Yesterday I had a laser procedure to mend a retinal tear in one of my eyes; the other eye is being monitored because of suspected vitreous detachment. This is probably a result of my fall on ice in Edmonton last week. I thought I had a badly bruised and possibly cracked coccyx (my doctor confirmed that either or both are likely) but then developed some visual, well, not problems exactly because the experience was very beautiful but apparently beauty is not a consideration when your retina is torn. You need to have it repaired, and as quickly as possible. I’m lucky.
Yesterday I asked my (new to me) ophthalmologist about some things I’d seen while being examined in the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s Eye Institute on Sunday evening (another lucky thing, because there just happened to be a young ophthalmologist in the Institute who was willing to examine me and who alerted me to the necessity of immediate action once we were back on the Coast) and he told me I’d experienced “entoptic phenomena”, visual effects within my eye. I won’t detail those right now because they fit so beautifully into an essay I am writing called “The Blue Etymologies”, an exploration of the colour blue, my work with indigo dye (the image at the beginning of this post is cotton dyed last year), some old blueprints associated with my grandparents in the 1940s Beverly (then a small mining community just outside Edmonton but now part of the city), some cyanotype prints by the 19th century English botanist and photographer Anna Atkins, and some other elements a little too complicated to explain just now.
The world of our senses is extraordinary and profound. We see, and then we realize how that happens. We have intense lights directed into our eyes and we see images so beautiful that we weep. Maybe a little because of the discomfort of a cracked tailbone as we sit on the examining chair and the pressure of the ophthalmologist’s tools. But maybe we have been given something else. When I was trying to describe this sensation to my son Forrest on the phone the other evening, he wondered if I’d read Oliver Sacks’s essay, “Altered States”, in which he sees indigo. No, I hadn’t. But yesterday, before my medical appointment, I found a copy at our library and read the essay last night before sleep.
I had long wanted to see “true” indigo, and thought that drugs might be the way to do this. So one sunny Saturday in 1964, I developed a pharmacologic launchpad consisting of a base of amphetamine (for general arousal), LSD (for hallucinogenic intensity), and a touch of cannabis (for a little added delirium). About twenty minutes after taking this, I faced a white wall and exclaimed, “I want to see indigo — now!”
And then, as if thrown by a giant paintbrush, there appeared a huge, trembling, pear-shaped blob of the purest indigo. Luminous, numinous, it filled me with rapture. It was the colour of heaven…
His methodology sounds a little more interesting than mine (a hard fall on the butt and a torn retina) but yes, that was it. The colour of heaven. Right before, or rather inside, my eye. He never found it again.
9 thoughts on “blue windows”
Oliver Sacks was extraordinary! As are you, Theresa! Most people would only complain about a fall on the ice and a torn retina, but you find richness and beauty. It reminds me of Sacks’s story of coming down a mountainside on his butt in extreme pain, having injured his knee. Have you read it? https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/09/oliver-sacks-a-leg-to-stand-on/
That’s an amazing piece, Leslie. Thanks so much for the link. I loved this: “I could not hurry — I could only hope.” A mantra for these days, that’s for sure. I’ve enjoyed his books over the years — the one on music, Uncle Tungsten, the last essays (River of Consciousness, I think it was called), and others; but somehow never read Hallucinations, which contains the essay with the “recipe” for indigo. And now I have A Leg to Stand On to look forward to.
I loved the film version of Awakenings, too. I liked Robin Williams’ portrayal of the character based on him. I haven’t read the book so I don’t know how true to it the movie is. But it’s a beautiful story.
Yes, I loved it too. I did read the book years ago. Was the film close to it? I think so but again, years ago. He was such a humane writer and so frank about his own life. In the essay I’m reading, he’s about to inject himself with drugs as a birthday gift to self. An odd but endearing confidence to share with his readers.
I hope your retina heals well, though I almost envy you the experience you describe. Such a blue–in a year of blue for you! Hope your tailbone heals too!
It’s been a week since the fall and I think my tailbone is healing fairly well. And as for the visual situation — in a way it was a gift. Not that I wish for it again but so much beauty can’t be entirely regretted, Alice!
Theresa, I hope you get all the right treatment and the eyes recover fully. I’ve done consulting work in eye care so know that, as your doctors advised, prompt treatment is of the essence. Nothing like an unexpected fall to ‘upend’ your health but, as usual, you are eloquent and thoughtful. Take care.
Your comment is much appreciated, Lorne. I think I was very lucky and am doing all the right things (I think!). It’s made me grateful for our health care as well as for my two eyes, taken for granted for so long.
[…] books but many, perhaps more than half. Recently I went back to his Hallucinations to figure out some stuff about perception and brain function as a result of a retinal injury suffered in November when I fell […]