This is part two of a longer story. Read part one here.

In the middle of the forest, no one hears me scream.

I’m told I will know my corneal erosion healed from the anterior stromal puncture after about eight weeks. The procedure was seven weeks ago.

The Milky Way paints the sky with the absence of city lights, and the mountain is silent — minus the sound of my haphazard human howling.

I’m alone in a tent with zero medical supplies or mirrors, so I have no idea how bad the damage is. All I know is my cornea healed for seven weeks, and my eyelid just ripped off the healing in my sleep a few moments ago. I turn on my headlamp, but the light is too unbearable. I turn it back off.

It’s 1:45 a.m. and sleep is not an option. Light is also not an option, so I can’t do much. I sit in the darkness for hours and simply hurt.

And this is when I start to see the bigger picture (if not much else).

At this point, I could go home. If I am going to be in pain, I may as well do it from the comfort of my own bed.

Or I can set out and do what I came here to do in the first place, and bag another Colorado 14er. I realize that I’m going to be in pain regardless, so I may as well be happy while I hurt.

It’s a little after 4 a.m. and my friend (Kate) gets out of her car a short distance away from my tent and we start our hike. She is nothing but patient with my unexpected situation and is kind enough to claim she didn’t hear my midnight moans.

Like all 14er hikes, the day fills with memories and experiences, and I get to decide what I focus on.

Sunrise on Mt. Antero
Sunrise on Mt. Antero
You don’t know it, but my eyes are closed in this photo. (Photo by Kate Wessels)

I focus on the stars and crystal clear Milky Way above the trees.

I focus on taking each step forward and upward — nine miles and 3,000 feet, respectively.

I focus on quality time with a cherished friend, and the fact that we’re on our fifth 14er together.

I focus on an amazing sunrise.

I focus on beautiful mountain colors.

And, for me, that’s the bigger picture. This eye issue plagues me (seven months and counting), but life continues to happen and I demand to take part in it. So that’s what I do.

Great Sand Dunes in Colorado.
Great Sand Dunes in Colorado.
Great Sand Dunes. (Photo by Natalie Bui)

I complete four more 14ers. I see friends and family (with masks, socially distanced). I go on dates with a great eye story to tell. I visit the Great Sand Dunes (where I wear ski goggles to protect my eye for 72 straight hours). I camp as much as I can. Every adventure hurts.

But at the same time, avoidance becomes increasingly uncomfortable, and leaning in becomes the familiar. I find comfort in new experiences, and I quickly learn having other people around for the experiences lessens the burden of the pain I’m experiencing. The people in our lives want to help us carry the weight we hold, and we have to choose to let them.

The mess that is known as 2020 continues to take from each and every one of us, and we cannot let it take more than it already has. Learning to be happy while I hurt is how I’m surviving the year. (Plus voting. If you haven’t already, do that now.)

The good news is, I also have newfound hope that my future happiness won’t always have to hurt — Corneal Debridement with Diamond Burr Polishing. (The title of this blog should make sense now.)

Drive home from surgery.
Drive home from surgery.
Happiness with the hurt is me taking this photo while rewarding myself with a PSL. (Photo by Cameron Naish)

I’m writing this a week after the new procedure, and I’m far from recovered. While I’m starting to get over seeing a diamond burr go into my eyeball, I have weeks of appointments, medicine, and impaired vision ahead.

But at the same time, I have hikes, time with people I care about, pumpkin spice everything, and the holidays ahead, too.

I have happiness with the hurt.

Trying to live a life worth telling. New posts when I feel like it.

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