At about 4 o’clock this afternoon, Asa came around after being under anaesthetic for a cataract operation. It was the first time he’d had surgery – indeed, anything but routine eye exams – for more than a year.
Selam and I felt more anxious than we’d expected to be about this operation. It brought back memories of difficult times. Times – there had been dozens of them – when we waited, with a mixture of fear and hope, for news of how the procedure had gone. There had been a few times when we’d felt we we were close to losing him – like that time when he was on second-line chemo, and I was in Congo, and Selam told me over the phone that his Hickman line was infected. Or that time, during the third course of chemotherapy, when he went into anaphylactic shock.
Compared to those occasions, this cataract operation was low-risk. And, thank goodness, it went smoothly.
As Asa gradually regained consciousness, he put his fingers to the plastic shield taped over his right eye to protect it. Selam sat at the foot of the bed, with one hand on Asa’s leg; every now and then she reached over to the pram in which baby Ayya lay, and rocked her.
“I want to take it off,” Asa said.
“Not yet,” Selam said. “Tomorrow morning, when the doctor’s checked your eye.”
Within the last few weeks Asa has for the first time started to talk confidently about how he sees, and to acknowledge that he is visually impaired. For years we tiptoed around the topic. We wanted him to enjoy childhood like any other boy. His certification (Severely Visually Impaired) ensured he got extra help in nursery and primary school, but we didn’t want him to feel labelled. To feel deficient.
Now that he’s had a few years of special treatment – Braille lessons, homework assignments printed in larger font than the other children get, and experience with a variety of visual aids like magnifying glasses – he recognizes that he’s different.
What impresses us most of all is that he doesn’t complain. He speaks of it matter-of-factly.
When Asa gets up from the hospital bed, he asks us to tie a blindfold partway round his head to keep light from the sensitive eye. We walk back to the hotel where we’ll spend the night before the post-op check in the morning.
The promise of the cataract operation is that Asa will see better out of his right eye. Not necessarily better than he did before the cataract developed, but better than he has for the last few months. More importantly, it improves the view the doctors get of the back of his eye when they examine him, so they can keep tabs on the tumours on his retina.
In the hotel room, Asa spreads out his Lego on the carpet. And, in that special way of children at play, he seems to forget about everything else in the world.