May as well call it what it is. I hoped, I intended, to at long last get book 5 finished and published by the end of this year. But once again, I failed.
Everyone’s life is always somewhat of a juggling act, and life on our farm, for Jeanette and me, is especially one. We moved here closing on twelve years ago. Neither of us had ever lived anything other than urban lifestyles. We had no concept of what we were getting into. I am not in any way saying that Jeanette and I have any doubts or regrets about our choice, or the life we live. For us, the life amidst such beauty—we live in a valley that is, where our farm is located, perhaps one mile wide, with mountain ridges rising up sharply on either side, and the beautiful McKenzie River running through it—living so close to and in tune with nature, interacting with our animals, and even dealing with the constant and often unexpected challenges this lifestyle brings, has become a life we cannot imagine living without. We cannot imagine becoming city-dwellers again.
But it is a reality that life on a farm is one of relentless, never pausing work. Down time is not really a thing. There are just degrees of busy. This does create a constant tension with my being able to write, because being able to complete writing a book and publish it requires, on my part: (1) time to write, and (2) the ability to focus deeply on the characters and story, in order to immerse myself in and create its fictional world.
And over time—relentless, unforgiving time—something else has been added to the mix. I was 60 years old when we moved to the farm. I am 72 now. The years have taken a toll. I have arthritis in my lower back, which causes almost constant pain and stiffness. When we moved here, my Multiple Sclerosis had been mostly dormant for about ten years. Sometime around 2018 it woke up, and has stayed that way since. I’m still very fortunate, in that it is, for MS, a relatively mild, well controlled case, and my neurologist says that given my age and the prolonged stability of the disease, it is unlikely to progress. But my feet are always somewhat numb from it now, and it causes pain in my legs with some frequency. Also, from an injury that occurred during 2020, I am missing one of the four tendons in my right shoulder joint. Although I have managed, through focused exercise, to restore the shoulder to almost normal range of motion and strength, it, too, experiences an amount of chronic pain. So, whereas at age 60, and the early years after that, I could put in six to eight hours of manual labor in a day without difficulty, now a full day of physical labor is more like four hours. I move more slowly and tire more quickly. As a result, things take longer to complete now.
Nevertheless, even though as this year progressed and the likelihood of completing and publishing book 5 by the end of the year was clearly slipping away from being realistically possible, I had really hoped that I would at least be able to complete writing the first draft during the last months of the year, which are usually the lowest level of busy we get in this life. But even in that, I have completely failed. I have not been able to write.
Jeanette, my wife, is my life. She is everything to me. Over the past few years, she has developed a very serious problem with her vision. It actually started before we moved to Oregon and the farm, when we still lived in Houston, Texas in our “city lives.” Occasionally when she would become very tired, she would experience double vision. Back then, it was a rare enough phenomenon that she could shrug it off.
Over the years, living here in Oregon, it gradually became something that manifested more frequently, that became more difficult to ignore, but for the most part, she could still, with effort, cause the double vision to go away. But over the last two years, that has changed. It has gotten worse, especially over the course of this year, to the point where it has become a constant.
Let me explain what I mean when I say she has double vision. With normal vision, what our two eyes separately perceive is melded into a single image by our subconscious brain. To try to visualize this, imagine that what you see is like a flat screen TV image out in front of you.
More and more frequently, and all the time for most of this past year, Jeanette has been seeing two separate, distinct flat screen TV images, side by side, one slightly higher than the other. I honestly cannot begin to imagine how she has managed to deal with that.
This is not a “normal” eye issue. Most ophthalmologists, including our regular eye doctor in Eugene, do not have the expertise to deal with it. In fact, here in Oregon, there are very few specialists who do deal with this issue. When we first began trying to get her help with the problem in early 2022, the only specialists we could find to consult with, and there were only a few, were in Portland, Oregon, the state’s largest city, a five and a half hour round trip away. Over the course of 2022 we made several trips to Portland, so she could be examined by two specialists there. They did rule out several possibilities that could have been causing the problem: she had not had any head injuries, and an MRI of the brain eliminated a tumor as another possibility.
Normally, the eyes are positioned in the skull so that their visual beams of focus are exactly parallel, and when the eyes move, the muscles controlling them move them in tandem so that the fields of vision stay parallel. That way, although the two eyes produce two distinct visual images, they are so similar that the subconscious brain can meld them into a single image, which is what our conscious brain “sees.” The two Portland specialists we consulted explained that Jeanette’s eyes were not aligned in perfect parallel. After ruling out the injury and brain tumor possibilities, they both theorized that she had always had this condition, but that for most of her life, her subconscious brain had, through shear brainpower (she is a Very smart person!), overridden the dual images and melded them into one. However, as she aged, and as the dual images more frequently “broke through,” her subconscious brain could no longer overwhelm the reality of what her eyes were actually seeing.
Imagine trying to do anything in your daily life while seeing two of everything you look at. That is what Jeanette has been dealing with constantly this past year
Correcting the condition can be possible, but it first requires diagnosing which of the many muscles connected to each eyeball are causing the misalignment. If that can be done—and determining which muscles are involved is to a certain degree more of an art than a science—then the muscles can be surgically detached from the eye, and reattached in a location that will hopefully correct the misalignment. One of the two specialists we consulted, who was not a surgeon, stressed that in most cases, multiple surgeries are necessary because figuring exactly how and where to move the muscles to correct the alignment tends to be somewhat of a trial-and-error process. The other Portland specialist, who was a surgeon, initially planned to do the surgery. But as he tested and tried to measure the alignment of Jeanette’s eyes over the course of several appointments, he eventually told us that he could not do surgery, because he was unable to determine, with sufficient certainty, which muscles were causing the problem, and if he were to move the wrong ones, it would cause the problem to get worse, possibly irreversibly so.
Then, in late 2022 or early 2023, a new specialist, Dr. Sabah, moved to Eugene. Jeanette was finally able to get an appointment with her in June. Dr. Sabah said at that appointment that she believed she could fix or at least improve Jeanette’s double vision (although the more she examined Jeanette’s eyes over the course of two separate appointments, the less strong a result she felt comfortable promising—Jeanette’s was clearly a difficult case). Then came six more months of waiting for a place in her surgery schedule. The surgery finally took place about two weeks ago, in mid-December. During the surgery, Dr. Sabah detached one muscle from each eye, and reattached them in a different location.
I cannot stress enough the degree to which accurately diagnosing which muscles are causing such a vision problem, and how they must be moved to correct it, is not some kind of simple, mechanical process. Each of the specialists did the same sorts of tests: holding up different strength prism lenses in front of one eye, while repeatedly covering and uncovering the other (and I have no idea what they learned from that); and telling Jeanette to focus on their fingertip while they moved it around in different directions in front of her face, while studying how her eyes moved. It is obviously very much a process based as much, if not more, on personal skill, intelligence, and judgment, as it is on any science.
It was a major surgery, under general anesthesia, that took about two hours. Recovery for Jeanette was quite painful for a number of days. But Dr. Sabah worked a Christmas miracle. We are still in awe. When Jeanette looks straight ahead, she now sees only a single image. As she told Dr. Sabah in the post-op check-up a few days before Christmas, “Now when I wake up in the morning, there’s only one ceiling fan rotating on the ceiling up above our bed.” She does still have some degree of double vision peripherally, when she looks to the side or down—something Dr. Sabah said was almost certainly going to be the case even if she was able to achieve the best possible outcome—but for her primary field of view, Jeanette has normal, functioning vision again.
You may be wondering why I have been telling all of this. It is because, especially as the date for the surgery grew closer over the final months of this year, I have been so worried and anxious about Jeanette, my love, my life, that I have been completely unable to have anywhere near the ability to focus on the fictional characters and story of Halfdan and the Strongbow Saga. The cares of our real lives made the fictional world, for a time, unimportant and inaccessible to me.
So, for all of you who have been waiting so very long for the next installment of that story, I have failed you. Again. For that I am very sorry. I have not by any means given up on Halfdan’s story. I will keep working on it, and intend to get it to you. That is the most I can tell you for now.
One last thing. I do understand how long so many of you have been waiting for me to continue Halfdan’s story. I am both deeply sorry and deeply embarrassed that I keep letting you down, and I very much appreciate the kind words and incredible patience some of you share when you communicate with me through this website. There are some, though, who choose to be rude and unpleasant in their comments. For those people, don’t bother, don’t waste your time. I have ultimate control on whether any posts appear here, and snarky posts go straight to trash.