In A Literal Blink Of An Eye, Everything Can Change—What I’ve Learned About Torn And Detached Retinas

This is the final post in my series on torn and detached retinas. (Start from beginning here) In December 2016, I experienced a retinal tear in my left eye, which has left me with unstable vision. In April 2017, I had a vitreous hemorrhage in my right eye, and still don’t know the full outcome from that episode.

At the end of August I’ll have another eye surgery, a vitrectomy, to remove the silicon oil that was injected into my eye cavity last April, during surgery to repair a complicated retinal detachment. It feels as if my life’s been on hold ever since that surgery, first waiting for my eye to heal and now waiting to have the oil removed, then I’ll wait to see how much my vision improves.

Many activities I once enjoyed and took for granted are now challenging. The simple act of pouring a liquid accurately requires extra concentration. I sometimes hang clothes inside out and use a knife upside down (those are actually kind of funny). Shopping, using my camera, watching TV, using a computer, looking in my bathroom mirror, sitting near a window, being outside in the sun or at night with lights on—these have all become struggles.

My new normal:

I get intense flashes of light in my right eye, and occasionally my vision momentarily goes black.

When I close my eyes at night, a lightshow starts up behind my right eyelid. Like a kaleidoscope or an erupting volcano, except in black and white. Sometimes it’s rather cool, like flickering northern lights, but mostly it’s just annoyingly bright.

I continue having double vision. The blurry image is always canted to the upper left. Tilting my head can make the two images merge, then by focusing intently, the images will stay together when I straighten my head. This trick doesn’t always work.

Because there’s no functional vision in my right eye, I can’t see details. Faces have no discernible features. And, weirdly, people’s heads are really narrow. Actually, everything looks narrower. When looking through both eyes, there’s right-side fogginess.

Getting out a few times a month to enjoy physical activities have been kiboshed. For about six weeks I had to take it very easy while my eye healed. Even after that, my eye socket pain skyrocketed whenever I exerted myself, so it scared me into slowing down. And I question the safety of biking and hiking with my level of vision impairment. A tarnished silver lining is that with spring flooding, extreme fire ratings and smoke haze causing poor air quality, many trails have been closed and we’d have had to curtail most outdoor activities anyway. A terribly tarnished silver lining, indeed, and not one I take solace in.

I haven’t driven since early April. It’s legal to drive with vision in only one eye, but both of my eyes are compromised. If my left eye blurred while I was driving, I’d be in trouble. As well, lights (including car lights, traffic lights, street lights) make me see double. So, basically, I’m unsafe on the roads, at least right now. Not driving is a frustrating inconvenience, but it’s not a hardship. My seven-year-old car had 41,000 kilometres on it, so I obviously didn’t drive much. My hubby is home midafternoon and we usually do our going-out chores together. And, luckily, I live in a community where I can walk to most places.

Unless there’s dramatic changes with my vision, I’ll probably never work again. I might not need to work, but I’d like to. I miss being around people; I miss feeling useful. Being home all day is very isolating, and once this next surgery is behind me, I’ll have to find a solution.

My current vision might never improve, and I have to accept this. Occasionally when I get overwhelmed, the if only engine starts up, but negative thinking won’t change my reality. It just makes me frustrated and sad. I tell myself, it is what it is, so deal with it, and it could be a hell of a lot worse. I’m determined to adapt, to reclaim my life—maybe not the one I had before, but one that’s fulfilling nonetheless.

I didn’t share all this so people will feel sorry for me. Quite the opposite. Please learn from what I’m going through, and take steps to protect your own eye health. Don’t put off that optometrist appointment. Don’t ignore changes in your vision. Read and remember the following information, especially if you have risk factors such as diabetes, if a family member has experienced torn or detached retinas, if you’re middle-aged, or if you’re very nearsighted.

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, the retina will tear or detach when the gel separates. A vitreous hemorrhage can occur when blood vessels are damaged during the separation, filling the eye cavity with blood and risking damage to the retina. An acute retinal detachment is an ophthalmologic emergency. The longer the wait for surgery, the lower the chances of a positive outcome. This not only can lead to irreversible vision loss, the health of the entire eye is endangered.

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. 

My road to recovery continues to be long and uncertain. Although it’s too soon to know where it all ends, I remain hopeful the destination will be a good one.


11 thoughts on “In A Literal Blink Of An Eye, Everything Can Change—What I’ve Learned About Torn And Detached Retinas

  1. Pingback: My New Reality After Retinal Surgery | joyceholmes

    • Hi Patricia. Thanks for the good wishes. Compared to the first surgery, this one was a breeze to heal from, but unfortunately I still have no functional vision in that eye. I’ll be getting two more surgeries at future dates which might help, so there’s still hope. 🙂


  2. There’s always hope Joyce. I’m also recovering from a macular hole and torn retina surgery (Aug 29). Vision is very poor in the affected eye and a permanently dilated pupil doesn’t help. Thankfully, I still have good vision in the other eye so I can function quite well. Good luck with your future surgeries.


    • My pupil is permanently dilated as well, which makes things more difficult for sure. I was told it takes a full year for vision to stabilize after this type of surgery, so fingers crossed we both end up with better outcomes. All the best to you, Patricia.


  3. Thank you Joyce for the information on your blog. It was very useful, especially the part about how a tear can occur, as happened to me, as a consequence of vitreous gel liquefying in the aging process. I am recovering three weeks after ‘gas-bubble’ surgery and I too have a dilated pupil, which I hope will settle down over time. I am sending you loving kindness in your recovery and best wishes for the future. Simon


    • Thanks for the kind words, Simon. I’m sorry to hear that you too had to go through this scary process. I’m glad my information was helpful, that’s why I decided to share my experience. Best of luck with your recovery.


  4. Hi Mam, I had the same surgery way back 2015 mine is my left eye. And all the things you had after the surgery happened to me too. Now after four years, I saw a bump in the outer white part of my left eye, I am not quite sure now if I had this already after my surgery, Do you still have this bump too? By the way, after the scleral buckling procedure, I didnt undergo the thing you mention, the removing of oil…


    • Hi Jerome. All the bumps I had after surgery went away over time. I suggest you have it checked out, just to be on the safe side. Silicon oil isn’t used with all repair procedures. You most likely had either air or gas, which is a good thing. The oil caused other problems for me that have seriously impacted my vision. I hope all goes well with your vision.


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