A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Eyes Have It

(Above: Dr. Lee, Dr. Jung, and Dr. Litwin)
Stupid me. No sooner did I settle into my new digs when I hit myself in the eye with a garbage can lid. It takes a perverse sort of talent to accomplish this, but I managed to pull it off.
I immediately knew something was seriously wrong. I had blurry double vision, and my fear was that it was another detached retina. I had two detachments 20 years ago, one in each eye, and my sight was saved only because I had a brilliant surgeon, Dr. Scott Lee of East Bay Retina Consultants.
A retinal detachment is a very scary proposition, and the sooner the doctor can re-attach it, the better. But it was 5 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, and I was worried that everyone in Dr. Lee's office had already gone home.
Fortunately, not everybody had. I talked with the newest doctor on the staff, Dr. Jesse Jung; and, believe it or not, he diagnosed my condition right over the phone.
"It doesn't sound like a retinal detachment," he said. "With the symptoms you describe, you probably dislodged the lens. Unlike the retina, we don't need to jump on it today. Come in to the office on Monday and see Dr. Lee, and he'll take it from there."
Sure enough, Dr. Lee confirmed his diagnosis, and then he surprised me by saying something you never expect to hear a surgeon say: "I think Dr. Jung should do the surgery instead of me."
Surgeons (like trial lawyers) have a reputation for being rather, shall we say, self-confident, and this was an incredibly humble thing for Dr. Lee to do. But, as he explained it, over the years he has tended to specialize more and more on the back of the eye, like retinas, and Dr. Jung specializes in the front of the eye, like dislodged lenses. So he did what he felt was in the best interest of the patient and passed me on to the younger man.
And he was right. Dr. Jung did a great job. It's only been a few days since the operation, but I can already tell my sight is coming back.
It'll never be as good as before, of course. Doctors are just human beings, and while they do the best they can, only Mother Nature has a monopoly on perfection. But it'll be good enough to serve me well for the rest of my life, as long as I stay away from garbage can lids.
I've been going to East Bay Retina for 20 years. Their patients are people with serious problems like detached retinas, macular degeneration and dislodged lenses. Thank goodness the doctors and staff really know their stuff and are really nice people, too. Their patients need it.
My only complaint is that when they moved from their previous location on Pill Hill to their present site on Telegraph Avenue (kitty-corner across the street from the old Neldam's Bakery, which was resurrected by some former employees in 2010 and renamed Taste of Denmark), they didn't bring the eye chart in their waiting room with them. It read:
It's the second-best waiting room sign I've ever seen, second only to the one at Berkeley Dog & Cat Hospital before it was remodeled, which read, "Sit. Stay. The doctor will be with you in a minute."

Update: A few weeks ago I was singing the praises of my retina doctors, Scott Lee and Jesse Jung, for saving the sight in my right eye after I dislodged the lens in a freak accident.
Well, time to add another name to the list. Last week I had a bad setback when all of a sudden I couldn't see anything out of that eye. I called Dr. Lee and Dr. Jung's office and made an appointment for the next day; but I was still feeling nervous, so I called my ophthalmologist, Dr. Josh Litwin, and asked him to talk me down.
He listened for a few minutes and then said, "I can't continue this conversation right now because I was just walking out the door when you called. I have a medical problem of my own and I'm late for my own doctor's appointment. But give me your contact information anyway."
I didn't know why he wanted it, but I figured he just wanted to update his records since I recently moved.
But an hour later I heard a knock on my door, and there was Dr. Litwin! I mean, who makes house calls any more?
The answer is Dr. Litwin. He walked in, sat me down in my living room, pulled some instruments from out of his medical bag, and gave me a thorough eye exam.
"Just as I thought," he said. "The pressure in your eye is way, way up, sort of like glaucoma on steroids."
As it turns out, steroids had a lot to do with it. There are some steroids in the antibiotic eye drops I have been using to prevent infection, and they can trigger increased eye pressure, which is what caused my blindness. (Dr. Jung had warned me about this and told me not to overdo the drops. But did I listen? No.)
"Oh my God!" I said. "What can I do?"
"Don't worry," he said. "I brought some pills with me. Take one now, another before you go to bed, and see Dr. Jung tomorrow."
Sure enough, Dr. Jung confirmed his diagnosis the next day and said the pills were having the desired effect. A few days later my vision was back to normal.
Now, in hindsight I probably could have waited until the next day, but I can't tell you what it was a relief to have Dr. Litwin show up when he did. And he knew it.
"I didn't do it for this," he said, pointing at my eye. "I did it for this," he said, tapping my forehead. "You sounded really scared on the phone, and I didn't want you to have to agonize overnight."
I'm so grateful to Dr. Litwin, but I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. His father is the iconic Berkeley eye doctor Richard Litwin, a man who bears an astounding physical resemblance to Santa Claus and has been the go-to guy for generations of Berkeleyans, who love him for acting like a small-town doctor. And it looks like his son hasn't fallen very far from the tree.
I'm an old man, and at my age there are no guarantees. My sight might or not come back permanently to what it was, but I sure can't say I haven't had the very best medical treatment possible.