2023.50 : Dying Of The Light
— ICE-T COLD FACT
It’s impossible to be 100% Happy all the time. Even if YOU are Personally doing great.. If you care about other people, you’ll connect to their struggle.
There has been a man in my life for many decades. When life and love often blinds me, I turn to him to help me see clearly again. Some of you reading this wouldn’t be in my life today if it weren’t for him saving me from my foolishness. Some of the adventures he and I went on are legendary in our minds.
For just as many decades, my old friend has been fighting off relentless encroaching blindness. After last week’s Hail Mary surgery, my old friend has lost his eyesight.
My favorite African proverb is “the best place for leftovers is in a friend’s stomach.” After keeping me full of life lessons, it’s with gratitude I lend him my eyes as he says hello to his new friend, Darkness.
That’s as much as he is comfortable with me sharing publicly. Talking girls is what he and I do best. One of those stories is apropos.
Age 30 was fast approaching. I never had a proper eye health check, so I decided that would be my birthday present to myself. Having driven my friend to many of his eye appointments and talking with him about his doctor and the many eye surgeries, I knew who I needed to evaluate my eyes. My friend’s Beverly Hills eye surgeon. Thorough doesn’t begin to describe it. An entire team of eye doctors hoping to learn from the master, one after the other performed their assigned tests. I was happy to learn my eyes were in good shape except for “the worst case of dry we’ve ever seen, no contacts for you.”
A few months later, I went to a house party where I met a young woman from Korea who had come to Los Angeles to go to college. We became friends. One day she calls. I ask how she’s doing. She said, “I have this terrible headache.”
Nearly three decades later, I vividly recall the lightning bolt that went through me upon hearing her speak those five words. I felt as if something was terribly wrong, but I didn’t understand why. Moments like this make me receptive to hearing the ideas of an electric universe.
So I press her. Where? How? When? She didn’t want to cause worry, but she knew me well enough to know once I lock down on a bone, it’s best to roll with it. She finally added one of her eyes had been bothering her. Oh oh, I thought. Then I said to myself, “don’t freak her out.” Ok then. Be prudent. I asked her to go to her school medical center for an evaluation without delay. Her emphatic skills heard what I wasn’t saying. She agreed.
The next day she calls. They said it’s nothing to worry about. She wanted to accept that. Her boyfriend wanted to accept that. I wanted to accept that. And yet. My entire sensory system had detected a pattern my brain could not see. It was on fire. It told me, “get her help, no matter the hassle for all involved.”
I communicated this to my young friend. She said, “I trust you, what do I do?” I’ll call you back in a few minutes. I called my old friend asking if I should call our Beverly Hills doctor, he said yes. I called and told the staff I had a bad feeling about my young friend. They said, send her in tomorrow. I called her back with details of the appointment. As I feared, this caused an upheaval in my friend’s life, especially with her boyfriend, but I didn’t care. Then there was her international student health insurance my friend’s burgeoning English needed an assist with. I reassured her that if she was a native English speaker, she’d still be confused by the paperwork. I think she thought I was being funny. You know otherwise.
Her boyfriend drove her to the evaluation against his wishes. She learned what I had learned about what thorough means at the highest levels of medical practice. The famous doctor was in surgery, but the staff assured her the doctor would see her results that afternoon.
Before she could return home thanks to LA traffic, the doctor called her upon evaluating her results. “You will be blind in your right eye within days if you don’t get surgery. I am not that kind of surgeon, but the best in town is my friend. I have booked you an appointment with him tomorrow.”
That’s a lot of information for a young person far from her family and in a language she’s good at but not that good at. She asked me what she should do. I told her, if it were me, my only responses to these doctors would be “Sir, yes sir.” She instinctively understood the spirit of my answer. She went. Her surgeon concurred that she’d be blind in one eye if not operated on within the week. The surgery was two days later. She asked me to be there because her surgeon was scary.
I knew what she meant. I had learned from my old friend’s many experiences under the knife that doctors should have excellent bedside manners, but surgeons, while it’s great if they have people skills, it’s the least important skill a patient should look for. A cold-blooded, calculated operator who is more interested in another surgical victory under their belt is actually be preferred. I want my surgeon thinking about the very difficult task at their hands, and not the feels if they fail this nice patient and their family.
My young friend was understandably very nervous in her surgical gown. The surgeon struts in like a successful sniper. He is easily frustrated by her broken English. I interrupt their spiraling communication. I ask her if I can speak for her, she said, “PLEASE.” I make direct, manly eye contact with him, in my best commanding voice, I reassure him she trusts him, but she has one question. I ask that question. He understands. Answers. I translate that into broken English. She looks her surgeon in his eyes and says “save my eye.” He answers by giving the green light to the nurses to swoop in and carry her off to her fate.
He did. He saved her eye. She made a full recovery. She still think he’s scary, but tells me she’d trust him with her other eye if need be.
After resting and recovering from the surgery. She called to tell me her mother demanded the next time I was in Korea I was to notify her. No excuses would be tolerated. My reply,
“Madam, yes ma’am.”
Another year or two later I was in Korea. I did as I was told. Mom, that’s what I’ll call her for this story, found out I was at a boutique hotel run by an owner-operator in Seoul. Mom wasn’t having any of that; I was to stay in her home. She called the owner and made a deal with him to make sure my early departure was done in the polite Korean way.
Mom and her husband picked me up and took me to a Korean BBQ restaurant near their home. We could hardly speak a dozen English and Korean words between us. No matter, we understood each other perfectly well. A mother overcome with gratitude for a stranger who was the person her daughter needed at a crossroads. I knew any resistance to her offers of gratitude would result in an insult. I’d be damned to let that happen.
“Mom, yes mom.”
At dinner, she kept offering me more plates of meat. I was well past full, but I couldn’t tell this mom no for any reason. I sacrificed my body. I had meat sweats unlike I would ever experience. My appetite didn’t return for three days. What makes me sad to this day is mom had prepared a gorgeous breakfast for the next morning. I could hardly force myself to take two bites. They drove me to the airport to catch my flight.
A year or two later I had a chance to meet my young friend in Japan. She tells me her mom was amazed to this very day how much meat I ate that night. I explained my side of the story, bringing us both to tears of laughter. Maybe the best language barrier story I have lived. I begged my friend to tell her mother I am not gluten. She promised she would.
When I got home, I called my old friend and thanked him yet again. Had he not shared his experience, a young woman would have been blinded in one eye, a mother would have had her heartbroken for her daughter and a lifetime of guilt for not being there to protect her baby.
As my old friend descends into complete darkness, to his every need, I offer:
“Friend. Yes I can. I will do.”
And now … know the photograph. Know it for my old friend; who will never be able to see it.