As I explained last week (link), in December 2016, I experienced a torn retina in my left eye. Because it’s so important to recognize and understand the signs and symptoms of a torn or detached retina, I’ll repeat them.
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. If you experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
Since my retinal tear, there’s permanent residual debris in my eye that comes and goes without warning. When the opaque floaters are not there, my sight from that eye is very good. When the floaters appear, my vision gets blurry. For the first several weeks, the floaters were filled with a multitude of bright black dots, and I didn’t feel safe to drive. I resumed driving in mid-February, once the floaters had shrunk and the dots had mostly disappeared.
One Saturday at the beginning of April, quite a few bright black dots appeared in my vision. I still occasionally get small black dots in my left eye, so I wasn’t concerned. As the dots grew in number and size, I closed my right eye to have a good look at them. To my surprise, there weren’t any. I closed my left eye, and there they were, floating around in my right eye.
These were just black dots, not the shooting, flashing episode I had with my left eye. And when I saw the ophthalmologist last December, he told me the gel in my right eye likely had already separated, causing the grey floater I’ve had for years. So I was more mystified than alarmed by this event.
But on Sunday, I developed the telltale opaque blurriness filled with tiny bright dots, as well as larger shooting black spots, indicating the same issue as I’d had with my left eye. Because of my experience last time with the hospital ER not having the equipment to examine my eye, I decided to wait and call the ophthalmologist in the morning.
I woke up Monday morning with no vision in my right eye, just a massive opaque mass with swirling black lines throughout it. The ophthalmologist’s office told me this was a different issue, so I needed a new referral. I couldn’t see well enough to drive to my optometrist’s office, so I called my doctor’s office, which is walking distance. I explained in detail what had happened to the receptionist, and how I needed a referral to an ophthalmologist. She agreed this needed to be checked, but said they couldn’t see me until the next afternoon. I hung up feeling stunned and close to tears.
Knowing what I do now, I had several options I could’ve and should’ve taken. I should’ve called my hubby and asked him to come home. I should’ve called the optometrist’s office; they would’ve understood the gravity of the situation. Or at the very least, I should’ve insisted I see my doctor right away. Instead, I did nothing, but worry.
Coincidently one of my books happened to be released that same day. Release days are usually full of joy and excitement. And they’re busy, with tweets and facebook posts, visiting several hosting websites and answering any comments. Somehow I managed to do all that, but it wasn’t fun or exciting. It was stressful and challenging. My vision was so impaired, I struggled to see the computer monitor and figuring out the websites’ security procedures was beyond frustrating.
Later that afternoon, I tried using a sleep mask to block the enormous mass, which swirled sickeningly every time my eye moved. I positioned it across my forehead so only my right eye was covered, and I’m sure I looked silly, but it enabled me to function.
I’m not a dramatic person, and I don’t waste time or energy feeling sorry for myself. But that day, I uncharacteristically struggled with my feelings. I was terrified, stressed, and frustrated. In desperation, I went online seeking information to explain my condition. Big mistake. Every medical website emphasized the importance of immediate medical attention for detached retinas. This was an emergency, and every hour that went by without treatment increased the chances of permanent vision loss. I was practically hyperventilating with panic by the time I forced myself off the computer.
At my doctor’s appointment the next day, I sat for forty-five minutes while other people got called in before me. Finally, I told the receptionist I really needed to see the doctor, before it got too late to see a specialist that day. She seemed surprised about my situation, even though I’d clearly spelled it out to her over the phone the previous day. Within minutes, my doctor had arranged an immediate appointment with the on-call ophthalmologist—not the same one I’d seen in December.
As I waited for the drops to dilate my pupils, I slowly began to relax because I was finally getting the medical attention I needed. The ophthalmologist said he could see the retinal break I’d had in my left eye and another smaller one, as well. He explained that I had what’s called a vitreous hemorrhage in my right eye.
There are several reasons for getting a vitreous hemorrhage. Most likely, in my case, the vitreous gel had liquefied as it did in my left eye, but when it separated from the retina, blood vessels were damaged, causing the hemorrhage. I bleed easily, sometimes serious enough to require blood transfusions, so I wasn’t surprised to hear I had a major bleed in my eye.
There was so much blood in my eye cavity, he couldn’t see the retina, so I needed an ultrasound done. That evening, I had a simple procedure at the hospital, where an ultrasound wand was passed over my closed lids while I was lying down. Within minutes, the radiologist told me there was no sign of a torn or detached retina. I still didn’t know how the blood would be removed from my eye or when I’d get my vision back, but I left the hospital with a smile on my face, feeling as if the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders.
Next week, I’ll pick up with the phone call from the ophthalmologist the following morning, explaining my options to me. (Link to next post)