The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Monday, May 16, 2016

My Retinal Tear: What You Should Know

I won't be flying for a month
and need to wear this until the bubble in my eye disappears.
Disclaimer: This is a personal experience post peppered with information I learned from my ophthalmologists (eye doctors or surgeon from here on out because those words are easier to spell). For medical facts, talk to the experts (the real live ones preferably).

Know this for starters: I am currently recovering from two emergency eye surgeries. Here's how it happened. I get aura migraines, which means I see the equivalent of sun glare in my eyes before the pain starts. When the glare disappears (you know, like the glare you get when the sun shines brightly off water or snow and dazzles your eyes), the pain begins. In my case, the glare didn't go away.

Ten years ago, my brother had a retinal tear and I learned the signs from him. So, I headed off to the eye doctors for a special visit. No tear was found but I was cautioned that didn't mean there would not be one. He was right ... although I'd wished he'd done one further test that happened later ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The glare persisted, eyes open and eyes closed, located in the lower left of my left eye. When my eyes were closed the glare would slowly fade away. Then over a short time, things changed. The glare became a watery spot, a blurred place in my vision. This alternated back and forth between watery and fuzzy gray. When the fuzzy gray hit, I could see nothing but gray light in that area. Hold up my fingers in front of that area and only the tips outside the gray haze were visible.

I went back to the eye doctor's office quickly and had a full check up. At first it was thought to be a large floater (with age you get all sorts of company, floaters in your eyes included) I could see. Then the doctor decided on one further text, and I'm glad she did. It involved a very bright headlamp and a large handheld magnifier (ask for these if you suspect you have a tear). Sure enough, minutes later I had an appointment with a specialist for later that day.

Here's what were talking about when it comes to a retinal tear. It happens if you are nearsighted (especially really nearsighted) and have been on this earth for let's say five decades (or four in my brothers case). For the nearsighted, the eyeball isn't a ball, but an oblong shape. That makes it harder for the aging retina (attached to the back of your eye) to hang on, staying where it should and sending imagery from the outside world inside to your brain. As it ages, it can tear. Of course, if you play hard contact sports, you don't have to wait for fifty years to tear or fully detach a retina and can have this fun much earlier in life.

Okay, so it's off to the specialist. Now, let me say this, the procedures for a retinal tear or detachment can be scary, but don't put this off. Discomfort and being creeped out are nothing compared to permanent blindness in one eye. You'll get through this. If I can, you can, really! I want to commend the nursing staff. They were wonderful. The nurse who prepped me for surgery was upbeat and confident. Her mood was infectious and she made the procedure much easier to handle and me much more relaxed in dealing with it. The first day, my eye was photoed with equipment I've never seen before. It was like having your eye scanned. I saw the pictures later and they were fascinating. My eyes were dilated so a good look could be had by all, except me, eyes dilated and all. Then came six or so applications of a numbing agent (I was reassured when the nurse admitted to the same uncertainty I always have when asked if I think I'm numb yet ... how exactly do you know???). The surgeon came in and sketched out what he'd do for me. It was not my happiest moment as it involved two needles (very thin ones I was assured although I never saw them). In essence, I would receive a bubble in my left eye that would push the torn retina back into place. A second needle would then extract some excess fluid to keep the eye's pressure right. The best thing I was told was that the whole procedure would be completed in less time than it had taken to describe it and that proved correct. The surgeon was also correct in saying there would be pressure but no pain.

With the bubble in place, I was sent home. It's amazing what can be done to you and then you are sent off into the world like nothing happened.

I was lucky, the tear was in the upper left side of my eye (because the eye sends info into the brain in one orientation and the brain reverses it to see things right side up from the outside world, the apparent location of both the gray area and the bubble is reversed. That's why the trouble appeared to be in the bottom. That meant sleeping in a recliner with my head up and keeping my head up in a "neutral" position (shoe tying is interesting but really a person could do that with eyes closed so not as big a deal as one might think). That kept the bubble floating against the tear. That afternoon my eye was irritated for several hours (they gave me drops, used abundantly) by the sterilizing fluid they'd used to clean the area for surgery.

The next day was more interesting and intense. A surgical laser was used to, as the surgeon put it, "spot weld" the tear. This was more challenging as it took a lot longer to get the job done (and by that I mean somewhere between ten and twenty minutes ... or so I think as I was too distracted to look at my watch and time things). There was more pressure with this procedure and at times twinges that were uncomfortable but not exactly painful. It really was a weird feeling unlike any I've had before. The worst though was the disorientation. The light shining brightly from both the surgical headlamp and the laser was so bright after a few seconds I could no longer tell if my eye remained in the desired position required by the surgeon. I had to assume it was as I heard no different from him. The light was also so penetrating and distracting that if any imagery was coming in from my right eye, my brain was not processing that data at the level of my focused attention.

Still, after this procedure I was able to go home again. Unlike the first day, the muscles around my eye and on top of my head were offended by what had happened but some aspirin took care of that. This story is already longer than intended. Waiting for the follow up visit to receive the welcomed declaration that all had gone well and the retina was solidly restored to its original position was almost as challenging as anything else.

Long story short, if you get a bright lightning bolt across your vision, an aura that won't go away, or an area of your field of vision you can't see through well or at all, get yourself immediately to an eye doctor to have it checked out. This is nothing to mess around with and nothing to let fear get in the way of treatment. The surgeries are unlike anything else you've done, true. But they won't scar you for life and the experts treating you will handle you with all appropriate care. Best of all, corrected vision will return.  

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