Expectations matter. Psychological research suggests that you can drive rats (or humans) crazy by shocking them at random. Give them a light that precedes each electric shock so they can brace themselves, and they’ll get only mildly depressed. (And let them administer the shocks to themselves, and they’ll survive the same quantity of daily shocks with little or so ill-effects psychologically.)
The surgeon who operated on my eye last week didn’t do a very good job of helping me set my expectations. I asked him how long it would take after the surgery before I could drive – he told me I coul drive the next day. This was true, in a sense – had I wanted to drive home from Boston with no vision in my right eye, I suppose I could have. (This might explain something about Boston drivers. Perhaps they’ve all recently had eye surgery.)
My eye doctor here in Pittsfield hasn’t been able to give me clear expectations, but at least he’s helped me understand why it’s so hard to figure out when my eyes are going to heal. Looking at the surgeon’s handiwork on Tuesday, he said, “Wait, there are no sutures!” Vitrectomy, the surgery I had last week, used to require three single-stitch sutures on the white of the eye to close the holes made by the surgical instruments. The instruments my surgeon used are so small that it’s possible not to suture the wounds and just let them heal on their own.
In other words, my extremely talented, very well experienced doctor had never previously seen the surgery I’ve had done on my eyes.
So when I asked him how long it might take before the cloudiness in my right eye cleared, he didn’t answer. “Two weeks? Four weeks? Six?” I asked. “Those are all reasonable guesses.”
He did, however, have very smart healing advice. The reason playing video games seems to help the vision is that the best thing I can currently do is keep the eyes motionless. Staring at a TV screen helps; closing both eyes helps even more. Driving isn’t too bad – you tend to focus on a distant point – while riding in a car is terrible, as your eyes move all around. Walking? Not great, as the body motion shakes the eye – he’s recommending that I ride an exercise bike instead of going for walks to get cardiovascular exercise.
Tenth anniversary parties for your academic research center? Pretty bad, as it turns out. Making eye contact with a lot of people is surprisingly painful. So to minimize eye strain, I spent two days of a conference wearing blackout shades during the presentations, saving my eyes for the hallway conversations. Turns out this is actually a very nice way to enjoy an academic conference. I sat next to generous friends like Thomas Kriese and Beth Kolko, who read slides to me and helped me figure out appropriate times to ask or answer questions.
I’d expected to ne able to drive to this conference. Nope – I took the bus on Wednesday and took the train back today. I’d expected to be able to participate fully. Nope – I was so exhausted by three in the afternoon on the second day, I needed to head back to the hotel and nap before the gala dinner. I expect to go to San Antonio next week to see my wife’s family. But I’m starting to wonder whether the smart thing to do isn’t just to sit at home as much as possible.
If I’m honest with myself, I’d say that I expect to be able to return to a more or less normal schedule in about ten days. But I’m rapidly learning not to trust my expectations.
I met Beth Kolko several years ago in Tashkent. She both impressed me with her knowledge and gave me several English-language paperbacks (a scarce commodity in Uzbekistan).