Wednesday, March 18, 2020

How Many Eyes Do You Need To See?

A few months ago, I was officially diagnosed with glaucoma. This was a good thing, inasmuch as I waiting for a diagnosis. A few months before I had seen the neuro-opthalmologist who gave this diagnosis, and prescribed eyedrops to begin a course of treatment, I had seen an opthalmologist who noted the high amounts of pressure in my eye, but gave me a referral to see another doctor instead, because my youth made glaucoma seem unlikely, and he wanted to check this pressure was not caused perhaps by a brain tumor inside my skull pressing against the back of my eyes.

You probably are a little unclear on what glaucoma is. It is most known, I believe, for being a condition that smoking weed helps. Before medical marijuana became legal and able to be prescribed for anxiety and depression and all the psychological conditions people had been using it to self-medicate for for years, glaucoma was a cited example of a condition whose effects were mitigated by smoking. When I explain that I have it to friends now, there usually comes a point at the end of the conversation where they bring it up. For what it’s worth, I hate smoking weed. I feel debilitated by it to do anything I enjoy, like write, or follow a conversation,  or accomplish tasks without being distracted. Most people who smoke a lot of weed will either tell me that the effects I have a problem with go away after steady smoking, and that I probably haven’t found the right strain yet. The act of getting to this point seems an unpleasant one, filled with physiological incapability. Of course, CBD is now basically sold as a cure-all that takes care of any bad feeling one might have, but it is apparently the effects of THC that take care of glaucoma.

Glaucoma is an increase of eye pressure. As you are aware, the eye is a soft orb of mucus membranes, and some duct or another regulates the release of a fluid into them, to keep that balloon-like sac inflated, essentially. I’m unclear on the exact details. In glacoma, the eye gets too filled up. Maybe this makes the eye bulge out a little, it does seem like what I’m describing would lead to a situation where the eye eventually explodes. But before that, the pressure of the eye presses on the optic nerve. When I had this explained to me, by an optometrist, who told me I was pre-glaucoma and I should go to an opthalmologist to get my eyes looked at. I thought I would experience this as physical pain. After I forgot about the appointment I had made, I anticipated I would experience pain and that was when I would need to go to a doctor. It turns out this is wrong, because the optic nerve isn’t really set up to register feeling, it’s set up to see things. So as the pressure wore on my optic nerve, moreso in my left eye than my right, my vision deteriorated. However, I didn’t notice, because I have two eyes, and together they form a composite image, and my right eye compensated. I would experience weird effects of light, sort of like there was a smudge on my glasses lens, and occasionally it would seem like what I was looking what had a crack in it and was bleeding light, but I didn’t really know how bad it was.

It was when I finally saw an opthalmologist, and in the checking to ensure my glasses’ prescription was correct, and he kept on switching out lenses and asking me if my vision was better or worse with each new one, I found I could not register any letters on the vision chart at all, that the whole field existed within a blank spot of blurred white light, that I realized how bad things had gotten. It was a scary day, certainly made worse by the physician’s suggestion I might have a brain tumor, and his general displeasure and frustration at the fact that I have an instinctual aversion to people approaching my eye to touch it, poke it, and administer eye drops. I am convinced this is a normal thing, but doctors often have God complexes, and apparently I was such a difficult patient that he refused to see me again afterwards. That’s neither here nor there in the story I want to tell, but I do hope he gets hit by a bus and killed.

Anyway, I have now seen a doctor that prescribed eye drops, and then I saw another doctor who prescribed still more eye drops, and I am broke enough to qualify for Medicaid so I haven’t paid for any of these things, so all of that is good, and while I’m concerned about how coronavirus will effect the ability of these prescriptions to get into the country it’s fine thus far. The doctor has made clear that all of these things, however, are really just to make sure my vision doesn’t become worse, that I don’t become totally blind, as far as they’re concerned, the damage done to the optic nerve is irreversible, and won’t be returning to where it was before, which was pretty bad, but at least able to be corrected by strong prescription corrective lenses.

Not covered by Medicaid are the lion’s mane mushrooms I have elected to take. Lion’s Mane, supposedly, stimulates nerve tissue growth. People take them for depression and “brain fog,” and so I had been toying with the idea of investigating them anyway, before I started to think that maybe they would help repair my optic nerve as well. I am well-aware that a lot of people consider any herbal remedies to be snake oil peddled by the likes of Alex Jones and Gwyneth Paltrow, but a bunch of my friends are hippies and herbalists, and the people so assuredly righteous in their politics often have deeply reactionary cultural opinions they are not interested in examining, lacking even the self-awareness to get offline and take deep breaths to make themselves feel better. I don’t consider Lion’s Mane a placebo in any way, but I also register the necessity of feeling hope and the grounding nature of a ritual such that I will probably continue to take it for a while even if there are not immediately noticeable effects.

I am interested in perception, cognition, and how brain chemistry dictates who we are. We are taught as children about the lobes of the brain, how the left brain is more analytical, and the right brain more emotional and intuitive. Ideally, we have easy connection between these two lobes, and when we see something, we are both able to tell what it is and feel a certain way about it. Writing about comics, I try to be as intuitive as I can, to pick up on things that are perhaps unconsciously present, to write about something other than the exact nature of the plot or how well-rendered a background is. It occurs to me that, since the left eye is processed by the right brain, I might be feeling the things I see less than I should. This is all theoretical. It does feel like it’s been ages since I’ve seen a movie that I felt particularly moved by, though it is easy to chalk this up to the cynicism of age. I am still capable of seeing the movie, the full page, still able to read and put the thing together in my brain; and at the same time, I’m placing everything into the larger context of my life, the same way everyone does. Even my favorite film of 2019, Uncut Gems, I didn’t find as nerve-racking as other people apparently did. Maybe that’s because I went in aware of a good deal of hype and other people were more surprised by it? There is really no way to know. The brain makes a composite image consisting not just of the two eyes, but everything else it’s taking in. I can perhaps attribute a certain hesitancy in my own writing to the lack of synchronized lobes taking in what they see, that rereading my own brain no longer gives me the weird floating feeling I used to get from it. I check that it makes sense and still feel like I am fighting uphill, and remain doubtful of everyone else’s writing. “”Why are you talking like this?” I ask of most sentences. Again, I would maybe be asking this anyway, most people are bad at writing, and it doesn’t take some sort of newfound autistic attentiveness to notice that.

All this connects to comics, and to the fact that I write about them. This sense that I am somehow impaired in my ability to read  them now, I don’t think anyone else would think if I didn’t bring it up, but I feel like I would be lying by omission not to mention. I disclose it in the name of honesty, even as I am on a certain level only articulating this anxiety to avoid the morbidity of talking about how my thoughts about perception, cognition, and the construction of the self apply to death, in this time of pandemic, when all of my or your or someone one or both of us love could have their entire brain go blank and no amount of adaptogens could reanimate it. (I’ve also been drinking chaga and echinacea teas for the sake of my immune system.) And while I don’t think this issue with my eyes applies to written text as much as it does all the other forms the visual world can be arranged to convey information, if I am taking in the news in a less emotional way than other people, that is probably for the best.

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