Ever heard of a neuro-ophthalmologist?
Well... I know I hadn’t, until the day I needed one.
The family upright piano, originally purchased for my Aunt Mary Ellen’s piano lessons in the 1920s (or some other ancient time), was making its way back around to me. I’m not much of a player, but I do enjoy making most of the sounds that come out when I sit down at the bench and give the keys a whack. It also felt fortuitous that I was getting a turn at the instrument now, what with all the stories that inevitably arise about “breakthroughs” and “mysterious connections” that people living in (primarily) the end stages of Alzheimer’s can experience with exposure to live music.
The Alzheimer's angle was less on my mind than the opportunity to sit down and play again, whenever I wanted to.
Imagine my surprise when the delivery day turned out to be less than exciting. I’d dug through my sheet music I’d been carrying around since forever, picked out some pieces I might be able to get through, and prepared to play. I arranged the music, sat down on the bench, adjusted the tails of my swallowtail coat, waited for the rapt concertgoers to hush….just kidding…..
Once I glimpsed the keyboard, I knew that my long-awaited return to the piano was a bust. The keys refused to line up! Instead, I saw only a pile of white, with occasional random thin black lines. It was my long-term memory that came to the fore, telling me I was seeing the 88 keys in a hopeless jumble. And, yes, those were my real-life fingers and hands at the top of the pile.
What was missing were the connections. I could understand the notes on the page in front of me. I could imagine or remember what sounds to expect when I hit the keys. But my brain was overwhelmed. I tried closing one eye. I tried closing the other eye. Best, I tried closing both eyes! Better piano players than I don’t need music. Just a few scribbles about keys and chords can keep many musicians busy for hours.
I had an appointment coming up with my regular eye doctor, so I decided to ask him about it. He had no clue, and recommended a local neuro-ophthalmologist. I learned that this specialty practice is designed to deal with eye and vision abnormalities that may have fallen through the cracks of mainstream ophthalmology. Accordingly, a sign at the check-in desk warns that initial visits are at least two hours long. Good thing I have time on my hands, as Dr. A runs me through his mill, and writes a lengthy report on the long and short of my visual systems. Like my other tests, it’s more about what I DON’T have rather than what I DO have. He is willing to venture that my problem with the errant keys is simply a matter of "Mental Confusion" somehow related to my "memory problem." "Sorry, there's nothing else to be done."
My super-dilated eyes drip an extra tear or two when he reports that he found a small cataract on each eye, too small to worry about right now. Does he know that my life expectancy just took a nose-dive of ten years or so, making baby cataracts the least of my worries?!?