I’ve been on quite a journey in the past six months. Although it did involve some travel, the journey has certainly not been a fun one. In fact, it’s been rather scary. I don’t yet know the outcome of this journey, but I’m hoping if I share its details others might avoid going down the same path.
It started last December, a few days before Christmas. I kept thinking a stray hair was hanging in my eyes and I’d try to brush it away. But it kept returning. I was busy that morning, so I didn’t think too much about it beyond how annoying it was. As the day progressed, the ‘stray hair’ grew into many rapidly flashing black lines, shooting and darting in and out of my left eye’s vision. Still thinking it more irritating than worrisome, I hoped it’d settle down before it drove me crazy.
But it didn’t settle down. It got worse. The black lines began exploding into zillions of bright little black dots, and my vision became blurry, as though Vaseline had been smeared over my eye. It was after medical facilities’ work hours, and although I try to avoid the hospital ER whenever possible, I didn’t know what else to do. After waiting about three hours, I saw a medical doctor, who looked into my eye and couldn’t see anything wrong, but she didn’t have the equipment needed to do a more thorough examination. She said she’d refer me to an ophthalmologist. By this time, the flashing lines had completely subsided, but I still had the opaque blurriness, filled with those teeny-tiny bright black dots.
I awoke with a massive opaque floater, still filled with all those black dots, constantly moving and swirling around, impeding most of my vision. An ophthalmologist’s office called with an appointment for two days later, which was the Friday before Christmas. At that appointment, both of my pupils were dilated, and the ophthalmologist confirmed that I had a retinal tear on the upper left side. I’ve supplemented the doctor’s explanation to give a clearer description.
As our eyes age, the clear vitreous gel that fills the central eye cavity liquefies and separates from the retina. This is a natural occurring event that happens in most people between the age of forty and seventy. When the gel separates, a person will often see floaters—dots, spots or curly lines, which move with the eye. Usually this quickly settles down and everything returns to normal. Sometimes, most often with people who are extremely nearsighted, the retina will tear or detach when the gel separates.
It’s really important to pay attention if this happens to you. I can’t stress that enough—if you experience these symptoms, get it checked out immediately. Go to or call your optometrist, there’s usually one on-call after hours. They’ll be able to check for a break (tear) or detachment and get you the help you need without delay. Some hospital ERs will call in an ophthalmologist, so check that option, as well. A detached retina is a medical emergency, and the longer you wait to have it repaired, the greater the chance of permanent vision loss.
The ophthalmologist had me meet him at the hospital that same day, where he repaired the retinal tear with laser surgery. I sat upright in a chair and leaned into an apparatus vaguely similar to what’s used to test eye pressure. My eye was held in place, somehow, preventing it from moving. The laser procedure wasn’t pleasant; there were lots of bright, flashing lights, but the pain was tolerable and it only took a few minutes to complete.
I was instructed to take it very easy for the next two weeks. No lifting anything, no exercise, no quick movements or turning my head abruptly. I walk fast, I wave my arms fast while I talk (fast), and I’m not big on lying around relaxing. Nor do I readily ask for help, so doing nothing for two weeks was a challenge, but I did the best I could to remember the doctor’s orders.
Two weeks later, at my follow-up visit, the ophthalmologist said the laser repair looked really good. I expressed my concerns about the opaque floater continuing to impair my vision. The black dots in the floater were less bright and there weren’t as many of them, but when combined with the large grey floater in my other eye, my sight was too unstable to chance driving. He felt the condition would improve somewhat over time, but I’d likely always have that new floater. Not what I wanted to hear, but I left his office thinking the worst was over. Little did I know I was only starting this frightening journey with my vision.
In the coming weeks, I’ll explain more about what I’m going through. I really hope by sharing my experience, I can help others learn the symptoms and dangers surrounding retinal breaks and detachments. Please stay tuned.