The Eyes Don’t Lie

Living with keratoconus and the treatment I’ve sought.

Important things. Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt ©2021

I had my follow-up visit with the Duke Eye Center for my recent diagnosis of keratoconus on Friday, October 22, 2021. The news my ophthalmologist/corneal specialist shared was good. There is no scarring and no significant change in my eyes — no additional con-caving or coning of my corneas. This is good for multiple reasons, but I’ll just mention two of them. 1. Negative progression of the corneas is minimal. 2. It keeps me out of the tunnel with surgery (a cornea transplant for both eyes) as the light at the end. If you remember, I mentioned not wanting to even think about surgery, so I am ecstatic about this recent news.

My ophthalmologist wanted the same tests done as my previous visit, but two more had been recommended as well. One process required a numbing agent for my eyes. The nurse’s assignment was to assess the pressure of each eye. She announced her need to get near me in order to do this — as she rolled on her stool closer to me, my breathing halted. I am not a person who cares for people in my personal space, however; I recognize sometimes; it has to take place in certain situations. As she dropped the numbing agent in the first eye, I stopped breathing and she held her hand up to go to the other eye and said, “I need you to breathe, Tre. This doesn’t work if you don’t breathe.”

I instantly exhaled and inhaled as I normally would. I apologized — informing her it was simply my body’s natural defense and reaction to someone getting so close. She smiled and said, “It’s absolutely normal and expected, but you still have to breathe.” And breathe, I did. After the numbing agent had been applied, she said softly, “Blink. Blink. Blink.” I did as instructed. She announced coming closer to me again and this time, there was a device in her hand (it looked a lot like this, I failed to ask what it was and I beat myself up for it when I left the building) and she rubbed the tip of the device on my eyeball rotating it in small circles. She did the same thing for the other eye.

The look on my face caused her to giggle. She said, “Wasn’t expecting that, were you?” I most certainly was not! To have someone rub some type of device which captures the pressure of your eyes on your actual eyeballs was clearly not on my list of to-dos that morning when I awakened. Afterward, I saw little black dots for a few moments. It took a few more minutes before I could see clearly again without the little black dots and swirlies, and then we were off to yet another room where I would wait for the ophthalmologist.


I appreciate my ophthalmologist. His bedside manner is one I’d rank a 10 out of 10 and he’s also pretty funny. He entered the room as he did six months ago — ecstatic and noticeably happy to do his job. We elbow-bumped, and we were off to him asking me a few questions to which I had the answers. He began by telling me about the numbers collected at the most recent visit versus my previous one. He also showed me the slight change in my corneas by using the cornea model in the exam room. Just in case you’re wondering, a healthy cornea model looks like a huge contact lens and a cornea model deformed by keratoconus looks like that same huge contact lens bent bottom-up as if it were going to tear in half and come clean off the eyeball. *shudders*

He was pleased with the numbers, and images gathered from the testing. The reassurance I received from him about my current status eased my nervousness and worry as well. I am in a good place to still be a candidate for scleral contacts, however, no surgery is needed at this time. The scleral contacts are supposed to help sharpen the blurry images and my need to squint (natural reaction) to try to see small writing or images far away. To have a sharper vision will be a godsend and I await it like the day awaits nightfall.

Taking into consideration the fact I am severely near-sighted, have astigmatism in both eyes, and have also been slapped with keratoconus, and my vision has not changed drastically in the last six months, was paramount. The news was the best I had received all morning, and I could not contain my elation. Before leaving, they had advised me to continue with the changes I have made, keep up the Pataday regimen, and take as much time as I can away from devoting my eyes to the blue light of electronic devices.

Listen, I appreciate the $5.00 off coupon the center gives for the Pataday eye drops. That mess is expensive for a teeny tiny bottle. But, I digress. It is necessary, and it works.


As it stands, I have an appointment with my optometrist on Friday, February 25, 2022, for my annual eye exam and the fitting of the scleral contacts. I will follow up with my ophthalmologist/corneal specialist on Friday, May 20, 2022. He wants me to have at least a few months under my belt using the scleral contacts before coming back for additional testing. The flip in visits between the two of these doctors for my eyes will take place for as long as my ophthalmologist deems necessary. Keratoconus is lifelong and currently, there is no cure (outside of surgical procedures), so I’d better get rather comfortable with the entire process of it all.

I am thankful for decent vision insurance — I could not afford this level of care without it. By stating this, I am not flaunting the value of my healthcare coverage, but the truthfulness of the aspect to the level of care of which I am receiving. The care is not an inexpensive one and my pockets do not run deep. Take care of your eyes, beautiful people.


Originally published in soliloque via Medium.

Read more about this: The Beginning and The Follow-up.

I’m a Bit on Edge, but She Doesn’t Care

Working from home isn’t supposed to be painful, too. Is it?

Jernee Timid, my little monster. Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt
Jernee Timid, my little monster. Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt

For those of you who have followed me through some recent transitions, you know I changed positions last November. I shifted from working in an imaging facility to schedule patients for their imaging services and invasive procedures instead. The change came with a “Get Out of Hell Free Card” and I happily jumped at the opportunity to be safe at home while still working for an organization that has consumed my life for over three years.

At my previous job, I began as a Patient Access Specialist, assisting patients during their check-in process and showing them to various departments within our facility. My job also included accepting their payments and explaining their estimate printout to them for their services.

And then, there was COVID-19 . . .

And our world changed. We had to prepare ourselves for what was quickly shaping up to be a royal pain in the ass. Our facility needed screeners for Coronavirus COVID-19 symptoms. And since I was my team’s Patient Experience Innovator, I felt obligated to volunteer for this task.

We started off with four screeners. Soon after dealing with a few irate patients and the possibility of contracting the virus, we dwindled down to two. Because of the influx of patients we began seeing for chest X-rays and chest CT scans, it was obvious we needed all Patient Access Specialists at the front desk to assist with the check-in process, but a screener had to remain. That screener was me.

The job . . . was a mind-numbing, heart-crushing, soul-deadening position, but it had to be done. And I am glad my time doing that — screening people in the depths of a deadly virus for the actual symptoms of that virus, is over. But the pain of it all has followed me to the safety of my home.

Although I have no physical contact with any of the patients with who I communicate, I am still there with them. I feel their pain. I try to understand their concerns and their worries. With the Delta variant of this virus scooping up the lives of many, answering the phone to schedule patients for hundreds of imaging scans and invasive procedures is becoming a full-feature film, completely immersed in the lives of others.

Many of the conversations I have with patients now include the following phrases or some variation of them: “I’m sorry, but I have to cancel my appointment. I’ve got COVID,” “Hey! I have to reschedule to a later date. My husband tested positive for the virus,” “I can’t make my appointment. My child’s school sent them home,” or “I’m sorry . . . I’m going to have to bury my mother soon, and I can’t think about anything else right now. I need to cancel.”

And this is my daily interaction — speaking with the sufferers or suffering and my heart is about to explode!

I am often told by my patients who I schedule I make their scheduling experience easier — lighter. I’m easy to talk to and efficient and thorough. My supervisors commend me as their voicemails pile up from little snippets of recorded calls from these interactions. This is all fine and well, but . . . I thought I would feel differently at home.

I don’t.


Keeping watch: Jernee Timid Loadholt. Photo Credit: Tremaine L. Loadholt

These are the times in which I am glad I am not completely alone. Many of you know of how I have spoken about and still speak about the healing powers of my little Chorkie, Jernee. She has truly been a godsend. I can feel myself cracking — breaking away slightly, but I can take one look at this being in between calls, and something in me settles, sits back, and realigns itself.

The tears stop flowing. The pain slowly subsides. Life feels fresher — freer again, if only momentarily. Those few moments are necessary throughout my workdays.

What do you say to someone who is going to bury their mother amid a raging virus? How do you comfort a worried parent who has to take time off work to quarantine with and care for her child? How do you comfort a wife who will now be her husband’s caretaker as he wades himself through the various symptoms his immunocompromised body will endure? What do you tell a mother/grandmother whose adult daughter had to be rushed by an ambulance because she couldn’t breathe on her own?

Hundreds of scenarios pass by my ears. Hundreds of people hurting, worried, scared, and counting down the days before death slips them a calling card. All of this . . . and then, Jernee. And then, Jernee. And then, Jernee . . . again and again.

And I have to tell you, I am a bit on edge. She must know this. She sees this. And she doesn’t care. The only thing she knows to do is approach me with love.

And right now, during these dog days of living, I need that love — her love. Right now, I am grateful it exists. She’s not judging me for breaking down. She’s not telling me to be stronger. She is simply being here for me.

Working from home isn’t sheltering me from any pain. It only keeps me safe. And really, is that enough?

I hear of stories from my team members who are still at the facilities, still trying to make caring for patients work and people have gotten beyond rude. I am told patients hurl objects at the Patient Access Specialists or screeners who ask them the COVID-19 screening questions. It gets worse when someone questions if they’re going to follow up with their second dose of the vaccine (really, if you knew how many people actually only received one dose and are simply avoiding the second dose, you’d raise an eyebrow, maybe two).

Is this living? Are we living? When did it ever become acceptable for healthcare workers to be abused based on someone’s fucked up sense of “freedoms” and “rights”? I seriously want to know. Do any of you have the answers?

I sit at home, stare off into space in between calls or I say a prayer or two or three, and I look to Jernee to get me through each day. As time plows on, I hope this is enough.

I hope it is. I really hope it is.


Musical Selection: Michael Jackson, The Lady in my Life

Originally published in Age of Empathy via Medium.

Unwell

10 Words

Jernee, sitting near my workstation–my brave girl

sweet, sweet girl
battling digestive issues
ever close to me


Jernee was having a bad day yesterday. The poor girl has a history of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, so her belly had been acting up from the early morning hours until a little after 1:45 pm. I am so happy she’s feeling much better now.

Hearing Nothing

Flash Fiction

“Grampy, the plumbers are here to take a look at the busted pipes!”

Elijah yells toward the back of his grandparents’ shotgun house — screams loud enough for the neighbors to hear.

“You wanna give me my pipe? Yes, boy, that’ll be all right. It’s in the den on the coffee table.”

Elijah shakes his head and cautions the plumbers with his right hand and then directs them to the bathroom on the first floor which is where they will begin their work.

“No, Grampy! The pipes! The busted pipes from the storm. The plumbers are here to fix them!”

“Mice!!! When did we get mice?! Lemme get up and find some traps, boy. We can’t have no mice cohabitating with us. No, siree.”

Elijah presses two fingers to the temples of his head and massages slowly. He then walks toward his grandfather’s bedroom and enters the room with a defeated look on his face. He stands near the window, breathes out, and begins again . . .

“Grampy, the plumbers are here to fix the pipes. There are no mice and you stopped smoking that godawful pipe three years ago.”

He looks at his grandfather, places a hand on his shoulder, and smiles gently.

“Well, if you wanted company boy, why didn’t you just say so? Sure, they can spend the night.”

A look of bewilderment shot across Elijah’s face as he tried to understand exactly what his grandfather was going on about now.

“Grampy, for who to spend the night? This is about the pipes, Grampy. The busted pipes!”

His voice was at a measured shrill with just enough volume to alert his grandmother in the kitchen. She came running to her grandson’s aid.

“Gerald! Pay attention to me, please. Elijah said the plumbers are here to start work on the busted pipes from that winter storm! They’re in the bathroom downstairs, that’s where they’ll begin!”

Although she was shouting, Sue’s voice was just as serene and peaceful as if she were speaking calmly to an infant. Elijah thought to himself, surely his grandfather would not hear her.

“Now, Elijah is going to keep watch over them while they work on the pipes and I’ll finish dinner.”

A brief moment of silence waltzed in on them and Elijah and Sue awaited Gerald’s response.

“Sue, of all the things in this world you could call me, I never thought a sinner would be one of them. And if those plumbers don’t hurry up and get here, we’re going to spend another night in this house with no water!”

Sue looked at Elijah, smiled, and gave his hand a pat.

“Today’s almost done, Elijah. Tomorrow is a new day. Maybe it’ll be a good day for him.”

Elijah gave his grandmother’s hand a gentle pat and smiled back at her.

“Maybe.”


Originally published in The Weekly Knob via Medium.