Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Out of Sight - the slow realization that an infant might be blind

He had a blocked tear duct. Maybe. That's what I thought, anyway. Hard to tell. Common in newborns, I was told. God, he was so small. And coming off the drugs he would cry silent tearless cries, mouth open, head twisting to the side, back arched.

I had other things to worry about, like keeping him swaddled and comforted and encouraging him to stay awake long enough to eat. Dealing with the umbilical cord that refused to dry up. Finding clothes that didn't fall off his five pound frame. But then one morning, his left eye started draining yellow goop and was stuck shut. And then the other eye looked a little weird.

And so, in the middle of a winter rain storm, with high winds gusting over the island and the puddles gleaming in the streetlights, I wrapped him up and took him to the emergency room. It was Christmas Eve. He was 8 days old.

Born two weeks early, the blood in his veins coursing with crystal meth and nicotine, he was still 6 days shy of his due date that night. The idea of taking him to the ER with all of it's germs and drama seemed counter-productive, but it couldn't be helped on a holiday weekend. The nurses weighed him, and oohed and aaahed and told him how very beautiful he was, as he farted and grunted and moaned loudly with his mouth agape and his head twisting, as is his way. Eventually as it neared midnight and I worried about getting home to hang the stockings, he slept quietly on the gurney and I lay next to him reading the newspaper. They took samples of the goop on his eyes and sent it off to the lab: "Could be chlamydia", the doctor informed me solemnly. We left for home at 11pm with a tube of erythromycin ointment, just in time for Santa - Baby's first Christmas. They never called back with the test results, and the pediatrician didn't seem concerned at his appointment a few days later.

I dutifully applied the ointment and warm compresses as directed.

He never blinked.

I mean, I would put the ointment on the end of my clean fingertip, and then put my finger in the corner of his eye and begin to draw it across, and he never batted an eye. Never closed his eye in response to having something stuck in it.

He never blinked.

I started paying closer attention. He didn't look at me while he was being fed. He didn't look at me ever. He never closed his eye in response to having it wiped or prodded - I learned to start from the upper eyelid and encourage him to close his eye with gentle pressure, so that I could wipe it clean without touching his eyeball with the cloth.

I held up toys and lights. I danced. I waved my fingers in his face.

He never blinked.

If I spoke he would follow the sound, turning his head to look in my direction. My voice would calm him when he was upset, so I called to him from across the room or crooned as I rocked him in my arms. In bright sunlight he would squint and squirm and turn away, folding himself up into my armpit with his mittened fists pressed on either side of his forehead. He is always near me, squirming his way up under my chin or burying his face into my collarbone.

I keep him close - strapped to my chest, asleep in my arms, snoring softly in the bassinet next to me as I type this, Max and Lucy and Sam leaning over every once in a while to marvel at his sweetly sleeping form.

They say they will send a nurse to assess him. That it is early days. That he is too young to be tested. That his eye muscles may still be immature. That it could be nothing.

But I have to be sure. There is this feeling, this nagging little feeling in my chest. All of those drugs, maybe she was drinking. Maybe it is chlamydia. Maybe it is something else. Something is just not right.

I have to follow up. I have to follow through. I have to wait. We will wait here, together, he and I asleep and awake together, moving through the dark and the light in three hour intervals together.

I will not leave him.

I cannot look away. I cannot blink.


Sherry said...

Your a wonderful human being, God Bless him and you and your family,

Sometimes your writing simply amazes me but on 2nd thought it's not your words........... it's your HEART speaking.......

Anonymous said...

You and your little Dude have been on my mind ever since I read your latest post. I'm hoping for the best for the little man, but no matter what happens, he couldn't be with a better family to help him through it all.

All the best,