Updated: Jan 6
When Misty smiled that big smile of hers I could see the cancer so much more clearly. It was hard not to say anything. I mean what do you tell the thirty-something supermarket cashier you see a few times a month and only know her name because it’s pinned to her blouse? “Hey, thanks for giving me the store discount on my Cool Ranch Doritos, even though I don’t have a coupon. And by the way, Misty, you should really get a blood test soon because you’ve got a serious case of lymphoma.” How do you think that would go over with Misty? She might say, “What are you, some kind of doc? An oncologist? A Dr. Oz wannabe?” More likely, she'd just stare through me and charge me full price for my damn Doritos. Because I’m not a doctor. Or any kind of medical professional. Hell, I barely passed Biology in high school. No, I’m a professional poker player. Just the kind of trusted source for handing out a seemingly random cancer diagnosis. So how do I know Misty has lymphoma? I know because I’ve seen it before. A close cousin of mine had it about seven years ago. I wish I could’ve diagnosed it then. But I didn’t know what I was looking at. I only noted his skin tone changing over the course of a few months. I didn’t know what it meant then. I do now. You see, I see the world in a very different way. I’m a tetrachromatist. I don’t know if that sounds impressive to you. I’ll just tell you that it’s a rare condition. It means I see about 99 million more colors than you. For the guy who barely passed Biology, I know I’ll sound like a geek here, but I’m really not. I had to read up on this a lot because I needed to understand why I saw things other folks didn’t. Most humans are trichromatic which means they have 3 cone cells, photoreceptors, in their retinas which allow them to distinguish about a million color variations. Tetrachromatists like me have 4 cones.That fourth photoreceptor means my fellow retinal mutants and I can register around 100 million colors. Yeah, that’s a lot, but before you get too excited, a dragonfly has about 10 times that capacity, plus it can see ultraviolet light. And it can see in slow motion, six times as many frames per second, as humans do. Yeah, a dragonfly’s got real super power vision. It could see bullets coming at it. I’d only be able to see the richer hues of my own blood after the bullets struck me. I’m providing you that little peek into optic science, so you understand that what I see isn’t magic; it isn’t x-ray vision; it’s only a higher level of discernment. Like registering sound frequencies humans can’t hear. You know, dog whistles and all that. The simple truth is that everyday I’m blindsided by color. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes annoying. Sometimes very troubling. Like seeing Misty’s cancer or noticing the semi-silvering tones of fault lines in fatiguing metal holding up a pedestrian overpass. Being hyper perceptive to color sometimes pushes me close to the edge. Sometimes, it gives me a needed edge. That’s why I’m a professional poker player. Everybody has tells when they are nervous, excited, pissed. The best poker players mask their tells well. But there are tells and there are tells. And I can discern tells in other players that no one else can. Such as a slight capillary dilation that minutely flushes the lips when a player lands a helpful card. The tip of the nose deepening a micro shade when a player draws a disappointing card. Yup. That’s what minor mutants like me do with their semi-super powers. Win at cards. It’s a living. A good living, except for the whole Misty-cancer thing and all the other early warning of trouble you can’t see, but I do. I guess that’s pretty much life. It’s mostly about what we don’t see, especially in ourselves. That’ll blindside you for sure. What’s the good of seeing the hundred million hues of a rainbow when you cloud it by inaction? If I’m the one asking that question, I should see enough to answer it. Seems like I need to do a lot more than win at cards. Especially since I've been dealt a biological ace in the hole. Seems like a good time to go to the grocery store for some Doritos. And a conversation with Misty. Time to see past the blindness of complacency. Time to see the more than 7 billion shades of humanity. Time for me to color outside the lines.