It was 4:30 pm on a Friday afternoon. TGIF. My grandboys and I were in high spirits. 25 water balloons were filled, tucked gently into bags and loaded into the trunk for launching from one end of a soccer field to the other. Seatbelts fastened, chattering excitedly, we drove under sullen gray clouds filled with the promise of rain. I tucked sunglasses into my purse. I wouldn’t need them this afternoon. How I wish the sun had been shining that day. Perhaps those glasses would have averted what was to come. The boys jumped from the car and we set up on one end of the field in a park near our home.
Picture a slingshot on steroids. Two people held the surgical tubing of the “Y” and the third pulled back applying enough tension to launch the balloon down the field. 21 balloons launched, one hit the goal line on the opposite end, one within a foot of it. Two more each. Who would break the record?
My ten year old grandson was the next launcher. His eight-year-old brother and I held tight as we felt tension mount for launch. Release! Only no balloon sailed by. I turned to check and was hit with a force so hard I thought my eye might have been torn from my socket. I twisted away from my grandsons and shouted, “Noooooooooo!” before dropping to my knees on the wet grass.
Once a long time ago, in an accident that took piano, guitar, accordion, and flute playing from my repertoire, I knew the moment I lost the use of my left hand. It took the doctors time to discern I’d severed the median nerve, along with a plethora of tendons and ligaments. They saved the hand, albeit impaired.
This day I lost vision instantly. Head wounds bleed profusely, and I had those too.
“Nonna! Are you alright?” The older one asked.
“No, honey, I’m not. Get my phone. We need to call 911.” The younger one found it, but couldn’t get past my password and my thumbprint didn’t work, slick as it was with blood. I had covered my eye with my left hand, where blood now dripped through my fingers into the grass. “Push and hold the button for Siri, then tell her to call 911.”
I heard a woman’s voice near my left shoulder say, “Do you live nearby?”
“Yes. My husband’s there.”
“Good. I will drive you home, and he can drive you to ER. It’ll be faster than waiting for the ambulance.” The boys found my keys and shared the back seat with her chocolate lab as we drove the two blocks home.
“Run to Papa, tell him I’m hurt and to hurry,” I said.
The older one was out the door the second the car stopped. The younger one handed me another wad of tissues to hold over my eye. And, John came. He thanked the woman, and drove us to ER. On the way, I talked to the boys about accidents. It’s no one’s fault. With my brain functioning again, I knew the knotted tubing had torn through the bucket creating, for all intents and purposes a cat of nine tails, which hit me at fierce velocity. My sister joked with me later that with those odds, I should have just bought a lottery ticket instead. I’d be the winner. I reassured the boys by telling them how helpful they’d been when I got hurt, and thanked them for listening so well. I also, silently, shot a thought heavenward thankful that if anyone had been hit, it was me, and not either of those beautiful boys – with their whole lives ahead of them.
At ER, one look at me and I was immediately triaged. 26 minutes from time of accident to medical care. The boys stuck with John and me in the treatment room, quietly observing. Telling me my ‘shiner’ was way more awesome than they’d ever seen, they kept hoping aloud that it was just the abrasions surrounding my eye, and not damage TO my eye, that was the worst of it. They clarified to the surgeon when he arrived that they hoped we could all go home soon so we could have pizza. “Nonna makes the best home made pizza on the planet,” they explained. The surgeon chuckled.
I was not going home. In fact, a surgical team was already making its way to the hospital, the operating room being readied, and I called my son who would need to abbreviate a business dinner and collect his children. Pizza would have to wait for another time.
My surgery finished at 3:00 am. My left eye had been pulverized, my right traumatized. Saving the left was priority one, vision priority two, and three and maybe four. I was mandated to maintain a facedown position 22 of every 24 hours. I made a muffled call to my son and daughter. It’s hard to talk, even with headphones, when one’s nose is a quarter of an inch from the mattress. My daughter flew up, my son met her at the airport and with John they developed my in-home care plan. When my daughter needed to go home, my daughter-in-law dropped by each day, my son checked in a couple times a day, and then my friend, my soul sister and SUP companion, flew from Florida to assist for the next ten days. She rocks. Just flat out rocks.
As I write this it is day 20. Today my surgeon told me he believed we’ve saved my eye. My vision is still compromised in the right eye, and nearly non-existent in the left, but there is hope. I am seeing something. I see shapes, even color (which was questionable given the abrasion to the rods and cones at the back of the eye), and though that vision is lousy, I had none when I went in for surgery. I have a along way to go. But I am hopeful. My left eye has a droopy eyelid that may, or may not self-correct.
“Why?” is the wrong question and takes me down a path of no resolve. Why did the apparatus fail? Why couldn’t that strip of destruction have whipped past going nowhere? Why couldn’t it have hit my shoulder, or hip if it had to hit anything? I’d be dealing with merely a bruise. None of that serves me well, for I find myself in a wallow of despair. “What now?” is the better question, but I couldn’t even ask that one at first. I stepped into a river of pain, and loss, and dependence unlike anything I’d experienced before. Its current carried me resolutely to a location I couldn’t imagine, let alone see. ‘What now’ had me holding still face down, when I’d rather SUP; had me setting a timer not to exceed those two precious hours of ‘up’ time; had me holding my eye lid open for drops four times a day – tan, pink, spicy and yellow. Taming the rebel that lives inside me, “What now?” had me following orders as never before. And, although I’ve not managed the ‘no crying’ piece flawlessly, insofar as is humanly possible, I’ve done what I’ve been asked – to the letter – for sight.
Here is what I know. I could not have endured the fear, the isolation, the pain and then discomfort, and loneliness without you. The first several days, when mandated not to cry, with my whole soul dripping, John would touch my shoulder and say, “How about if I read you a few more love notes?” And he would read what you had written… “love and light; sending healing thoughts; we love you; prayers; bombarding heaven on your behalf…” and so many more. They were the healing of my heart. I meditated peace, imagined neurons knitting together to form the tissue to heal my eye, channeled stillness to let healing do its work. John gifted me with music, you sent your favorite audible books, podcasts, and music all of which helped me transcend the face-plant sameness I assumed for eighteen days. I am now allowed to sit upright more, and lie on my right side to rest and occasionally sleep. A little slice of heaven right here on earth.
I am healing. I am grateful for science, and technology that allowed a man, along with his team, to save a mangled eye. I am awed at the miracle of the human body with its drive to heal itself. I am up for the long road ahead, winding though it may be on my quest for sight, as I rely on others to help make it so.
You, each of you, are the wind beneath my wings.
Author of The Fifth Sister