My Tico Heart: Katya De Luisa; Almost Blind
The prospect of going blind was horrific and a state of constant anxiety overwhelmed me. Glaucoma had already taken 25% of my vision in one eye, the other was on the same trajectory. Worse yet, Cataracts were clouding everything. The glare from lights had caused me to stop driving at night for over a year. The CAJA system was so slow here in Costa Rica, I’d be using a seeing-eye dog before I’d get a surgery appointment.
Over the years, I’d taken every medication available for glaucoma but they either didn’t bring down the eye pressure or I experienced side effects. Being chemical sensitive is hard to explain. It’s not allergies, it’s that I react in unexpected ways to medications. I was aware I’d probably have trouble with a lot of the drugs they’d use during the surgeries and recuperation; this added to my stress. So the only option was to return to Florida and take advantage of my Medicare.
It was summer in Sarasota, Florida, and very hot and humid. My son, Damon, met me at the airport and drove me to his small house where I slept on the sofa. The first week I purchased a dodge van and took out the back seats to keep a bicycle in it. I loved driving to different places and then bike around especially at remote beaches or state parks.
Later I found a popup camper, which seemed might save my relationship with my son. Our cramped quarters were stressing both of us. We set up the camper in the backyard under a sprawling oak tree. It was equipped with a kitchen and beds but unfortunately no bathroom. At night I used a bucket and during the day the bathroom in the house. I loved having the privacy and my son was relieved not having his mother in his face all day.
I immediately enrolled in the Senior Friendship Center’s medical clinic to begin a round of tests while waiting for my Medicare approval. The clinic accepted uninsured seniors and had volunteer medical staff, mostly retired. Everyone treated the patients with such respect and kindness it was an example of what medical facilities should be. The Center was a non-profit organization that consisted of three buildings, one for daily recreational activities for seniors like weekly exercise classes, dances, and live music. They also had a daycare building for people with dementia and the other was the medical clinic.
The Medicare approval took two months and I soon discovered how difficult it was to find a reputable eye surgeon who would accept it.
Dr. Friedman had a good reputation as a surgeon but his bedside manner really stunk. He was pretty cut and dry about my prognosis and didn’t put much stock in chemical sensitivity. You were either allergic or not.
The trabeculectomy operation consisted of opening a hole in the eyeball to relieve the pressure. The first operation also included cataract surgery which normally recovery was short and you’d normally go back in a week to have the second eye done. However, because of the glaucoma procedure, I had to wait six weeks in between surgeries. When the first bandage came off, the colors of everything were so vivid and again I could see the detail of the leaves on the trees. I was so excited I couldn’t wait for the next eye to be done.
Unfortunately, during the three months of recuperation, I had several complications and had to go back into surgery two more times. Then to top it off, I had reactions to the steroids in the medication which were supposed to keep eye swelling down. None of it was easy, and between renewed difficulties with my son and the complications, I was emotionally wearing out.
After four months of living under the oak tree, I realized I needed to find different living arrangements. Funny, how even the simplest facial expression or word can ignite old childhood triggers in our adult children. The problems we were having weren’t helping my healing and I started looking for another place to live.
During this time, I regularly attended a large Unitarian Church. They had a friendly congregation and a monthly potluck where I’d meet new people. They also had an art gallery where I participated in the shows and a handicraft fair where I sold a lot of what I’d created.
At the church, I met Lisa, an 82-year-old woman with Parkinson’s. She was looking for someone to share her house. She was offering it as a free place in exchange for some help with her home and having an emergency person in the house. One door closes and another opens I always say.
She was a minuscule woman, who had lived through two husbands who had both died of Parkinson’s. It always amazed me her zest for life and how in spite of being very aware of her own impending fate she refused to give in to it. My main concern was her driving which was terrible and dangerous for everyone and I refused to ride with her unless I drove.
Lisa had a beautiful four-bedroom house in a wooded area just down the road from my son’s house. As with many of her generation, she had collected a lot of “stuff” over the years and asked if I could help downsize. Right up my OCD alley! Organizing and downsizing is my passion. For the next three months, I immersed myself in sorting room by room and then the garage which was a real testament to my abilities. Eventually finished with the house, I moved on to redesigning the overgrown garden, which I loved even more. My healing was coming along well, my son and I were again on good terms and I was riding my bike again.
During that last year in Costa Rica, I had started my book on dementia. But with the move and the medical issues, it had gone on hold. My friend, Dery Dyer, the owner of the Tico Times, had been my mentor and editor during that time and she contacted me encouraging me to continue writing. Once again, I threw myself into it. I wrote about the possibilities involved in merging science and spirituality with a relationship to dementia. I was inspired and after several months was almost finished but couldn’t come up with a name for it.
I regularly exhibited at venues around Sarasota and conducted workshops teaching many of the various techniques I’d experimented with over the years. During one of my classes at the Selby Botanical Gardens, I met Goldie and she began attending most of my classes including the ones I held at Lisa’s. We became close friends and eventually, she offered to lend me the money to publish the book. I remember the day the boxes arrived with a hundred books and how excited I was to open them; felt like a kid at Christmas.
Throughout the year I’d accumulated a large collection of art themes focused on mind and consciousness. Up to now, I hadn’t been interested in doing one-woman shows, I’d just occasionally exhibited in collectives. Then I got an idea.
After attending a play at the Players Theater, I noticed their spacious lobby showcased individual local artists. I requested a show and was immediately accepted. I wanted to call it the “Demented Mind” and donate 50% of the proceeds to a nonprofit for those with Parkinson’s. They were very generous in funding the publicity and the inauguration buffet but they didn’t like the name and I changed it to the “Infinite Mind”.
The inauguration was in coordination with the opening of a new play and there were over two hundred people in attendance. Several pieces sold and I was pretty content with the outcome.
It was now a year and a half since I left Costa Rica to save my eyesight. I still had to wear glasses but my vision was now better than ever. Although again I was pretty involved with the Sarasota scene, Costa Rica started pulling me home once more.
As usual, I sold whatever didn’t fit into my luggage and relished the sense of freedom this brought me. Gratefulness for my time in Florida and my saved eyesight filled my heart as I watched the flat expanses of Florida disappear as the plane gained altitude.
It’s always in these moments I feel can feel a transcendental state of 100% presence. My prior life is behind me and the new has not materialized yet. It’s that in-between state where I actually feel me. It’s a time where I’ve closed the book on one life and where I haven’t opened the new one with its endless array of possibilities.
It’s a moment where the world finally makes sense, a pause where at last I find the true essence of who I am.