Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pirates of the Caribbean...NOT!

The first time I went to see a retinal specialist was not a happy experience. For starters, the waiting room smelled like poop (sadly, not because the plumbing was being worked on). Then, when I finally saw the retinal surgeon who had been so highly recommended, I realized he was a septuagenarian, which bothered me; I wanted someone younger, with steadier hands, as a surgeon. Also, he flirted with me, which was annoying and rather bewildering until I realized that, at 60, I was probably his youngest patient by about 20 years. He recommended immediate surgery, and when I demurred, he tsk-tsked, shook his finger at me, and said: "Sooner rather than later, my dear, and by later, I mean no more than 6 months!" 

That was a little over 3 years ago. I have epiretinal membrane, a condition in which scar tissue forms on the macula. The macula is a small oval area in the center of the retina, and in the center of the macula is a cone shaped depression called the fovea. The fovea contains the highest concentration of cone cells, which provide clear central vision. Sometimes, for various reasons, scar tissue forms over the fovea. Most of the time, this is no big deal; an optometrist or ophthalmologist can see it when the eye is dilated, but if it's mild, it doesn't cause a change in vision. However, for some individuals, the tissue grows, eventually wrinkling the macula and distorting central vision. 

That's what happened to me, but I wasn't in any hurry to have the surgery that's the only treatment. It also happened to Spalding Gray, who also wasn't keen on having the surgery (albeit, this was almost 20 years ago). In fact, he wrote a monologue about his search for alternatives to the surgery, that became a movie directed by Stephen Soderbergh, called Gray's Anatomy.  I'd also read, and my ophthalmologist had told me, that sometimes epiretinal membranes spontaneously slough,"although I myself have never actually had a patient to whom that happened," she admitted. 

Still, I had high hopes. 

So I declined surgery, and waited. 

But the membrane didn't spontaneously slough, and the central vision in my left eye got worse, not better. It's a weird disorder, because even though the central vision in my left eye is now so poor that I can no longer read the E at the top of the eye chart, I still have good peripheral vision in that eye, and that, combined with the very good vision that I still have in my right eye, has enabled me to see well enough to drive my car, do my job (reading and writing all day, on two computer monitors), read my Kindle, etc. 

Until recently. The vision in my eyes is now so discrepant that at times I have double vision, and it's easier sometimes to just cover my left eye entirely than to try to figure out what it is I'm looking at. For example, check out the Amsler Grid, below. To use it, cover one of your eyes at a time, and concentrate on the dot in the center. If your eyes are healthy, the lines should all look straight; if they don't, make an appointment for an eye exam. For me, with my right eye, the lines look straight, but with my left eye, they aren't straight at all, and if I look at this with both eyes, there are big blank areas. 

So in December, after having researched docs, I went to see a much younger, board certified, vitreo-retinal surgeon. He was wearing a Santa hat (I'm not kidding - this was shortly before Christmas). After he reviewed the scans of both of my eyes, he told me in no uncertain terms that I need to have a vitrectomy (removal of the vitreous fluid) and membranectomy (removal of layers of unhealthy tissue from the retina) on my left eye ASAP, which, with the holidays, meant January. He said because I'd waited so long and there's now so much tissue covering the fovea, he couldn't promise that the vision in that eye will be restored, only that it won't continue to deteriorate. I think he was being cautious, but I'm fine with that. 

So how does Captain Jack Sparrow fit into all of this? Discussing recovery, the surgeon mentioned that I'll have to wear a patch over my eye for a couple of days and nights, "to protect your eye, in case you bump it". I have a good imagination, and I love Johnny Depp, so I immediately pictured a sexy, black velvet eye patch, of the type that Jack Sparrow (or someone he fancied), might wear.

Ha! That's not it at all. I've looked into this, and we're talking Industrial Eye Patch: an eye patch so big and sturdy, that it'll protect the whole left side of my head, should it come to that, which apparently is prudent, because I'll have no depth perception, and might easily walk hard into a cupboard door, or tumble down a flight of stairs, but by God, if I do, my eye will be protected! Think cheese grater or colander, placed over a kitchen sponge and taped to my face with clear packing tape...attractive, I know!

Which is part of the reason I'll be working from home for all of next week.

I promise to post pics...eventually. But I don't delude myself that Captain Jack Sparrow would fancy me.


pam said...

GREAT post, with excellent info. I had no idea. Of course I had to go back up to the amazing picture, um, a few times...

emmapeelDallas said...

Hey, I spend a lot of time looking at that amazing picture...mmmmmmm.... :)

Janine Hummel said...

so cool that you discovered my "blob," as I call it, Judi. And only because I also had the same image of Depp in my head, I learned that Jack Sparrow did not wear a patch. I was SCHOOLED. But, you'll look good and get lots of empathy when you wear one. Keep in touch and let me know how it all turns out. AND, enlarge your computer font so you might email me about how it's going. So GLAD i made you laugh. It's not a funny situation, but hell, if we didn't have our senses of humor, i think disability issues could plain old Take Over. no thanks. Keep smiling! p.s. we enjoy all the same flicks; cool. (J9)

Lisa :-] said...

I'm sure you'll rock this surgery the same way you have rocked the walking thing... :)