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Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Electric Neon Kool-Aid Urine

I see so many doctors and specialists now that sometimes I forget the next appointment could change the direction of my life. Yesterday morning that happened.

It was my first visit with a retinal specialist. The red dot that has been plaguing the vision in my right eye for the past month has developed into something more translucent (and therefore more bearable) but I had to see this specialist to be sure nothing more serious was going on.

“Any conditions besides the red dot?” the technician asked after summoning me from the waiting room.

“Not much. Just diabetes insipidus, coughing asthma, panhypopituitarism, high blood pressure and brain tumor.”


I spelled everything.


“Just check all the boxes.”


I read her the list I keep in my pocket. The edges are frayed from the number of times I have had to consult this piece of paper. I need to get it laminated.

For the next ninety minutes, I lost count of the number of tests. Most were uncomfortable because I am more sensitive to flashing lights. (“Hold your eye wide open. Stare at this bright light and wait for a huge flash, etc.). This went on for an hour, but I held together just fine.

Until the needle.

I texted MJ when the technician left the room: “think im get a needle in the eye. wtf.”

She texted back various emoticons: a frowning face with a furled brow followed by a row of hearts. I could barely read the screen on my phone because my pupils were dilated.

The technician came back and picked up the syringe.

“Left or right?” she asked.


“Arm. I need a vein.”

I had never been more relieved. I wanted to kiss her.

This test, the most crucial, determined whether any of the fluid accumulating behind my right eye was leaking. Leaking is bad. She took a series of photos. I followed a white light and the technician captured images of the backs of my eyeballs. It felt like being sucker-punched by blinding light flashes every time. Then she pumped yellow dye into my vein and took all the same images again at specifically timed intervals, snapping flash photos at precise moments when the dye would be coming through the blood vessels in my eyes.

“You’re all done,” the technician said. She added, “You will feel nauseous, and your urine will be yellow for a while."

"It's always yellow."

"Well, an electric neon yellow, like Kool-Aid. For the next 36 hours. Try to urinate a lot and it will all come out.”

She left the room.

Shortly after this, the retinal specialist came in to change my life.

“You definitely have a case of central serous chorioretinopathy, no question,” he told me. “Fluid is building up behind your right eye, partially detaching the retina and creating the image of the red dot in your vision. The good news is the fluid is NOT leaking. Leaking is bad.”

I exhaled. Then he showed me in great detail how the photographs proved that. It was fascinating.

“Great,” I said. “Just wait it out and it will go away, right?”

“Not really.” He gave me a rundown of his experience diagnosing and treating this. There is a common thread in most if not all the cases.

His first question blinked oddly on my radar: “How is your life right now?”

“Uh, fine…” I answered, a little defensively.

“How is your wife?”


“You like your job?”

“Yeah. It’s fine…”

“Under a lot of stress or anxiety?”

I thought for a few seconds. “Maybe,” I finally said.

He paused for a few seconds himself. “Let me list off what patients who have had this have told me over the years, because it is remarkably consistent. Either it’s, ‘I’m getting a divorce,’ or ‘I just found out my business partner has been embezzling millions of dollars from me,’ or ‘I can’t take the stress of my job anymore,’ or ‘I’m losing my home to foreclosure,’ or ‘I have this big thing at stake with too many loose ends’ … you see a pattern here? Anxiety. Over and over again, this is a very common theme. Every patient. Retinas do not partially detach for no reason. The body responds to anxiety or stress by producing too much of something to counteract the anxiety, and as a result you can be in danger of losing some vision in your eye. Make no mistake; this can get worse. Or permanent. If this happened now for you, it could happen again with your dominant eye, especially if you don’t look within yourself and find the root cause of this. Your body is reacting to what your mind tells it to do.”

My life did change right then.

Everyone deals with anxiety, certainly. But throughout my life it has been drilled into me about how blessed I am (and I am, no question). The way I have tended to take this life lesson—that I am more fortunate than others—is to put myself last when it comes to addressing my own needs in terms of how they compete with others’. I don’t think I am weak-willed, but rather I have a natural inclination to find out and satisfy what others need first before even considering that my own needs could rank evenly. I tend to “let others win,” in so many words, because I have already had so many wonderful opportunities given to me. This may be why I find such comfort in my chosen field as a classical musician (and why I am fighting like mad to stay healthy enough to continue at it). So much of excelling at music relates to internal struggles within yourself, where you are competing with yourself for some level of excellence of which you know you are capable, like a golfer who designs his own course and then is the only one to play on it for his whole life. Especially with composing, the comfort I take in that kind of artistry has to do with the solitude of the creative process, where the journey of the creation all by myself is undiluted from day-to-day competition with others. When I finish a piece, people play it and talk about it (and it gets judged in the reviews), but by then that part of me is almost an afterthought, already gone from my own mind (in a way) as I am usually on to the next thing.

So I have a protected inner circle that is just “me,” proving again and again what it takes to compete with myself. But when my needs compete with others, I tend to shy away and let others go first. As always, there are cases where some people know how to pick up on this and take advantage, even brazenly so, and I know this is the source of my anxiety right now. It’s not every day you decide to make a change in your life. Sometimes it has been too long since the last time you looked inside and made sure things were right. Our bodies have a way of telling us when it is that time. 

1 comment:

  1. Ale,
    As always, I am impressed with the quality of your writing. Some how this one rang a bit louder for me. This new journey will, perhaps, be your toughest. Believe it or not.

    And, as always, we are rooting for you every step of the way.