In March 2015 out of nowhere, I became sick. Very sick. Like calling 911 and having an ambulance bring me to the hospital sick. When I got to the hospital, they gave me some medication and that's the last thing I really remember for about 4 days. It's very disconcerting to wake up and not know where you are! Or that it's 4 days later. I wasn't so much scared as I was confused. All of my joints were swollen and painful due to reactive arthritis, and I couldn't walk. Not even to the bathroom. For someone who is very physically active, this was hard and humbling. I felt powerless.
I was still very groggy but the doctors told me that I had a serious heart infection called endocarditis. Strep C bacteria had entered my bloodstream and seeded my heart valve. When someone has endocarditis, the bacteria is like vegetation on the valve. It flicks off embolisms that travel through the body. In addition to a multitude of complications, the bacteria went to my right, "good" eye. I had acute endophthalmitis. While I was "out of it," they had done a couple of eye surgeries unbeknownst to me. This was a very aggressive infection that was, quite honestly, ravaging my body. They pumped antibiotics into me day and night.
When life is suddenly interrupted by hardship it is in these moments where you discover things about yourself. Maybe they are things you don't like, such as anger or fear. Or maybe you discover that deep down inside there is a stillness of strength that is so powerful words cannot describe it. At night after all my visitors had gone home and I was surrounded by the sounds of beeping hospital machines, I laid awake without the distractions of Facebook or Instagram or email. I felt my pain and leaned into it.
I was told that I was lucky to be alive. I had multiple injections into the eye, which were, let's say, not exactly comfortable. My team of doctors included cardiologists, rheumatologists, infectious diseases, dermatologists, and a multitude of eye doctors from Jules Stein. For the most part, the bacteria was being neutralized so I was released after my 10th day in the hospital. I had a PICC line inserted so that I could administer antibiotics twice a day for six weeks while at home. I did have heart valve damage now and would be monitored for the rest of my life to make sure it stayed at a moderate damage level.
With the bacteria under control, efforts shifted to my eye. I had surgery for a cornea transplant and fixing the retina, which had become detached due to the infection. One of my eye doctors explained that they would do their best, but I may lose the eye. Yet I remained hopeful that my sight would be restored. I had all sorts of people show up for me. Not just close friends and family but random people who went out of their way to visit me, bring me dinner at home, walk my dog, help me with my antibiotics, send me goody packages. The list goes on. I filled myself up on their care, compassion, and love. Never once did I ask, "Why me??" Not because I think life is a series of random events, but actually the opposite. That all of our experiences lead us to the next and it is our choice to grow and learn from them. So the question becomes, "What can I learn from this?"
Once again, I had to lay on one side as the oil bubble they had inserted put the retina back in place. I was quite familiar with this as I had written a blog (The Unexpected Yoga Lessons of Retinal Detachment) a few years ago about my experience with having a detached retina. Yoga- not the physical asanas-helped me through that difficult time. They saved my eye, though it became known to me as the "bad eye". The vision was distorted but my right "good" eye helped balance out my vision.
I realized that my "bad" eye had now become my "good" eye. If you're a human being on this planet, then you've no doubt suffered some type of pain on your life journey. The question is how can we accept what life throws at us and find the strength or resilience to not let it knock us down? How can we take the "bad" and turn it into the "good?" Even though I was okay with living with one eye, I encountered daily challenges with the loss of depth perception. One day, while cleaning my apartment, I took a step in my bedroom and accidentally kicked the wall with my foot breaking a toe. I began to drive very carefully but parking in tight spots is challenging. I don't drive at night, and simple things like walking down stairs is tricky. I can't see anything to my right so I sometimes bump into people. And quite often, I'll pour something into a cup missing it completely. But so what? My "bad" eye was transformed into something I now depended on to live my life.
Two months post-surgery, the retina doctor remarked how the eye pressure was not coming back. They call this hypotony. He said that the bacteria had caused too much internal damage, even to the optic nerve and that there was nothing they could do to increase the eye pressure. I began crying in his office. I had held out hope that it would all be okay, but this was not to be the case. I went home and took my dog for a walk to process everything he told me. Questions ran through my head: Would I need a glass eye eventually? Could I ride my bike? What about my yoga practice? What would it be like doing yoga with one eye? There is a man that often came to my yoga classes with one leg and I realized that losing one eye was nothing compared to losing a leg. My perspective started to shift. I began meditating again and in each meditation, it really sunk in that I had almost died. So if losing an eye was the worst outcome in this situation, then it wasn't really so bad. Lots of people live with far greater handicaps than this. And I tip my hat to them. All of us have the potential to transcend what we perceive as our limitations. No matter what the circumstances.
In her book, Real Happiness, my meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg writes, "The light still illuminates the room and banishes the murkiness, letting you see the things you couldn't see before." I am still without eyesight in my eye, but I very clearly see and feel the love in my life and all that I have to live for. I see the light within me that continues to awaken me to my true strength and power. You see, it's all about perspective.