more important business since then. Now it is good for holding babies. It is good Rx for scraped knees and stubbed toes, a pillow for tired brown heads in church, a place to bury your face when you feel shy or afraid, a warm and friendly place.

It is stretched and functional, criss-crossed with the lines and shiny stretches of 3 babies and some surgeries. It bears the haphazard tic-tac-toe of gestation and trauma, the hard work of hammering out and making people. My dad remarks (a military man), "Your Marine friends would be jealous!" But surely if I hung out with Marines, I wouldn't be showing them my belly!

William, once and years ago you were a baby inside, elbowing my abdomen, forcing me to take up your desperate agenda. One inch of skin separated me from you. One inch of skin and womb between mother and son, and it may as well have been a mile. There was a human pressed to my heart and kicking my ribs, and I had never met him. I hadn't met you.

I'd seen many strangers and never you. And there would be no hurrying our introduction -- that grand introduction. The brutal miracle, this labor of desire, forged by your father's heat and shaped in your mother's lap -- and you, a different soul, separate from us, little squawking man. And now my tall and lanky brown-eyed boy, catcher of baseballs, reader of science encyclopedias, eater of large cookies... irrevocably you.

God's creation. Holy to the Lord. Never early, never late. I wait.

"As it is written, 'Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.'" Luke 10: 23

Monday, February 23, 2009

Step by Step Lasik: details for those considering it

This will be a boring post for anyone not interested in having Lasik eye surgery. I am writing it because a few be-spectacled friends have asked for details of my recent Lasik surgery here in Dallas. I learned some good information from bloggers, myself, before I had the surgery.

Before I had Lasik (on February 6), my eyeglass prescription was 20/750. The next morning after Lasik, I was seeing "20/20 plus" -- ie, a little better than 20/20.

The only complications for me have been occasional dry eyes -- the expected complication for up to 3 months following -- and a blood clot/streak on my eye, mostly covered by my lid, which I don't feel at all. This is also supposed to go away. I have been warned to expect to wear reading glasses a bit sooner than I would have.


I spent years looking into this procedure and was screened by 3 different places -- Johns Hopkins, a Texas Laser Center calls Cornea Associates (recommended by an opthalmologist -- just a preliminary screening), and UT Southwestern (Zale-Lipshy) Laser Center.

My prescription was steep and my corneas moderately thin, so when I was screened at John's Hopkins 3 1/2 years ago, the doctor recommended I wait until the next generation of machine came out. This would allow me to take advantage of the best "Wavefront" machine possible and get the best results, rather than settling for a different, less precise kind of surgery. (More on that later)

I settled on UT Southwestern while here in Texas, because it was recommended by 2 trusted people and because it is a teaching hospital. I had heard that a teaching, university hospital like this would be more likely to have a long-view towards eye care, and also would not be as profit-driven. In other words, if it would be wiser for me to to wait, or not do, the surgery, I wanted the doctor to be very likely to so advise, and not be concerned about making money.

It is also important, as you search, to find a place which publishes their results, and to find a place where a surgeon, not a tech, will perform the procedure.

I was screened preliminarily, then later in-depth, at UT. Because of my still-borderline cornea thickness issue, the doctor decided to take measurements the day of surgery again, before he made a final decision on type of procedure. He would then determine, that day, whether to do conventional Lasik or the more "tissue hungry" Wavefront (more expensive by $350 per eye, better, more precise results, but uses more corneal tissue to get them).

Day of Surgery

The day of the surgery, the doctor took me in for some more measurements, and gave the go-ahead for for Wavefront. Hooray!

I understand many places prescribe Valium. UT did not offer that, and I didn't request it, as I don't like how it makes me feels.

The first step on the day of surgery was taking the basic measurements again. Then my eyeballs were numbed with drops and the doctor marked on my eyeball with permanent marker. (Funny!) He said he does this, because when we lie down, our eye shifts a bit, and this pre-marking would allow him to get his bearings.

Before I went in, they asked if I had any questions, and I requested that the doctor verbally walk through everything he did as he did it, so that I could know what was going on during the procedure. The doctor told me afterward that it is actually his policy to verbally walk through things, so that his assistants can catch him if he misses a step. I liked knowing that, even later!

This particular doctor is also a professor and has an entourage of interns and an experienced assistant or two following him around and assisting him. So along the way he explained different technical things to them out loud. He also had an assistant double check certain things he had done -- measurements and settings -- before he proceeded to do them. Two thumbs up! I'm all in favor of reducing human error!

After having the measurements done, my eyes were marked, and my eye balls numbed with drops again, and I was led to a room for the first part of the procedure, in which the corneal flaps are cut on each eye. This is the first of two parts of the operation where you have to hold yourself very still for a few seconds. This is also the part of the procedure where your eyes are open, but your vision goes black.

When I was laying down, one of the nurses gave me a teddy bear (I must confess, I thought this was extremely silly, but apparently this is standard operating procedure. It gives you something to clench onto if you feel the need to -- and I did end up clenching it at points, so I guess it made sense). A speculum is put in your eye to hold your eye open and your eyeball still.

The thing to know about this first part of the procedure is that there is pressure and significant manhandling of the eyeball, but it doesn't hurt. The eyeball itself has been numbed. The manhandling is more disconcerting on the first eye. When they do the second eye, it is not as disconcerting. (Because it has happened before! Like so many things in life.) In this first stage, the flap is cut and suddenly things go dark. I saw golden stars, too. (A special treat?)

After both eyes have their flaps cut, you are told to lay still for 15 minutes. I asked why and I can't remember what the answer was. David had asked after me out in the lobby, and so a nurse came in to tell me, which was sweet. The nurses were very diligent about putting numbing drops in my eyes frequently all during the procedure -- maybe 3 or 4 times or more during the time I was having the procedure done.

There are clear plastic goggles on your eyes while you are waiting, but you can "see" again (still with poor eyesight but things are not black anymore). After 15 minutes, I was moved to a new room and I lay down under the special Allegretto laser machine, and the room was darkened.

At this point began the second part of the procedure. The machine's "coordinates" (my word choice) were set for my eyes. (Basically, my measurements were entered in a computer.)

The beauty of Wavefront technology is that the computer is able to precisely re-sculpt the eye to not only correct the basic prescription, but also to smooth and correct other natural irregularities (and all eyes have them, even 20/20 ones). This makes vision even clearer and cuts down on night vision issues and haze issues -- essentially making a smoother eye than found in nature.

I believe (this is my lay understanding) the special thing about the Allegretto version of Wavefront is that the wave pulses are faster than ever, and even better at correcting/accounting for tiny movements of the eyeball. Apparently, even when you hold very still and look at one point, your eye moves a tiny bit. These newer machines are able to account for that to a greater degree.

The machine came on, and I was told to look at the green light and not to stop looking at the green light, and to hold still. This "holding very still" was just for a 22 seconds, and the nurse kept updating me on elapsed time. It is not long at all.

But this was the time I felt a little bit of panic. For some reason, my mind played that horrible trick on me in which it wants to do the exact thing it is not supposed to do, and I felt driven to look away from the green light. Sort of the "Don't think of a pink elephant" phenomenon. I kept feeling an almost irresistible urge to look away from the green light! I prayed fervently -- that I would keep staring straight at the light -- and I did. Whew!

The second eye went much better, especially since I had experienced how short a period of time the whole process really is. This is not a painful process either, but one does smell a mild burning smell while the laser is cutting. I don't know if the smell was the machinery or my eye tissue.

The flaps are pulled back, and then a funny thing happens. The doctor takes, essentially, a tiny squeegie, and spends a good bit of time smoothing down the flap's edges and pushing out any air bubbles. In fact, the funny thing is, you get to watch the tiny squeegie at work on your eye, and you don't feel it because of the numbing drops!

After sitting up in the darkened room, I was given goggles to wear, told not to rub my eyes (I scrunched them when I shut them and they all exclaimed " don't do that!) and led to an exam room.

I sat down in the exam room, looked at the doctor and promptly started to cry. I could see him well without any lenses! (I am one of those who could not see the big E on the eye chart!)

All the interns were crowded round smiling, and the nurse. The nurse got teary, too, what a dear, and the doctor was simply beaming. He said tears were ok -- good for my eyes.


What a moment!

When he could get me to stop thanking him and shaking his hand, he measured me, and I was seeing 20/80. After total dependency on glasses and contacts since 4th grade -- for 30 years -- I could now already see fairly well without any lenses!


Before I left, I was given a prescription pain killer to take with food. As the numbing wears off, it really does feel like someone has taken a brillo pad to your eye. I was also handed darkened sunglasses to wear home. They advised me to keep my eyes closed for the trip home, though I confess I peeked a few times, and saw I could read license plates! Not even the "Tabasco-in-the-eye" feeling could dampen my mood!

But I have light-colored eyes, and the light was way too bright to handle, even with my eyes closed and the sunglasses, so I wrapped a sweater around my head to block out the light and get home comfortably. As soon as I got home I headed straight for the dark bedroom.

There I took the painkiller -- hydrocodone (ie generic vicodin) -- with food. But I had a reaction to it. My eye pain was significantly reduced by it, but I also spent the next 4 hours nauseous and vomiting. This is something I have frequently experienced with certain prescription painkillers and also anesthesia, so I wasn't surprised. Still, I was already so cheered by my vision results that I didn't care very much -- maybe the one time in life I have felt cheerful while vomiting!

This kind of reaction to Vicodin is not common, I don't think. Unless you're allergic to it, what I recommend is that you do take the painkiller before you even leave the laser center -- bring some food to take with it --so that you can manage your pain ahead of time.

I was also given steroid drops and antibiotic drops, to apply very frequently at first, and less frequently later. Everyone naps right after the surgery but I did not feel at all like napping -- obviously.

After explaining the whole process to my eager and curious children ("Gross, mom! That's cool!") in the darkened room, finally recovering from nausea, and chatting with my sweet mom who came to watch the kids while David helped me, I went to bed that night with goggles on. These goggles are to keep you from rubbing or scratching your eyes in your sleep. You wear them at night for a week.

The next morning, I could see with sunglasses on. As we drove to the clinic I found I could read street signs. At the exam, I was able to read part of the 20/15 line!

The weeks following this procedure I have diligently used my eye drops and the moisture drops (given by the clinic) to alleviate the occasional very mild discomfort. I did have some light sensitivity for the next day or so, no longer than that. I do wear my sunglasses a little more frequently as it is windy in Texas and that is mildly uncomfortable in terms of dryness. It's only been a few weeks. I found, for the first week, that my eyes would tire more easily, and computer work was more draining. But things have quickly settled out.

For 3 months, I need to avoid water sports and not get water in my eyes. I can shower and bathe as usual.

The benefits of this outpatient procedure -- for someone with allergies and also someone who loves the outdoors and swimming and yard work -- are huge! It is a daily, hourly delight to just go about my business without worrying about my contacts getting blurry or "goopy," and without thinking of glasses. It is wonderful to wake up and see immediately. I still get a tiny thrill each morning when I wake up and see right away!