I have a shard of glass in my left eye. It's been there for almost 20 years. You won't notice it in a picture. You won't hear me talk about it on Facebook. In fact, unless you are privy to some of the most private details of my life, you probably did not know about it at all. Sometimes people will look at me in surprise and say, "Oh my god-- what is that in your eye? That has got to HURT."
Yes, it does. Thanks for noticing. It's nice that everyone knows what it feels like to be cut by glass and some people have had a shard stuck in a finger or a palm or a foot and it had to be dug out, and oh my god the blood oh it hurt, wanna see my scar? Uh, thanks, sure yeah. But at least you got it OUT.
I think of it as like an iceberg: You don't notice it at first when you look at me. It's so deeply embedded that the part that is really pressing is not really visible. In fact, it provides just enough pressure that I am now better off with it staying where it is. If I have it removed, I will not only go blind, but I could lose my eye. I'd certainly have a dandy scar. Right now, even though it's painful sometimes and almost always an irritant that I try to ignore, having lived with it so long, it provides me with some depth perception, some peripheral vision.
But it's been acting up lately. I've seen three specialists about it just this year. When it gets irritated or inflamed or infected, it can cause the worst kind of agony. My regular eye doctor keeps an eye on it. I have to keep take pretty scrupulous care of it, which is just sort of part of the daily routine like breathing now. But if I forget to refill my prescription on time or try to get away with something over-the-counter, it becomes so infected and swollen that I think I'm really going to lose my sight. And that makes me very scared, angry, and prone to self-pity. I know that Dereck doesn't love me any less because I have this stupid thing in my eye, though I know it causes him pain to see mine. And when my eye is runny or bleeding or swollen, well, Lord, it's ugly. And Dereck and the kids-- we all have to live with it.
I think I've been pretty sustainedly angry and angsty directly because of this shard for about six months-- it started causing me problems, after a good period of a few years without flare ups, when I returned from visiting my parents last summer. Maybe it was something about the change in humidity. I am not sure what happened. But it's been watering and red and interfering with my vision and concentration ever since, and winter has amplified everything.
It's so stupid. The reason I have this permanent reminder of my stupidity is because I was so stupid when I was young. It was so preventable. But no. You go to a magic show. You are curious. They ask for volunteers. You raise your hand like an idiot. It all looks safe enough and then BOOM. You have a shard of glass in your eye. Just like that forever-- or at least for what are going to be the most vital years of your life-- and you never saw it coming.
How hard is it to go through life without getting a fucking shard of glass stuck in your eye?
But no. It's there.
The specialists I've seen this month all agree with my regular physician: There is evidence of trauma, but not pathology. Except for the specific point where the scar is embedded and my eye has, yes, grown around it. Yes, of course the eye is damaged. Yes, of course it has permanently altered my vision. Yes, it is going to bleed and water and cause me pain. Yes. Sometimes, it will calm and settle and even though it's there, I'm fine. I coast along unless I rub it too hard when I'm sleeping and it reminds me, very painfully, of its presence. But it will be there, this constant presence, this insistently sharp reminder of youth and stupidity. One specialist I saw was new, and he was a little abrasive: "Why are you here? Why don't you just go to a surgeon and have it removed?"
He was not talking about the glass-- he was talking about my eye.
I explained that I did have some glass removed from it. The glass was trimmed down enough so that I can blink, sleep, and even rub my eyes without causing horrible permanent damage beyond what cannot be repaired.
And of course: That has always been the choice I have faced. Do I eliminate a lot of pain and suffering by removing the glass? If I do, I will lose the sight I have in that eye, and I will probably lose my eye. Sure. I have another eye. But all of the medical specialists I have spoken with, including the abrasive one, have recommended that I try to keep the glass in place as long as I can bear it, and try to preserve my vision as long as I can. Two eyes are better than one. Two eyes are better than one. The eye still provides vision. You can back up in the driveway. You can parallel park. Even though it is harder, it is still easier going through life this way than without the entire eye.
The tissue around the eye is healthy. Of course, if the glass were successfully removed, there would be a terrible scar. I would probably have to replace the eye with glass no matter what. And even though it's healthy, the sight is starting to fail. All three specialists agreed that I would probably have about six years of impaired, slurry, bloody, watery vision before I eventually go blind in that eye.
It's okay. I have some friends who are blind in one eye or deaf in one ear. They manage fine, beautifully. And they know the pain this causes me, but they are supportive of my decision to live with it, to endure it, to preserve what vision I can, while I can. And I appreciate that support because there are moments when I literally want to pluck out my own eye, even if I amputate my fingers on the glass in the process.
At that point, there is no reason to keep the glass. I will have the glass removed, with the eye. I will always remember my stupid youth and the mistake I made that caused so many years of pain. But then I will replace the eye.
And, just like now, no one who isn't close to me will ever know the difference.
Edited to add: As SOON as I pressed "publish" on this post, I got an email from Michelle de Seattle, with the result of a Facebook meme that's going around. One I had not participated in. This is what you get if you type "Jen" into the Urban Dictionary. Merci, ma coeur. Merci.