Corneal scarring–Part One

A couple of comments asked about the corneal scar I mentioned in my last post. Well, it isn’t as dramatic as Onigiri might imagine–no, I did not get stabbed in the eye like your cousin. Whew! Now that would be a story to tell. My story is much more mundane, but the effects of this “malady” are much more amusing… well as amusing as a handicap can be.

My memory is not perfect, as my regular readers know, but there are photos of me when I was around 5 years old with my right eye patched up with gauze. I vaguely remembered–and I later verified this with my mother–that the eye was suffering from an infection, and I had to wash out my eye two or three times a day. Mom would pour a solution into an eye cup, after which I would face down to place my eye socket onto it and then while holding the cup tightly to my face look upward blinking two or three times as the solution bathed my eye. I hated this ritual, which is probably why I remembered it.

Fast forward 12 years…

One day in the summer of 1973–those glorious days of high school when I was basking in my new found independence and stupidity–I was returning from the beach with my girlfriend, Aileen, when suddenly I realized that I was seeing double. I would see two sets of railroad tracks but would only feel one set as I drove over them. For three days, my vision was strangely blurred. I hoped that it would just pass, but when it didn’t I finally screwed up the courage to see an opthamologist. After a battery of tests, they determined that my vision problem was based on a small scar on my eye. He showed me a blown up photo and pointed out a small imperfection. He said it was smaller than a grain of sand, but that was enough to refract light in a way that would blur my vision. He asked me if I had injured my eye, but when I told him I didn’t, he told me that it was probably the result of an infection when I was younger. When I got home, I recalled the eye patch and the eye baths when I was kid. I pulled out old photos and showed them to mother, which is when she confirmed the infection for me.

So this is the cause, I thought. But the sad thing of this predicament was that the scar was not curable. Perhaps, if laser technology was as it is today, then I may have been able to do something about it. But back then, it was what it was, and you learn to live with scars and injuries. Besides, after a week or so, my vision seemed to revert to normal. I thought it had healed itself, as any scar would heal, and I continued on with my merry summer of ’73.

But life, as I was to learn, was neither so simple nor forgiving.

*   *   *   *

A few years later, I began to notice that I had trouble gauging depth. I had knocked over more than a couple of beers, but I attributed this clumsiness to being drunk. I mean, what else would I attribute it to? Then one day I went to Westwood to see a movie with two of my buddies, Cary and Sam. We were a little early and so we were strolling around the shops and small malls. At one point, we were going to leaving a shopping area that was on the second level. I strode forward and found myself tumbling down a short flight of brick steps. My friends rushed to my side.

“Ray, you okay?” They asked as they helped me get up. “What happened?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m okay.” I assured them as I brushed myself off. But when I looked up I was shocked. “Steps?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I fell down these steps? I don’t get it. I could have sworn it was a ramp.”

“Dude, if that’s a ramp…” But before Sam could finish his sentence, I went up the steps down which I had stumbled. I had to see again what I thought I saw. When I reached the top of the steps, I looked down and in front of me–Huh?–was a short flight of about 5 steps. I don’t get it, I said again to myself. I swear I saw a ramp. But when I took astep side ways toward the center, the steps magically turned into a ramp. “Woah!”

“Woah, what?” Cary asked.

“Shit, you know these stairs? If you stand right in the middle, the lines kinda blend together and they don’t look like steps anymore.”

As Cary and Sam came up to see for themselves, I explained to them that from this particular point of view, the vertical space between the bricks looked like one continuous line making the steps look flat, and thereby appearing like a ramp. But when my buddies stood next to me, they laughed.

“Have you been drinking already? These look like steps to me, no matter where you look from.”

“No, seriously. Stand in the middle. Doesn’t it look like a ramp?” I said flustered. How could they not see it?

“Ray, the only way this is going to look like a ramp is if it was a 2-D picture.”

A wave of events suddenly washed over me, blending together in a very intertextual manner–irreparable scar on cornea, the belief that the scars had healed, knocking over glasses of beer and now this. Was I perceiving the world in two dimension? Was I looking with only one eye? Leave it to my friends to help me put things in perspective, even if it was only a two dimensional one.

With this new insight, I began to figure things out. I fell down the steps at dusk when there are no real shadows. I had knocked over beers only at bars where the light was dim. Did that mean, perhaps, that during the day I would consider other factors unconsciously to calculate distance? The shadow of the can of beer is three inches, and the can itself is five inches, A² + B² = C². Ah, Pythagoras, who knew! I also began to think that some of my other senses were heightened. I have always been able to hear things that others could not–In a car with the stereo up high, I always heard a siren well before other passengers. My olfactory senses seemed pretty sharp even though I was a smoker. I mean, I could smell rain before it actually did–I learned later that it wasn’t really rain, but bacterial spores that are emitted after a long dry spell–not an unusual situation in LA–when the humidity rises right before it rains. Or something like that. But the point being, I could smell things others seemed to miss.

More importantly, I realized that my brain was playing tricks on me. I went to the optometrist to get new glasses soon after. They took photos of my eyes and they asked me if I knew that I had a scar on my cornea.

“Yes, I found out a few years ago.”

“Do you not have trouble seeing? It’s the size of a poppy seed.”

Now what the heck would an optometrist know about poppy seeds? I thought for a moment but was soon overcome by the realization that the scar had grown from a grain of sand to a poppy seed. Oh crap. I am seeing the world in two dimension. But what intrigued me most is that I had not even realized it. My brain would take into account any and all sensory information, then adjust my 2-D world into a 3-D one. The only time it would fail me, I deduced through my own–albeit unscientific–observations, was when I didn’t have enough information, like when there were no shadows to measure. Or when I had headphones on and could not hear other sounds.

Or when I watched 3-D movies?

*   *   *   *

Our school holds an orientation for incoming freshmen every year, and yesterday I participated in the Major Fair, an event where new students have the opportunity to talk to faculty about majors they are interested in pursuing. I was there with a Chinese colleague, a late 20-something, single, and attractive–I am particularly vulnerable to Chinese and Vietnamese women. We had our share of students interested in studying Japanese or Chinese, but as you can imagine, the numbers do not come close to those interested in the “popular” fields such as, say, psychology or political science. Go figure.

Anyway, when there were no students asking us questions, we had an opportunity to chat and get to know each other better–just because we’re in the same department, doesn’t mean we hang out. She is a native of Taiwan and claims her English is not very good, although I would beg to differ. Her English is quite good. But she told me that it can be quite awkward at times when she is the only one in an English speaking setting that doesn’t get the joke. Man, can I relate with that.

Back to the story…

Back in 1973, I went to see Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein in 3D with Aileen, Diddly and his girlfriend. It was relatively amusing to watch a tree pass by right in front of your face, and body parts jump off the screen. Well, amusing enough for a 17 year-old. But 16 years later, I went to Disneyland in LA and went on the ride, Michael Jackson’s Captain Eo. This too was in 3D. I didn’t really notice much in terms of the 3D effects, but the ride jostled me up and down, left and right, and the lack of 3D didn’t seem to matter. It was fun anyway. But another ten years later, and it became all to obvious that I was being left out.

I went with my daughter to Tokyo Disneyland and watched “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience”. This particular attraction had its share of physical special effects–tails whipping our ankles when rats escaped sent K sqealing with delight, and the mist spraying on us when the dog sneezed was grossly amusing… or was that amusingly gross? But all the 3D effects on screen just did not happen for me. When glass shatters and shards flew toward the audience, everyone around me screamed and ducked, but all I could do was lean over and ask my daughter:

“Did something happen?”

Seriously, do you know how sad that is? I was like my Chinese colleague, the only person in the room who did not get the joke. Perhaps I had been fooling myself all along. I mean, I had come to terms with my lack of depth perception, but the adjustments in the brain more than made up for the visual acuity I needed to function in everyday life. I felt that I was able to enjoy anything and everything life had to offer. I was wrong. But, hey!–and maybe I’m just trying to rationalize my situation–3D is not the end all of life. It just seemed like it would be a little more fun.

Unfortunately, it turned out that my vision affected more than my enjoyment of 3D effects. So I had an operation.

Cont’d next.