The Eyes Have It

Johanna Shapiro

If you’re lucky
the doctor enthused
these drops will save your sight

Still trying to get my mind around
this new fact
that I was going blind
I asked about side effects

Hardly worth mentioning,
he said
his back already to me
as he noted in his chart
the decline and fall of my vision

Then he mentioned them rapid-fire:
Long furry lashes
dark circles around the eyes
occasional slight hair growth on the cheeks
and–oh yes–
your eye color may change
from blue
to brown

He seemed unconcerned
so I thought I should be too.

Later, driving home
the rain pouring down like
viscous, sight-saving drops
I panicked.

Weren’t eyes the windows to the soul?
Would my soul change,
as well as my eye color?
If my new brown eyes
looked into the mirror
would they recognize the
face staring back?

The next day I called.
I’ve always been a blue-eyed person
I said.
I think I want to keep it that way.

Don’t be silly,
the doc briskly admonished his
silly patient.
Which do you want?
Brown eyes or blind eyes?

Put that way
it was hard to argue

That night
in went the drops
Brown-eyed, furry-lashed lady
was on her way

I might not recognize her
but at least
I would see her coming

About the poet:

Johanna Shapiro, Pulse‘s West Coast poetry editor, is a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and director of the Program in Medical Humanities & Arts, University of California Irvine, School of Medicine. She is an assistant editor for Family Medicine, specializing in the narrative-essay section; special editor, medical humanities, for Journal for Learning through the Arts; and faculty advisor to the UCI-SOM journal Plexus, an annual collection of medical student, patient, staff and faculty creative works. Her poetry has appeared in JAMA, Journal of Medical Humanities, Healing Muse and Journal of Family Practice. “I love building sandcastles at the beach with my grandkids, and imaginary castles in the clouds.”

About the poem:

“This poem is about what happened when I was diagnosed with glaucoma. All ended well–I got long, furry lashes, but got to keep my blue eyes.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

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Comments

12 thoughts on “The Eyes Have It”

  1. Great poem, and there IS an antidote– donuts. Just ask Dolly Parton. Donuts made her brown eyes blue.

  2. deborah kasman

    Joanna- so glad the outcome was good, and I love the innuendos in the poem, with the rhythm and tension between hope for good, and load of complications that are briskly rushed by…but what then if…..

  3. Rita Wilder Craig

    I liked your poem very much. Glad you got to keep your blue eyes. Humour goes a long way when dealing with anything in life and perhaps especially a doctor who can’t respond to a patient’s feelings.

  4. Thank you for this, Johanna. We live by our stories–and we live with uncertainty. If this poem opens the eyes of one clinician, blue-eyed or brown, to the human-side of practice, it will have earned its keep. In any case, all of us living as bodies can feel something of what you felt.

  5. The picture you painted of this doctor was not flattering, BUT you somehow managed, with whimsical humor, to show your understanding and appreciation. Made me smile, too. 😉

  6. Kee MacFarlane

    Good title and great ending holding together a piece that speaks to the insecurity and vulnerability of all patients, even doctors and professors, when outside their relms of expertise.

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