Maddie has to go to the eye doctor more often than the average baby because, as a former premie, she is at risk of retinopathy of prematurity, or R.O.P. as the cool kids call it. R.O.P. is where the retina’s blood vessels are damaged and can lead to blindness, so, as you can imagine, it is pretty serious.
Yesterday we had an eye appointment so I bundled up the little one and shuttled her over to the UCLA Eye Center by nine a.m. which was WAY too early after she made me get up three times the previous night.
Once we took a seat in the waiting room I pulled Maddie out of her stroller and put her on my lap. Then something strange happened. No one gasped. No one went “AWWWW.” No one came over to pinch her cheeks. I know, I know. You’re thinking I am an arrogant jerk and that my baby is not THAT cute. But she kind of is…
Anyway, I started to tickle Maddie so she would giggle, mooshed her hair up like a mohawk, even hoisted her in the air, but still not one of the a-holes in the waiting room so much as even looked at her! I was getting seriously miffed. After a few minutes of growing indignation it finally dawned on me why no one was going ga-ga over Maddie – most of the people in the waiting room were blind. Yeah, I’m totally going to hell.
Eventually a very stern looking doctor called Maddie’s name, so Maddie and I went with him back to an exam room. The doctor then instructed me to sit in a specific chair with a scowl.
“Let’s review the child’s medical history, shall we?”
“Uh, okay,” I said. The doctor scrutinized me with a serious expression before asking a series of questions. He then took copious notes of everything I said without removing the scowl from his face.
“Very well,” he finally snarled. “Let’s examine the patient.”
I nodded as the doctor pulled up a chair with an instrument that he pointed at Maddie. Then, suddenly, he started speaking really loud with a dead-on impersonation of Daffy Duck.
“Hi there, Sweetie! Look here!”
Maddie, as shocked as I was, did just as he said. The doctor nodded, wrote down a note, then turned away from us before turning back wearing a pig’s nose!
“Look at the pig! Look at the pig!”
“Wow,” I said. “I guess you really have to go to extremes to examine little kids’ eyes, huh?”
“What do you mean?” the doctor blurted out before waving his hands and doing a little dance in his chair.
A few moments later the doctor turned off the lights and pressed a lever on the floor. An until then unnoticed box on the opposite wall illuminated. Inside was a toy dog who moved back and forth, barking.
I clasped my hands together, delighted.
“Oh! How wonderful!”
The doctor glared at me.
“The dog is for the children.”
“Of course,” I said, humiliated. I almost couldn’t stand to keep looking at the cute doggie. ALMOST.
Anyway, in the end there was good news…Maddie’s eyes are perfect! I was very happy.
On the way out I was starving because we had been there for over three hours (another story), and I decided to see if the cafeteria I ate at every one of the 68 days Maddie was in the NICU was still open. The reason I feared it might not be open is because it is in the old UCLA hospital which had recently been shut down and moved down the street to a new location. There seemed to be some activity inside the old building though, so I went inside.
It was weird inside. All the chairs in the lobby – chairs I sat in while I called friends and family to tell them that Maddie was likely going to die – were gone. It almost made it seem like all the madness of just ten months ago never happened…or was something I dreamt.
Further inside we reached the cafeteria and, lo and behold, it was still open! It turned out that the old hospital was still being used for teaching purposes, so the cafeteria was still in business.
Once again I strolled the surprisingly large food choices – a sandwich bar, sushi counter, traditional grill, Mexican food bar, International corner, salad bar, soup bar, etc. – before getting something a little healthier than I got in the dark days (I am a stress eater and gained twenty pounds while Maddie lived at the hospital). I paid for my food and sat down at the same table I used to sit at.
After a few minutes of eating I looked at Maddie in her stroller and saw that she was smiling and cooing at me. It then dawned on me how amazing it was that I was sitting there, eating as I had before, but with a healthy, smiling Maddie at my side as opposed to four floors up fighting for her life.
Maddie couldn’t have known why, but I pulled her out of her stroller and kissed her. It felt like a triumphant moment. Nonetheless, I was quick to finish my meal and hurry us out of the past and back to the future.