May 15th, 2019

Lucky Me – The Upside of Looking Down

by Scott Gillum

The odds of it happening are 1 in 1500 or .0007%, about the same odds of being randomly selected to come onstage at a concert hall. Similar to Courteney Cox being pulled on stage by Bruce Springsteenin his iconic Born in the USA video, of course without the scripting. And now that I’ve dated myself, yes, the odds of this happening increase with age.

Lucky me. I am one of the few to experience a detached retina (and it’s a lot less fun than being at a concert). Making things even more random, I had none of the five leading factors — just cursed, unfortunately, with bad genes. As it became evident, both of my parents are carriers of a recessive gene causing this issue, and my brother (who has also experienced this) and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Not that there is ever a good time for this to happen, but this past week was particularly bad timing. With a huge pitch the day of my surgery and my daughter’s graduation from college the coming weekend, this was not the week. Adding fuel to the fire, up until this point, I had great eyesight (20/16) with no signs of any issue. Now I was facing surgery, along with a recovery period that is, literally, heads down for the next 7 days.

It all began the weekend before with a bike ride. After reaching the top of a decent-sized hill, I experience a particularly large “floater” in my right eye, which I would learn later, took a piece of my retina with it.

The following day, a dark “curtain” appeared in my peripheral vision. Having said brother go through this a year earlier, I knew this was not good and quickly contacted a doctor. Trust me when I tell you this type of phone call gets the attention of a retina specialist. I was in their office within 15 minutes (run, don’t walk, if this happens).

So, after a failed attempt to hold the retina in place with laser surgery, the curtain reappeared three days later. I returned to the specialist to receive the news that I would have to undergo immediate surgery to reattach the retina with sutures, and a gas bubble would be inserted to hold it in place (I have a bright green bracelet on to prove it). All of which are unpleasant on its own, but are “next level” when it involves your eye.  

Facing a doctor-imposed downtime (again, literally), I set out to make the most of it, but not before planning a nice little pity-party for myself and it was going to be a good one. Because of the restriction on my movement, I was convinced I wasn’t going to make it to my daughter’s graduation. I was headed to a darker place than my lost vision.

Thankfully, a random and timely Instagram DM from a friend sent me on a different path. Bill messaged a link to a podcast of an interview with Steve Gleason. Gleason, who played in the NFL for 8 years with the New Orleans Saints, was diagnosed with ALS (more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) three years after retiring,

The interview was remarkable. Steve, having lost his ability to speak, used his eyes to put together responses that used a voice bank he created when he was first diagnosed in 2011.  The podcast then led me to the 2016 award-winning documentary about his life. And that’s when my outlook about my own situation changed, dramatically.

Gleason” is one of the rawest, bravest and most brutally honest movies about living with a debilitating (and terminal) disease I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the most inspiring. The reaction to his diagnosis and how he chose to live his life afterward is an incredible story.

As a father, it was an emotional roller coaster watching Steve’s relationship with his father, and then his son. His dedication to helping others with the disease as he is losing his battle was, well, saintly — pun intended.

Now, with the pity party effectively cancelled by the inspirational heroics of a man wrestling with an incredibly cruel illness. I was off to conquer my next challenge — stillness. This may in fact have been my biggest concern — resting my eye.

The day before the surgery was my wife’s birthday. I had made plans to take her to a nearby spa. While there, I made my way to the meditation room. Knowing that I may have be immobilized for a period of time after the surgery, I thought I’d work on resting my mind. I lasted 2 minutes, according to my Fitbit.

It was such a concern that I brought it up with the surgeon suggesting that I may need a little help (wink, wink) to take the edge off. He didn’t bite. I was on my own.

Unfortunately, you can’t just hang a “closed” sign when running your own business and I really don’t have an “off” button. Shutting down or slowing an active mind and body isn’t that simple, especially without some help. Alcohol was a no go, walking around with monocular vision was hard enough. I’m tensing up just writing this — and yes, I’m supposed to be “resting.”

Help came in the form of some simple advice from my mom. Recognizing my inability to sit still from an early age, she suggested that I “be easy.” A phase her mother often used with her when she was young.

It’s interesting how often I would hear those two words and remind myself to slow down. Drying my hair with a towel, brushing my teeth, pulling a shirt over my head. All things that I normally would rush through to get to the next task, were now all little threats to the success of my surgery and/or speed of my recovery if I didn’t chill.

The tape covering the patch over my eye made it difficult to open my mouth, so I had to slow down when eating and take smaller bites. All good reminders to “be easy” and enjoy what I was eating. Staring at the floor with my head down for 50 minutes each hour became a natural position to practice humility and give thanks.

God threw me a haymaker (to my right eye), perhaps as a reminder to slow down, give thanks, and “be easy.” I would have been happy to receive the message another way, but it is what it is. What I also learned is that my situation is an opportunity to take stock of how really blessed I am.

My wife is a loving caregiver and we had a home full of supportive family for the graduation. Friends are checking in on me constantly and helping to support the business in my absence. Most importantly, I was able to attend my daughters graduation and my vision is starting to return. Yes, lucky me…a very lucky me.

4 Comments

  • Alan Quarry says:

    Oh man, thank goodness you had all that good advice and help Scott ! I sure hope you are now on the road to recovery from this event . Be easy my friend, Alan

  • Dad says:

    Tell me more about the “recessive gene. “

  • Sonita Reese says:

    Scott, thanks for sharing this important lesson. Life is going to throw us curve balls, and if we can’t “be easy”, they’ll knock us down. And that’s just bad – for us and whatever business we’re in. Grateful you are ok!

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