This morning I took my kids to their tennis lesson. The child who had his lesson before Jane and Alexander was getting a patch put on his eye by his mother. He was a bit younger than Alexander.
“Four hours.” She said, gently pressing the patch onto the bridge of his nose.
“My son wears a patch too.” I told her.
“Your husband and I have talked about it at length.” She snapped, and then a little more gently she continued, “it’s terrible what these kids have to go through.”
I smiled for her and picked up my book.
When Alexander was six months old I knew he needed the surgery, but I was terrified for him, and I was thinking that we’d take the conservative route offered to us (it never should have been offered), and to patch Alexander for eight hours a day, four hours each eye, and wait until he was about two for the first surgery.
While taking Jane to nursery school one of the moms took a look at Alexander and said, “You’re going to fix that aren’t you?” And then she took her glasses off, showed me that her left eye immediately turned into her nose, and said, “you can’t make friends when no one can look you in the eye.” She went on and on to detail a chilhood with no eye contact, and finally no one talking to her, because it was difficult for them to know if they had her attention. She talked about the loneliness she attributed to her eyes, and the fact that things got better almost immediately after her first surgery in middle school.
This wonderful woman also told me how she had to have adjustments every ten years or so, and that the surgeries spanning into her adulthood would not likely be necessary had her eyes been corrected as a child.
If an angel had swooped down on June 11, 2002 and said to me, “Before you hand your infant son to the anethesiologist I’ll allow you to give up your vision and he will have his.” I would have made the accommodation in a second.
Strabisumus seemed like the cruelest of conditions in 2002.
In April of 2003 Alexander went back for a second surgery, and he was not the youngest child, therefore he was not the first on the schedule. When they were a few moments late I anxiously asked the nurse what to do. “Sit tight.” was the gentle reply.
I asked again after half an hour, and again after 45 minutes, when finally the nurse replied, “Our doctors are running behind schedule, because they are operating on a five week old girl who was born with no vision.” I sat down, I shut up, and I hugged my baby who could see quite well out of one of his eyes.
This morning I put a contact lens into Alexander’s eye. Only one lens, because he has 20/20 vision in the other eye. He patches just six hours a week, which is remarkable. Alexander’s eyes are not perfect, I can see them turn in at the end of a very long day, and it’s possible that another surgery is on the horizon for him.
My son sees, and he sees well. He doesn’t feel burdened by his diminished eyesight most days, but I have to confess that as his mother I do.
I understand how the mother of a 5 year old could feel overwhelmed, and as if her son isn’t getting the gift of a typical childhood, but really he is. They all are, because this is their typical. This is Alexander’s normal, and it’s a good childhood, and it’s really not a terrible burden for the kids when we learn to keep our anxieties to ourselves.