By Larry Gordon
It was just a little nuisance, but at the same time it was humbling.
This is the story: I was born with ptosis. You can Google it … or you can just read on. In simpler terms, it is also known as a drooping eye lid. For me it has been a lifelong odyssey that was more a conversation piece than anything else.
When I was 4 years old I went into the hospital to have this delicate little lid repaired. I was in the hospital for a full week. The hospital was in Hackensack, New Jersey, because that was where the doctor had his affiliation and surgical rights.
All I can remember is that after the surgery my right eye was bandaged for most of that week. I can also recall looking out the window of my hospital room and noticing that it had snowed with some significance. I was concerned that because of the weather my parents would be unable to visit me. But they or my grandparents were there every day. Frankly, I don’t know if hospitals even offered kosher food in those days because I recall my parents bringing lots of good home-cooked stuff.
Now that I’m writing this story, I’m beginning to realize how complicated it really is. It might be a personal slice of life, but, believe it or not, I haven’t thought about it much over the more than half-century that this situation played itself out.
The key piece of information you will need so that this story makes sense is that because of the nature of the surgical procedure, one of my eyelids, the one operated on, was a smidgen shorter than the other. That is not actually negative in any way, but a byproduct of that procedure was that the operated-upon eyelid could close as any other eye, but in a sleep state it remained slightly opened.
As I became a teenager and started attending summer camp I noticed that when I’d wake up in the morning, sometimes my bunkmates were in the middle of a conversation with me and were becoming unnerved that I was not answering them. It turns out that while it looked like I was somewhat awake, I was really fast asleep and did not hear what anyone was saying.
Other than those few-and-far-between instances, the lid didn’t bother me and my eyesight was good. I also wore glasses since I was four years old, and I don’t know whether that was connected to my ptosis.
As the years passed, I learned from another eye doctor that I have astigmatism, which, he explained to me, meant that my eyeballs are a football shape rather than round like a golf ball. That was an interesting tidbit of medical information but was of no real consequence either. Whatever problem it caused in my eyesight was corrected by my glasses. If you are an ophthalmologist you will understand.
So nothing much happened in the eye department. I knew a man who used to remind me that though he was drafted into the military in World War II, it was studying Rashi in yeshiva, he said, that probably saved his life. As a kid in yeshiva he had to squint so much to read the tiny print of Rashi to the point that it impacted on his sight, and when it came to his assignment in the military his impaired eyesight kept him off the battlefield.
Over the years, I have discussed my uneven eyelids with an assortment of doctors. I wasn’t interested in surgery but I was curious about what they had to say and what type of innovations there were in the approach to ptosis. I had always been under the impression that the procedure to deal with my eyelids was to slice a piece of the longer eyelid and stitch it to make it match as closely as possible to the other eyelid.
I don’t know if I heard that anywhere or I just assumed that this was the only way to correct it. Apparently, a number of eye doctors over the years thought the same way. One, in fact, asked me a few years ago if I wanted him to shorten the longer and natural eyelid so that it is somewhat symmetrical with the eyelid that was operated on decades ago. “Why would I do that?” I thought. Then I’d have two eyes that stay partially open while I’m asleep.
Many years had to pass—I mean, a few decades—until I met Dr. Simeon Lauer whom my wife had consulted to deal with a minor issue of her own. On one of those visits I started talking to him about my eyelid history and how I recall as a four-year-old schlepping with my parents to Hackensack to see Dr. Burke.
When he heard me say that he turned in my direction and said, “You don’t need the other eyelid shortened.” He said that Dr. Burke was one of his professors in medical school and that he invented something called the Burke Clamp, which didn’t cut the eyelid, but rather just folded it. “You need your eyelid unfolded, that’s all.”
I was flabbergasted when I learned that for all these years I’ve been sitting around with a folded eyelid to address my ptosis. We scheduled the procedure, and here I am, decades later, with eyes that are finally almost even. But more than that, when I am asleep and in a dream state, my eyes now close naturally.
But this medical odyssey does not end there. You see, because my eye was always partially open, even when I slept, I learned that over the last few years scar tissue had developed on my cornea, thereby blurring the vision in that eye that was operated on decades ago.
Dr. Lauer sent me to Dr. David Ritterband in Manhattan who said that the scar tissue was on the surface of the cornea and could be rather easily removed.
Of course, I wasn’t wild about going back into an operating room with an anesthesiologist, ophthalmologist, and nursing staff once again fussing over my little eye.
Before I met Dr. Ritterband, I visited another eye specialist who examined my eyes carefully with a plethora of state-of-the-art machinery. At the end of the exam, he told me that, in his estimation, the best thing to do was nothing. That’s odd, I thought. He is a cornea specialist; why would he want me to go forward feeling like I’m seeing out of that eye through a glass of water?
If I could have clear vision through that eye without too complex of a procedure, I wanted to do it. So there I was again last week, back in a paper hospital gown in a freezing operating room with a crew ready to work on my eye. Just like the time before, the anesthesiologist told me she was going to administer a local anesthetic around the eye so the doctor could proceed, along with a little blast of fentanyl to lighten the mood, so to speak.
Baruch Hashem, it all worked out well. There were times these last few months when I wondered why I was putting myself through all this. I mean, what if they made it worse? Maybe, I thought, that is why the first doctor said to just leave it as is. The fentanyl makes you forget all that.
I’m glad I met these doctors; they were superb. Like the song says, “I can see clearly now…” As the title of this essay declares, this was an eye-opening experience.
Read more of Larry Gordon’s articles at 5TJT.com. Follow 5 Towns Jewish Times on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates and live videos. Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome at 5TJT.com and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.