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The Difference Between God and a Surgeon

How one father’s worst nightmare—a horrifying accident involving his child—was transformed by the skill of a brilliant doctor

(page 4 of 4)

Grace spent three days in Evanston Hospital receiving antibiotics intravenously. Jennifer stayed in the room around the clock and slept in Grace’s bed with her. During the day she took a crash course in eyedrop technique and suture care, both critical to the healing process. She must have been a pretty good student because Grace was sent home sooner than expected. Along with her perforated metal eye shield and cool plastic ID bracelet, she’s packing prescriptions for Vigamox (an antibacterial liquid to ward off endophthalmitis and other infections), atropine (synthetic belladonna to paralyze the sphincter muscle of the iris, maintaining dilation; also to reduce pain and prevent complications), and Pred Forte (a steroid to maintain healthy pressure and reduce inflammation).

 

Drugs this potent, especially in combination, especially in a child’s eye, need precise management. We need to get each one into the eye three or four times a day, but not at the same time. As the dosages change, the protocol gets so complicated that Jennifer devises a sticker chart to keep it all straight, peeling off Hello Kitty stickers as rewards for holding still. The first few bandage brands we use to hold the shield in place irritate Grace’s delicate skin; after two return trips to the drugstore, the Johnson & Johnson First Aid Hurt-Free Tape finally works. We also stock a “treasure chest” with Hello Kitty toys, Play-Doh, and jungle-cat coloring books, from which Grace can choose one item at the end of each week in which she “helps Mommy help me get better.”

In the meantime, she can’t go to school. No jumping, running, skipping, somersaulting, ice-skating, bike riding. Can’t even go to the park because dirt or sand might get tossed or blown into her eye. Washing her hair takes an hour. No play dates for the first month or so, not even between drop applications; the responsibility would simply be too much to lay on another parent. In early March, Daddy begins a two-week tour to promote the paperback edition of Positively Fifth Street, his book about poker. On April 7th, with Daddy in Las Vegas, the rest of the family move into our new house.

Forty-six days after the accident-"Seems like 47,” says Mommy-Grace once again goes under general anesthesia so Rabiah can remove the stitches. This time it’s outpatient surgery, though still a big deal. It goes well. Easy as pie, as a matter of fact, especially for Daddy, since he’s off in L.A. signing books.

At the post-op appointment three days later, Daddy is around. When the smiling Nurse Rebecca tries to put in drops that would illuminate any scarring in the eye, Grace politely informs her, while wrenching herself from her grip, “I don’t want the yellow drops! Nooooooooooooo!” Rebecca puts in a Dumbo video and calls the drops “raindrops.” It works.

Once the drops have had time to work, in comes Rabiah. We all say hello as he opens a drawerful of lenses. Off go the overhead lights. His coal-miner ophthalmoscope makes Gracie laugh when he flicks on its beam. It’s the moment of truth. He wheels his chair up good and close, takes hold of her face, peers into her eye, looks around. We watch him, watch Gracie.

“Looks good and healthy in here.”

We exhale. On the monitor next to Dumbo, an eye chart for kids who can’t read yet appears. Rabiah covers Grace’s left eye, asking her to tell him what she sees.

“Your hand,” Gracie says.

Now he laughs. “Over here, on the screen.”

“A chick.”

“Now?”

“A house . . . a boat . . . a car . . . a phone.”

To test depth of field, he slides some high-tech lenses in oversize black frames onto her face. “Can you grab the fly’s wings?”

She reaches out, tries to.

“Which animals are popping up at you?”

She gets those right as well.

“Which of the circles?”

After a few minutes more of the same, he tells us, “Excellent.”

Turning back to Grace: “OK, you’re all done.” He gives her a pat as she hops into Jennifer’s lap.

“Everything looks good. There are two scars in her cornea, but they won’t affect her vision because they aren’t centered over the lens. She was lucky. The ocular pressure in both eyes is normal. Both eyeballs are round, firm, and normal.” She has 20/20 vision in the right eye, he tells us, 20/15 in the left “because of all the extra work it’s been doing.” Grinning like a couple of morons, we hold Grace and blubber our thanks.

Bottom line? Grace’s eye has never worked or looked better, and Jennifer is feeling pretty proud of herself for getting us through the ordeal. Grace returned to school, to the park, to ballet class; she hosts and goes on play dates, and is just about ready to lose her training wheels.

And Peter K. Rabiah? He is officially and forever The Man. Grace’s clear, huge, long-lashed, and flashing blue eye had been damaged, perhaps beyond repair; he repaired it. The more enthusiastically we communicate this to him during follow-up visits, the more embarrassed he becomes-which just makes him more of The Man.

Find out how you can see a live discussion with James McManus and Victoria Lautman sponsored by Chicago magazine on January 22nd.

Purchase a copy of James McManus’ new book, Physical, from Amazon.com:

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