University of Nevada, Reno




Trouble with a Capital T

By Mae


MaeThe bad part happened on the weekend. I had a terrible headache and I was taking over-the-counter painkillers by the handfuls. It was a terrible headache. I couldn’t get rid of it. We had company, my husband's cousins. On Sunday we went to church and I couldn’t see the preacher right. We were sitting way back, and he was kind of blurry, so I still didn’t think. But Monday morning, I was really bad.

I couldn’t get in right away. I called and tried to get in and they said, "Come and we’ll try to get you in at 10 or 11." I went in and waited and waited. He looked and said he couldn’t do anything about it and sent me to an eye specialist. He called and said, "I have this patient I think you need to see immediately." About 1 o’clock I was at the eye doctor and he looked at me and he said, "You’ve got trouble with a capital T. And I want you to go to Albuquerque to a specialist."

So he said, "Lie down as much as you can going." We ran into a terrible snowstorm—it was March, probably the last storm of the year. Wind a-blowing and snow, it was awful. My husband got me there. Dr. Reidy, he looked at my eye and he didn’t say anything. He said, "Hmmm, hmmm." He went and got another doctor and they looked at it and he sent for a sonogram and looked at my eye again and brought a third doctor in.

They weren’t telling me, they were just looking. I thought it was a detached retina and they would operate on it and it would be OK. He said, "Well I don’t think we will do the operation." I was so dumb I said, "Oh good." He said, "I want you to have an MRI and the CAT scan and the blood test and all this and come back next week."

The MRI was something else. That was back in 1990 and it was like—I have claustrophobia and it was awful. I felt like I was in a tin can and they were beating on it. Back in the early stages of MRI, they were closed in and they strapped your legs down. I took it as much as I could. I was having a heart attack I thought. He’d let me rest a few minutes and put me back in. Finally I said, "I can’t take anymore." They said, "We probably have what we need. It's not all we want, but we probably have what we need."

I went back in a week, and he said, "You have a melanoma." I said, "What! People don’t have things like that in their eye." Here I am in shock and sweating. He said, "Well we can take that whole eyeball out and throw it away since it’s malignant. There is one alternative. You can go to Boston or Berkeley and they are working on a procedure. The one in Boston is almost perfected and pretty good. The one in Berkeley is experimental." I decided I didn’t want any experimental stuff on my eye, so I opted to go to Boston.

I didn’t know the first thing about when I got there what do to, where to be, anything. ... We got on the subway. First we go to the Massachusetts Eye and Ear and they take all kinds of tests and they sent me down the basement to get a mask made, and that was a crazy experience. I’m glad my husband could see, because I would have got lost in that basement for sure. We finally found the place way at the end. That guy was something else.

Anyway, we finally made the mask. It was the whole thing over your head, except, they usually leave it out of one eye, but I couldn’t see out of that eye so they had to leave both eyes out. It was a mask to protect me from the radiation.

Then we found out that the actual treatments were at Harvard, and we took the subway over to Harvard University and finally found the cyclotron center, and that was where I took the radiation. They put you in a chair, and there was a light that guided where they put the beam.

On the way to Boston, my eye hemorrhaged, and that made things complicated. When I got to the cyclotron center, they couldn’t tell which was the blood clot and which was the tumor. They radiated a larger space, and I had those treatments for about 10 days, and they sent me home. I had to go back in another week for the final treatment. ...

So I had two more weeks of treatments, and the last day I went in, the technicians were doing great, and the doctor came and because he was so cautious, he wanted to make sure because of the blood clot that they were doing the right thing, he did it himself, and he gave me an overdose. Talk about hurt, my eye really hurt. They dismissed me, and he brought me my mask and said, "Here’s your diploma. You have a diploma from Harvard." I had the mask until we moved. I kept it for a long time.

It finally quit hurting. We lived in Santa Fe, N.M., at the time, and I finally went back home. I could still see 20-20 out of the other eye at that time, of course with glasses. I worked another year, because I had to travel some and all that. I was with the Education Department in the state of New Mexico. After a year I had to retire, and I retired a little early because of that. 

They killed the cancer, but also most of my vision. But I think it wouldn’t have if the doctor hadn’t given me an overdose that last time.


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