Archive for March, 2021

The Eyes Have It

I had cataract surgery on my right eye a few years ago. It was a relatively uncomplicated procedure that didn’t hurt, wasn’t life threatening and, I think, improved my vision.

Cataracts have been around since ancient times, ever since humans began to live longer than their prehistoric ancestors. It’s a disease that afflicts at least half the population by the age of 80. If you have good genes and live to 95, one hundred percent of you will be victims.

Cataract disease causes the lens of the eye to cloud over; eventually you will think you’re in a London fog. If you’ve never been to London, think of driving your car down Highway 99 in the Central Valley through a Tule fog, same thing.

Factors, in addition to aging, that affect the formation of a cataract include diabetes, smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and, sadly, unbridled alcohol consumption. Injuries, like having your spouse fist you out, can also speed the formation of a cataract.

The outpatient procedure is pretty straight forward; under a local anesthetic, the ophthalmologist surgically removes the clouded lens and replaces it with a nice plastic one from Ben Franklin. The best thing about the procedure is that you can watch the doctor stick you in the eye while a glorious light show is playing in your brain. Anxiety reducing Valium pills are an added treat.

Cataract replacement, like LASIK surgery, can also improve your vision and eliminate the need for glasses. I am often reminded of the late comedian, Dick Shawn, who self-billed himself as The Second Greatest Entertainer in the Whole Wide World. His old standup comedy routine included the following prediction, “Ya know, pretty soon you won’t need glasses; they’ll just grind your eyeballs.” I thought he was just being funny, but maybe not.

Eye problems run amok in my family. Glaucoma and macular degeneration are like visiting relatives who don’t know when to go home. Accordingly, I visit my optometrist, Doctor Brockman, every three months to see what else we need to do to protect me from their onslaught. He often delivers a line that would have fit quite nicely into Dick Shawn’s routine, “My job is to keep your eyes working until you die.”

My latest visit to Doctor B included the compulsory reading of the ubiquitous eye chart. I always wear my glasses when reading the chart since we long ago determined that trying without them is a waste of time. Recognizing the inanity of it, I also gave up trying to memorize the lines on the chart; now I only do that when I visit the DMV.

Doctor B has prepared me for the eventual need for cataract surgery.  It was no surprise when I couldn’t find the eye chart, much less read it, that he said, “It’s time.”

Given a choice of ophthalmologists and noting the surprising absence of any Jewish names, I lofted a dart at the presumed location of the eye chart and selected Doctor Shabatien. I guessed that he or his ancestors probably came from the Middle East near Israel, a hotbed of Jewish doctors. Close enough.

Doctor S was very busy and, as I was in no hurry to have my eye sliced, booked an appointment for an evaluation four weeks out. I figured I could just use my right eye in the interim, enlarge the Netflix movie captions, ask Jackie to read the small print on my meds, and have her to guide me through the darkness of the hallway leading to my bed…a place of refuge where eyes are superfluous.

The day of my evaluation came and we scurried to Doctor S’s in Ventura, arriving 20 minutes early. Jackie and I share the same annoying habit of arriving everywhere ahead of time. I’ve tried being late to no avail; the best I’ve ever done is 12 minutes ahead of schedule. I often arrive a day early just to avoid the traffic.

I was promptly escorted to one of Doctor S’s exam rooms. His assistant, Rita, was pleasant and efficient. She began with the dreaded eye chart; I became ecstatic when I actually saw it on the wall in front of me. Reading it was another kettle of fish; I might as well have been blind, a condition that I might have acquired on the elevator to Doctor B’s office.

Rita tried to coax enough vision from either of my eyes to avoid declaring the operation a failure and labeling me as untreatable. Squinting and silent prayer eventually produced enough vision that allowed me to identify two of the four characters on the fourth line of the chart. Rita congratulated me on my perseverance and gave me a cookie.

Other tests were performed; I had no idea why nor how I scored. It seems that Rita was capable enough to perform the tests but was not permitted to discuss the results. As this prohibition was hopefully not life threatening, I did not press it and lamely decided to wait for Doctor S to arrive and give me the bad news.

Rita applied eye dilating drops and then left me to pursue other adventures. I sat in the rigid exam chair designed by Barcalounger rejects and visualized what the world would look like when I ventured outdoors. With pupils as big as Ford F-250 hubcaps, light is unimpeded, and you feel like you have Superman’s x-ray vision.

Time passed and Rita returned. “I’m really sorry but the doctor is going to be late. He went to his Lancaster office by mistake. He’s on his way here, maybe an hour and a half. Would you like to stay, come back later or maybe reschedule for another day?”

I thought about the other times I’d waited for doctors. But never because they went to the wrong office. I thought about his honesty in saying that he just screwed up. No emergency, no my dog ate my schedule, no traffic was a bitch. So, I decided to stick around and think of him as just being a little tardy. And I got a free cup of coffee.

Hip Hip Hooray

Jackie had a hip replacement last Wednesday. Once done as an inpatient procedure involving several nights in the hospital, it is now performed in an outpatient setting. The patient goes home the same day with a hearty farewell and a best of luck.

Until a year ago, Medicare only covered the procedure if it was done as an inpatient. In an abrupt 180-degree turn, it is now covered only if done in an outpatient setting. Private health insurance, seizing on the opportunity to save a buck, soon followed Medicare’s lead.

Jackie’s odyssey began about a year ago when she began to complain of an uncomfortable feeling in her groin. I suggested that it might be due to too much sex, while she insisted that it was caused by too little sex. Attempting to help, I accelerated our conjugal visitations. Although the increased activity didn’t eliminate her discomfort, we broke new ground in our relationship.

The discomfort increased and casual conversation with others pointed to her left hip as the problem. Verification required a visit to an orthopedic surgeon; glorious recommendations were forthcoming from those who had already dealt with the problem.

Two prominent surgeons rose to the surface. Doctor Golden in Ventura received high marks for both his bedside manner and his technical skills. Doctor Yun in Santa Monica, somewhat younger and located in an area with a plethora of expensive hotels and elegant dining establishments, won the day. Some insensitive wags also suggested that Jackie might get egg rolls if she opted for Doctor Yun.

Instead of egg rolls, Doctor Yun supplied a 50-page binder that reviewed the entire hip replacement process in great detail beginning with a pre-operative Zoom class and concluding with post-operative instructions. Jackie’s eyes bugged out when confronted with the sections dealing with pain, bruising, swelling, urination, dislocation and infection. Her hourly mantra leading up to the day of surgery became “Why am I doing this?” In response I would occasionally offer to resume the now-discarded alternative of more frequent sex.

We arrived at the Ambrose on Tuesday. The Ambrose is a moderately priced comfortable hotel directly across the street of St. John’s hospital. Its location is perfect. Its only negative is the regular arrival of an alarm-blaring ambulance that causes one to muse about the medical condition of the vehicle’s occupant, and reminds you that your turn is coming.

The Ambrose watering hole has a wonderful happy hour with an unlimited supply of free wine and beer. It also provides the opportunity to share experiences with other hotel guests who have chosen the hotel because of its proximity to the hospital. Sharing diagnoses and life-threatening conditions of their loved ones takes the place of watching comparatively boring sporting events on ESPN.

Wednesday morning reveille was 3 a.m. Adequate time for a workout in the hotel’s Covid restricted gym, a hot shower with mysterious antiseptic solutions, and a one-minute ride to the hospital in complete darkness. As hotel visitors were persona non grata, our 5 a.m. arrival meant a tearful separation from each other. The brave girl marched into the hospital lobby and I swear that I could hear her mutter “Why am I doing this?” for hopefully the last time.

It was still dark when I drove back to the Ambrose. My deteriorating night vision hid stationary roadway obstacles, turned the presence of other drivers into a crapshoot, and made entry into the hotel’s underground parking lot an adventure worthy of passage through a celestial black hole.

Trying to go back to sleep was like stuffing a genie back into the bottle. Time passed and I was happy to get periodic calls Doctor Yun’s staff who told me how things were going. I tried doing crossword puzzles but failed miserably at answering some of the easier clues. Even the overused what’s a Dutch cheese, “Edam”, seemed like a trick question.

At 1 p.m. I was summoned to the hospital to retrieve my girl. With the help of a friendly hospital orderly, she managed to hobble out of the temporary wheelchair at the curb and slide her pretty bottom into the passenger seat. I forgot to unfasten my seatbelt and nearly strangled myself trying to lean over and kiss her still beautiful face.

Assuming she was hungry after avoiding food for eighteen hours, I asked her what she’d like. “I want to have my nails done.”

In preparation for surgery, Jackie had been required to remove her nail polish so an oximeter could measure the oxygen saturation in her blood. Done with all that, it was now time to put the polish back on. As I’ve learned, much like a Starbuck’s, there’s always a nail emporium within shouting distance.

My suggestion that she wait a day fell on deaf ears. “Sweetheart, they just removed a chunk of bone from your hip and replaced it with something that makes you a bionic woman. There will be discomfort that needs careful tending to.”

“My discomfort is in my nails. They feel naked. They are thin. They are vulnerable. They need attention. Food, rest and pain can be dealt with after my nail emergency.”

She found a nail shop around the corner from the hotel. Fortunately for the owner, they had an open slot. We drove a thousand feet. Jackie emerged from the car, embraced her walker and rolled into the shop. They coddled her, did her fingers and her toes, became the best of friends, and gave her a discount for daring to do this just seven hours after major surgery.

The end of the nail emergency brought a precious smile to her face. 

She didn’t say “Why am I doing this”….for a whole day.

Gone fishin’

My son David is an avid fisherman who is at his happiest when wetting a line. I give myself some credit for that flaw in his character because I introduced him to the often-frustrating sport before he could think for himself.

Showing little respect for his aging father, and to punish me for this early indiscretion, David often includes me in fishing trips better designed for young men who have not yet learned the skills associated with the creature comforts of old age. I play along, smile and minimize any complaints just to keep my child happy.

In furthering his revenge, he called me a few weeks ago and announced, “Dad, I’ve booked three sessions with a fishing guide on Lake Casitas. Just you and him. You’re gonna love it.”

As his words sank in, I thought of the excuses I might employ in an effort to extricate myself from this intrusion on my otherwise comfortable existence. But my fatherly instincts warned me of the serious consequences of declining his offer, including my premature placement in any one of several undesirable Ojai nursing homes.

“All you need to do is call the Ojai Angler and set up the dates of the sessions. You’re gonna love it. Call ‘em now, before you forget.”

I expressed my lukewarm appreciation for David’s gift and silently wondered how long how I might delay that call until David’s memory matched the dwindling status of my own. Rejecting that misguided idea, I waited a respectable week and then called the Ojai Angler.

I spoke with Amy who informed me that my guide would be Marc. Teaming up with any guide is fraught with uncertainty and I silently wondered if I had a choice; the question was answered when I cruised the Angler website and saw that Marc was the owner, operator and only guide. I relaxed and accepted my fate.

The big day arrived with little fanfare and much trepidation. I was to meet Marc at the dock at 7am. At 6am my iPhone informed me that the outside temperature was a balmy 36 degrees. No problem, I thought; surely the temperature would rise to a more respectable level before embarkation.

I dressed as though I was heading to the snow laden slopes at Mammoth Lakes. A base of wool socks, thermal underwear and a sweatshirt was covered by my thickest winter jacket. My head was encased in a scruffy wool hat that came down over my ears. Gloves completed the costume. I wondered if Admiral Byrd had had it so good in 1926 when he came within 80 miles of the North Pole.

The trip to the lake brought me to the dock at 6:45 where the temperature had indeed changed; it was now 32 degrees, four degrees colder than when I was in my warm bathroom wishing I could stay there. I scanned the lake in search of an iceberg or, at the least, an ice floe with a polar bear on it. All I found was Marc.

A happy young man with a boat of his own. Fishing gear neatly arranged on top of the immaculately cared-for deck. An experienced guide with thirty years plumbing the depths of Lake Casitas. All in all, a setup that screamed fishing success.

Completed in 1959, Casitas is a reservoir that supplies drinking water to the Ojai Valley. I ingest several glasses of the lake every day and ponder what it would be like if the lake dried up; a thought that becomes more troublesome with the current drought conditions.

The lake harbors several varieties of fish with largemouth bass topping the list of most desirable. Planted when the lake was finished, bass are not regularly stocked as they are omnivorous, eating many of the lake’s other denizens including trout which, due to their inability to fight back, are regularly restocked.

Every angler is often reminded that Casitas is known for its production of trophy bass. In 1991, Robert Crupi landed a monster 22 pounder which was the third largest one caught in the U.S. One’s salivary glands work overtime just thinking about the possibilities.

Marc put the boat in overdrive, the wind blasted, and I pulled my jacket over my face as I wondered how long it would take for frostbite to dissolve my nose.

We cruised to our first stop, which looked to me like every other stop. Marc unsheathed a rod and explained the finer points of bass fishing. “You hold the rod like this. There’s a plastic worm at the end of the line. Toss the line as far from the boat as you can. Let it sink to the bottom. Then reel it in verrrry slowly. When you feel a tap-tap, give the rod a stiff yank and hook the fish. Boat it.”

Simple enough, I thought. My first cast landed ten feet from the boat in a spot the opposite of what I had intended. “Maybe there’s more to this than I thought.”  My second cast was longer but still off target. I decided to forget about targets and just assume that I was in the right place.

I reeled in slowly, attempting to mimic an earthworm crawling on the bottom. This procedure had three advantages. First, more time was spent in the water than untangling faulty casts. Second, I didn’t have to do much casting. Lastly, I could close my eyes and recover lost sleep while I waited for the tap-tap.

Twenty minutes passed without a tap-tap for either Marc or me. Certain that somewhere else was better, we took our icy seats and gunned the craft to our next stop; it looked no different than the first stop. More casting and slower reeling produced the same result, no tap-tapping.

Sensing no need to be totally vigilant, Marc offered me a bottle of water. A dangerous act when given to a man who makes frequent visits to the toilet. Marc assured me that we would stop at one of the lake’s floating toilets to relieve the pressure and, good to his word, our next move took us to one.

The floating toilet is the lake’s solution to keeping people from peeing in it. Meticulously maintained, I wondered if we could just play out the balance of our four-hour safari by sitting on the platform and gazing at the beauty of our surroundings.

Marc said this was a no-no and we headed to the next look-alike spot. More casting, worm hardly moving, and no hoped-for tap taps.

As though god had heard my prayers, Marc announced that our time was up. He apologized for the absence of the bass and extolled the views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. He slipped up a bit when he told me that yesterday’s client had actually caught one fish, a fact that made me wonder why he thought today would be any better than yesterday.

I could have bitched but thought better of it. I silently congratulated myself for never uttering a word of complaint. Instead, as though consoling Marc, I said we’d get ‘em next time.

We rocketed to the dock in much warmer conditions and I congratulated myself as I exited the boat without falling in the water. I walked back to my car and thought about the benefits of engaging a guide; no boat of my own to care for topped the list and somehow made the day much more enjoyable.

I called Amy and booked my next outing.

Thank you David…I’m gonna love it.


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