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Friday, March 17, 2017

A Question of Vision

This post is a difficult one to write. No, I mean it really is difficult.

Why is writing a blog post so difficult, you may ask. It's because I have severely limited vision. 

Less than a week ago, I had emergency surgery on both eyes. My left eye had a detached retina; my right eye had a torn and partially detached retina. My daughter took me to the local emergency room, where the physician called the on-call ophthalmologist. My son-in-law drove me to meet her and another ophthalmologist. She initially planned to treat the tear with a laser then and there, but she soon realized there was too much blood in the right eye for that to be successful. Then I mentioned the blurriness in my left eye, which started about three weeks previously, just two day before my trip to Cuba. That comment changed everything, as the ophthalmologist quickly realized that the left retina was completely detached. I was scheduled for surgery on both eyes on Sunday morning.

Surgery on the left eye, during which a gas buble was inserted to press the retina against the back of the eye, took an hour under a local anesthetic. Surgery on the right eye, which involved the use of ultra-cold to 'stick' the torn parts of the retina against the eye, took 30 minutes. There was some discomfort in the right eye, which quickly went away with the addition of some pain medication to the IV line.

Since then, I have had to sit with my head down, staring at my feet, for as many hours each day as I can stand. When I walk, I have to keep looking down. This apparently helps the detached retina reattach itself. A follow-up appointment three days after surgery showed the left eye doing well, but there is an area of concern in the right eye. I will find out on Monday afternoon whether I will need gas bubble surgery on Thursday. If that happens, I will essentially be blind until the initial gas bubble in the left eye dissipates over time. It is a 'two-week' bubble, so I am hopeful that it will be gone in another week or so.

As a writer and photographer, and as someone who loves to read and who values her independence, this has been a very humbling experience. I was advised not to read, as the movements of the eyes during the process of reading could interfere with the reattachment process. But I am writing this blog with my eyes closed (most of the time) and my head down. I limit my reading to just a couple of minutes at a time, and I use a magnifying glass. 

I was told that retina detachment is not uncommon following cataract surgery (which I had 12 and 14 months ago), but I had not heard this until my problems suddenly developed. It also is more common in people who are very near-sighted, which I was. So if you suddenly get blurred vision in one or both eyes, and if you see thousands of tiny spots (I describe them as looking like bits of pepper), and if you feel as if you are trying to see through an opaque shower curtain, seek immediate medical treatment. Left untreated, this condition can result in blindness.

I am lucky that several people urged me to seek emergency medical care. The prognosis for a full recovery is excellent. Be willing to ask for assistance. My daughter, son-in-aw and a local friend have been wonderful in driving me to appointments, grocery shopping, etc. I can get around pretty well at the moment, although it isn't yet safe for me to drive. If I have to have surgery on the right eye, I will be extremely reliant on others. This is a very humbling experience, but it has made me appreciate those who are helping me, as well as the amazing medical advances that make it possible to lead a normal life after this unexpected chain of events. 

Although I had to cancel a planned photography trip to Tanzania because I am unable to fly until the gas bubble is gone, I am signed up for the same trip a year from now. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is worth the risk to my eyesight. So please, get a regular eye exam, and if you have had cataract surgery or if you are very near-sighted, ask your ophthalmologist about the risk of retinal detachment and tearing.