Thursday, April 23, 2009

Learning How to Hide a Secret

The six weeks we spent in New York were filled with many trips to the hospital for TEM and for radiation treatments . The TEM was the most difficult for me because I would have to stay in the hospital for a few days after each treatment since it would make me so violently ill. I have a vivid memory of trying so hard to handle the nausea and sickness, but it was the first of many times I had to accept the fact that I had no control over it. The radiation was the scariest due to the fact that each time I would need to climb up on the treatment table and lie very still so that they could sandbag my upper body and head to keep me immobile . When this was completed, everyone would leave the room. I was a motionless little body on top of this high table all alone in an empty room with a big machine slowly coming toward my head. The door to the room had a small rectangular window in it where I could just see partial faces peeking in at me. I felt so tiny and defenseless, almost paralyzed with fear. Each time after treatment, I would take that heavy feeling of powerlessness home with me. Being only seven, that feeling of helplessness was hard for me to fully comprehend, so it would stay with me for days.

Initially it was difficult for me to understand how rare it was to have an eye removed, since I was around so many others just like me in the hospital. One morning in a small neighborhood bakery, the man behind the counter commented on the eye patch I was wearing. He asked, "Oh honey, did you get a little boo boo in your eye?" I quickly answered, "No, they had to take my eye out." I still can picture the horrified look on his face, as he apologized over and over! At that point I did not understand why he was so utterly shocked by my response, and I wondered if I had said something wrong. My mom explained that many people had never met someone who had an eye removed. I processed that for a long time before concluding that maybe I shouldn't be as open and honest when talking about my surgery. I didn't want others to look at me with horror, like the baker.

That summer there were many skills I had to be taught before returning back to Madison. I had to be fitted for a prosthetic eye, and learn how to care for it properly. This took lots of practice on my part, but finally I mastered it. One afternoon after an appointment with Dr. Reese, we took the elevator back to the clinic. During that short ride, he told me something that would literally change me forever! He began by complimenting me on my ability to become skilled with all this new knowledge, and then he said quite seriously, "You know, Laura, if you look at people in just the right way and the right angle, they will never know you have a prosthesis." I quickly understood that people should never be able to tell that I was different in any way! Do I need to tell you what a profound influence those few words had on the rest of my life, from that day forward?!

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