A Memoir by Donna Cameron
“Do those floaters bother you much?” my ophthalmologist asks, during my routine visit.
Dr. Peck’s annual interrogation, “Which looks clearer, this one . . . or this one?” always conjures the test anxiety I experienced in college. But this is new. I search my mind for some context that will allow me to respond intelligently.
“Floaters,” he repeats. “Those spots and squiggles drifting through your field of vision. As we age, they become more prevalent and more noticeable.” He is more aware of what’s going on in my head than I am. And he’s placing me in his own age bracket. I’ve always considered my eye doctor ancient, but perhaps we are contemporaries. I am both indignant and anxious.
“I’ve never really noticed them,” I admit, aware that henceforth I will be seeing armies of phantom beasties in full attack mode.
He doesn’t acknowledge my confession. “One of my patients—a quite reasonable man—is insisting that I surgically remove them. He has acute arachnophobia,” Dr. Peck wiggles the fingers of his left hand toward my face. “When he sees floaters, he thinks they’re spiders.”
Why I am just learning about this? Did I miss a memo? What about AARP—aren’t they supposed to keep me informed? And what’s with this “reasonable” guy who finds them so troubling?
“Isn’t surgery a bit extreme?” I ask Dr. P, cringing at the thought of him—or anyone—approaching my personal eyeballs with a sharp instrument.
“It’s a simple procedure,” he explains, “requiring only a small incision to the eye. But it doesn’t prevent the return of these apparitions.” He smiles.
I shiver. His exam room isn’t cold.
“Laser surgery is also an option,” he continues, pointing two fingers toward me with a zapping motion. “But it’s subject to complications.”
He seems to be enjoying this conversation. More than I am. I squirm in the big, padded chair, aware of all the medical implements glittering ominously around me. Why haven’t I noticed them before? In the thirty years Dr. P has been my eye doctor, this is the most animated I’ve seen him, and the closest we’ve come to a personal conversation. He likes to explain medical procedures in excruciating detail and I always nod knowingly, pretending to understand. This time, though, I am fixed on his patient with the deathly fear of spiders. What a wuss!
I leave Dr. Peck’s office armed with the usual eye-drop samples and a brand-new neurosis.
That evening, I climb into bed, reach for my book, and burrow into the comfort of my nightly ritual. Suddenly, a beetle drops onto the blanket. I spring up and swat it away. Did I sweep it off the bed, or was it a mirage? I peer closely at the carpet. Nothing scuttles across it.
Resettled, I get through a page-and-a-half of V. I. Warshawski’s latest plight before a writhing worm descends onto my arm, and a centipede alights on the page in front of me. Leaping out of bed, I fling the book across the room. It bashes several knick-knacks off the dresser, including a delicately carved wooden angel given to me by a friend with assurances that it would watch over me.
“Thanks for nothing,” I mutter, replacing the dusty carcass on the bureau. I have an unsettling awareness that I may never be alone again.
“I thought you were in bed,” says my husband from the doorway. “Have we experienced a poltergeist?”
“It’s Dr. Peck’s fault. He told me I have floaters—little spots and squiggles that appear suddenly in my eyes. They look like bugs.”
“Oh, those, I’ve been seeing them for years. Ignore ‘em. They’re harmless. Just another gift of the aging process.”
So why has he never mentioned them?
Bill is a few years older than I, a fact I’ve always found comforting. He will reach old age before I do. I expected to learn from watching him navigate these waters.
“How can I ignore something that keeps jumping at me? They’re invading my space, disrupting my life. Dr. Peck told me he has patients who demand surgery to remove them.”
Bill rolls his eyes. “You’ll get used to them.”
“I don’t know.” As I survey the destruction I’ve wrought, I swat at a mosquito hovering just above my left eyebrow. Did I get it? I look at my hand. No bug parts, but my fingers tingle.
Again, the spousal eye roll. “Have you always been this susceptible to suggestion?”
I shoot him one of my looks. He takes no notice. How can he be so blasé about these intruders? In one short day, they’ve dropped in without invitation and taken up permanent residence. Next, I’ll be naming them.
“This is serious. How can I relax when I’m reading or having a conversation, knowing that any minute a spider or praying mantis might descend on me?”
He sighs wearily. “Welcome to my world.”
Book forgotten, I curl back into bed. My knee crackles. My hip twinges.
Bill bends to kiss me goodnight. He pulls the quilt up to my shoulders and smooths it with an unfamiliar swiping motion. “Here we go,” he whispers.
He turns out the light and I hear the soft click of the door closing. Then, behind my eyelids, I see them. Drifting. Twisting.
* * *
Donna Cameron’s career has been spent working with not-for-profit organizations and causes. She is the author of Nautilus award-winning book A Year of Living Kindly. Cameron’s articles and essays have been featured in The Washington Post, Seattle Times, Writer’s Digest, Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, and many other publications.