Monday, February 28, 2011

Bionic Eyes

All of my life I have been very proud of my eyesight. I could see better, longer, catch slight movement off the side of the road other people missed, and read in less light than anyone I knew.

And then I hit forty.

At 42 I started carrying reading glasses with me for reading labels when shopping, for reading menus, and for lying in bed reading. I started at 1.25 magnification.

At 43 I bumped that up to 1.5.

At 44 I started wearing 2.0 glasses all the time. My vision was getting worse both near and far. I needed them to eat because my food was becoming blurry on the plate and I couldn’t see the TV clearly enough.

At 45 I bumped them up another notch to 2.25 and also got contacts for my wedding so I wouldn’t be wearing glasses in all the photos. The ophthalmologist told me my natural eyesight was so bad I was not legal to drive in Vermont. (it’s legal if I drive with contacts or glasses on.)

When we returned to Madrid I saw an eye doctor who informed me that my eyesight would continue to deteriorate, which meant a constantly changing prescription for glasses or contact lens each year. Lasik would not work on me because I was near-sighted and far-sighted. Hence, we come to this:

The short explanation is this – They surgically remove my deteriorating lens, and replace it with a man-made lens that will fix my vision, will never deteriorate, and make me immune to cataracts, which runs in my family. As an added bonus, I get to see through clothes and get heat vision like Superman. How cool is that? Okay, maybe not those last two but I’m hoping for an upgrade in the future.

The bad part is, the eye could reject the new lens or it could get infected and there is a very small chance I could go blind in that eye. Which is why they do them one eye at a time here. If there are any of those kinds of complications, I still have one pathetic deteriorating eye left. Yay.

Here’s how it went –

A day before the operation I have to put drops of acid in my eye every few hours. Okay, it’s not really acid, but it feels like acid when it goes in. The day of the operation Wendy and I take the subway to “your hot doctor” as Wendy calls her. “Well, she is hot, right?”

“Right,” I tell her. See, being a good husband I would never say she was hot, but it’s okay to agree with your wife if she says she is hot. My doctor is very “unSpanish” except for the fact that she is petite. She is patient, blond, tiny and cute. She has nice skin which most Spaniards do not have because they have been raised in the opposite of a “smoke-free” environment. They’ve been in smoky bars since they were two months old because 1. Spaniards take their babies everywhere and 2. All of them smoke. Sorry to my Spanish friends but most Spaniards look about ten years older than their non-smoking American counter-parts. Not so with my hot doctor.

I’m not really nervous, but I will be happy when the first eye is done so I’ll know exactly what I’ll be going through for the next one.

I fast and am not allowed to drink water for seven hours before the operation When the time comes, we walk down to Opera Metro and climb aboard. At the second stop as we are pulling away from the station I see a blind man with a white cane standing on the platform on the other side. How does he find the door I wonder? Man, I would not like to lose my sight.

I almost start to discuss this with Wendy when all of a sudden I realize that could be one of the complications of this little adventure. Is this a sign? Was that blind man a harbinger of doom and I shouldn’t go through with this?

Luckily, I learned a long time ago that whenever I have a premonition, an almost certainty that a dream or a vision I’ve seen will come true – it never does. I’m like opposite George on Seinfeld. If I have a premonition that something is going to happen – it won’t. Hence, it is a good sign. I don’t mention the blind man to Wendy or the fact that I really don’t want to be blind. She’s worried enough already.

We arrive on time and as usual spend a long time in the waiting room. (I would like to add this has nothing to do with the Spanish Health Care System as we usually have very speedy and good service. It’s just that this place is always packed and they’re always over-booked. Maybe this is because eyes aren’t covered under national health care and so, the more people they pack in, the higher their profit margin? Just sayin’.)

An attendant comes over as we are seated, waiting, reading and tells me he needs to put drops in my eyes. He does this four times over the next hour and it burns every time. Not a lot, but cringe worthy. I am then taken by another attendant into another room, asked to sit in a chair and she looks at my eye through a big scope on the table that I press my face into. Everything looks okay and then… I don’t know what happens next. She comes around to my side, holds open the eye and I start to feel little pokes that are about as cringe worthy as the eye drops. I don’t know if she is sticking tiny needles full of Novocain into my eye or painting it with a little brush like doing her nails. And since I’m not supposed to move, I can’t look down at the table to see what she keeps grabbing. It feels weird though.

I go back outside and sit with my Beautiful Wendy for another fifteen minutes and then I’m called into a room where they stick a needle in my hand with a small receptacle at the end, draw a tiny bit of blood then cork it for later. I am put into a gown (fully clothed) and little paper booties are put around my sneakers. Five minutes later I’m ushered into an operating room and I lie down where they indicate.

They put an operating blanket over my head, tell me to close my eyes and they press the blanket down over my left eye and an adhesive presses into my eyelids. Then they peel it back and my eyelid is held open for the entire operation. They shine a bright light into my eye and say “Stare into the light.” (But don’t go towards it…) I feel some pressure on my eye and everything turns into a lava lamp crossed with a kaleidoscope. Funky colors and shapes swirl in my eyesight. Then everything goes dark.

“I guess they must have just taken the lens out.”

Thirty seconds later the lava lamp kaleidoscope of color comes back and I think “They must have just put the new lens in.”

They muck about in my eye for a while and every now and then they tell me “Jamie, you have to stare into the light.” Which is hard because the light keeps moving and I’m also supposed to keep my eye perfectly still. Finally she says “Just stare straight ahead.” This is still hard because the colors and shapes are swirling about slowly and you can’t fixate on any one thing, but every now and then something catches your eye and you follow it. Imagine trying to watch “Avatar” in 3D and being told to only look at the center of the screen.

So, this continues for about ten to fifteen minutes and then they tell me “Okay, we’re going to put the new lens in now.”

Um, what? What have you being doing this entire time? A root canal on my eye?

They adjust the lens for five to ten minutes and then tell me I’m done. “Did everything go alright? Any complications?” I ask.

“No complications, everything went perfect. You were a very good patient, you didn’t move once.”

Oddly enough, I feel unsteady. An orderly takes my arm and walks me to a private room with The Beautiful (and concerned) Wendy, snacks, juice, instant coffee that can be mixed with cold milk (???) and cold milk. I feel odd. Maybe just the lack of hydration and my body reacting to the operation but I feel like someone who was put under, woke up and doesn’t have his legs under him yet. I tell Wendy about the operation, she feeds me a muffin, some juice, another muffin, some more juice and when I feel settled enough we walk out and take a cab home. Wendy orders me pizza and I drink a quart of water and take my antibiotics.

The next day I have a regiment of drops to put into my eye, some every two hours, others every four hours. I break the left lens out of my glasses so the eye can adjust to reality but everything is still blurry. This is because I have one eye healing, and one eye looking through a 2.25 lens. So, each eye is seeing at completely different magnifications and blurriness. Reading makes me ill after about fifteen minutes so I watch some movies and read web comics (bigger text) and browse the web for sites like Lolcats and Wendy takes me down to the Doctors for a follow up look at the eye and they say everything is great.

The next day is better. I can read but looking at the keyboard and trying to type makes me nauseas. I’m not supposed to move much, not supposed to lift anything heavier than ten lbs and be very careful not to get water in my eye when I shower.

My vision continues to improve for a couple of days then stalls on “Almost perfect vision but not quite there yet.” On Friday I have another follow up and the surgeon looks at my eye through a machine with a very bright light and swivels it around in front of me for a few minutes before declaring “It’s almost there but it’s not sitting perfectly. We’ll have to go in and adjust it on Monday.” I am not surprised by this as I have been told by her and by everything I read on the web that this is very common.

“Will you do both eyes on Monday or just adjust this one?”

“We’ll do both eyes Monday.”

So, that’s today. I am pre op fasting and putting drops in my eyes which dilate the pupils and makes this hard to write and hard to read so I’m glad I’m done.

So, that’s what it’s like for anyone who wants to go through with this surgery.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Well, This Story is Definitely Coming to a Middle.

I think I got the quote right. Bonus points for those who can identify it.

Our adventures in Madrid are coming to a close and a new adventure will begin in Vermont starting mid-August. Yes, we are leaving Madrid and moving back to our house in Vermont. Why you may ask?

Well, a number of things. Wendy loves family and most of that's in Vermont or New York. She loves being part of a singing group and she can't find that here in Madrid, at least, not the format she enjoys. Our nephews and nieces are all growing up and we're missing it.

Wendy came over here to relive a dream she's had since she was fifteen and now she's done it. Part of that dream was the thought she would marry a Spanish man and join a Spanish family. 1. She married me. 2. Spanish men aren't that great. 3. The women she knows who are living that dream, have enlightened her to some of the pitfalls.

It's expensive living in two places at once. Heating the house in Middlebury while nobody is living there is expensive. Rent on this apartment is not nothing. Writing is not panning out like I thought it would and I should enter the workforce again and I know I can do so very easily back in Vermont. I loved working at the high school and would love to do so again.

Wendy may have a new job (should everything work out and it seems like it is so far) that requires her to call the west coast. If we stay in Madrid, her work day starts at 6:00 p.m. In the states it starts at noon.

We've seen a great deal of Spain. We have traveled all over it. Our journey here is nearing its end.

We'll miss Spain a great deal. We'll miss the excellent food, the liberal atmosphere, the terraces in the sun, our excellent friends here, the scenery, the fiestas, the roasted babies, the Madrileno people (okay, who am I kidding, we won't miss them a bit. :-) Madrileno's are rude and foul mouthed actually.)

But, we do miss Vermont. We miss family. We miss our friends. I miss poker night. I miss writing about Magic with people who say clever, funny things that I can understand and write about. My Magic writing has taken a serious downturn due to the communication barrier. (That and my refusal to play anything other than mono green.)

We miss the house that Wendy has transformed into a castle. Transformed into our home. We miss the river behind our house and our green, so very green, lawn and people watching on the porch and my parents next door. I might even miss deer hunting a little bit. Plus, who can resist the siren lure of mowing the lawn twice a week at the beginning of summer or the joy of shoveling your driveway every single day in the winter? I ask you – Who can resist that?

We sent out a note to some people informing them of this and our friend Diana Arteaga sent us this video welcoming us home.

Diana was Wendy’s intern for a year and she became an integral part of our lives. We spent Christmas in Columbia with her and her family and we still miss her. Having her come in every weekday and going out to lunches on Friday’s that sometimes lasted nine hours and having her attend all our parties, she became a part of us. Anyway…

We’re not going to stop adventuring or exploring. Hell no. We’re just going to make our base of operations our beautiful house in Vermont.

We will be returning home August 17th.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Calco TADA!

I burn books.

It’s not really my fault. Most paper these days is made fire-resistant. But I still need a little paper to start my chimney that starts my barbeque in Spain.

It all started with the used book store. We buy too many books. Some belong on the bookshelf, some belong in the rubbish pile. Rather than dump them into the trash, we decided to donate them to the local used book store. The guy there is fantastic. Really nice guy and we want him to succeed. So, we give him our books and he gives us some credit.

Almost out of sympathy, I chose a few books to take home, but in reality, if it’s not in electronic form, I have (almost) no use for it. There were a couple Star Trek books, an Angel (the vampire from Buffy) book and something else. They’ve all been sitting next to the bed since I got them six months ago.

Today we are hosting a calcotoda. This requires the grilling of a very specific Spanish onion. And I need to start the barbeque. Magazines suck for starting fires and newspapers these days are usually fire resistant. What to use, what to use?
I wonder if this Angel book is any good? It’s old, the paper is yellowed, it looks pretty dry. Probably not fire resistant. But how is the prose?

“She smiled for the twelfth time. It looked like her head was going to split in half.”

That my friends is a book that needs to be burned.

1. Roast Calcots
2. Peel off outer leaves
3. Dip in red Romesco sauce and dip into your mouth.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

I'm sorry Forrest

I like you. I do. You're a good guy with well rounded skills that has actually beaten some of the best in the world. If the past has taught us anything, you should never bet against Forrest Griffin.

But, I'm sorry, Rich Franklin is going to knock you out tonight.

Rich might struggle against wrestlers or guys who have massively superior striking but you have neither of those. You have good striking but how many people have you knocked out? One? Two? I'm too lazy to look it up.

Rich Franklin punches you like the target is behind your head. His punches continue to drive forward after he has connected with your face. His punches are like a piston that doesn't care that it has already connected, they are seeking a spot six inches past your face. Your face is just in the way.

Franklin by KO in the second.

At the latest.

And honestly, that makes me sad because I really like Forrest and he needs a win. But Franklin is just too much for him and styles make fights. Griffin's technically perfect pitter patter jabs and great leg kicks are not going to be enough to stop a gentle monster like Franklin who will pray to God before the fight, crush your skull with fists like hammers, then help you to your feet, hoping you are okay.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

More Lanzarote

After a crappy night’s sleep I walked the hundred meters to Manta Diving. I was a little nervous. My first lesson would be with Rachelle, a cute, short blond as the instructor and two tall German guys who are students like me. We’re going to be doing some exercises in a pool a hundred yards away at a nice motel. Rachelle shows me how to hook up my air tank to my vest, check to see if it’s properly hooked up by slowly releasing air, check my straps, inflate the vest, test both regulators (the thing that goes in your mouth), check your pressure gauge to make sure you have enough air and then undo it all then do it all again five times.

When I finish, and we put on our gear and are ready to head out the door, one of the other instructors comes over and tells me my straps and weights aren’t tight enough and cinches me good and tight. I feel like Houdini wrapped in chains now.

We walk up to the pool and I don’t feel so good. How are these no-muscle, skinny guys and this little girl carrying all this equipment and they look fine but I’m exhausted? I gently flop into the pool with all the grace of a fat man falling down a flight of steps. Rachelle starts instructing us on what we’re going to do. We swim out, hold our faces in the water and get used to breathing through the regulator.

Next step is to go to the bottom of the pool for some training about what to do in case your mask falls off or your regulator comes out of your mouth, a rabid penguin attacks, things like that.

Here’s a funny thing I learned in my online course. It is recommended that you have a dive knife. They are used to rap on your tank to get your dive buddies attention, or to free you if you get entangled in seaweed, old fishing lines, etc. I am instructed, you do NOT use it as a weapon.

I am here to tell you that I will break this rule the first time it becomes a necessity. If a shark decides to take my left arm in his jaws, I will be using my right arm and dive knife to stab him in the eye. If Russian or Nazi spies (ala James Bond) and I get into a fight underwater, I will not be using my knife to rap on my tank I will be using it to cut air hoses and go all stabby on people. I’m sorry PADI but those are the facts.

Anyway, we are at the bottom of the pool and I still can’t catch a full breath of air. I keep choking on water and I’m starting to panic.

Am I going to have to give this up? Having loved snorkeling so much in the Galapagos, Wendy and I have come to The Canary Isle, Lanzarote, so I can become a certified diver. Wendy, of course, is already an advanced certified diver, (as well as lawyer, spy, writer, UFC lightweight champion, and nuclear physicist) allowed to go to a depth of 40 meters (100-120 feet, I think, is her limit.) I’m going for my open water which allows 18 meters. I’ve done the long ass course online, we’ve booked this trip and now I’m not going to be able to do it?

I surface and pull the regulator out and gasp.

“Jamie, what’s wrong?”

“I can’t get a full breath of air.”

Rachelle swims over to me and loosens up some straps on my vest.

And now I can breathe again. Holy blessed relief!

I recover for a bit, refill my lungs with oxygen and the rest of the day is easy peasy. The two German guys are taking a lower level course than me so they get done before I do. This is both good and bad. Good because she has them take care of all the equipment and get boxes to put it all in, but bad because I have to stay in the water another half an hour and I am freezing.

Here’s a little known fact about scuba diving. The deeper you are, the more air you use. In six feet of water (the pool) I can stay under for two and a half hours. When we move to the open ocean, and descend to a depth of 14 meters, that same amount of air will last less than an hour.

Have you ever seen the movie “The Abyss?”

At the depth they were diving, a full tank of air would last less than TWO MINUTES. (They were supposedly at 2000 meters, which is a thousand meters deeper than the deepest recorded dive. It's still an awesome movie though. One of my favorites.)

Anyway, as I said, I am freezing. My lips are blue from being underwater for two hours and I still have more time in the water. But, we finish up and head back to the dive shop where we are informed the wind has picked up and we cannot do open water training this afternoon, so go get some food and we’ll see you tomorrow morning.

As you can see from the pictures below (if you read the first entry) the waves have become too treacherous for diving. I love love love big waves and can stare at them for hours. We shower and I get my body temperature back up to a normal level and then we bundle up and head to Bar Playa for some lunch and wave watching.

As usual, it is a bustle of activity. This is our first experience with “The Adventure Divers!” I say that with sarcasm and derision but in fact I envy them a little. They’re brave, but weird. They don’t walk down the steps into the water, they jump off the platform from ten feet high and plunge into the water. We also never see them out of their wetsuits. Over the next few days we’ll be at a restaurant/terrace and see them walking by in their unzipped wetsuits. Like, in the tourist section. Like, where people eat and watch the sea and dance and shop! It’s just bizarre.

We head down to Bar Playa and happen to see Rachelle and Ben down there on the strip before the bar. We chat with them for a bit and then notice one of the adventure divers has just jumped into the raging sea off the platform. In his wet suit of course, but without any scuba gear. He swims towards the steps to get out but the waves keep pulling him further and further out to sea. This goes on for too many minutes. It seriously looks like he is going to lose this fight with the current.

Then a big gust comes up and smashes him against the concrete steps, dazing him, then sweeps him back out to sea again.

At this point, we’re getting worried. Where can I get a rope? Why is no one throwing him a rope? Rachelle and Ben are preparing to go in the water to rescue him, but he recovers his senses and is able to grab onto the railing as he is smashed against the steps again.

He climbs out and sits down with his friends and takes a sip of beer like nothing has happened.

“Those guys are a bunch of assholes” Rachelle says.

Wendy asks "Would you have gone in after him if he couldn't make it out?"

"Yeah; and that's what makes them assholes."