What the Blind Man Saw
On Maech 22nd I was being wheeled into the OR at Wills Eye Hospital. The outcome would be a life determining experience. Twenty years ago I had experienced a retinal detachment in my right eye. A surgeon at a local hospital botched the surgery and i wound up with two more operations to restore some of my vision. The surgery lasted twenty years buy recently I lost vision in that eye completely. Now my left eye had a similar detachment.I was slow in responding, believimg it was a cataract implant that had slipped. I was paying the price. There was large tear in the lower right quadrant of the eye. By the time the surgery was scheduled my dision was almost completely gone. If the surgery was unsuccessful I would be blind.
The operation went well. The surgeon was pleased but could make no promises about how much vision would return. I left the hospital with a bandage on the eye so, at least temporarily, I was, indeed, blind. The following day I returned to the retinology office and the bandage was removed I could see some oiutlines of large objects and people but no detail. The surgeon had inserted a gas bubble in my eye to hold the retina in place. Unlike the viscous oil inserted during the previous surgery, which later required a long operation to remove, the gas would dissipate on its own in several weeks. The retina was in place and flat--the surgeon's criteria of success. Again, no promises about my vision. I was required to spend at least 22 hours a day on my right side so that the gas would be in the best position to exert pressure on the retina. Afer two days this was reduced to at least four hours a day. Friends and neighbors contributed auditory books to help me through this ordeal.
Through the bubble
The bubble encompassed most of my visual field. Everything seen through it was blurred. I could see no detail. I could not recognize faces. People appeared as ghostly apparitions. The gas looked more like a liquid. There were bubbles in the bubble. The gas appeared to be at the bottom of the eyeball with a meniscus at the top. The retinolgist reminded me that the lens inverts the image so that the bubble was really at the top of the eye and the mensicus, which seemd to be at the top of the bubble, was really at the bottom. No matter. It moved when I walked and everything I saw through the bubble shook. It made me dizzy. I could not read, use the computer (write Hubs), watch television. or drive. Besides nursing me, my wife took over writing my checks, balancing my checkbook, taking out the trash, doing all the gardening. The future looked bleak. Would I ever be able to nreturn to work? Prayer chains were started for me, including written notes inserted in the Western Wall in Jerusalem. A second post -op visit to the retinologist reassured me that I shouldn't be seeing anything yet. My vision would improve as the bubble receded,
By the tenth day after surgery things did improve. I could see over (under?) the bubble. I could now watch television. A day or two later I was again on the computer, although with difficulty.
Not only was I unable to see what was around me at the beginning of my ordeal, I saw things that were not there. Even before the surgery, after my right eye went blank, I noticed that while my wife drove, with me in the passenger seat, if I closed my then good left eye, I could "see" the landscape moving by. Trees and shrubs rushed past me. Yet, when I opened my left eye the scenery I had imagined seeing did not correspond with the actual view out the window. I pointed this out to me wife, who looked at me strangely.
Deiving home from the first post-op visit I "saw" snow coverd rocks and boulders. It was a beautiful, sunny, spring day. "It looks like the Grand Canyon," I remarked. Through the bubble I became accustomed to what appeared to be colorful stained glass windows and mosaics. The retinologist made no comment when I pointed this out. The retina was flat.
I believe it was philosopher David Hume who wrote :"To be is to be perceived." An ancient Chinese philosopher asked whether he was dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a man." I am not going to worry about whether trees falling unheard in the forest really make a noise. However, I think there us something to be learned here.
Neurologist Oliver Sachs (Hallucinations) described this phenomenon. Under conditions of sensory deprivation the brain takes over and provides the details. Why did I see snow and rocks.on a beautiful spring day? I had previously noted seeing crystals of ice in my bubble. Perhaps that had elicited visions of a snow covered Grand Canyon.
That adaptability of the brain may account for other alternative conscious experiences including dreams, hallucinations, delusions, hypnotic perceptions and beliefs. Who knows? Now that my vision is returning I do not confuse my earlier experiences with reality. I'll accept my retinologists reality that my retina remains flat..