Rod and Cone S01E02

*Back from commercial, the setting is a dimly lit restaurant where Cone is meeting his date, Photon.  The camera zooms in on a table at which a male and female sit, talking and laughing.  The man, Cone, is dressed in a bright red three-piece suit, while the woman, Photon, is dressed all in white with a string of pearls around her neck.*

Cone:  “So then I said, ‘well it’s not Tony Danza under that sheet!’

*Both Cone and Photon laugh loudly, as does the audience.*

Photon:  “Oh James.  Your stories are so outrageous and nonsensical.  You have such a sharp wit!”

Cone:  “Well thanks babe.  You should tell that to my roommate, Rod.  He doesn’t laugh at any of my jokes; always looking on the dark side of things.”

Photon:  “Well, that’s his job, isn’t it?”

*The audience chuckles, but an uncertain air engulfs the studio simultaneously.*

Cone:  “I’m not sure I catch your meaning.”

Photon:  “Allow me to shed some light on the issue.  It’s sort of what I do.  Surely you know that you and Rod, and myself for that matter, are players in a much larger game.”

Cone:  “Well of course, my dear, the game of life is much bigger than us all.  But I’m not sure – ”

Photon:  “No no no, James.  What I mean is that we are, the three of us, representations of a larger construct.”

*Cone, the smile fading from his face, slowly leans forward within whispering distance of his date.  The audience is dead silent.*

Cone:  (whispering) “What are you doing?  We’re not supposed to acknowledge the audience.  The first rule of sitcoms is that you’re not allowed to acknowledge that you’re in a sitcom.”

Photon:  “Oh don’t be silly.  And, you’re still thinking too small.  The audience of which you speak is part of the show of which I speak.  There is another audience for whom the audience of which you are aware is the entertainment.  And we, my friend, are a part of the same entertainment.”

Cone:  “…okay.  Well don’t keep me in the dark then.  What do we represent?  Who is watching us?”

*The audience begins to turn its collective head 180 degrees.*

Photon:  “Let’s start with the basics.  Your name is James Cone, whereas your roommate’s name is Rod Johnson.  Rod and Cone.  Ring a bell?”

Cone:  “You’re losing me.”

Photon:  “Oh come on.  If there’s one part of ocular anatomy everybody knows, it’s rods and cones.  Photoreceptors?  The cells of the eye that make it possible to absorb light and essentially facilitate vision as we know it?”

Cone:  “Sounds familiar.”

Photon:  “Boy, for the character that represents the photoreceptor cell most responsible for sharp, distinctive, detail-oriented vision, you are not very bright.  Maybe a better plot would have been one in which I went on a date with Rod; at least it would make sense that he was left in the dark, given that he represents the photoreceptor cell that allows for good night vision, peripheral vision, and detection of motion.”

Cone:  “Oh…”

Photon:  “Also, as we speak, I’m fulfilling my obligation as a character named for a light particle.  I’m illuminating things for you, no?”

Cone:  “Well, yeah, I guess.”

*Nothing can be heard throughout the studio audience at this point except for a random cough or sniffle.*

Photon:  “I suppose I’ve said too much.  To summarize, we are characters who are being used to illustrate a concept to an audience; we are the tools of education.”

Cone:  “I think I get it now.  But where does the circle close?  If there is an audience that can see this audience, how does the audience twice-removed know that it is not being watched?”

*Photon and Cone smile and look at each other across the table, then turn their heads and make eye contact with you.  Cue commercial break.*

Rod and Cone

*The following episode was taped before a live studio audience.*

{Setting:  The interior of a well-decorated urban apartment, as seen in most television sitcoms post-1990.  A pale green overstuffed sofa serves as the centerpiece of the main living area, which also includes a large window looking out at the surrounding cityscape.  Bookshelves line the side wall adjacent to the large window, and said shelves are adorned with various personality-describing bric-a-brac, such as sports trophies and portraits of family  members, not to mention a gaudy neon-pink stuffed penguin.}

{Audience applauds as one of our main characters, James Cone, enters the apartment carrying a briefcase.  He throws his bright blue overcoat on a nearby chair and places his briefcase gingerly on a round table next to the chair.  He takes a step back and eyeballs the briefcase, then gently turns it about 15 degrees clockwise before taking another step back.  He nods and smiles.  The audience laughs and applauds.}

Cone: “Rod!  You home?”

{Cue more audience applause as our other main character, Rod Johnson, groggily walks into the living room from a side doorway.  He yawns and shuffles to the couch, wearing gray pajama pants and a black bathrobe.  His dark hair resembles a bird’s nest.}

Rod:  “Home already, Cone?  Did you have a half-day today or something?”

Cone:  “Rod, it’s 6:00 in the evening.”

{Audience laughter.}

Rod:  “Oh.  Sooo, what’s for dinner?”

Cone:  “I’ll tell you what’s for dinner.  For you, either Chinese takeout or pizza.  I have a date and thus will be eating out tonight.”

{Audiences makes the “OOOOOOOooooOOOOOOoooooo” sound.}

Rod:  “A date?  Who wants to go on a date with you?  Was she drawn in by all your garish colored suits?”

Cone:  “For your information, she’s a highly discerning individual, like me.  We met on a sunny day downtown after work a few weeks ago and have had lunch several times.  Her name is Photon.”

Rod:  “Like the couch?”

Cone:  “That’s a futon; her name is Photon.  I think her parents were hippies.”

{Audience laughs.}

Rod:  “Well that’s just delightful.  You’re going out and galavanting about town while I’m left to sit here in this hole of an apartment in my dark bedroom.”

Cone:  “But you like the dark.”

Rod:  “That’s beside the point!  The point is, you seem to get all the Photons.  I’m lucky if a girl glimpses me in her periphery, let alone shoots me a full-on glance.”

{Audience “awwwwwwww’s”.}

Cone:  “But Rod, that’s your own fault!  How do you expect to be seen when you hang out on the fringe all the time; you need to be in the center of things, like me!”

Rod:  “Well thank you for the advice, Mr. Sunny Disposition.  I’ll meditate on your words while I’m sitting here alone.”

{Rod gets up from the couch and enters the adjoining kitchen area.  He opens the refrigerator and removes a brown generic-looking bottle of beer.  He slams the top of the bottle on the side of the kitchen table, causing the cap to flip off the bottle and into the air, and which he catches as the audience applauds his parlor trick.}

Cone:  “You are so melodramatic.  I’ll tell you what…If you come out with me tonight I’ll let you borrow one of my suits to wear to the club.  I know you don’t have any nice clothes of your own.”

Rod:  “Yeah right!  Your suits crimp my style; way too bright and colorful.  I’ll stick with traditional black and white for the times I choose to go out, thank you.  As for the club, I’ll pass.  Too many people jumping around; I’m too motion sensitive for all that.”

Cone:  “Suit yourself.  Or rather, I’ll suit myself.  I need to get changed for tonight.  Enjoy your lonesome beer!”

{Cone turns his back to the adjoining bedroom door before moonwalking off-camera.  Rod flops back down on the overstuffed sofa and drains the entire beer, before belching loud enough to wake the dead; the audience laughs.}

Rod:  “Photons…I could get a Photon if I wanted to…”

{Cue sitcom jingle as we head to commercial.}

Windows to the Soul (also the heart, lungs, et cetera)

Recently I had a family member question me about the importance of annual eye examinations. Ballsy, right? His rationale was that if he does not need glasses, then why go to the eye doctor every year? So, Anonymous Family Member, in your honor, here is the answer.

With an annual dilated eye examination, optometrists are capable of detecting the following:

Diabetes

Hypertension

High cholesterol

Carotid stenosis

Hyperthyroidism

Sickle cell anemia

Lupus (but it’s NEVER lupus!)

Cancer

Multiple sclerosis

Marfan’s syndrome

Albinism (before you scoff that even YOU can detect albinism, there is a type that’s exclusively ocular in nature)

Sarcoidosis

Herpes

Syphilis (now it’s getting interesting)

Seasonal allergies

And those are just the tip of the Titanic-buster. All of the above can be detected with a simple eye exam, and you don’t even have to be symptomatic for them to be detected. Wouldn’t you like to know if you’re diabetic before the symptoms even show up? I mean, not that you would LIKE to know that you’re diabetic, but you get what I mean, don’t you? I hope you do. This conversational style is hard to do when there’s no one to have a conversation with.

ANYWAY, as if the above isn’t reason enough to get your eyes checked, here’s Reason Numero Dos. Glasses make you [look] smarter. Even if you don’t necessarily need glasses; although eventually you will be stricken with presbyopia and then you will need them. For more on that, see this post.

For more proof on the whole “glasses make you smarter” maxim, look no further than this news story, in which a two-year-old was inducted into Mensa after she was prescribed glasses to correct amblyopia (known more popularly as lazy eye). Now I’m not guaranteeing that glasses will get you into Mensa, but if you do get accepted at least you’ll fit in with all the other four-eyed members.

You might even stumble upon a trend of your own or become recognizable just by your spectacles.  Look at guys like Woody Allen, Harry Caray, Buddy Holly, Sarah Palin, that dude from Weezer – all of whom would not be the same without their trademark face-clothes.  Eye-jewelry?  Ocular accessories……..Occessories!

Screenwriters, sportscasters, musicians, and politicians all look better with spectacles!

And so, dear family member, and all of you who don’t understand why it’s important to have a yearly eye exam, consider the following:  your optometrist can help you stay healthy AND can make you look snazzy.  What other health care professional can lay claim to both?  And if you say plastic surgeon, I’m going to admonish you thoroughly in my next blog.  Be afraid.

Detached

SETTING – AUTOMOBILE INTERIOR

PATIENT VOICEOVER

So now I’m lying here on the backseat of my sister’s car, trying to stay motionless as we speed north on the highway.  I was told to lie on my right side.  It’s an hour-long drive and I can’t even look out the window.  This saddens me more than anything because soon I might never be able to look out a window ever again.

It started with a flash.  Kind of like the times when Sam and I were little and Mom would pose us in front of whatever backdrop coincided with that particular time of year: us in front of the beach, us in front of the Christmas tree, us holding hot dogs in one hand and American flags in the other, Samantha dressed as a kitten and myself as Batman with a plastic pale full of candy.

Flash, flash, flash went Mom’s camera.

The afterimage was seared into my central vision.  Every time I blinked I’d see it again, refreshed.  A big jagged-outlined blankness of indeterminate color.  Eventually it would fade and things would be normal again.

The difference is that now it’s not fading.  And no one has taken my picture.

If I cover my right eye, I’m not able to see anything on the left side of my vision.  I’m going blind and I’m terrified.  My only hope is that we get to the surgery center soon enough; my optometrist told me that we might be able to save my sight if we make it in time.

He told me to watch out for things like this.  Flashes and floaters.  That’s what he said at my last eye exam.

Oh God please don’t let me go blind.  Please don’t let me go blind.  Please-

————————————

ONE HOUR EARLIER

SETTING – OPTOMETRIST EXAMINATION ROOM

DOCTOR VOICEOVER

Man I am so full from lunch I can hardly move.  I hope that Altoid was enough to kill the onion breath or this patient is going to be knocked unconscious.  Thank God this has been a pretty straightforward exam so far because –

Wait.

Is that what I think it is?  He didn’t tell me he’d had any new visual symptoms; I know last year I told him to let me know if he ever saw any flashes of light or a bunch of new floaters in his vision.  Yeah, that is definitely a tear in the retina.

I hope the retinal specialist is in the office today, because that’s where this patient is headed ASAP.

————————————-

THREE HOURS LATER

SETTING – RETINAL SPECIALIST EXAMINATION ROOM

PATIENT VOICEOVER

So this guy is a specialist, huh?  And did he just say “laser?”  As in, he’s going to shoot a laser into my eye?  I’ll just assume I know what he’s doing; things can’t get much worse now that the blind spot in my left eye has gotten huge.

If he fixes this and I get my vision back, I’m going to get my optometrist a very nice fruit basket for catching this.

————————————-

ONE WEEK LATER

SETTING – OPTOMETRIST EXAMINATION ROOM

OPTOMETRIST

Hey!  It’s so nice to see you again!

PATIENT

It’s so nice to see again!

The Eyes Have It, Part Two [insert cringeworthy joke here]

Welcome back!  Last time we left off with the most anterior parts of the eye, and today, like a proctologist, we’ll be moving posteriorly.  Let’s begin with the crystalline lens.

The lens is probably best known in association with cataracts, although that’s about the same as a loaf of bread being best known for its mold.  Regardless, the lens is where cataracts occur, but it’s oh-so-much more than that.  Secondary to the cornea, the lens is one of the big reasons light focuses in a clear point within the eye.  However, unlike the cornea, the lens can actually alter its power.  Take a moment and consider how cool that is.  I’ll wait.

CONSIDER IT

Have you considered it?  Get this:  based on the distance at which you are looking at something, the lens changes in shape in order to focus the image onto the retina, sort of like a camera lens with changeable focus lengths.  This change is known as accommodation, and it’s completely involuntary.  Now, not to be a party pooper, but there is a downside.  Around the ages of 40 to 50, the lens loses its ability to accommodate, which leads to many people needing reading glasses or bifocals for the first time.  This condition is called presbyopia.

Ever wonder why the eye is round, and what keeps it from changing shape?  Of course you haven’t, you’re a busy person with other things on your mind.  But let’s lie to ourselves and pretend that you’ve actually pondered this; the simple answer is a jelly-like substance called the vitreous humor.  The vitreous starts right behind the lens and fills the majority of the eyeball itself.  Given his history with Jell-O, Bill Cosby would probably be a pretty good advocate for the vitreous.

There's always room for vitreous.

The vitreous is responsible for harboring those little threads that you sometimes see when you’re looking at a bright background, like the sky.  Some call them ‘floaters,’ ‘floaties,’ ‘mosquitoes,’ ‘spots,’ and some people think there’s a mouse in their house that runs away every time they try to look at it.  Well, that self-conscious mouse is actually a particle that’s suspended within the vitreous, which, when light hits it just right, casts a shadow back onto the retina and is perceived as a floater.

Speaking of the retina, let’s wrap up this discussion of the normal eye with the big daddy itself.  If you think of the eye as a camera, then the retina would be the film (no, the camera in this analogy is not digital, stay with me).  The other optical components of the eye all cater to the retina; without a clear image being focused on the correct spot, all we see is blur.  The whole point of wearing glasses or contact lenses is to manipulate light into focusing onto the macula, which is essentially the central area of the retina that is responsible for our most critical vision.

Ever heard of rods and cones?

Close, but no.

Of course you have!  If there’s one factoid about the eye that everybody knows, it concerns the rods and cones.  These important cells reside in the retina, it is their home, their refuge, their sanctuary.  Rods and cones are the essential parts of the retina that absorb light, hence why they fall under the collective term photoreceptors.  Rods and cones are the starting point of vision, at least as far as the absorption of light is concerned:  they start a chain reaction that eventually sends signals to the visual section of the brain.

Another important part of the retina is the optic nerve, which serves as the cable by which those electrical signals we just talked about are transmitted from eye to brain.  For reference, here’s a picture of the retina:

The red lines are blood vessels, and that yellowish circle where they all come together is the optic nerve.  To use one of my favorite analogies (because I love doughnuts), the optic nerve resembles a doughnut, with an indentation in the middle known as the cup.  The size of this cup is measured in comparison to the size of the whole nerve itself, and this ratio helps us eye doctors determine if a person has glaucoma.

I hope that’s not too much of an information overload; I’ll cut it off here. Really this is all just a light skimming over the parts of the eye. If ever you have any questions about eye-related things, drop me a line; I’d love to help.

And just because it sounded so good last time:  until we meet again, take your protein pills and put your helmet on.

The Eyes Have It! (My jokes are so cornea.)

In the process of getting this blog up and running, I feel like I’ve neglected a very important discussion that we need to have.  I’ve done several posts on things that can go wrong with the eye, but it’s hard to appreciate the abnormalities when you aren’t familiar with the normalities.

So let’s talk about the normal human eye.

She really is a thing of beauty; such curves, such style, such functionality, as Antonio Banderas might say.  The eye is a true miracle of evolution (non-Darwinists cover your ears – er, eyes).  The anatomy and physiology (or structure and function) of the eye are so intricately assembled and intertwined that it’s truly amazing (at least to me, a self-proclaimed eye-geek) just how perfectly everything works even when things go four hooves to the moon (my wife’s aphorism for “bad”).

Don't be alarmed, the other half of this eye is on a relaxing vacation in St. Maarten.

I guess the best way to explain the normal eye is to first split it up into its individual parts and then step back and look how those parts fit together into a functional unit.  Let’s start with a non-exhaustive list of the eye’s major players:

Cornea

Conjunctiva/Sclera

Iris

Lens

Vitreous

Retina

We could go much deeper (Can you say ‘rabbit hole?’) into each of these, but I’ll do my best to keep things at an uncomplicated and non-boring level.  So let’s start with the cornea.

Named for Sir Alfred, Duke of Cornea, who was a first cousin of the Earl of Sandwich.

The first thing to note about the cornea is that it’s not really all that visible with the naked eye – which makes sense because it’s transparent.  It essentially forms a dome over the front portion of the eye, and it’s the reason you can’t touch the colored part of your eye (or iris, which we’ll get to in a bit stop rushing me).  The cornea is the surface upon which contact lenses rest and a properly fitted contact lens’s curvature will mimic the curvature of the cornea.  In fact, a contact lens provides a good visualization of the cornea if the cornea were removed from the eye itself.  Eeewww gross.  The cornea’s main function is to refract (or bend) light as it enters the eye so that it focuses in a single point on the retina (which we’ll get to eventually; it’s kind of the grand finale).

Moving on, we’ll discuss the conjunctiva and sclera in tandem.  The sclera is what everyone knows as the “white part” of the eye, and that’s pretty accurate.  It’s made of collagen primarily and altogether it’s not that impressive.

The conjunctiva/sclera. Not to be confused with...well, not to be confused with anything really.

The conjunctiva is a transparent membrane that overlies the sclera, and it contains a multitude of tiny blood vessels.  It’s often these very vessels that become engorged and angry-looking during a case of conjunctivitis, or what most people refer to as “pink eye” (not a technical term).  One of my favorite forms of red eye is caused by one of these vessels rupturing, forming what’s called a subconjunctival hemorrhage.  These can sometimes look really nasty, because basically the blood from the burst vessel pools between the conjunctiva and the sclera.  Causes of such vessel-bursting include blood disorders (like sickle-cell anemia) and more commonly, straining.  And when I say (type) straining, it can be straining due to heavy lifting, coughing spells, sneezing, vomiting, and my personal favorite (LOVE asking patients about this), bowel movements.  Treatment plan:  more fiber in your diet.

Next up in our discussion is the pageant queen of the eye, the iris.  Cosmetically speaking, the iris is what gives the eye its character; it’s what most people notice when they make eye contact with you.  But the iris isn’t just a pretty face (so to speak), it also has an important purpose in that it contains muscle fibers that control the size of the pupil, which subsequently alters just how much light enters the eye.  Without the iris, we’d all constantly resemble vampires (the real kind, not the sparkly ones) who have just awoken from our cozy coffins to find that the sun is roasting down upon us; that is, we’d cringe a little bit.  And that’s understandable, since we’d have no way to constrict the pupil and block out all those nasty rays of light.  Nasty, nasty rays.  Another fun tidbit about the iris is that there exists a condition known as heterochromia, which means you have, say, one green eye and one blue eye.  Case in point:

Heterochromia: now comes in green, brown, and Bowie.

I think that’s enough information for this post, and Bowie seems like a good place to stop.  If I don’t leave my faithful readers with a cliffhanger, what’s going to bring you back next time?  Speaking of next time, we’ll finish up with the lens, vitreous, and retina, and oh boy you don’t want to miss those.  So until next time, take your protein pills and put your helmet on.