As even a cursory glance at my past two columns for PE would tell you, the past few years have been a time of immense transformation for me. At the end of the day, I still have enough of the youthful punk rock idealism pulsing through my veins, and I wouldn’t be writing this column or helping edit Profane Existence if it wasn’t. At the same time, I have learned more than I care to know about some things and to say that it’s affected my positive mental attitude would be a hell of an understatement. There are times, in fact, where I feel like living in a more liberal environment has made me come off like a gnarly old man; as if Charles Bukowski was resurrected somehow and asked to write for Profane Existence. It is true that I have learned to question the good intentions of all things liberal, with things from yoga to public radio to dinner parties to punk rock all becoming favorite targets of this jerk right here-a seasoned smartass of the highest order. To me, it’s all about different types of consumerism than anything else and the only real difference is which pile of shit you happen to choose.
But while I’m probably about the least spiritual person you will ever meet, I am extremely grateful for what I do have, and for the fact that I am able to live comfortably without making a ton of sacrifices. Moreover, there isn’t a day that goes by where I am not thankful of being able to walk, talk, see, and hear as well as managing to stay in good physical health. Even as the golden age of 39 is rearing its head, I feel like I have been extremely lucky in this way and feel like I have a lot of good years left in me.
So you can imagine I was more than a little dismayed when I noticed that the vision in my right eye was getting worse and worse. Beginning earlier this year, I had noticed that my vision in that eye was becoming increasingly blurry. I didn’t think anything of it and figured my contact prescription was changing, which happens every couple of years. As the weeks wore on, I would spot various flashes and amorphous floating objects that weren’t really there, as if my eye was short-fusing somehow. I then noticed that my vision in my right eye was doing what eye specialists refer to as “shadowing,” which is a precursor to blindness in a lot of cases. Not knowing what else to do, I made an appointment with an optometrist in the vain hope that a new set of contacts would set me straight. Unfortunately, I was to find out that the retina in my right eye was detaching and the only thing that would take care of it was a moderately invasive surgery known as the “scleral buckle procedure.” I was referred to a retinal specialist who confirmed this, and before I could say “Holy sheepshit, I’m going blind,” I was filling out paperwork and getting ready to go under the knife, as they say.
I’m a big fan of what is called black or “gallows” humor and there were a number of things about this experience that I thought were kind of funny-the first being my surgeon remarking that “We don’t get many young people like you in here, Doug.” I told him I appreciated the compliment but I’m not really that young, you know? Anyway, I understood him completely when I swaggered into the pre-op room and noticed that I was the only one in there besides the staff that was under the age of 100. I found myself wishing that I had a camera to capture the expressions of some of the other patients as I stomped my way towards the slab on which my scleral buckle procedure would be performed. While I’m on the subject, I should add that the “scleral buckle procedure” is exactly what the name implies in that a permanent band is placed around the eye in order to hold the retina in place. That means that there is a rubber band holding my eye together even as I’m typing this column. Now ain’t that some shit?
Anyway, another thing that made this day special was something that went down during pre-op when I was being put under sedation. Anyone that’s known me for any length of time can tell you that I am not a big fan of needles, which could be a likely explanation for why I have no tattoos or piercings. By that line of reasoning, it should follow that I am also not a fan of IV’s, but I was doing all right for about ten minutes after the anesthesiologist stuck one in my left hand. I was lying there minding my own business and trying to relax when all of a sudden everything started going black and I felt like I was being lowered into a grave. I could feel the color draining out of my face and when the guy asked what was going on all I could come up with was, “Aaaah, fucking hell dude, I’m goin’ down!” The next thing I knew, there were five or six people clustered around my stretcher and I found myself reminded of the GUNS N’ ROSES video for “Coma” where the doctors are bringing Axl Rose back from the dead. From a thousand miles away, I heard one of the nurses say “Go to your happy place, Doug! Go to your happy place!” I imagined a sylvan garden complete with bullet-belted angels, confetti, and garden gnomes dancing around holding fifths of whiskey and I was back on track-a bit flushed, but coherent…for the moment, at least.
You see, the anesthetic that is administered to you during eye surgery is not of the general variety. What this means is that you are more or less awake during the surgery itself, although the reaction to said anesthetic can vary from patient to patient. In my case, all I can tell you about the experience are the bits and pieces that I remember-my stubborn insistence that the radio in the operating room be tuned to the classic rock station and hearing the cowbell intro to NAZARETH’s “Hair of the Dog” would be the first. I heard myself yell “Fucking NAZARETH, dude! Let’s do this!” to no one in particular. The next two hours were a bit patchy, to say the least. I would awaken here and there, see a bright light and feel like someone was poking my face with a needle (which was, in fact, the retinal surgeon putting the sutures on my eyeball). I do, however, remember being uncharacteristically loudmouthed to anyone in earshot and uttering things that should be of no interest to any legit eye surgeon, including the following gems:
“BLACK SABBATH are the most amazing band on the fucking planet.”
“I just got my Marshall JCM 2000 retubed-that fucker runs hotter than it did when I bought it.”
“You never ate at the Triple Rock? They got these awesome vegan po-boys. Gaaaahhhhh….”
And the next thing I knew, I heard someone say “Alright Doug, we’re done,” and I was sitting in a room by myself waiting for my ride to pick me up and trying to figure out what the fuck had just happened. My surgeon stopped by on the way back to his office to tell me I had done well during the procedure, but I could tell he was trying not to laugh. I left to spend the next few days recovering at home, which meant no booze, no fooling around, no fun, no shit. I did manage to read Camus’ The Stranger in one day and felt a bit overwhelmed by the irony of it all.
Over the next two weeks or so, I had to return to the doctor’s office to get my eye dilated, re-dilated, and examined. On the third or fourth visit, my retinal surgeon shined the old light in my eye and I noticed a look of consternation on his face. Fearing the worst, I asked him what was up and was given the news that the retinal fluid that had built up in my eye as a result of my retina trying to take the money and run had not cleared up as a result of the slceral buckle being installed. Therefore another surgery was needed to clear the retinal, or “vitreous” fluid out. This operation would become known to me as the ghastly “vitrectomy,” and entails a needle-yes, a needle-being inserted into the eyeball to extract the fluid. Then, a gas bubble is placed in the eyeball to stabilize it and keep it from collapsing. So once again I found myself lying on the slab, getting pumped full of prochlorometaoxylene or whatever it is that makes me mouth off to anyone around, and getting whisked back for more eye surgery when I had just gotten over the first one. I was smart this time, though. I went to my aforementioned “happy place” as soon as the IV was stuck in me so I was good and toasty all through pre-op. I would like to add that I made it through the surgery without bellowing anything about metal or Marshall amp heads. I did, however, make them switch the radio from “The Current” to the classic rock station once again. I didn’t want to be a jerk, but nobody should have to endure eye surgery while listening to crap like DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE. That shit’s just cruel.
As I finish this column, I am looking out the window of my coffee stop in Uptown Minneapolis. It’s been about seven months since the events I described here and my eye is healing quite nicely. If you look real close, you can see where my right eyeball has been welded back together. If there’s any point I’d like to make in closing this one out, it’s that you can be the most hardline, blasphemous heathen crust punk hellraiser out there but it’s imperative that you be thankful for what you have-especially when the most riveting decision of your day is what record to listen to or what kind of beer to drink. To be able to see, hear, and walk is truly an incredible thing and I don’t think you have to be into yoga or burning sage to appreciate these very basic things in life. In saying that, I would like to tack on that if you notice your vision starting to falter in the ways I mentioned earlier, it is important to GET IT CHECKED OUT immediately. I got lucky in that I didn’t go blind in my right eye; as there are cases of retinal detachment where blindness has occurred in a matter of hours. But all’s well that ends well, and you can bet your ass that if I ever start a CARCASS rip-off gore grind band, you will see “Scleral Buckle Procedure” and “Extraction of Vitreous Fluid” at the tippy-top of the set list. Also, if you live around Minneapolis and notice your vision starting to get shitty, get at me and I can refer you to some people. Just tell em that the “Black Sabbath Dude” sent you.
*This column is dedicated to my good friend Sara Peters-a survivor in the truest sense of the word.
*Honorable mention to my good friend and bandmate Leanna Sweetland for giving me a ride home from surgery and playing Scrabble (I won).
Contact: ashen666 AT hotmail.com