Rounding Corners, or, How Janie Gets Her New Eye

BY JANE MILLER

I’m rounding the corner. Maybe it’s only a small padded corner, so when I run into it I don’t hurt myself, but at least it’s a corner. On Tuesday, February 28, I have an appointment with my ocular surgeon. Dr. Perry will tell me then if my eye has healed enough for a permanent prosthetic.

Erik and I loved Dr. Perry the minute we met him. It was at the end of a long, sad day back in December. The day I had the ultrasound that told us what we had been afraid to hear. My eye was not viable and, in the interest of protecting my good eye, should be removed.

That was the day we talked to the retinologist … twice … and then to the specialist we had seen first upon coming back from Canada. The day we reached out to our wonderful friends on Facebook. Help, we whispered into the darkness.

I was standing at the reception desk of the Casey Eye Institute Ocular Surgery department. Erik was looking down the hall and despite everything, he started to chuckle. From somewhere around the corner, someone was laughing back.

“Oh my god,” Erik said softly, smiling. “It’s Jeff Bridges.”

“What?” I asked as I looked down the hall. “Do you know him?”

“No, but I think he’s your surgeon.”

As I looked again, I couldn’t believe it. It was Jeff Bridges. Tall and California handsome, still dressed in scrubs, with feathered hair almost to his shoulders and eyes that crinkled when he smiled, which he was still doing with Erik.

He shook our hands and led us into the exam room. He had read my chart and after looking at my eye, agreed that it should come out. He explained everything. Everything. How the eye would be removed leaving as many muscles as possible. How he would implant a globe made out of some ridiculous new age material. How he would attach the muscles to the pits in the globe, and how they would grow.

The prosthetic, he explained, rests on the globe like a contact rests on the surface of an eye ball. The muscles that have grown into the globe will move my prosthetic eye just like the muscles move my biological eye. We had questions, concerns, and I had to address the ick factor in that I don’t like people messing with my face. Dr. Perry answered everything.

Ten days after facial reconstruction and “enucleation” (eye removal) surgery, Dr. Perry removed the stitches that had kept my right eye lids closed and placed the temporary prosthetic on the globe. He warned me that my eye would tear a lot, which might or might not go away. That it would be uncomfortable in the beginning, but that I should acclimate to it.

I haven’t acclimated, though. I feel discomfort when I blink, smile, eat, move my left eye (followed slightly by my right eye). Part of it is related to the reconstruction of my right cheek and orbit. Too much titanium and nerve damage. I’m hoping that when I have an eye that’s made to fit me, it will improve.

The way the ocularist makes the prosthetic eye is amazing. I will have three appointments in Lake Oswego at Maloney’s Custom Ocular Prosthetics over the course of two days (March 1 and 2). March 1 will start in the morning with a 90-minute appointment. They will make a “painless” mold of my eye. This is kind of like when you have an impression of your teeth … You know … that cold, gummy, oozy, sticky stuff they squish onto your jaw.

Yeah, that. It’s going to be a valium morning. I watched a video about how it’s done, and they used a child who had already done this before. I am convinced that they used a kid so adults wouldn’t freak out. I mean, it’s a kid, he’s calm. How bad could it be? It’s going to be valium-bad, that’s how bad it could be.

The next step is to make a wax pattern to make sure the real prosthetic will fit. After the fit is right, the ocularist will paint the background of my iris that will match my left eye. While the paint is drying and she makes a plastic mold of the wax impression, Erik and I will have a lunch break in Lake Oswego.

The prosthetic right eye will be hand-painted to match exactly my left eye – colors, little red lines, everything. It’s pretty cool, actually. They’ll paint and shape everything just right, then I come back on March 2 for the final fitting. They’ll insert the prosthetic and make any adjustments for fit and all. And … EWWW … they’ll teach me how to insert and remove it myself, and maintain it.

Have I mentioned my ew-factor when dealing with things touching my face?? I hate the dentist. The thought of actually removing and replacing a prosthetic eye is creepy, though my best friend Laura says I should practice so I can do it at parties.

I’ll have one more follow-up on Thursday with Dr. Loyo, the surgeon who rebuilt my face. If she says everything is fine, I think that will be it. The ordeal that began after dinner on December 1 will not be behind me, but the storm it created will be a little calmer, a bit less chaotic. Exactly three months to the day that changed my life.

 

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