Saturday, February 25, 2006

Eye Sore

I have bumps on my eyes.

There’s a pingueculae in the right and a pterygium (the “p” is silent) in the left or possibly both—I’m sort of confused about the diagnosis and keep wanting to call them "pelicula," which I'm pretty sure is Spanish for "movie." In any case, they’re pin-sized triangles of thickened tissue in the corner of each eye, where the white part meets the brown.

The bumps are relatively harmless. They don’t affect my vision. You wouldn’t even notice them if I hadn’t just told you they exist.

But I see them. Every day, every time I look in the mirror. I will never be ready for my close-up.

I am not supposed to have bumps on my eyes.

Pterygia are common in people who live near the equator—Mexicans, Haitians, Africans. I was born in Indiana, raised in Ohio, live in Chicago. I have stymied no fewer than four members of the medical profession.

When the mass on my left eye started to grow, my mind went straight to “Cancer!” and I raced to the ophthalmologist’s. My bumps bored her. It wasn’t a tumor. Yawn. Sometimes these bumps just swelled. Yawn. No, she couldn’t tell if it would continue to expand. Yawn. No, there wasn't anything I could do about it. Yawn. Next patient—preferably someone with glaucoma.

I should have been relieved; instead I felt ridiculous, and resigned to a life with ocular imperfections.

For years, five maybe six, the bumps remained stable. I didn't exactly hide them (we all know how well that fake brown nose didn't work for Rudolph) but I did try not to dwell on them. Then, last summer, my right eye wigged out. My husband Dave and I were on a road trip out West. The weather was hot, dry and sunny—the trifecta of bump irritants. The nubbin became red and swollen—it felt bee-stung. At times I could barely stand to keep my eyelid open.

My doctor referred me to the Eye Institute; I arrived at my appointment prepared to choke on another serving of humble pie. I met with Dr. Marruenda, who charmingly struggled for a politically correct way to say, “What’s a white chick like you doing with a pterygium like this?” My bumps flirted shamelessly, “Pay attention to us! Pay attention to us!” He prescribed a steroid to calm the inflammation in my right eye and asked to see me again. Nothing screams vindication like a trip to the pharmacy and a follow-up visit.

While the medicated drops would ease the swelling, Dr. Marruenda noted that surgery is the only way to send the bumps packing for good.

So great is my aversion to the O.R., that I once closed a four-inch gash on my arm with band-aids rather than face getting stitches. But the chance to restore the whites of my eyes to their natural beauty, some might say luminosity, was tempting.

I asked Dr. Marruenda to describe the procedure.

Step 1: They prop the eye open, which alone scares the bejesus out of most patients.
Step 2: Then comes the local anesthetic, administered via needle to the eye. I understand this to mean I will be conscious during the entire operation and able to hear everything. Even though this isn’t dentistry, I imagine the whir of a drill.
Step 3: The pterygium is cut out, and the place where it touched the cornea is polished down. This time I imagine a sander.
Step 4: To patch the pothole left by the excavated bump, a slice of membrane is taken from above the iris and sewn into the gap.

There’s no pain during the surgery, but some afterwards. Also bleeding in the corner of the eye and redness for up to three months. A new procedure eliminates the need for the swatch of upper eye filler material, substituting a piece of amniotic membrane (which is glued on, not stitched).

I mull the offer.

I have bumps on my eyes.


Blogger Sarah O. said...


Thanks for sharing *shudder*!

12:38 PM


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