I got uveitis for Christmas. My optometrist described it as a charley horse in your eye. But it’s worse than that. Your eye burns red. Your vision is blurred day in and day out. There is radiant pain throughout your sinus and eye socket. Light hurts you. Sunlight is terrible, but indoor lights are worse. And, in my case, my eye became so inflamed that my lens got stuck, and my pupil disfigured.
My blindness was a near thing. My optometrist dilated my eye three times, and kept it dilated for 16 consecutive days. I wore sunglasses and hats indoors. I took steroids in my eye that left a taste in the back of my throat. I couldn’t tell when I was crying and when my eye was just trying to cleanse itself.
I couldn’t work.
My doctor gave me her personal cell number, and arranged to meet me over the holidays while her clinic was closed to make sure I was progressing. The second visit showed that the deterioration had been arrested. The third visit, she finished the entire exam of my eyes before she moved all her equipment out of the way, and told me that the inflammation was gone. “It might come back, but right now, your eye looks normal.”
Her relief was more palpable than mine. She hadn’t been sure. She hadn’t been sure that my disfigured pupil could be corrected. “You have some iris on your lens now. There’s a stripe of blue.”
I walked out of her office into a snowstorm. Wearing sunglasses. Sobbing.
In the months since, I see floating spots, and my eyes get red and ache when I’m stressed. Black squiggles dance on my periphery when my eyes get too much light, or not enough light. I wear glasses now. The disease aged my eyes.
I was so frightened. Uveitis made rectal reconstruction surgery seem pedestrian. Made labor seem like a party.
I spent all of December in so much pain that I snarled and snapped and slept exclusively on my left side because my right side was broken. Blurred and sore. My own eye hurt me. The light. Sleeping. Sleeping hurt me. I’d wake and be unable to manage my way through the dark. Or wake and be afraid to open my eyes. The pain shining through me.
And then a weird thing happens. You get calm with pain. You climb inside it and sit quietly. You inhabit pain like your childhood home: the place familiar and smaller than you remember.
You test it like a muscle. You stretch your pain. You feel it expand and contract. You fill it with breath. You hold it.
You hold your pain like a child.
Even separate from it, you’re not free.
I won’t tell you it was a gift because it was fucking horrific. I hate uveitis. I still won’t sleep on my right side. Sometimes when I wake in the dark, I’m afraid. I wait to open my eyes.
Then I open them, and the pain becomes a story I tell you from some months ago. Before I knew I could survive it.
I have learned to be tender with it. My injuries at least as noble as my strengths.