Looking and Seeing

It’s past nine at night and I just got back from the hospital, where I’ve been since seven this morning. I’m beyond exhausted. But I’ve got good news and a life-lesson nugget to chew on.

First the good news: Richard moved from the Surgical Intensive Care Unit this afternoon to the regular ward, Four South. Thanks to his neurosurgery team’s request and I suspect, to a bit of a push from Mike, his wonderful daytime ICU nurse, Richard got a room to himself with windows looking out over a courtyard with trees. A very healing view.

He needs that healing view right now in a very literal sense, because his vision is all screwed up, most likely from the post-surgery swelling in his brain, which is understandably a bit traumatized. When he looks around a room or out the window, the view doesn’t resolve itself into a clear, single image. It’s very disorienting to have your view of the world be unclear, whether literally or metaphorically. In Richard’s case, it’s exhausting. He simply cannot resolve the view from his two eyes into one image and see what he’s looking at clearly. (It’s sort of like the view through the rain-splattered windowpane below, except that everything has a twin, like pairs that don’t quite merge.)

One of Richard’s favorite phrases goes something like, “We may look, but that doesn’t mean we see.” I don’t think he ever imagined he’d be living the truth of those words in quite this way. Yesterday when he was tired and still very much emerging from the anesthetic, he added, “The brain is in between ‘looking’ and ‘perceiving’.” Very much in-between, as his case demonstrates vividly.

Brook, the neurosurgery resident taking the lead on his care, said this morning that the problem is not so much the missing right temporal lobe: the post-surgery MRI shows that the nerve bundles that would normally help sync the view from his two eyes weren’t removed in the surgery. But the tissue around them is so swollen from the trauma to his brain tissue that they’re not working right now.

The solution: patience. As the swelling goes down, she said, his vision will gradually correct itself. “The first week after surgery is the worst,” she reminded him gently. “Rest your eyes and let the swelling subside.” It’s hard to be patient when you’re hurting and your primary means of perceiving the world–your vision–is messed up.

There’s the life-lesson to chew on: It’s when we’re hurting and things are hard or unclear or outright bewildering that we most need patience–and faith in the process.

Ah. Easy to see, hard to practice, which could be a definition of life itself.

And with that, I’m heading for bed and shutting my own eyes. Good night to the waxing moon, dazzling Venus, and to all of you…