Good “Gettin’ Around” Vision

“What do you want me to do for you,” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

–Mark 10: 51

Like Blind Bartimaeus, all Marta wanted was to be able to see. She was no whiny yuppie who would be satisfied with nothing less than 20/20 post-LASIK. She just wanted good enough.

Good enough to see the faces of her family, especially the grandchildren. Good enough to take in the vibrant green of the Guatemalan countryside and the eye-catching reds, blues, oranges and yellows of the local marketplace where her friends would gather to sell their handcrafted wares. Good enough to help start the evening fire and perhaps lend a hand with the cooking again. Good enough that her daughter Nicole would no longer have to take her by the arm and lead her around.

Around these parts, weathered, wrinkled farmers in Liberty overalls will sit in my chair and if disease has had its way and our options are limited, I must explain to them in rural vernacular what we’re aiming for. “Good gettin’ around vision,” I’ll say. They connect with my words immediately and nod their heads gravely in understanding.

That’s what Marta wanted too. And it wasn’t the first time she had made the long trip to Clinica Ezell to plead her case.

That first trip last year had ended in darkness and disappointment. As her surgeon attempted to remove the lens from her right eye, a rare complication had occurred. The lens became unanchored from its moorings and began to float in the posterior chamber, like a ship lost at sea. Despite an all-out search and rescue mission, the surgeon could not retrieve it.

Already ripe past its time, it became in essence an invading foreign body, making a home where it was never meant to be. As it began to break down and decompose, the leaking protein and particles attacked relentlessly, and she developed the habit of holding her hand over her right eye, pressing on it, trying to quell the pain.The objects and faces of her world dissipated into a shroud of white fog which in time turned dirty gray. And finally, black.

When I examined her that day she no longer had a pupil. That dark, round mysterious window to her soul had been boarded over with scarring and filled in with inflammatory debris. Her eye was no longer in business, and I couldn’t even see inside.

Her left pupil was white with cataract now, and despite all that had happened before, there she was again, asking for a miracle. There was Nicole, sitting in the corner, praying, watching anxiously, hoping that this time things would be different. My wife was there too, and she made eye contact with Nicole then and several more times over the next couple of days. Few words passed between them, but they communicated nonetheless in a higher, more universal language. I see you, pray for us and hope for the best, Nicole would say. I see you too, my wife would reply, and I am.

With my translator Danny’s help, I explained to Marta and Nicole the facts of life that they already knew; that bad things had happened before and could happen again. That although the surgery could possibly work and hopefully would, there was also a risk that she could lose what little vision she had and that her entire world could be plunged into utter and irreversible darkness. It was a sacred moment, a thin place where heaven and earth nearly touch, and after finishing my speech, I sat back and waited patiently for her reply.

The three of them chattered away in spirited Spanish, and I could see the wheels turning in Marta’s head. After a couple of minutes, Danny translated: “She says she realizes this, but she doesn’t feel like she has much to lose by trying. She says she trusts in God to see her through.”

I had come all that distance to Guatemala in search of such thin places. I wanted to see pure, unadulterated faith shining like noonday sun. And now that I was there and witnessing it firsthand, Marta and Nicole’s faith burned so bright that I almost had to shield my eyes with my hands. I scarce could take it in.

I scribbled more than the usual amount of notes on her chart and scheduled her for surgery the next day. Later than evening, I cornered Dr. Coleman. I wanted him to know her story fully and what had transpired, that this was one was just a little bit different and very special. He understood immediately, and like any skilled surgeon who must somehow blend an appropriate humility with a dash of Top Gun swagger, I could tell by that faraway look he got in his eyes that he relished the challenge.

He operated the next day, and with careful, steady hands, he gently extracted the old, clouded lens from her left eye and safely put in its place a clear, plastic one which would open up her world again. The next morning on rounds, a small crowd gathered, cameras at the ready, as Dr. Coleman removed Marta’s eye patch. The other patients on the ward knew her story, and as he slowly peeled back the tape and lifted the white, oval gauze, some of them moved their mouths and added their own low, murmured prayers. “Cuantos dedos tengo?” Dr. Coleman asked.

Marta blinked a few times and squinted against the light. “Cinco…uno… tres,” she replied in response to his flashing fingers. She smiled and made a steeple with her hands, its peak resting just under her chin: “Gloria a dios!”

“Si, Gloria a dios,” Dr. Coleman replied. In the corner, Nicole looked on and wept.

Later that morning, Nicole collected her mother’s things and picked up the small bag which contained her postoperative supplies and eye drops, including one for her blind right eye which would help ease her pain. Although I didn’t witness their leaving, I imagined that as they made their way down the driveway of Clinica Ezell that Nicole reached out instinctively to guide her mother’s progress and that Marta shook her off, insisting that should could walk on her own.

I saw them on the bus, riding home, and Marta gazing for the first time in years at the vibrant green of the Guatemalan countryside and the vivid, eye-catching colors of the marketplaces scattered along the road to home.

Later that evening, I saw Marta pick up some wood outside the door of their small, concrete block home and walk back inside and place it on the fire. As she reached down to stir the cooking pot, her grandchildren looked on in awe and wondered if the large, wrap-around sunglasses she wore were the reason for her new-found sight.

In my mind’s eye, I see Marta to this day, seeing good enough and “gettin’ around” just fine.

  1. Kristi Sweeney

    Beautiful Eyeguy. And an wonderful reminder of why I’ve gone back to nursing school when it is so hard to remember in the midst of finals week exhaustion. Thank you.

  2. Mike the Eyeguy

    Hang in there. It might not seem worth it in the heat of battle, but it is. Trust me.

  3. Alan

    Good stuff, eyeguy.

  4. Mike the Eyeguy

    Thanks Alan, appreciate you saying so.

  5. mmlace

    Dr. Eyeguy, I love reading your stories from Guatemala.  Thanks so much for sharing these experiences with us!

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