Dacryocystorhinostomy: When Youtube is a Terrible Invention

When I was twenty, my tear duct closed, which only happens to infants, the elderly, and me. No one could figure it out.

Tears leaked continuously down my right cheek, except when I walked across campus that winter, and my eye froze shut. There were many other downsides, and only one up that I can recall. I sought assistance from my microeconomics professor that semester, and he was unbelievably kind to me. And patient. And helpful. It wasn’t until after I left his office that I realized he must have thought I was weeping through class every day. Lord knows I felt like doing so.

Treatment began with “wait,”and “warm compresses,” followed by eyedrops and ointments. Incidentally, being able to smear ointment in my eye came in handy for the twelve times I got pinkeye from my students and children.

But when those ointments did nothing, they tried three unsuccessful rounds of irrigation—that is, stabbing a gigantic syringe into the opening, cranking the needle around parallel with my eyeball, and flooding it with saline.

It is terrifying to see a three-inch needle come straight at your eye—but I was not allowed to blink or flinch, as that might not end well.

Finally, surgery was scheduled.

I asked how long it would take.

Answer: about fifteen to twenty minutes, but they allow 90 minutes in case they hit a nearby artery while drilling a hole in the nose, in which case it could take upwards of 45 minutes to control the blood flow.

I’m all for honesty and disclosure and all that, but I really didn’t want to hear the whole story. Let’s leave out the part about when you might seriously botch it and I am spurting blood uncontrollably for an hour.

I could tell you a lot more about the surgery and the aftermath, about how I was severely bruised, with black stitches under my eye, and everyone was afraid to ask me what had happened. Or how they sewed a red rubber tube into my nose so it didn’t scar shut. Or how the stitches were too loose and the tube would dangle out the end of my nose…and how I did not get great tips during that period of time.

I had a lot more to add, actually, but I then googled dacryocystorhinostomy to check my spelling and discovered that I could watch the procedure on youtube. Why, oh why would I want to look? Though I managed to watch while they cut into the eye socket, I freaked out 20 seconds in, because DID YOU KNOW THEY PRY INCISIONS OPEN WITH OYSTER FORKS??

As I said, I don’t want to know the whole story.

By now, you would think I would remember not to go looking for it.

No longer a country girl

A Hogna Wolf Spider from www.commonswikimedia.org.
A Hogna Wolf Spider from http://www.commonswikimedia.org.

I used to pride myself on being part country/part city.  Hey, I’ve handled mice AND muggers.  That might have made me feel a wee bit superior now and then.  I was once in front of my inner-city classroom, going over the daily schedule, when I noticed a half-dead mouse wriggling maniacally, stuck irretrievably on a glue trap in the front of the classroom.  As I continued to talk my students, I walked to the closet, fished out a plastic bag, scooped the poor creature into it, sealed it, and handed it to some unsuspecting truant in the hall to “please dispose of in the bathroom.”  My eight-year-old posse never suspected a thing.  (If I have disturbed your pacifist nature, remember that a) rodent fecal matter in an elementary school is a serious health issue, and b) glue traps are the only legal means available from our school district.  And what was I going to do?  Scrape it off and rush it to the vet?  Let it flail there indefinitely?)

Sadly, last year’s trip to the country convinced me that I am mostly just a run of the mill city girl/coward these days.

The first clue was after a very difficult bedtime.  Not my bedtime.  I would love to go to bed at a reasonable hour.  The spouse was dog-tired, and had fallen asleep long before the girls.  I tried semi-successfully to get them into bed.  I read and gave kisses. Next thing I knew, one or the other was screaming, “there’s something on my leg!!”  Lights back on, we would examine their beds inch by inch, inspecting the covers and the pj’s,  inside and out.  Eventually they would calm a little; I’d read another chapter aloud and turn out the lights.  “I hear something!” the other would yell, just as I got back down the stairs.  After three or four false alarms, I may have gotten a little cranky.

It was midnight when they finally gave up and went to sleep.  Relieved, I fetched my book and sat on the couch, trying to relax enough to be able to sleep on the world’s least forgiving mattress.  It’s the kind of bed that makes you want to punch the quality control guy at the factory.  Imagine a concrete slab with a little less give.  Top it off with an itchy, mildewed wool blanket, and a lumpy brick for a pillow.  I love my parents, but how their marriage survived forty summers on this abomination, I have no idea.

Not that I wouldn’t want to read in bed, I just plain couldn’t.  The bedside lamp could light up the neighboring forty acres, and a headlamp would be relentlessly dive-bombed by moths and mosquitoes.  Couch it is.

I read a few chapters and was just starting to doze on the couch when I scratched my thigh.  It was not the right shape.  I scratched once more, and again encountered strangeness.  I closed my fingers around a large something.  I had a handful of something in my pajamas.  Dropping my pajama pants, I saw that gigantic spider, and then it disappeared.  That was way worse than having to crunch a large freaky thing.  Was it still in my pajamas?  Was it on the couch?  Would it follow me to bed?  I was no longer sleepy.

A couple of nights later, the spouse had already left for the city, and I tried to cozy myself on the concrete slab.  I read the teensiest bit, and as my eyelids drooped, I turned off the light and slipped into a happy slumber.  Wait.  What was that?  I was itchy again.  After the pajama problem, I was a little skittish.  On went the lights.  Off with the pajamas.  Nothing to be found.  Now the bed felt impossible again.  Everything itched.  

I spent an hour or so reading on the couch, trying to calm down enough for sleep.  This happened two more times.  By now, it was 3 or 4 am, and I had had enough.  I ripped off the covers, one by one, looking, looking.  I inspected my pajamas repeatedly.  I took the headlamp and gave the sheets the once over.  I ran my hands over the moth-balled gingham sheet.  Lumps.  Lumps.

Under the bottom sheet were creatures. That is not supposed to happen.

I’d been sleeping on these sheets for three days already, but trapped under that bottom sheet were two crickets–one live, and one dead.

I know. They’re just crickets. They are charming outside, just like spiders are fascinating in their amazing webs outside. The bed is sacred, though. The bed is where one goes for a peaceful respite, not for the zoo.

I was being ridiculous.

But I couldn’t wait to get back to the city.


From ingaphotography.wordpress.com
From ingaphotography.wordpress.com

I was shell-shocked, sleepless,

mostly numb for three days straight.

On the fourth day, I was holding our tiny creation, mesmerized by her miniature, spastic gestures,

when I felt a sudden rush of sorrow and overwhelming futility.

Who am I to invite someone new into this crazy world?

Though fierce when provoked, I am so small, my shell hopelessly permeable.

What protection can I offer this perfect and vulnerable creature?

I wept for the confusion in store for her, for the first time she will be disappointed–perhaps by me–

And for the first time her heart will be broken.

Six of one; half a dozen of the other

Travel holds:


The pleasure of discovery,

of not knowing what to expect

A shift in perspective

A jolt to the senses

New landscapes—both physical and psychological

New stories, and new threads to old stories

A chance to reevaluate,

To find oneself

To lose oneself


Arriving home holds:

A roof

The ease of familiarity

The right pillows

A sense of belonging

The comfort of predictability,

A less tangible sort of baggage

A heating pad

An electric toothbrush

A grocery store stocked and organized in a familiar way

shelves of books

And a cat, curled around my neck while I read


Tiny girl clutched her raggedy rabbit

in a very particular way:

one bunny ear tucked in her mouth, keeping her thumb company,

the other poked partway up her nose

in a warm and vaguely comforting way.

She teetered on the edges of the room,

saucer-eyed and silent,

watching chaos unfold.

Sleep-deprived snarls,

caustic blasts of incomprehensible rage and frustration,

and at last, a primal bleating

made her customary nighttime monsters seem benign and predictable.





Not Their Real Names


From www.astorservices.org
From http://www.astorservices.org

Mrs. Steinbeck taught ninth grade English; Mr. taught social studies across the hall.

They were constantly feuding.

While we were diagramming sentences, she would moon about, saying things like, “If only I’d met Ted Danson before marrying Mr. Steinbeck.”

During tornado drills, we crouched in the hallway with textbooks over our heads, while Mrs. Steinbeck dropped bombs. “It would take a pretty big wind to lift you up, wouldn’t it, Mr. Steinbeck?” she yelled, trying to get a rise out of him. He narrowed his eyes and tightened his jaw, but always kept his cool.

Then one day, Mr. marched right into our class, raging that Mrs. had stolen his desk chair.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, shrugging. “I’ve had this chair since the beginning of the year.”

She tried to continue our lesson.

“I know my chair,” he huffed through clenched teeth. “If I pick it up, the back right caster falls off.”

Mrs. Steinbeck sat very still. Nobody breathed.

“If that’s really your chair, Mrs. Steinbeck, you wouldn’t mind if I tried picking it up, would you?”

Mrs. Steinbeck stood very, very deliberately, staring him in the eye all the while.

He grabbed and hoisted it triumphantly in the air.

It hung there for a long, silent moment.

Then, lo and behold, the back right caster hit the floor.

Nobody said a word as he wheeled it out the door.

Now, back to dangling participles.

How right you were, Mrs. Rosine

My eighth grade English teacher made us memorize poems and recite them in front of the class.

“Someday you’ll thank me,” she said. “What if you’re sent to prison? How will you make the time pass?”

Two years later, we stopped for tea with relatives before starting a 200-mile drive.

I gripped my warm mug and eyed the drifting flakes, tuning out my aunt’s cheerful banter.

Then, rolling at last,

The heavens opened

And deposited a great wall of snow in front of our Chevy.

Piled atop each other, we spent the next cramped hours


Emily Dickenson

Robert Frost

Edna St. Vincent Millay


William Shakespeare

Grown Up

I went to a party this weekend–the kind with save-the-dates and RSVP’s.

A twenty-four hour party, in a house full of favorite people.

We had long conversations,

and random, hilarious exchanges in the kitchen, doubling over and holding the counter for support.

As the light faded, a surf band materialized…

and a truckload of barbecue,

margaritas in mason jars,

ping pong, dancing,

and heat lamps on the giant patio.


Then, around 10 pm, I started thinking about that great book in my bag,

and the pile of pillows on my fuzzy blanket

and I wondered:

am I a little under the weather? Or just old?


Special bonus! One of my favorite poems of all time:

Grown Up

Was it for this I uttered prayers,
And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs,
That now, domestic as a plate,
I should retire at half-past eight?

– Edna St. Vincent Millay

The End

I had waited for this moment for years.

First with dread, of course–the inevitable fear of the inevitable.

Then I began to pray for it.

I prayed for some relief, some closure, a chance to worry about something completely different.

I punished myself for spawning such blasphemous thoughts, but they came all the same.


When it was time, I was ready.

I sat there all night, watching, breathing, waiting.

How did I miss it?

When had the last puff of air passed her lips and dispersed?

In the end, it was impossible to tell when it was. It just was.

Why did I wish for this–

this hole of nothing? This abyss?


Random stab at fiction inspired by artist Sophie Calle (long story), and A Night of Writing Dangerously.




From www.zdnet.com
From http://www.zdnet.com

I had one job:

Bring the bag.

I was asked twice.

Of course, I said.

No problem, I said.

I thought a lot about the bag.

I determined a suitable size and shape.

I planned its contents.

I discussed possibilities.

I made lists.

Piece of cake.

I was reminded once more, which was a little annoying.

Even so, I wrote it on my hand.

I laid everything on the bedroom floor, then arranged it neatly in the bag.

Now what?

I added a few items.

I put the bag in a prominent place.

I put a note on my bedside table, and set a reminder on my phone.

I passed the bag six or seven times this morning…

Guess what?