Who Cleaned My Glasses?

It's a beautiful, bright winter's day.

Deep banks of snow line the streets still packed white from the snowfall the night before. The air is crisp and pure, the sky is a deep, brilliant blue, I can see everything so clearly! And as I jog past a guy I recognize from high school, I say, “What a beautiful day!” And then...


My alarm goes off.

It’s 6:00 in the morning, and I have to get Marcela up to finish a project for school.

It’s due today, of course. This would be the project she has known about for days, but just started working on around 8:00 last night. How is it kids absorb our worst qualities like sponges, while, despite our best efforts, the ones we WANT them to absorb seem to bounce off like Teflon?

In reality, it’s not winter at all. It’s still early September and only just beginning to feel like fall, and - even if it were winter - everything would look like a cloudy, milky blur to me. I can’t see worth beans. It’s the effects of all the medication I am still on. One side effect is blurred vision, and the other - cataracts.

[ Ed. note: I didn't learn until much later that it's mainly the high dose of prednisone - a steroid - I was on that was the culprit...

Fun with Prednisone!

(Illustration: How the world looks with cataracts)

...at first I thought my glasses were just dirty. Then I thought maybe we were just having a spell of unusal weather, "Is it really foggy out again?" But after investing in new glasses to no avail, and admitting it can't be foggy all the time, I resigned myself to the reality that I would never see clearly again. Oh well. A small price to pay, I figured, to still being alive. Okay... maybe not a small price... but what do you do?!

But then I found out it was cataracts - and they can be removed! Who knew?

Of course, years before, if you said I was going to have to have someone cut into my eyeball with a sharp, steel knife, I would have said, "NO WAY!!!" But by now, I had had so many procedures - what was another? I went in for the first surgery on - get this - 9/11! As I was wating for my surgery we were hearing reports on the news of some plane crashing into the twin towers. No one knew what was going on. So there I was, sitting in the surgical chair, staring at a white light while the aforementioned steel knife cut into my eyeball, listening to the news reports coming out of New York City.

Anyway! Back to September of 2000, and the rest of this story!]

I have passed through many incarnations in this whole cancer process. I have been Yoda, and Mel Torme, and Jabba the Hut... now I am Mr. Magoo!

Even if I DID pass an old friend from high school on street, I wouldn't know it unless I was two or three feet away from them.

And me jogging? I don’t think so! Yesterday I took Blackie out for a walk, and we had to trot across the street out front to beat an oncoming car (which, of course, I hadn’t seen!). Three steps, and my legs felt like rubber. I remember THAT feeling. It’s the same one you had in high school, when they made you run the 440 in gym. You are 30 yards from the finish line and that one guy you want to beat is catching up to you (never mind the 20 or 30 other guys who have already crossed the finish line and are now bent double on the infield grass). So your brain signals your legs to go a little faster. Only your leg muscles don’t respond. It’s as if they aren’t even there. And then you realize that the only reason you are still running at all is sheer momentum - and the weight of your shoes. They are just flopping crazily from one step to the next like weights stretched on the ends of two rubber bands.

And then you puke.

That’s pretty much how I still feel after even a few moments of physical activity.

I’ll be glad when I can get off these drugs!

But then, last night at dinner, Pepe said to me, “Dad, do you think you will be better by Thanksgiving?”

I had to laugh. I had my transplant a year ago July, and I thought I would be better by LAST Thanksgiving! It’s funny how your perception of time can change. A year ago, at this time in middle September, I was still hanging on to make it past my first 100 days post-transplant. They said if I survived the first 100 days, my chances for a full recovery were good (sort of a “good news-bad news” bit of information. On the one hand, is the promise of recovery. On the other, is the ever-present possibilty that any day you could die!). Each day seemed to drag on for ever. Thanksgiving seemed so impossibly far away, surely by then I would be back on my feet, leading a normal life again.

Nope. Didn’t work out that way. Thanksgiving passed in a weakened, drug-clouded blur... Christmas came and went in a blur... This recovery has been so slow (but still moving in the right direction!), that weeks seem to pass like days anymore.

So... be better by Thanksgiving? “I don’t think so, Pep,” I said (Thanksgiving will be here before we know it!). “Maybe by NEXT Thanksgiving.”

(photo; an iillustration of how the world looks (Photo

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Originally written September 12, 2000

(Updated 2011)

2000 Paul Dallgas-Frey