It's interesting how, for the most part, things that happen on a daily basis tend to pass through our awareness without much recognition or impact.
What we see on tv or during our daily commute to work, what we hear on the radio or in the course of daily conversations with family, friends, and co-workers, it all sort of slides by without much of it "sticking" with us.
Oh, occasionally, there's something that manages to be recognized as worth holding on to, but, in the long run, not for very long. The days blend together, and the memories get blurred. All of a sudden, it's a year later, and we think "where did the time go?"
So it has been for me, for most of my life. Until this past week. Things are different now.
First, last Saturday, I basically went deaf in one ear, temporarily, due to an excessive wax build-up. The other one wasn't nearly as bad, but still lacking. Monday morning, I went to the Immediate Care Center to have both flushed out. It was successful. Hearing restored, no permanent damage. In the interim, for most of the weekend, I experienced, at least partially, what people with hearing loss experience on a daily basis. Everything was muted. I found myself straining to hear the simplest things, like my cats meowing, birds singing, the wind moving through the trees. Answering the phone was difficult. Listening to music was annoying because I couldn't hear all the different levels of the sound. Doing my job was frustrating because I have to talk with people and listen to what they have to say about what they want and need for their eyeglasses. I felt that having to turn my head to one side to be able to hear them better was being rude, because I normally look straight at them while we're talking, and I was having to look at them sideways. Didn't like it much.
Now that I'm back to normal (whatever THAT is!), I'm paying better attention to the sounds in my life. To me, there's hearing, and then there's listening. I believe there's a difference there.
In the dictionary, hearing is the faculty or sense by which sound is perceived, and the act of perceiving sound. Listening, in the dictionary, is to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing; give ear; to pay attention; heed; obey; to wait attentively for a sound. So, in hearing, the sound is recognized, and flows on by. In listening, once recognized, the sound is taken in, processed, and retained. And thereby, understood and appreciated more. Which adds to the quality of life, in my book. I am now LISTENING!
The second event was just yesterday. While at work, I began to experience what I thought was the beginning of an ocular migraine. You know, the visual disturbance that looks like somebody's dropping a shimmering gossamer curtain down over one half of your field of vision? That's what I usually get; only very seldom does it turn into a full blown migraine headache. I consider myself lucky on that score, and it doesn't happen very often. Usually after something has stressed me out, and is all leveled out and resolved. I guess I must have gotten really frustrated with one of my co-workers yesterday! Thought that I'd shaken it off with a whatever, but I guess not. Anyway, within about 10 minutes of the visual disturbance starting, all of a sudden I started seeing white flashes of light, like lightening bolts, streaking down the left side of my vision. Crap! I freaked, and ran for our optometrist. Flashing white lights in the eye usually means there is a detachment of the retina happening, which if not treated with laser surgery pretty quickly, can result in loss of sight. And here I am, with no medical insurance, and no money to pay for any kind of treatment. We'd be talking at least $2000.00 for that to be done. Yeah, NO! Wouldn't be happening for me!
Our Doc was actually getting ready to leave for the day, and said why didn't you tell me about this like an hour ago? I told him quite emphatically that it had only started about 10 minutes ago. So he said, okay, and proceeded to put in the drops to dialate my pupils, so that he could see inside my eyes, and maybe see what was going on. I'm sure most folks have had the dialation done during an eye examination. It's okay, the drops sting a little, the eyes get very light sensitive for the duration, and the close-up vision gets messed up. Not so nice on a day off, really made it tough to work for the rest of the day.
So my eyes dialated, and the doc sets up the slit-lamp to have a look. Super bright white light directed into the inside of the eye via a 10 power magnifying lens! God, that hurts! All you want to do is slam your eyes shut, but you can't. Kind of cool is seeing a ghost image of the retina and all its blood vessels after the light goes away. Know how you get temporarily blinded when a flash bulb goes off? Multiply that by 10 in intensity, and in duration.
The result was good and bad. The good news: there is no retinal detachment. Both look good, healthy, and attached where and how they're supposed to be. Yay! The bad news: there is posterior vitreous detachment in the left eye. Sounds weird, and a little nasty if your mind travels into the gutter easily. The explanation is fairly easy to understand.
A brief anatomy lesson, if you'll bear with me. Inside our eyeballs, there is a jelly-like fluid, called the vitreous humour, shaped like a ball. Its purposes are two-fold: one being to keep the eyeball inflated and round, the other is to assist in focusing and directing light rays that come in through the pupil and lens onto the retina for transmission to, and interpretation by our brains. That's how we see things. This jelly ball is "attached" to the retina, stabilizing it, at the spot where the optic nerve comes in. Over time, with age, the jelly shrinks and liquefies, which can lead to a detachment. When that happens, the ball starts "bouncing" or shifting around inside the eyeball, sometimes smacking up against the retina, which causes the light flashes. Another result of this is the increase in the number of "floaters", or what looks like black specks or strings, that wiggle through the field of vision. I've got a few new ones now. One looks like a bubble, a couple look like worms (almost), and there is also what I'm seeing as a "fold" on the far left side of my vision.
The prognosis, as the doc would say, is that there is nothing that can be done to fix this. It has to stabilize on its own, which should happen in about 6 weeks or so. The light flashes will minimize, I'll learn to ignore the floaters, and the optical center in the brain will reprogram to interpret images a little differently. I do have to watch for possible bleeding. Doc said if the world suddenly turns pink, there's a bleed. But it should all be okay. This is just one of those "things" that can happen as we age; not necessarily as the result of any kind of trauma. Meaning you don't have to get smacked in the head for this to happen. Great!
So much for the medical stuff.
It was what I observed during the dialation, and more afterward that made the impression on me. I kind of felt like I was in a bubble for a while. Things looked a little distorted, different than they usually looked. It sort of made me feel like I wasn't totally on the ground anymore. The effect of the lights in the store was different; some parts of it was cleaner and sharper than others. While riding home in the car, I looked at street lights, car headlights, house lights, the moon and the stars. All of them looked different. The light came through in layers, more three dimensional than I could recall seeing before. Everything looks different, and I'm looking at everything differently today.
Back to the dictionary again. Looking: turning one's eyes toward something or in some direction in order to see; glancing or gazing in a manner specified; using one's sight or vision in seeking, searching, examining, watching, etc.. Seeing: perceiving with the eyes; viewing; perceiving (things) mentally; discerning; understanding; constructing a mental image of; visualizing; to be cognizant of; recognizing; ascertaining, learning, or finding out; to have knowledge or experience of; to understand intellectually or spiritually; have insight; to give attention or care; to consider; think; deliberate.
Bet you can guess which one I'm going with now, right? SEEING! There's a difference for me in that the things I look at everyday are really being seen now. The images are registering more solidly, and there is understanding and appreciation that I think I was missing before.
On both the mundane and spiritual levels, this past week has been an awakening for me. I won't be forgetting to see and listen any time soon.