When I opened my eyes the morning of October 21, 2005, I could only make out light and shadows. I looked around the room. Everything was in shades of grey and not clearly defined.
I must still be groggy from the surgery, I thought to myself. I couldn’t really tell if I was fully awake or not, but I thought I must be only half awake, because I couldn’t focus on anything.
A shadowy figure appeared in the doorway of my hospital room.
“Hi.” It was Cindy, my wife of nine years.
“The nurses told me you’re not eating your lunch,” she said. “Are you not hungry?”
“My lunch?” I reached out to the tray table in front of me, feeling around and accidentally touching the breaded piece of meat that was to be my meal that afternoon.
“Aren’t you going to use your utensils?” Cindy asked.
“Oh yeah, good idea.” I felt around for my fork and started to eat. The breaded cutlet didn't taste like much and the vegetables had been boiled too long — typical hospital food. Cindy and I continued talking between bites. I looked up from my food to say something else to her.
“Why are you still talking to me over there?” she asked, in a slightly annoyed tone. She had moved to the other side of the bed.
“Oh, I didn’t realize you had moved.”
“How many fingers am I holding up?” Cindy asked, copying a quick test she had seen the doctors do with me.
“I can’t see your fingers, but I think I see your hand.”
“Follow my hand with your eyes.”
She moved her hand up, to the left and then to the right.
That’s when we discovered I had a problem.
“I’ll be back in a minute.”
She touched my feet as she walked past the end of the bed and quickly out the door to the brightly-lit hallway.
Alone again in the hospital room, I was trying to make sense of what just happened. Why wasn't I able to see her fingers?
This wasn't my first shunt surgery. In the past two days there had been two operations because the first one hadn’t worked; bringing the total number of shunt revisions to 13 over my lifetime.
I thought back to the shunt revision in 2001. That surgery went smoothly. In fact, I woke up so abruptly in the recovery room, I startled the nurse. I felt well enough following that operation to return to work two days after being released from the hospital. This time though, four years later, something was different, but neither of us understood yet what it was.
At the nurses' station, a short distance down the hall from my hospital room, Cindy tried to get the attention of a nurse to tell her about her concern. A group of nurses were huddled together talking behind the desk.
“Excuse me,” Cindy said.
The nurses stayed in their huddle.
“Excuse me.” Cindy persisted until one of them came over to her.
“My husband can’t see.”
The nurse just looked back at her, unfazed by Cindy's statement.
“You don’t get it. My husband can’t see. My husband came to this hospital able to see.”
That’s when the hospital learned I had a problem.