The night before I was to be admitted to hospital I spent with Mr FD and his three housemates in their rented house. Mr FD shared a house on a farm with three student friends, one male and two females. The two girls circled me, checking out the female intruder. They were friendly, and though neither had ever been romantically involved with Mr FD (probably not due to his lack of trying!) obviously still considered him their property. It seems that nothing makes a man more interesting than the fact that another woman finds him attractive! I don’t want him, but you can’t have him either.
Next morning I woke with a thumping head and a sore throat. We drove back to my house and I no sooner entered the kitchen when I felt the need to throw up, which I did promptly in the sink! It was a great day to be alive.
My mother, concerned about me undergoing surgery the next morning telephoned the doctor who was performing the surgery to discuss the fact that I was ill. I was to enter hospital later that day after all. The specialist decided he needed to see me, so a rushed trip to Toowoomba, a half hour’s drive away, delivered me to his surgery.
A quick examination and he decided that I was well enough to undergo the surgery. By now I think that I had suspended all thought and emotion and was just on automatic pilot. We returned home and I packed for hospital.
I don’t remember packing anything to read. I have been to hospital many times over the years and I have always packed at least two books, even when preparing to give birth, but I have absolutely no recollection of taking any reading material at all.
I also don’t remember having any thoughts about what life would be like after the surgery. No one explained what would happen post operatively, or even what to expect in the lead up to the surgery.
My parents were obviously distraught. My Dad had told Mr FD that he would give his own eyes if it would save me, but life doesn’t allow trade offs no matter how much parents wish it to be otherwise. They however stoically drove me to the hospital and followed me through the admission process.
I was shown into a two bed room. Luckily the first night the other bed was vacant. Once I was delivered my parents left. Their intention was to return the next day, after the surgery.
Now, as a parent myself, their behaviour seems very harsh to me. I know that if my child, even as the adults that they are now, were to be undergoing such radical life changing surgery there would be no way that I would just deliver them into a hospital bed and then leave them alone to face the long night. But at the time I thought nothing of it. It was just the way our family functioned. While there was always much love, there was also a certain hardness in that we often had to fend for ourselves in moments of most need.
It wasn’t neglect or punishment, I really think that my parents had been raised that way and that was therefore the parenting model that they had and so how we were raised. It was nothing for our mother to make us walk to the doctor’s surgery when we were ill, rather than spend the money on a taxi, even though we could have easily afforded the fare. Maybe it was being raised through a depression, surviving a war, but it was just the way our life was.
And so it was that way now. Luckily Mr FD arrived to visit me in the evening after his classes. Visiting hours were until 8 o’clock and he sat beside my bed, holding my hand until the nurses chased him out. Visiting hours were very strictly enforced and so he had no choice but to leave me.
Just after he left, the nurse brought a woman in to speak with me. The woman had undergone the same surgery, the removal of an eye, and the nurse thought that it would be helpful if I could speak with her and ask questions if I felt the need. This was the only person who ever understood how I might be feeling.
She was a woman in her forties, maybe fifties. Her medical condition was naturally different to mine, but she explained that she had recovered quickly and found her life had returned to normal in a very short time.
She asked me to pick which eye was artificial, obviously quite pleased with her appearance, so I think she was a little disappointed when I picked it right away. It did look fairly natural, but of course it didn’t move as her other eye did, so was a complete give away!
I am not sure that having her tell me that she had been shown a box of eyes and they had chosen one to match from the stock was a wise move either! I know telling me that twice a day she needed to take the eye out of the socket and wash it, much the same process as cleaning a set of dentures, was definitely not what I wanted to know right then! Luckily I had already learned that I would be having a custom made eye and so spared the sight of a box of glass eyes! Once she left, I tried not to think about the process of popping eyes in and out of sockets.
It was during the last few days that I had also learned that my paternal grandmother also had an artificial eye. A strange coincidence to have in the family! My Grandmother had died some 6 years before I was born and so I had never known her. I had only ever seen one small black and white photo of her and my Grandfather that someone had taken with a box brownie camera. My Grandfather, who had died when I was twelve was no less a stranger to me. I remember one visit, when I came home from school one afternoon and a big man in a very black suit was sitting have afternoon tea with my mother.
I had no idea who he was, but as I entered the room my mother said “Do you know who this is?” I was too shy to speak, and so she said “It’s your grandfather”. I remember my face being crushed into his suit pocket as he gave me a hug, but to this day I can’t remember his face. I don’t even know if I overcame my shyness enough to actually look at his face. So my only memory of my grandfather, who lived in the same small country town, is a black suit. The next time memory of my grandfather is standing at his funeral.
My father was the thirteenth child of a family of eighteen children and my father never spoke kindly of his own father. According to him he only knew how to drink and party, and was too lazy to even “put in a patch of potatoes to feed his family”. From the age of twelve my father fended for himself, often going hungry.
So it wasn’t surprising that I never knew my grandmother had an artificial eye. My mother said she only learned of it when as a young bride, Grandmother called her into the bedroom to look for her eye as it had popped out and rolled under the bed! It wasn’t quite the story I wanted to hear, but no one sugar coated things in our world!
Grandmother’s eye was due to complications following a cataract operation. The eye must have become infected and she had been forced to have the eye removed. The doctor was the very doctor who had been my specialist from the start and was performing my surgery! No one ever questioned his abilities. One did not ask a doctor questions either.
I was given a sleeping tablet and slept until I was awakened in the early hours of the morning to shower and prepare for the surgery.
I was an eighteen year old girl and despite my circumstances made sure I plucked my eyebrows and washed my hair. I even styled it with my blow dryer that I had made sure I packed! I couldn’t think of a fate worse than having hair that was unstyled in those days! It was the era of the 1970s bob and I had it down to perfection! How silly we are at such times, adhering to small vanities, but maybe it is the small vanities that allow us to keep our sanity. This was not to be my only experience with possible life threatening medical conditions, and I have found that pretending to be normal is the best therapy in such moments.
Wheeled into the operating theatre the doctor patted my hand and said “This won’t take long; you are going to be just fine.” A needle was popped into my hand and that long tunnel of unconsciousness opened wide.