Saturday, July 21, 2007

Blind man's bluff

I knew it would catch up with us, and I'm surprised it took as long as it did.
But on Friday, it finally did.
For the past four weeks, I've been operating the editorial department kind of with a handicap.
I have an odd eye condition most people don't know about called keratoconus.
I've known about it since I was a senior in high school. Twice, while in college, I had surgery.
The National Keratoconus Foundation describes it thusly — "(Ker-a-to-co-nus) Keratoconus, often abbreviated to "KC", is a non-inflammatory eye condition in which the normally round dome-shaped cornea progressively thins causing a cone-like bulge to develop. This results in significant visual impairment. The cornea is the clear window of the eye and is responsible for refracting most of the light coming into the eye. Therefore, abnormalities of the cornea severely affect the way we see the world making simple tasks, like driving, watching TV or reading a book difficult."
If you could see what I see.
The most extreme treatment for this condition is a cornea transplant. In college, I twice had a slightly less severe version of this, in which a part of my cornea was removed, and a graft of healthy cornea put in that place. It shores up the weakened areas while not being as severe as a transplant. There is some risk of rejection with a complete transplant.
Don't know why it happens, why I was picked out of our family to be the one to get it.
Earlier this year, I had a little procedure done on my left eye, because the vision had gotten very bad.
The doctor who did my eye surgery when I was in college isn't doing surgery anymore, so he switched me to another doctor in the practice. That doctor did something called a "debrisment," in which I sat dutifully in a chair while he poked me in the eye.
It wasn't actual poking, but he took a little tool and scraped my left cornea. I had some pain meds for after. The tool he used is no bigger than a Q-Tip, but when you have it actually touching your eye, it looks like you are getting scrapped with a log.
Before that procedure, Dr. Holland Croswell had listed the vision in my left eye as 20/200.
It was an odd number, I thought. So I did a web search for "legal blindness."
Hmm. The search I found was interesting. If you are worse than 20/200, you are legally blind, that's what I found out.
I wondered about that. Did I really pull the exact vision needed to avoid that classification? Or did he pull one over on me, knowing we'd have a fix soon enough?
It took about six weeks for the eye to heal. But I went from that 20/200 to 20/100 about two weeks later. When I came in for my last check, he got my vision to 20/50. I think that's with the glasses. But wow. What an improvement.
My left eye is the problem one, right?
I didn't know how bad it still was until the week of the Fourth of July.
I had an "epithelial erosion."
On my right eye.
I didn't know what it was at the time. I just knew my right eye was tearing. It started to feel like there was a cut or scratch on it. We were driving to visit my folks in Spartanburg, and I insisted my wife drive because it was bothering me so much.
I honestly thought I was having some kind of allergic reaction, but it also got painful. I'd turn my eye, and it would hurt. I would go out into my sister's backyard and the sunlight would be painful. Just for a few seconds.
A combination of a Benadryl and some ibuprofen seemed to get it under control. When I went to bed, it seemed fine. It was just as bad the next day, which should have, in hindsight, should have clued me in:
a) that it was a physical thing (irritated overnight), and
b) that I probably should go to to some doctor.
But I wasn't clued in. We finished our holiday weekend, I stopped doing any unnecessary reading at home, and tried to go to work.
A week later, I drove to work, sat down at my computer. There had been no pain or irritation for a week. But I couldn't read my computer screen. I looked down at the mail I had to go through, the faxes.
Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zip. Zilch.
Like so much in my life, I'd let it slide.
I got on my cell, called my eye doctor in Columbia, and forced my way into an appointment with my former eye doctor. I had a bit of time to kill.
When I got to his office, I couldn't read a magazine in the waiting room, etc.
So he told me, after I saw him, about the epithelial erosion. It's like a cut or scratch on my eye. It was right where my graft had been. He gave me a prescription for an ointment to put in at night, and gave me antibiotic drops, to make sure the eye didn't get infected. That's what really clued me in to what had happened. The outermost layer of tissue on my eye had been blinked away, just a bit. but the clear covering of the eye, the cornea, is what does most of the work refracting light. Focusing it.
My right eye was my good eye, but I lost a big part of the focusing power.
I've been back, to my new doctor. He said it is healed over, so I can stop the drops. It hasn't healed over regularly, evenly, smoothly. But for now, we agreed to try a new prescription for both eyes, and I'm going back in September. If it really isn't working good, then my next step is a cornea transplant.
Given that the grafts I had in college lasted almost 20 year, I'm not afraid of that. Not much.
I don't know what to call it. It's not blind, because I can see well enough to drive, recognize the smile on my son's face. I wasn't illiterate, but I couldn't read because of my vision.
But to boil it down, I've been basically blind for three weeks. Yet we've still been able to get a paper out. And we've got some good ones too.
I was able to assign a couple of stories I heard about to those students who were here in June.
But it was sure to catch up with us.
There are a couple of other stories that I have seen in other places, but those seemed to be updates of older stories, for the most part. We've had a dozen or so other stories that no one else has touched yet, including the story of a soldier home from war, another story of a soldier injured in the a war. We continue to be the first media to report on a two-time rapist and the Attorney General's attempts to commit him to a hospital for "treatment."
Those are just a couple of exclusives we've done.
But I knew it would catch up to us. Last week, Sports Editor Travis Jenkins was on honeymoon. Another key staffer was on vacation My boss was out for a day. An ad sales rep was out many days.
We have been limited, as most papers are in the summer. But our absences seem to have fallen all in the same week, a week when the editor was blind as a bat.
We might not have missed what we missed Friday, except I was out, and our newest reporter was on his way to New York State for a wedding. I was working from home in the morning, but I was going to the eye doctor's for that checkup. So I wasn't in Chester to hear about the bank robbery. The ladies, the few ladies, at the office, didn't call me at home thinking I was already at the eye doctor's. I might have been able to do something from home had they called.
But I basically was told when I was in my car on my way to Columbia. I was ticked. At myself.
Still, when I got a chance to see what others had, I was kind of surprised.
My story had just about what everyone else had, but one or two nuggets others didn't. We had pictures from the "scene" taken by the publisher. Unless you are somehow in the bank, nobody gets good still pictures of a bank robbery. It's cop cars outside a building.
But this one also had a cordon, and cordon pictures are generally good. I've been doing this long enough to know that much. A cordon has guys in reflective vests, usually, sometimes police lights. Occasionally, like this time, you get to see drawn weapons.
I put what I had up by 8:54 p.m. Friday. I sent out a breaking news alert before that, but not much.
That didn't break the story but did have a fuller story than any other media that I came across. It had details of the search, that the dog team had come across evidence the dye packs deployed, etc.
A fuller story than many done by people who can actually, you know, see.
I had a thought at one point after I heard about the bank robbery and before I got to the eye doctor's office.
"Why'd he pick today?"
A little anger directed at the robber. But I snapped back into normal mode. I was born a Bronx Irish Catholic. Altar boy. Choir boy. All that.
We know guilt. Retail it.
I let my readers down here. I think the new glasses are going to work fine.
But I'll try not to go blind again when there's a big story brewing.

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