I took a few vacation days earlier in the month to go to Oxford, UK and celebrate with my son at his degree ceremony and a well-earned 30th birthday to boot. It promised to be a glorious twofer and more than a brilliant excuse to get away. Time was short, five days to be exact, so I knew it would be jam packed and a push for one who’s only an occasional wanderer from home.
In fitting style, we attended all the grand Oxfordian festivities and “subfusc” formalities, broke bread with his friends and their families and generally got swept up in the serious ceremonial excitement.
My son, a very thoughtful young man, had earlier questioned the validity of such magisterial recognition in a reflective moment of philosophical speculation. That’s what Oxford students do. But, when all was said and done, he was swept up in this moment of personal confirmation just like the rest of us.
The birthday bash was a brilliant success, too. We arranged to party at his favorite Indian restaurant with peshwari naan, mango lassis and chocolate cake for friends all around.
Yup, I was a proud parent, and enjoying every minute of my time with my son.
But, something was lurking behind the scene . . . an insidious little problem that at first was only worth a passing thought. By day three, my outlook changed dramatically.
At first, it felt familiar; a pain in my left eye that I’d experienced many times before. At home, I would have rested and protected the eye from the elements.
But, I was in Oxford. I wanted to go to Christ Church Meadow and the Oxford Botanical Gardens. I wanted to walk to Port Meadow, an ancient area of grazing land still used for horses and cattle, and see the Thames. I wanted to meander through the ancient back streets of Oxford City Center to the Bodleian Library and the Ashmolean Museum. So I did, regardless.
Each day the situation worsened. I found myself going back to my room between outings to rest in the dark, try to recover and then press on to the next destination ignoring the wind, ancient mold and what ever else was being stirred up in the Oxfordshire air and so quietly assaulting my eyes.
Day by day, it worsened.
Day five arrived and it was time for the journey home. I sat with my son at breakfast, hoodie up, eyes closed and visor pulled down tight over my eyes, The bus ride to Heathrow was more of the same . . . resting, protecting my eyes from the light. Waiting for the flight prompted more of the same.
The flight home became more and more agonizing and the thoughts of infection stirred in my thoughts. I had to decide if I needed assistance to get off the plane. I couldn’t keep my eyes open so the answer seemed apparent, yet not at all to my liking.
The wheelchair transporter took charge of my welfare and got me through customs with priority, pulled my luggage off the carousel and ushered me to my friend Mary who was waiting curbside to pick me up.
I needed help into the car and once settled, reluctantly told Mary that I needed medical attention. I didn’t want to impose but there was no other way. We ended up at Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary Emergency Room at about 8:00 p.m.
We were hopeful that we’d be in and out quickly since there were only two or three other people there. Poor assumption. Minutes ticked by, then hours.
Much later, the doctor was ready to see me and offered relief with some numbing drops. She did a thorough eye exam and was confused by what she saw. She had to call another doctor in from the hospital for a second opinion. More waiting. More minutes. More hours.
The second doctor finally arrived. He examined me and the two doctors quietly conferred in the hall.
What the docs did know is that I had scratched my cornea and it became infected. The plan was to take cultures to see if anything would grow. That would help in diagnosing the culprit and suggest a course of treatment. So, that’s what they did.
In the meantime, all they could do was prescribe powerful antibiotic eyedrops until I could meet with the cornea specialist the next day.
That was it. Time to go home. It was 3:00 a.m. We got back to my house in short order.
Here it is 12 days later as I write this and the situation hasn’t improved. The pain is still intense. The doc is still trying to figure out what’s going on. I’ve been away from work for 17 days and I can’t see to drive myself to the doctor, the pharmacy or the grocery store.
Sounds bleak and downright depressing.
But it’s not.
I have an amazing team in place. And they’ve all been bringing their “A” Game to the plate.
My team is chosen, vetted and approved. I’m not just talking about my trainers who’ve done such a superb job in my absence. I’m talking about the members of GAF just as much, and my dear friends who call and check, and volunteer and offer.
We’re all finding our place in this puzzle called “older community.” Who does what for whom and when? How do we take care of ourselves and each other? How do we invest in the team and what will be the return on investment?
I’ve had tremendous validation of the strength of my team over the past year for sure. We pull together. No questions asked.
Thanks guys. I always know I’ll be ok.
This is Oxford University’s expression of mastery.