The Bubble in the Boy
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Essayist Tim Brookes recently underwent surgery for a detached retina. The procedure left him with an unexpected companion.
TIM BROOKES: After the surgeon had stuck my retina back in place with a laser, he put a bubble of gas into my eye. Don't ask me how; I'm sparing you the details. It would act like a kind of pressure bandage and flatten down any swelling in the retina. It was bizarre. Whether my eye was open or closed, I saw a fat, wobbling, squashy circle, like a water-filled black balloon in the lower half of my vision.
My job was to hold my head at such an angle that the bubble rested over the site of the surgery, which in my case meant leaning my right ear on my right shoulder. Every time I moved my head, the bubble bounced and wobbled off one way or the other, and I had to tilt it back into place. It was like being a human carpenter's level.
My family had just gone off on holiday, and the bubble became my companion, flubbering jovially around the living room where I was camped out on the couch. Each day, it shrank a little as the gas was absorbed. After a week, I went back in for follow-up. The doctor had to laser around the bubble, a tricky process like trying not to shoot fish in a barrel. This had a startling effect: It broke up the bubble. The bubble had been looking like a smallish, purple grape, and it developed a bit of dignity. It was wobbling less. It seemed more sure of itself.
The near-misses from the laser broke the bubble into three bubbles: one large, one small, and one tiny. The three tended to cling to each other, but brushing my teeth shook them so hard their feeble gravity broke and they scattered all around my eyeball. I felt as if I had a working scale model of Jupiter and its moons.
Ten days out, it was more of a grape seed than a grape, and I realized the bubble was something new in the annals of healing. It was a gauge of progress. Doctors tend to tell postoperative patients only the danger signs - if this or that happens, call me right away. What we really want is signs that recovery is progressing as planned.
The bubble was what the Air Force calls a heads-up display, a permanently visible symbol showing how far I had come and how far I had to go. Maybe all surgery should implant something like my bubble - a biodegradable, subcutaneous marker that says, yes, you're coming along nicely. Well done. Should probably still take care of yourself for a while, though.
(Soundbite of "I Can See Clearly Now")
Mr. JIMMY CLIFF (Singer): (Singing) I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way.
HANSEN: Tim Brookes is the Director of the Professional Writing Program at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. This is NPR News.
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