Last summer, we were preparing for K to enter kindergarten. An eye exam was one of the registration requirements. Given that her birth mother and birth siblings do not wear glasses, I assumed K’s eyes were probably fine. She had never complained about headaches or difficulty seeing, and the eye exam was not high in the forefront of my consciousness.
A few weeks before school began, we made an appointment at the local Spex store for a routine eye exam.
“Don’t worry,” I reassured K, as we waited to go into the little examining room behind the display cases filled with rows of glasses. “I’m sure your eyes are okay. This will take ten minutes. Just read the letters on the screen.”
An hour later, we were on the phone making an appointment with my husband’s eye doctor. K couldn’t see well out of her left eye, even when corrective lenses were in place.
Sixteen eye drops and two dilations later, we were referred to our third eye doctor, this one a pediatric eye specialist. K was diagnosed with amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye. The eye doctor explained that K’s brain was interpreting visual images from her right eye and ignoring her left eye. If the condition remained untreated, her left eye would become functionally useless and she would go blind in that eye.
K was a trooper about the fact that she needed glasses. She picked out an adorable pair of very sophisticated glasses, and she willingly wears them every waking hour. She exclaims over how much easier it is to see, and she asks for her glasses first thing every morning.
The Patch, however, is another story. Like many children with amblyopia, K needs to wear a patch over her good eye, because glasses alone have not improved the vision in her left eye. By patching her right eye, we force her brain to use the left eye.
The Patch has been a daily struggle for months. K hates it, despises it, detests it. There are not words strong enough for her emotions. It has not gotten easier, as we had hoped. She has not grown used to wearing it. The Patch has become a metaphor for everything that hurts her. It opens her wounds instead of healing them.
A typical daily Patch rant starts like this: “Mommy, I don’t want to wear it right now. Let’s do it later. After breakfast, after school, after dinner, after a million years.”
Then the Patch protest progresses to: “I am the only kid who wears a patch. Everyone will think I look funny. I don’t look pretty. I hate the Patch.”
Once K has warmed up to her cause, the Patch diatribe turns to: “I hate being different. I am the only kid in my class who is adopted. I am the only kid in my class who wears glasses. I am the only kid in my class who is Jewish.” (By the way, we always point out that H is also Jewish, but for some inexplicable reason Katie doesn’t think he is Jewish enough to count).
We have tried ordering special patterned patches for little kids. She hates them and cries until the adhesive is no longer sticky and the Patch peels away from her tearstained face.
We have tried decorating plain patches with friends. This was tolerable at first. K’s friend Claire drew a giant blue eye on a couple of patches, and K got a kick out of looking like Mad-Eye Moody from the Harry Potter series. But the novelty of being Mad-Eye wore off faster than it takes to finish a chapter in Goblet of Fire, and we were back to the drawing board.
We bought some terrific children’s books about other little kids who had to wear a patch. One book, actually called The Patch, was a huge hit with K and her sister. They chose it for their bedtime story every night for three weeks. K tried wearing a pirate patch, like the character in the book. It was fine for the first thirty minutes of each day, but after that she would plead, beg, whine, wheedle and moan for us to remove the Patch.
We purchased My Traveling Eye, another excellent book about a little girl who has to wear a patch. K enjoys the story, but it has not translated into easier patch-wearing.
At age six, K is old enough to be aware of looking different. She is at that vulnerable age where she wants to be
a little kid, but she also wants to be cool. This has been a year of big transitions for her. I thought the hardest change would be starting full-day Kindergarten in a Spanish immersion program.
I was wrong. The hardest change has been the Patch. K can easily handle seven hours of school in a Spanish-speaking classroom. But fifteen minutes of the Patch reduces her to tears.
What has surprised me is how many adults stare at her and ask questions. I expected it from kids, but not from grown-ups. K notices it, and I always feel a tug in my heart when she covers her right eye with her hand and ducks her head to stop someone from staring. In the grocery store, at restaurants, always someone asks her, “What happened to your
eye?” And K is so wonderful and honest, the way she simply says, “I need to make my other eye stronger.”
I do think the one good thing about the Patch is that it has given K an opening to express painful emotions that she might not otherwise have acknowledged at such a young age.
When she bemoans looking different because of her eyes and then progresses to discussing how it feels to be the only
adopted child in her class, I am grateful that she is not repressing her feelings of isolation.
I know in the long run that the Patch will heal her eye, but I hope that it doesn’t leave her with other
wounds. I worry about her self-esteem and self-confidence, and I think the best way to handle this is to have open conversations with her about her feelings. In an ideal world, the Patch will make her stronger
everywhere, not just in her eye.
In the meantime, I reassure K that she is beautiful and brave.
Yesterday, K and her two-year-old sister were playing dress-up. K was wearing the Patch, and she turned to her sister and asked, “AR, do I look pretty even though I have my patch on?”
I held my breath and waited.
AR stopped sucking her fingers, looked at K and solemnly declared, “You are the most beautiful bestest princess in the
whole ever world.”
As the saying goes, love is blind.