New glasses, renewed perspective

I used to have remarkably acute vision (20/15, if you’re curious) and exceptional color perception to go with it. It used to make me happy just to look. Turning my sweet eagle’s eyes on a treetop and picking out each leaf really felt good. Noticing the individual speckles on a falcon overhead made my heart sing.

I liked to see.

That has been changing for some years; I remember when I could no longer see the star at the center of the sparkle in the night sky, for instance. With more pressing matters (food, rent, keeping CRPS under control) I’ve adapted and adapted and adapted to my worsening vision, using pattern-matching skills (another 5-star category in my old brain) to replace actual perception.

It is an excellent adaptation to use, leveraging a primitive part of the brain that is very hard to screw up. However, it does have its limits.

My housemate, the excellent R. (I avoid using personal names without permission), finally confessed that my driving scared him because he really thought I couldn’t see well enough to manage it safely. He worried even more when he wasn’t in the car. That made me think.

And then I scared myself today on the road, and decided that was the last time. I called the ocular shop and they squeezed me in at 4 o’clock on a Sunday.

My visual acuity had deteriorated from 20/15 to 20/80.

Some things should not be adapted to.

I’m now a member of the four-eyed fraternity.

I think my nose was red because I almost cried.

I wear my polycarbonate steel-rimmed cheaters as if they were portals into heaven, because they are. I spent an hour and a half simply strolling around, agog, with the whole world smacking me squarely in the eyeballs.

First thing I noticed is, everything has an edge. I had forgotten that; more precisely, I had taken it so much for granted when I could see, that I didn’t notice when it faded from view. It’s like the resolution on the world is turned up to infinity. (…It is, in case you’re wondering.)

The next humdinger was the warping effect. Looking through the lenses is hunky-dory, but it gets a bit weird at the very edges, and beyond the rims there is no correction at all — the world is a palid mess, off to the sides and around the bottom, right where my feet and hands are most of the time.

I twisted my head slowly around, expecting wa-wa noises and doppler effects to accompany the dizzying twist of light around the margins of my sight.

I stumbled until I figured out that my feet were just where I’d left them, and I’d have to treat them just the same as I did before the glasses.

I was sure the pavement was breathing.

I’ve never taken hallucinogens (apart from exhaustion, surgery and chronic pain). I have nothing against them, I just felt no need to. There might be a reason why: all it takes is a pair of new glasses and I’m nearly there.

I went down to the beach and saw two boys in red shirts. I was riveted. My ocular nerve itself was stained, the color was so intense. Did you know red is the color of healthy, living blood? Red so glorious and alive that it almost quivered was all over street signs, cars, carts — shirts.

When I noticed that, I noticed that all the colors were darker, richer, more alive. The dim shapes of the SF Peninsula across the Bay were purple, dark steel and deep amber. I had no idea. It was spectacular, in a tasteful and slightly intimidating palette.

Then the shapes and colors came together for me as I looked up at the sky. The clouds didn’t just drift stately by, they floated in a tender dance of radiant whites and silvers, caressing the air with fingertips trailing Chantilly lace and oxygen.

As I saw that, I realized that the movement of things had taken on new poetry. Palm trees shifted in the breeze with the distracted grace of mermaids playing with their hair. Every frond was alive and had a finger of wind wrapped around it. Who knew?

I walked until I could bear to focus on a path, could do head checks without headspins, and generally felt able to drive more safely. It was still a stunning trip home, and I got here just as the sun touched the top of the Marin Headlands and dropped out of sight, staining the sky with farewell colors. I said thanks to it, right out loud.

I’m told it will take another day to adapt, and by then I’ll know what my world will look like from now on. The hallucinatory wonder will probably be replaced by something I can talk about in public (“Didja see that? Looked like the Goodyear blimp!”) but, from my personal history as a visual junkie of ocular delight, this intense thrill of LOOKING will probably be mine again forever — or for as long as I keep my prescription up to date.

I’m pretty motivated. This cuts into my car-buying budget, but I do think it’s worth it. Being able to survive driving is not a bad idea at all.

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Gluten exposure and recovery – Testing myself (silly me)

Gluten: really is that bad

Yesterday, I walked past the bread display at Trader Joe’s three times, breathing deeply. It smelled good, but not as good as I remembered. That was odd.

As I left the store about ten minutes later, my face turned beet-red and puffed up, my brain went into a deep white fog, colors faded to pastels, and the pain left my arms and foot briefly to return, five minutes later, to every joint in my body.

I was in full neurological gluten reaction. From inhaling near a bread display!

I did that in the first place because I just could not believe I was that sensitive to something I’ve eaten – and really enjoyed – all my life until last summer.

I know there’s a difference between the kind of food sensitivity where, if you avoid that food most of the time, you can tolerate a little now and then with no trouble; it’s about keeping the contact down below a certain minimum. Then there are the sensitivities where, if you eat a bit on a regular basis, your body retains an ability to deal with it and you don’t get a reaction (vegetarians who go back to eating meat are familiar with this – it takes awhile for the body to readjust.) And then there are the sensitivities that amount to true allergies, where any contact causes a reaction and the reaction can get intense enough to create a crisis.

That was an intense reaction. I’m not interested in seeing how much more my face can inflate.

It’s true that I used to eat wheat regularly and experienced nothing as dramatic. Would it be less dramatic if I ate a little on a regular basis?

Considering how quickly my health was slipping while I was eating gluten, and the fact that I continue to get sicker but I appreciate that it’s at a slower rate, I don’t see any real point in making the experiment.

Moreover, the literature on gluten allergies does not support that. The science indicates that, if your body has trouble with that particular protein, then the further you can stay from it, the better off you are.

I called my acupuncturonaturohomeopath. He gave me a recipe for gluten exposure, which is mostly about buffering the heck out of the molecule. I cobbled together a gluten exposure kit from my talk with him and my nursing background.

Gluten Exposure Kit:

–          2 Alka Seltzer tablets,
–          4 Tums,
–          500 mg body-friendly Vitamin C (not more),
–          10-15 capsules of activated carbon, to soak up any toxins in the gut. (More for eating it by accident, but it can’t hurt. I think it cleared a few things up, in fact.)

Just add water! And plenty of it.

Keep it in snack-baggies in key places: glove compartment, purse, first aid kit, desk drawer.

I turned normal Isy color almost immediately and then had a great, rippling burp every 10 minutes for about half an hour – feeling considerably more human each time. A day later, I’m not quite up to where I was before exposing myself, but am LOTS better than I’d expect to be, without that treatment. A reaction like that usually puts me down & out for about three days. Drooling Barbie doll. It’s awful.

Why so little Vitamin C? Doesn’t your body just wash away the excess?

Actually, if you take in excess Vitamin C, your body washes away all of it that it can still get hold of. 500 mg seems to be the sweet spot of maximum absorption and minimum waste. I used to megadose it, but with a frail system, that’s intolerable. 500 mg lets me take in and use every bit of it. If I need more, I just take it 3 times a day instead of twice.

Meditation and Reiki: really is that good

Today, I had to test myself on the value of my mental disciplines. I’m not sure why I’m testing myself so much; I doubt myself, perhaps. There is something surreal about what this disease does to you; I suppose the occasional reality check makes sense.

I didn’t meditate last night or this morning. The emotional surges are quite noticeable, but I’m well aware that they are what they are, which is not me.

After my gluten experiment, I feel no need to push this farther.

I’m now perfectly convinced that my relentless internal work does keep the rudder in line, the engine tuned, the brake pads operational, etc. Basically, it keeps CRPS from taking over my brain.

Dammit. I wanted to be normal again. Though, to quote the fabulous Stockard Channing in Practical Magic, “Darling, when are you going to learn that being normal is not a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of ambition!”

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Friends & other forms of support

I have the help I need.
I can’t believe I’m writing those words, but I think it should be said. It won’t last forever and there are some rough spots, but let’s put this in perspective.
I can no longer wash dishes because I don’t have a water heater and the touch of cold water has become utterly unbearable. I got back from my shower this afternoon to find the dishes washed — and the galley & front step picked up, a wholly unlooked-for bonus.
My excellent friend R. was living on the smaller boat and helping me with the boat-fixing and laundry. He set up the sale of that boat (completed today) and is moving onto Voyager. He’s taking my old cubbyhole in the quarterberth and (thanks to him moving the tools and lumber out) I’m finally moving into the forepeak — that is, the room at the pointy end of the boat. For the first time in years, I have a bedroom door that closes.
After watching me constantly overestimate my capacities (which are constantly changing), he wisely introduced the Pinky Rule: if I’m not confident of being able to pick it up or handle it with just my pinky finger, I don’t pick it up or handle it.
This doesn’t render me the complete nonentity that pure helplessness does — which helpful men are wont to suggest, with the best of intentions. (Yeah, I’ll sit back and do nothing if you let me lop off yours before lopping off mine.)
But, like the Elbow Rule I gave kids who came into my ER with things stuck in their ears and noses (“only stick things in there if they’re bigger than your elbow”), it has a certain brainless simplicity that’s hard to argue with. It is turning out to be an excellent guideline. You’d be amazed at what I can lift with a pinky.
In the fullness of time, his busy life will carry him onwards. In the meantime, I have a wise and helpful friend who is making this chicane of my own life a whole lot smoother.
It’s difficult, but strangely peaceful, to learn to share my life without the inherent drama or forced weight of romance. I’m honored to have the opportunity and I could never have imagined a better partner to learn this dance with.
I have to say, if there’s one thing CRPS teaches, it’s that Hollywood doesn’t have the answers; real life is a lot more subtle and inflected.
There is more than one way to love someone. This one comes with clever solutions. Others come with passing kisses. Which would you choose — really?
I could even learn to live with the bits of loose tobacco that find their way into everything. He rolls his own, and the stuff is more intrusive than stray tape. But we’ll find a peaceful solution there, too. I’m absolutely sure of it.
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