A CHILDHOOD DESSERT—that entrancing name, that pile of fluffy egg whites—is one association for the word float. The other is an ocular phenomenon that afflicts us at the opposite end of life. My floater, which I call Bugsy because it resembles a spider or very large mosquito, arrived to the accompaniment of flashing lights. Checking into the ER, my blood pressure zoomed. Calm on the outside, I churned and screamed within. After a couple of hours, during which I got checked for stroke a lot but my eye went unexamined, the light-show dimmed somewhat and Bugsy crawled into view. After an hour or two more, I learned from the ophthalmology resident that I did not have a detached retina but something called a Posterior Vitreous Detachment, or PVD (the gelatinous mass in back of the eye pulls away from the retina). Ever since, when I wake up, Bugsy is there, waiting.
This, combined with a worsening cataract, is making my right eye unreliable, even with the help of two different pairs of glasses and (in the theatre) high-powered binoculars. Surgery in a month: I’m scared, but resigned.
I expected old age to arrive in a whoosh, like one day I was middle-aged and the next, decrepit. (Think Ronald Colman’s lady love in the movie Lost Horizon, dying in a cave after she leaves the eternal-youth enclave of Shangri-La and reverts to her own true age.) But it seems instead like a balancing act, wherein my physical energy and mental drive are not consistent from day to day, and my expectations must become infinitely adaptable. I’d like to become kinder to myself, less compulsive. But how do you continue to aspire to doing great things, to making a difference, while knowing there are limits? It’s a puzzlement. This is not like the ambition of youth. It doesn’t flame. It smolders.