Emotional Exhaustion Stems From Fear


I found today to be extraordinarily exhausting. This morning was Dr. Rosenbaum’s memorial service, and though it was incredibly uplifting I found myself tired. Exhausted even.

I spent too much of the afternoon trying to understand just why I was so tired, and I realized it was fear. I’m not a fearful woman, and I spent the day afraid.

I was afraid of feeling so very sad.

I was afraid that my son would need another surgery, and that I wouldn’t find a doctor to do it.

I was afraid of my children feeling sad, but even more afraid of them being nonplussed.

I was afraid of walking into the service alone, and even more afraid that I wanted to be alone.

At the service I ran into Mary. More than eight years ago when I was afraid of Alexander’s pending surgery Mary grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “I needed this when I was a baby, I didn’t have it and I spent my childhood with no one looking me in the eye.” She went on to tell me about how difficult that was for her, and how her social development was hindered.

Mary gave me very straight talk about how to be a good mother all those years ago. The words she gave me were an incredible gift. Seeing Mary was like being wrapped in a cozy blanket, you know it isn’t a coat of armor, but certainly it feels like one.

Dr. Rosenbaum’s family was exactly as I’d expected they’d be. Kind, generous, gracious and giving. I stood and hiccuped and wept as they thanked me for kind words. There is something about the Midwestern grace and manner that I will always love and work toward. When I find the words for it, surely I will write them.

More than a few people close to me have been touched by cancer. Drew Olanoff has us following his battles with cancer, and he takes the fear away by beating it again, but memorial services put the fear right back in me. Every time someone says cancer I silently pray that it’s not someone I love, and then I feel horrible because every cancer patient is loved by someone.

At the end of the day I’m a one trick pony. I like a lot of time alone, I love time with friends and family, and I like a lot of exercise. I enjoy numbers and puzzles, I like order and rules, I do not like chaos, large emotional gatherings or the feeling of being alone (which is profoundly different than time alone). Days like today are out of my comfort zone by a wide margin.

Because of his amblyopia and strabismus Alexander is supposed to wear a patch three hours each day. A typical week gets him in the patch 5 days, and a crummy week will have us fighting with him to wear it, and (of course) it has to be changed if he cries, which he does. Typically I remind Alexander to put his patch on, and about half the time I help him with the process. Today Alexander put his own patch without either of us asking him to or reminding him. It was a first, and it should have been a reason to celebrate, but we didn’t. I think we all felt confused and conflicted. I think my whole house felt grateful and nervous. We just felt off. All of us.

I spent the day wishing I could go running, but there simply wasn’t time. My running is more than metaphorical, I run away from feelings that are distasteful to me, and there’s not a very good chance of that changing any time soon.

I’m tired because I spent the day simmering with fear, and, quite simply, it takes more energy than I have to expend.

Dr. Arthur Rosenbaum: The Man Who Gave My Son Sight


This morning my mother sent me a simple email. The subject line read: So Sad, and the body was a link to Dr. Arthur Rosenbaum’s obituary.

In the picture he’s smiling. Dr. Rosenbaum was not much of a smiler. He’s the man who takes your child’s eyeballs out retracts the skin around your child’s eyes, moves the muscles, and then puts them back in their sockets everything back into place. Eye surgeons are not a jovial bunch.  Alexander’s exams would typically elicit a smile at some point after he had cooperated, and only then the three of us would relax.

Dr. Rosenbaum was a huge part of my son’s life. When Alexander was six months old we started seeing him once every two weeks. Alexander had strabismus and amblyopia. He was born with eyes that were crossed, and one eye that didn’t move as much of the other, a lazy eye if you will. Eye exams for infants are neither simple nor short. You cannot examine a  baby who is crying, rubbing their eyes or napping. Poor Alexander, who has worn patches on his eyes and glasses since five months of age, would cry and then rub his eyes, conking himself out so that then he’d fall asleep, and our exam would be delayed. Dr. Rosenbaum would leave me with my sleeping baby, and return to the room afterward to continue the exam.

By the time Alexander was a year old we’d had two exams that had turned into six hour days. Dr. Rosenbaum never appeared frustrated, and his confidence that this was just a phase kept my worries at bay. Alexander and I both grew up in Dr. Rosenbaum’s office.

June 11, 2002 was the date of Alexander’s first surgery. Dr. Rosenbaum removed Alexander’s eye muscles nearest his nose, and reattached them so that his eyes would align. The goal was to uncross his eyes. The day of my son’s first surgery I aged ten years. Another surgery followed seven short months later, and the glasses and patching continue until this day.

We stopped seeing Dr. Rosenbaum every week, and it stretched to every two. Soon Alexander only needed to see him once a month, and before I could blink Alexander was big enough to sit alone in the exam chair. For the past few years we saw the doctor only once every two to three months. Dr. Rosenbaum was quick and efficient, and though kind, he never spoke to my son like he was a baby. Alexander was always part of the plan.

Last December the office went haywire, and we were told that Dr. Rosenbaum would be out of the office until February. I agonized about what to do, and after sleepless nights we decided to switch Alexander, temporarily, to another office. I felt terrible about it at the time, and up until yesterday I was certain that we’d see Dr. Rosenbaum any day. You see, when you went to Dr. Rosenbaum’s office at UCLA it was like being at the United Nations. People flocked to him from all over the globe. I always knew how lucky we were to live so nearby a world class surgeon like he.

It’s not just losing a doctor. My son would be blind in one eye, but for Dr. Rosenbaum. Alexander would not be able to make eye contact with people, and even if he’d been able to adjust physically, my son wouldn’t have been given the gift of a typical childhood. Dr. Rosenbaum had magic in his hands.

I think of all the mothers, and all their children who passed through Dr. Rosenbaum’s practice during the last 36 years, and I’m so grateful that my son was one of them. I think of the surgeries he preformed and the combination of art and science required to get those results. I look back at the toddler exams that exasperated both Dr. Rosenbaum and me, and I think how lucky we were, how incredibly blessed to have been his patients. It is simply tragic to lose a great man at a relatively young age.

Later today I will have to tell Alexander about Dr. Rosenbaum. I am absolutely unprepared for the pain this will bring my child.