Tuesday, July 11, 2017

E IS FOR...

Image result for blind man at bethsaida “And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ’Do you see ’anything?’ And he looked up and said, ’I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, ’Do not even enter the village’” (Mark 8:22-26).

With my good eye, I saw my daughter sitting next to me in the office chair. She’d been watching over me for the last 24 hours, trying to keep me comfortable despite the inefficient air-conditioning in our hotel room and my need to lie flat on my back, my right eye bandaged from yesterday’s cornea transplant. She looked a little tired, worn out from a long night at a less than stellar hotel and an early appointment with the surgeon.

“It’ll be fine,” I assured her. “I’ll be able to see again.”

Image result for keratoconusThe vision in my right eye had declined gradually over the last four years. Diagnosed with Keratoconus when I was nineteen, I had struggled with vision issues for over forty years. Hard contact lenses, thick glasses, hybrid lenses, eye drops, eye strain, two previous transplants, and massive headaches were my companions. Keratoconus, a rare disease of the cornea that makes it disintegrate, causes doubled images, ghosting, blurs, and inaccurate vision. My left eye was only mildly affected with the disease. The vision was, on a good day, 20/60. But the vision in my right eye was another story. In the last eighteen months, the vision had decreased to what ophthalmologists call “fingers only”; if someone stood 10 feet away I could usually tell how many fingers they held up.

Image result for keratoconusMy vision made it difficult for me to see to drive and to teach. I also cared for my disabled husband and autistic son. Eye strain was constant, causing fatigue. Light sensitivity limited time I could spend on the computer, awkward since student assignments were submitted on line. And in the last few months, the constant ache in the eye had spread down to my shoulder and I had developed a sensation of “ground glass” as the cornea disintegrated.

My daughter, almost always cheerful, joked, “Well, we survived the hotel room. This will be a piece of cake. Let’s just take a moment and pray about it.”

Only the Book of Mark records the healing of the man born blind at Bethsaida. The fact that Jesus used his saliva to heal the man born blind is interesting to commentators because saliva was considered a healing agent in Biblical times.  But as I waited for the doctor to come and remove the bandage from my eye, more important to me was the fact that that event was a miracle in two parts. The man saw imperfectly in verse 24, but then his vision cleared with another touch from Jesus. I had worn glasses or contacts all my life. Without them, the world was a blur, “men walking as trees.” I was anxious to see again, but I knew that proper healing would take time. The doctor had told me that it would be three months before I could expect any real improvement in my vision. And, even then, I would need to wear corrective lenses.
Image result for men walking as trees
But, like the man from Bethsaida, I was willing to be healed. And I knew that God saw me as an individual with my own needs. Friends who had laser surgery to improve their vision or had cataracts removed told me the improvement was immediate. But I could not compare their experiences with mine: I now had a cornea that had once belonged to someone else.

Would any of the vision in my right eye be restored? During the last evening, as I tried to lie motionless in a very uncomfortable bed, I had attempted to open my eye lid a bit and peek out of the bandages. Did I see light? Or was it only my desire to see light? Either way, sighted or not, I needed to know that God could bring good out of any circumstance, even blindness in my right eye.

My daughter and I prayed.

Dr. Raber entered the office a few moments later, crisp and efficient even at this early hour. He shook hands with both my daughter and me. “The surgery went very well,” he assured us. “Now let’s see what’s happening.” Slowly, he peeled the dressing away from my eye.

What a great moment this would be in a Hollywood movie, I thought. The bandages would be taken off the heroine’s eyes and she would instantly see, cured of her blindness. She would recognize those around her, not be at all bothered by the bright lights she had never seen, and say something trite such as, “How wonderful to see you all!”

But this was not Hollywood.

Once my eye was free from its shield and the coverings, Dr. Raber reached for the prescription drops. Expertly, he put them into my eyes one at a time and handed me a tissue to dab away excess. He examined the eye through a slit lamp and declared that it “looked good.”

“Okay,” said the doctor. “This is it.” He readied the light that projected the Snellen eye chart onto the wall and focused the first letter. “Can you see anything?” he asked gently.

Image result for snellen eye chartI saw something very blurry. I blinked a few times and the object came more into focus.  “E,” I said. “I can see the E. It’s blurry, but I can tell it’s the E.”

To my left, my daughter gave a thumbs-up sign.

“Excellent,” said Dr. Raber. “It will take time, but it looks like it’s healing well.” He told me to make an appointment for the following week, wear protective eye gear at all times, follow his instructions for using all the many eye drops, and continue lying on my back as much as possible for the next two days.

“You saw the E!” said my daughter when we were in the car and on our way home. I nodded. It had been a beautiful sight to see. Even now, my wraparound sunglasses protecting the still fragile cornea and the air bubbles that held it in place, I could see blurs of scenery passing by.

Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Perfect vision is hard to come by in our world. We may see physically, but not see spiritually. We may have many problems caused by our own unbelief. A few verses before Jesus healed the blind man, He had said to His disciples, “Do you have eyes and yet not see what I am saying? (Mark 8:18).” Often, the disciples did not understand what Jesus was teaching them.
Image result for BethsaidaAnd what about me? Many times in the last 40 years, I have not been able to depend on what I see. I spend time petting my son’s cat only to discover it is a gray jacket and stop at a mailbox because I thought an elderly man had fallen. And just recently I remarked to my daughter, “Why are all those people standing at the side of the road?” and she said calmly, “Mom, those are trees.”
Sometimes, I see men walking as trees. But today, I saw the Big E.
And I remembered that “E” is also the fifth letter in the Hebrew alphabet, pronounced Hei, and sometimes used to signify one of the names of God.
E is for Excellent.
E is for Exalt.
E is for Emmanuel.

Image result for emmanuel jesus



Monday, June 19, 2017

A TALE OF TWO SLIPPERS

Image result for corneal transplantI have explained the process of a cornea transplant to my son as carefully as I can, high-lighting the fact that the procedure will restore vision to my right eye and bypassing the rather queasy details. He nods. He sort of remembers from the last time, but he was little and his father was, unlike now, more able to take care of things.

This, his sister has told me, is Allen's biggest worry: that I will become as incapacitated as his disabled dad. I want him to know that after some recovery time I will be right as rain. No need to worry.

But worry he does. "What will  help you feel better?" he asks me. 

Image result for teacup cats and miniature catsI talk about taking care of the cats and making sure I get hot tea when I need it, but he needs something much more solid. Like many on the autism spectrum, Allen is very concrete in his thinking. The fact that he is considering my feelings shows how far he has come in the last few years.

I think carefully. It needs to be something easily attained, but also related directly to my successful recovery.

Image result for slippers"Slippers," I tell  him. "Nice comfy slippers I can wear while I'm laying around and my eye heals."

"Fine,"he says. "I will get you slippers. Then you'll be okay."

I forget about it for a few days. There is much to be done to provide for Ron's needs as I am on the injured list for a while. Thursday night, Allen heads out the door. "Going to Walmart," he tells me. "I need to get you slippers." It has become a mission for him. Alas, when he returns an hour later he sadly reports that he couldn't find any. "Not nice ones," he says. 

I want to tell him to forget it, but I know that the slippers are now tied up with his confidence that I will recover, so I simply say, "There are other stores." And on Friday, Allen heads out again in search of something I thought would be easy for him to find. But he still comes back empty-handed. Who knew slippers were such a commodity? 

Image result for slippersSaturday morning dawns. We are supposed to attend Wendy's Cancer Free Party and I awaken Allen at 10 am to remind him. I hear him get up and shower, then zoom down the steps and out the door. "We're leaving at 11:30!" I shout, but he is already racing towards his car. By the time my daughter Bonnie arrives to chauffeur us to Roxborough, Allen has not returned. Bonnie texts him but gets no response.

"He knew we were leaving, " I say. I write a note and attach it to the door. I am not really worried about him but I ask him to call us when he gets home. I'm just a little annoyed that he has forgotten about the party. 

It is an hour later and we are helping Wendy set things up when Bonnie's phone dings with a text. She smiles and reads it to me. 

FOUND MOM'S SLIPPERS. SHE'LL BE FINE NOW.

Any annoyance I had at my adult autistic son flies away. The slippers have become such an objective to him that nothing else matters. 

Bonnie gives me a hug. "You have to get better now," she says. "Allen found you slippers!"

My magic slippers are packed and ready.

Image result for magic slippers




Saturday, June 3, 2017

EYE TO EYE

Dear Friend,

Image result for keratoconusWe've been together for almost twenty years, but on June 20, 2017, we will say good-bye forever. I will miss you more than I can possibly express; you have--quite literally--been a part of me. The years between our meeting and our parting have been chaotic. Your constant presence has not only helped me to survive, but to thrive. In addition, the very bestowal of you has allowed me to care for my family and raise my children, to provide for my disabled husband, and to impart the gift of knowledge to many students and teachers. I am beyond grateful for you.

Our close relationship began on February 14, 1998--a most appropriate date--when a surgeon at Wills' Eye Hospital in Philadelphia removed your damaged predecessor from my right eye. A corneal dystrophy called keratoconus had destroyed it and all efforts to save it had come to naught. You, my dear right cornea, were affixed to a narrow circle of tissue with 120 tiny sutures. I came home from the hospital with a bandage over you, a throbbing headache, and a hope that you might provide me with the gift of sight.
Image result for keratoconus
And you did. It took a while for vision of any sort to return; I spent two months with slowly increasing visual acuity.

It took even longer for me to feel that you were truly mine, not a foreigner to my body. For half a year, every blink dragged down over sutures that broke painfully or were removed at the hospital. Even after the last suture was gone, the vague feeling remained that you did not really belong.
Gradually, the early morning notion that there was "something in my eye" dissipated. You became mine.

Image result for rigid contact lensesFor a while, you could tolerate the rigid gas permeable lens and my vision was a pretty miraculous 20/60. It was enough to teach high school English and earn a graduate degree in Reading. And when my husband, Ron, was in a car accident that nearly took his life, you stayed firmly affixed to my eye as we took on two and three jobs to support the family.

By the time we had been together ten years--the usual life of a donor cornea--we were firmly implanted into a doctoral program and you were showing signs of wear. You would no longer wear the RGP with any degree of comfort so we switched back to our thick glasses and moved on. My life was too hectic to deal with the routine of contact lenses anyway, what with caring for Ron and teaching  at three colleges.

Image result for keratoconusWe made it, you and I. I saw--if through a haze--all three offspring graduate college. I received my doctorate in 2011. I knitted my way through Ron's various surgeries and saw well enough to help my daughter make her wedding gown.

Around 2015, you began to protest. The ghost images from you were now full-blown doubles and I had trouble with stairs and certain colors. I could only read on my Kindle set to a large print font. My good friend Dr. Neil Schwartz declared you to be "clinically blind."

Image result for ghost images keratoconusI lived with it for a while, depending heavily on my still good left eye. But in March of 2016, I woke up one morning to a heavy fog that would not lift. I went to Neil, who referred me to a cornea specialist. She sent me to be fitted for a hybrid lens, but that ophthalmologist said you were too far gone. I saw another specialist, who referred me to a retina specialist, who referred me to a neuro-ophthalmologist, who referred me back to Wills'.

Where we first met. We have come full  circle, dear friend.

Image result for gift of sight
And as I prepare for the surgery and the recovery time I will need once you are removed from my eye and another donor cornea takes your place, I want to thank you for all you have allowed me to do. Someone somewhere gave me a very precious gift when they donated their corneas to be used for people like me. In saying "thanks" to you, I am really saying it to that nameless person who not only gave me the gift of sight, but the gift of life.

On June 20, I begin the journey again with a new cornea, a new chance to see and to live and to make meaning from my life. It is a charge I will never take for granted.

So thanks, dear friend. I will never forget you. I pray that I have been, and will continue to be, worthy of such a rare and wonderful gift.

With great gratitude,

Linda

P.S. Dear readers, if you  have not already done so, please consider giving others such as myself the gift of sight by donating your corneas after death. The Eye Bank Association of American can help you understand the process.

http://restoresight.org/cornea-donation/understanding-cornea-donation/

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

SAVING THE CROSS


There is a time for everything,
   and a season for every activity under the heavens:


The little church was on fire. Black smoke billowed from the peaked roof and poured from the windows into the April day. Easter Monday. A day for rejoicing. A day for remembering. And yet, on this day when the faithful flock of the church had so recently sung hymns of praise, they looked on mournfully.

a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
   

Lost. Records of births and deaths and marriages. Pieces of paper crumbling away as the fire scorched it's way through the office. Gone, memories of long ago saints who had prayed in this church that had stood on this spot since 1885.

a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,

But the cross was saved. The cross that had stood at the front of the church for decades, beckoning the faithful to reverently bow before it and recall the sacrifice of Jesus, was miraculously saved, carried out by a fireman and set carefully on the lawn.

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
   


Gone were hymnals and Easter Sunday bulletins, prayer books and cards. Gone were paper fans and carpets. Gone, but not forgotten. The celebration of Resurrection Sunday, still so clear in the minds of the saints, still rang out with the joyous news. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!


a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,


    
The cross was saved. Leaning against a tree trunk, scorched and blackened with smoke, the processional cross stood as a sentinel against the blaze that roared for two hours, taking a hundred fire fighters to control its wrath.

a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

Gone were the choir robes, the vestries, the toys in the upstairs nursery. Lost forever were the children's story books and the stuffed animals and the pictures of lions and lambs in a peaceful garden.

a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,


But the cross was saved. It was heavy. It was bruised. But it had survived.

a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.


And this church, too, will survive. It will once again ring with community dinners held  in the basement, hymn sings in the auditorium, and strawberry festivals on the back field. It, like the cross, will be saved.

Because for this small flock, in this small corner of Delaware County, the church is not merely a building of brick and stone. The church is a living, breathing organism, changing when it needs to change. Just as a fire has laid the building low, a spiritual fire can renew and rebuild it.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens


Because despite the loss on this Easter Monday, despite the sadness and the tears and the uncertainty, the cross was saved.


Dedicated my faithful friends at Memorial Presbyterian Church, Boothwyn, PA