London’s first ROP (retinopathy of prematurity) exam was around 8 weeks after she was born. From the first time someone mentioned the ROP exam, they made it sound like something that we, as parents, would not want to stick around for. Kate always heeded that advice. I did not.
After London’s eye exams revealed Stage 2 ROP, I knew avoiding them was going to be impossible. They were happening once a week and, as with every other procedure, I decided that I wanted to be with London through it all. I did not want to shield myself from what she was enduring. If I did not watch the exam, I would feel out of touch with her care and progress.
When it was time for London’s next exam, I had just put her back into her isolette. I informed the doctor that I was going to stay. “Okay, stay seated, because I’ve had a dad pass out on me before,” she said.
I stayed in the chair even though I was confident I could stand up and get a better view without passing out and hitting my head on the floor.
The nurse that day gave London some sugar water or “sweeties”, designed to distract London from the imminent eye invasion. When the nurse had an arm on each side of London and her hands holding London’s head firmly in place, the doctor placed the miniature eye speculum. London squirmed right away, but she didn’t start wailing until the doc was looking in her eyes. I had never heard London cry like that.
Now, having watched so many eye exams, the noise London makes when her eyes are being examined is the hardest part of being there. The speculum and the probing with other tools looks quite unpleasant, but I promise you it is the noise that is the worst. It is a traumatic enough burst of screaming that an adult might only make it if they were being slowly stabbed again and again.
It is nearly enough torture for the parent to hear as it is for the baby to endure. Once I heard her scream like that I knew the sound would be with me forever. But, as I sat there and watched eye exam after eye exam, I tried to absorb as much of London’s pain and fright as possible. The eye exams became a unique way for London and I to bond.
As soon as the eye exams were over, the nurse would hand London back to me. She would immediately stop crying, look up at me, and immediately rest her head against my chest.
Last week we endured one last ROP exam together. If London had to have another exam I am not sure how the doc and her assistant would be able to contain London’s thrashing and kicking. One last time I attempted to share in the pain with London by being by her side and one last time I had the privilege of comforting her as soon as the speculum was pulled away.