The Casual Blog

Tag: Duke Eye Center

Eye surgery, yet again, and some bluegrass and big cats

Looking southeast at dawn, September 29, 2013

Looking southeast at dawn, September 28, 2013

On Monday at 5:15 a.m. Sally took me over to Duke Eye Center in Durham. It was my third eye operation in the past 10 months, and the routine was familiar. Again the hospital gown didn’t quit fit, and again they checked the various systems (temperature, blood pressure, reflexes, etc.). There were several checks to make sure they were working on the right eye – that is, the left – and checks to make sure I had no allergies or other ailments. As my preop nurse observed, I was a very healthy man, except for the eye.

The operating room was cold. I asked my nurse anesthetist if this was purely for hygiene, and she said it was also good for the surgeons not to get too hot. That sounded reasonable – I wouldn’t want them dripping sweat. As they got me situated and draped my face, I asked if they were planning to listen to music (which they did last time), and someone asked if I cared to hear anything in particular. I said that some Brahms would be good. There was no reaction, which I think meant this was not a choice they expected. Anyhow, there was no Brahms, or anything else. This was mildly disappointing, but at least they didn’t put on anything awful.

It is odd to be conscious when there’s work going on inside your eye. I could hear everything, and feel movement, but it was not painful. From time to time they asked how I was doing, and I gamely said, good, good. The surgeons’ comments mostly related to the job at hand, and there were no indications of unusual difficulties. The surgery took almost two hours. The nurse anesthetist held my hand, which I appreciated.

Dr. M and me

Dr. M and me

At my check up the next morning, Dr. Mruthyunjaya said that things had gone well both for the retina repair work and the cataract removal and lens replacement by Dr. Vann. My performance on the eye chart was not good (couldn’t see any letters), but I could distinguish one finger from two at three feet. It will be some weeks before healing is complete and it’s clear how much vision I’ll have in the left eye. I’ve gradually come to terms with the likelihood that it won’t ever be the same. There’s an irregularity in my macula that’s here to stay. I’ll cope.

Dr. M also enjoined me from vigorous exercise for two weeks. I tried bargaining about this (how about just the elliptical?) but he held firm. And so I missed yoga on Tuesday, my regular gym workout on Wednesday, my personal training with Larissa on Thursday, and my spinning class on Friday. I missed the movement, the stress, the relaxation, and the pleasant endorphin effects afterwards. And I missed my teachers, classmates, and adjacent strangers. The activity and the people are a part of me, and I look forward to getting them back.
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On Saturday I drove out to Cary and took some pictures of ducks at Bond park, then came back to Raleigh for a walk through the IBMA festival, which we’re told is the biggest bluegrass conclave on the planet. We’re on a run in Raleigh with street fairs – in previous weeks we’ve had motorcyclists, SparkCon, and the Hopscotch music festival – and its great to see all the activity. For me, a little bluegrass goes a long way, but it was nice to hear a little, and do a bit of people watching.
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On Sunday, we drove out to Chatham County to Carolina Tiger Rescue, where we saw tigers, lions, cougars, servals, and caracals, as well as an ocelots, a bobcat, a binturong, and kinkajou. It was worth the trip. They were beautiful animals.
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Some good news re my eye, and seeing the beautiful Giselle

On Tuesday it was time for another checkup at the Duke Eye Center to see how my left retina was faring. I’d noticed recently that I was seeing better out of that eye – still blurrily, but enough to be of some practical use. But I’d been cautioned by my rockstar retinologist, Dr. M, that because of the scarring from my first operation, there was considerable uncertainty as to how the healing process would progress, and the weeks just past would be a critical phase. I tried not to think about it.

At the appointment, after a four-hour wait (aargh!), I was pleased to find that I could read some of the letters on the eye chart (which I could not at the last visit) and tell with confidence how many fingers the PA was holding up in front of me.  After studying various images of my eye and peering into it with his magnifying instruments, he said, “I like what I’m seeing.”  He told me we’ll need to operate in a couple of months on my new cataract and do a bit of clean up work, but it looks like my vision will improve.  This is good.

On Friday I saw the Carolina Ballet’s last ballet of the season, Giselle. This is one of the most famous works in the canon of classical ballet, but I’d never seen it, and was excited to finally make its acquaintance. The production was beautiful, and also unexpectedly touching.

The ballet is a simple, then tragic, then supernatural love story. Giselle is a sweet peasant girl who is loved by a fine peasant boy but wooed and won by a stranger who turns out to be a Count in disguise. When she finds out that the disguised Count is engaged to an elegant royal lady, she goes mad (very like Lucia), and dies. In the second act, she joins a large group of other deceased jilted maidens, known as the wilis, who dance beautifully together and wreak vengeance on cads such as the Count. But it turns out that the Count really loved Giselle, and she comes to his rescue at the end. Happy ending! Well, sort of – Giselle’s still deceased. You’ve got to get into a romantic frame of mind to enjoy this, but you almost can’t help it.

Lillian Vigo was a beautiful Giselle. At her best, Vigo is masterfully elegant, particularly in adagio passages, and she was lovely this evening. She has the most amazingly graceful long arms! She was sweet and vulnerable, engaged and engaging. It is amazing how much emotion a human body can convey without speaking!

Richard Krusch was a surprisingly complex Count Albrecht, by moments either outgoing or withdrawn. Krusch is a marvelous dancer, but he he can at times seem remote. This evening, he seemed completely and intensely present, and stunning, not only in his athleticism, but in his human engagement.

I also admired Cecilia Iliesiu at Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Ilesiu is powerful in every respect; she commands the stage. She immediately established that the Wilis were no joke — even if they have a funny name, they were not to be trifled with. The wilis were numerous and gorgeous in white gowns. The effect of 20 ballerinas in tight formation, hovering on pointe, is both pretty and kind of scary.

On Sunday afternoon I went to see Giselle a second time. I wanted to see Lola Cooper, our pointe shoe sponsoree and friend, perform the peasant pas de deux. It seems quite technically demanding, and Lola rose to the challenge. I thought she looked wonderful.

It’s interesting how different dancers can discover and express very different aspects of the same role. I thought Jan Burkhard was superb as Giselle. Her dancing was fully realized and wonderfully expressive, ranging from sweet tenderness to the agony of madness. It was really moving — I got goosebumps. I came away with a new respect for her range and depth. In this performance I also particularly enjoyed Marcelo Martinez as the Count, who took some real chances and was thrilling, and Lara O’Brien as Myrtha, who was regal and mysterious.

More eye surgery, healthy habits, a gay marriage revelation, a new veggie restaurant, and the shame of the processed food industry

This week I had eye surgery to repair the effects of scar tissue from my previous eye surgery, with the understanding that there would probably be more surgery needed in future. And so in the space of a few weeks I’ve gone from an adult in remarkably good health with no history of hospitalization to a fairly experienced consumer of modern American medicine. There are, of course, some negatives, such as worry, fear, and pain, but I’m trying to stay positive. It’s a learning experience.

Most of my healthcare team at the Duke Eye Center, including nurses, orderlies, anesthesiologists, and doctors were surprisingly cheerful and supportive. The anesthesia was designed to keep me partially conscious, which it did, and so I was able to listen to the conversations of the team and the music they listened to (vintage rock, unfortunately). I was instructed to let them know if things hurt, and I did speak up a couple of times when it got fairly intense.

The operation involved removing scar tissue from my left retina and eye wall and reattaching the retina to the wall. It was an extremely delicate procedure and took about three hours. When Dr. Mruthyunjaya checked me the next day, he was pleased with the initial results, but noted that it would be some months before we’ll know how much vision I’ll have with that eye. At some point I’ll need cataract surgery as well. But that day I was able to see the top couple of lines of the eye chart, which was an enormous improvement from last check, when I couldn’t make out any letters at all.

Healthy Habits

I was banned from all strenuous exercise for at least a couple of weeks and possibly more. I’m not sure Dr. Mruthyunjaya appreciated that this was a fairly harsh sentence for a person like me, with a big exercise habit. Getting to the gym or other physical activity most every morning is something I just do. It makes me feel better for the rest of the day and is part of the long-term plan of staying healthy and happy. But I don’t think about the pluses and minuses at 5:15 a.m., which would be way too much work. It’s taken a long time to get to the point where exercise is almost automatic, and does not feel like dreary work. I don’t want to lose the habit.

With this partly in view, I decided to recommence my computer programming studies during the newly freed up early morning. I signed up with Codeacademy for their free online Python course. It should keep me in the habit of getting up early. So far, it’s been interesting and mostly fun, though also frustrating at occasional junctures when I get stuck. I’m thinking of it as a lot like learning Spanish: an exercise that at a minumum serves to stimulate the brain in a healthy way, and could turn into a skill that could come in handy.

Gay Marriage Switcheroo

Speaking of brains, in the news this week was a report that Senator Rob Portman, a Republican, had decided to switch from an opponent to a backer of gay marriage. His reason? His son came out as gay. I had two reactions to this:

1. good
and
2. you’ve got to be kidding me!

As to 1, I’m happy that Senator Portman has seen the light, and come to view gay people as entitled to the same civil rights as everyone else. But as to 2, coming to this view really shouldn’t depend on having a gay child!

All of us place special weight on the welfare of our loved ones, but that isn’t a very reliable starting place for broader moral reasoning or policy making. Otherwise, those with healthy families would have no concern for the less abled, and those in a majority race would ignore the rights of minorities. This would be a morality with severe myopia. I wonder how much conservative family values blather is accounted for by such myopia.

I don’t mean to be too hard on Senator Portman, who must surely possess more-than-usual courage to take issue with the conventional and rabid views of his party. We could all benefit from exercising our empathy muscles. Here’s a suggestion: what if we all spent five minutes a day imagining that a specific human in a group we generally dislike is our dearly beloved child? Our imaginations could extend the diameter of our circle of caring and feeling. This would be a good thing. I’ll go first, and try to think loving thoughts about a rightwing fringe Republican.

Trying a New Vegetarian Restaurant

Last night Sally and I tried Fiction Kitchen, Raleigh’s new vegetarian restaurant on Dawson Street. It was full when we got there, with a wait time of 45 minutes, which would exceed our usual supply of patience, but we found a place to stand near the bar and had some Chardonnay. The vibe was hip-funky, similar to Poole’s, but with a younger, edgier crowd — think tatoos, grad students, gays and lesbians, interracial couples, and even a few babies. Oh, and one middle-aged guy with a strangely red left eye swollen half-shut. The place hummed with the sound of many conversations.

The food was creative, with an emphasis on local seasonal ingredients. For appetizers, we had the wintery spring rolls with spicy peanut sauce and seasonal fritters, which had NC apples, spices, and bourbon-agave. We split two entrees, the sweet potato sushi rolls with sashimi tofu and braised tempeh with pesto grits. Every bite was tasty.

Shameful Goings on in the Processed Food Industry

It was really cheering to see a new vegetarian business in Raleigh doing so well. As regular readers know, I’m a big proponent of healthy, ethical eating, which is another habit that’s good for humans, and also fun. But there are powerful forces promoting unhealthy food. For evidence, see an op ed piece in today’s NY Times, by Michael Mudd, a former honcho with Kraft Foods, titled How to Force Ethics on the Food Industry.

As a former insider, Mudd seems credible when he characterizes the business of large food processors as “enticing people to consume more and more high-margin, low-nutrition branded products.” He describes how “relentless efforts were made to increase the number of ‘eating occasions’ people indulged in and the amount of food they consumed at each.”

According to Mudd, “Even as awareness grew of the health consequences of obesity, the industry continued to emphasize cheap and often unhealthful ingredients that maximized taste, shelf life and profits. More egregious, it aggressively promoted larger portion sizes, one of the few ways left to increase overall consumption in an otherwise slow-growth market.”

Mudd also describes the food industry’s clever PR efforts to deflect attention and regulation, such as attributing the obesity epidemic to other factors. There are, of course, multiple factors, but none with the same despicable level of conscious intent. At the same time, they contend they are giving the victims “what they want.” These wants, of course, are the product of advertising and food engineering. (There was a very interesting piece in the Times magazine by Michael Moss a couple of weeks ago on the dark art of synthesizing junk foods that are almost irresistible.)

For solutions, Mudd proposes federal and state taxes on sugared beverages and snacks that undermine health, which would generate funds for education programs and subsidize healthy foods for low-income people. He also recommends mandatory federal guidelines for marketing foods to children and better food labeling. This makes sense.

An eye exam, a veggie burger, and a new ballet

It was a busy week at work, with many new issues popping up as I tried to address the existing backlog. I also made a visit to the Duke Eye Center for an exam in preparation for my eye surgery next week. My ophthalmologist, Dr. Prithvi Mruthyunjaya, seems both brilliant and humane, but his patients have to spend an awfully long time in the waiting room. This was also true of Drs. Denny and Casey. Is this a retinological tradition? Are damaged retina patients more-than-usually patient? Dr. M. described my prognosis as “guarded.” At a number of levels, I felt not so great.

On Friday Sally and I did dinner and a ballet. For dinner, we made our first visit to Chuck’s, a new place on Wilmington Street that features in gourmet hamburgers. We quit eating cows many years ago, and so initially assumed Chuck’s was not for us, but then were told on good authority that they made the best veggie burger in town. It was, in fact, really good. It had flavor and pleasing, chewy consistency. And it didn’t fall to pieces.

The Carolina Ballet led off with a new work called A Street Symphony by Zalman Raffael. It was set to hip hop music, which, as almost everyone knows, is music emphasizing pulsing polyrhythms and rhyming gritty lyrics, and deemphasizing melody and harmony. I developed a taste for hip hop a few years back, when I found the Sirius radio hip hop channels, and found it to be good music for driving a sports car. I liked the raw immediacy and experimental transgressiveness. It is also, of course, good dancing music, but hip hop dancing seems worlds away from the ballet tradition.

Combining radically different movement vocabularies could be a banal experiment or a disaster, but Raffael succeeded brilliantly. His work Rhapsody in Blue, presented earlier this season, was soundly designed and had some marvelous flashes, but seemed more the work of a skilled apprentice than a master. With A Street Symphony, he has arrived, with a strong sense of architecture and humor.

The work is made up of seven songs, with the dancers arrayed in solos, couples, and ensembles. The set and costumes are minimalist, with the women wearing gauzy tutus of various colors pulled above their tights. In the beginning, the pounding rhythm is unsettling, and the first piece, Clockwork, uses a robotics theme that is fairly familiar. But Alicia Fabry’s replicant is both energized and vulnerable, with limbs shooting about at amazing speeds and a startled doe-eyed gaze.

I also really liked Jan Burkhard and Yevgeny Shlapko in Best of Me. Jan is a dancer with an sensual quality, and here she was fearless. Classical dance walks a fine line with respect to sex: it candidly reveals dancers’ bodies and deals with intimate subject matter, but almost never references the act itself, and is careful not to push the red button. But hip hop is sexy, and Jan embraced it. So did Eugene, who had a rangey freedom that recalled the hood.

Lindsay Purrington was really touching and beautiful in Cry Me a River. She did various transformations, including a streetwise tough and a Swan Lake swan. At one point her tutu started to fall to pieces, which added an unplanned degree of tension to the performance, but she dealt with the issue with grace, eventually ditching the thing stage right, and strutting boldly forward. Adam Crawford Chavis lifted her magnificently overhead.

This was unquestionably ballet, with pointe shoes and the traditional vocabulary, but augmented with exciting movements from urban street culture. The most successful dancers seemed to personalize their roles, though some stuck close to the familiar classical lines. For one, Margaret Severin-Hansen, who is a fantastic classical technician, was sharp and intriguing, but seemed to me to hold back a bit from the street. On the other hand, I thought Sokvannara Sar, Nikolai Smirnov, and Cecilia Ilieusiu all found interesting individual ways of combining the upmarket and downmarket.

Anyhow, I really liked A Street Symphony, and also Robert Weiss’s new work Idyll, set to Richard Wagner’s lovely Siegfried Idyll. It featured three couples and flowing lines. I was looking forward to The Rite of Spring, but it came after the second intermission, and I was just too tired to take it all in. Sally thought it too was wonderful.

It’s time to subscribe to next year’s ballet season. We’ve been going on Friday nights for fourteen years and have excellent front-center orchestra seats, but I think we’ll switch to Saturdays. On Fridays I often find myself tired after a busy week that includes 5:30 a.m. workouts, and not always able to hang in there intently for a full evening of beautiful performances. Our NC Symphony subscription has been on Saturdays, and so we’ll have to manage some conflicts, but it seems worth it.