Monday, January 28, 2013

The Window of the Soul

It kinda felt like this
I recently received a mandated notice from my insurance company stating that I had been paying for my vision insurance for three years and had never used it.  They were required by law to let me know, in case I wanted to do anything about it.

And today, I did something about it: I went to my eye exam appointment.

And I came out with a very discouraging sense of self-image.

I made the appointment with the vision center that's been my neighbor since I first moved to KC.  I thought I might enjoy the European ability to walk to the office.  Little did I realize that Nature would assist me, giving the KC area a freak high of around 76 degrees today.  Lovely!  I worked up some steam walking there (it's at the top of the gentle hill near me, about 1500 feet from my front door).

The building was previously a real estate office, so the ground floor merely has two doors, one labeled "Cataracts" and the other labeled "Surgery".  All doctor visits are directed to the second floor, where there's a nice open reception area with wrap-around windows.  Very pleasant, especially on a day like today.

The nurse collected me and took me back to an exam room.  I smiled as I greeted her, and she neither responded to my greeting or smiled.  She then sat with her back to me, inputting my answers to her repeated questions.  Smoke? No.  Ever? No. Drug use? No. Allergy to drugs or materials? No. Alcohol? Yes.  Caffeine? Yes. Diabetes? No.

We went through the various lens swapping ("Better one?  Or two?") that is the stereotype of eye exams.  Then she attempted to put some drops in my eyes, in place of the air-puff test for glaucoma response.  I say "attempted" because I have an extremely quick blink defense.  The result was me getting a large amount of a viscous yellow-dyed liquid all over my eyelid and eyelashes.

"Your eyes will feel gummy, heavy, and slow.  This is the correct response because they've been partially anesthetized," she said.  "Oh, great!" I said, without any particular enthusiasm.  She shut the lights off and wheeled a machine around, but I wasn't really paying attention because I was starting to experience a familiar feeling.

It was my old friend the "you're about to faint" feeling.  But I wasn't even being poked with needles and drained!  I felt a massive sense of injustice, which I expressed by trying to breath through my mouth as I mumbled, "I'm feeling a bit faint."

For some reason, when the feeling of approaching unconsciousness strikes, I always feel the need to get even more polite.  "Pardon me, but my vision is a touch clouding," is something typical that comes out of my head, while inside, my brain is screaming, "Oh shit bricks!  We're going down in FLAAAAAMES!  Get ready to flash the memory of the 5th grade choir concert again!"

The nurse reclined the chair, found a cold compress, had me elevate my feet on the back of a folding chair, while a different nurse took my blood pressure and pulse.  All normal.

And inside my head, I was embarrassed.  And angry.  At myself, as unjustified as that is.  I was mad that my body seems to be unable to handle things I think that I can and know that I should.  It's the closest I've come  -- I think -- to understanding what my friends who dealt with eating disorders think.  Just a overriding disgust at the flawed operation of the shell that usually works pretty well.

I may very well have cried from frustration at that moment, except that my eyes were goopy, heavy, and partially anesthetized.  Which probably means I couldn't cry, because my eye sockets and all the machinery of tear-making were out of service.  Small blessings, I suppose.

The doctor came in and explained that since I was in all other ways healthy, it was most likely a vasovagal response.  He pleasantly explained that usually they did a test with different drops to dilate the pupils, but "I think I won't press my luck with you today."  I made effusive thanks and profuse apologies for disrupting the natural flow of... well, however these things are supposed to run.

While I was sitting there in the middle of the attack, trying to calm my pulse in my ears and feeling the sweat break out on everything above my waist, I heard the news of my event being passed to various people in the hallway.  I'm sure it was good procedure, alerting other staff in case I fully passed out or had a seizure or something really terrible that would require SERIOUS attention NOW.  

But it made me all the more self-conscious to be a giant broken doll, a head taller or more than the doctor, the female nurses, and the other patients (mostly elderly ladies).  I felt like I was just a big malfunctioning marionette, trying not to make eye contact as I walked down hall towards reception, lest I imply I was going to relapse, fall, and crush the life out of them.  

As described in the Wikipedia article linked above, a medical text describes the vasovagal response as "feeling of impending death".  That about sums it up.  And I got this not even because I was having my blood drawn, but because someone put something in my eyes on my approval.  


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