Whirlwind Day of Appointments in Vancouver

A quick recap on my series of eye health posts. (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. I want to reiterate the importance of recognizing and understanding the symptoms and dangers of torn or detached retinas.

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. A vitreous hemorrhage can occur when blood vessels are damaged during the above process, filling the eye cavity with blood.

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

I ended my last post with our rushed trip to Vancouver to see a retinal surgeon. We had a nice view from our hotel suite, and I wished we were there under better circumstances.

The eye clinic was huge and crowded, but operated like a well-organized production line. I filled out some paperwork, then had drops put in my eyes and various tests done. After a thorough examination, the retinal surgeon explained he could see enough of my retina to confirm it was severely detached, so I told him the ultrasound had shown the retina was okay. He said that might’ve been true at the time, but it had since detached, with potentially dire consequences. He didn’t offer false hope, but promised he’d do everything he could to restore as much of my vision as possible.

I asked if now that both eyes had experienced the vitreous gel separation, there’d be no danger of this happening to me again. He replied that some retinas keep falling off even after being reattached several times. This worried me because my left retina has had to be repaired twice since tearing.

He told me it could take a full year to know the quality of vision I’d end up with. I asked if that meant the sight in my left eye might still improve and he said no, but I’d probably adjust to the blurry vision. Damn, eh? Got my hopes up for a moment.

I filled out reams of paperwork and received pamphlets explaining what a vitreous hemorrhage and a detached retina were, and which procedures would be used during surgery. One procedure is called a Vitrectomy. This involves making small incisions in the eyeball so the surgeon, using a microscope and special lens, can insert micro-surgical instruments to clean the vitreous and blood from the middle eye cavity.

The other procedure entails sewing a silicone scleral buckle around the outer wall of the eyeball to create an indentation inside the eye. This pushes on the retina and effectively closes the break. Scleral buckles usually remain on the eye indefinitely.

After all that cheery news, I had to have my blood pressure checked (Surprise, surprise, it was way higher than normal). After lunch, Hubby dropped me at another clinic to have an electrocardiogram. I’m not sure if this is standard procedure for all the eye clinic’s surgery patients or if it’s because I have an aortic valve insufficiency. Regardless, the test was performed quickly, with no problems detected.

We picked Roxy up from our son’s place and headed to Kit’s Beach for some relaxation.

About 25,000 pot smokers, who’d gathered at Sunset Beach for the 420 cannabis rally, began disbanding about the same time we were returning to our hotel. Extra police presence with road blocks to monitor those partiers, combined with the usual rush hour traffic and few left-hand turn lights, meant it took us two hours to travel what should’ve taken thirty minutes. It was certainly frustrating, but rather than getting all worked up, it became almost a game to us – let’s see if this street will take us where we want to go.

After dinner, we did a dry run to Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, where I’d have my surgery the next morning. Hubby likes to be prepared, and he didn’t want anything unexpected making me late for my appointment. Thankfully, the crazy traffic had dissipated and the trip there and back took no time.

Our hectic day ended with this lovely sunset.

Next week, I’ll share my eye surgery experience. (next post here)

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Knowing The Facts Can Be Scary, But Not Knowing Is Worse

For the past two weeks I’ve been blogging about my eye issues. (Catch up here) In December 2016, I experienced a torn retina in my left eye, and in April 2017, I had a vitreous hemorrhage in my right eye. The purpose of these posts is to bring awareness to the symptoms and dangers of torn or detached retinas. Because they’re so important to recognize and understand, I’ll repeat the warning signs.

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. A vitreous hemorrhage can occur when blood vessels are damaged during the above process, filling the eye cavity with blood.

If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

After having an ultrasound that indicated the vitreous hemorrhage hadn’t injured my retina, I thought I’d gotten away lucky. That attitude changed with a sombre phone call from the ophthalmologist early the next morning. He said even though the ultrasound showed no damage, this was an extremely serious situation. With the amount of blood in my eye, the retina was in imminent danger of severe injury and I needed surgery to remove the blood.

He referred me to a retinal surgeon, but because this was the Wednesday before the Easter long weekend, the soonest I could get an appointment was the following Tuesday. That was quite the nerve-wracking week for me. I functioned best with my right eye covered, essentially blocking out the horrible churning mess that had stolen my vision. The eye patch I bought was really uncomfortable, so while at home I used a sleep mask set at an angle across my forehead to cover my right eye. Goofy looking, but effective.

The retinal surgeon was very concerned about my eye’s condition and confirmed I’d need surgery as soon as possible. He advised me to use care with my activities, and to avoid leaning forward. Holding my head upright meant carefully crouching multiple times a day when tending to my little blind dog.

The doctor also said the retina tear in my left eye, from last December, hadn’t healed, and I had another smaller break, as well. He did laser surgery, right there and then. It was a much different experience from my first one. Instead of sitting up with my eye held stationary, I reclined in the chair and tried to hold my eye still. I hope to never go through that again. It was horrific. Not only were the flashing lights almost unbearably bright, the pain was brutal, and the process lasted far longer than the other one had.

I had a killer headache the rest of the day, which I attributed to the intense laser procedure. My right eye’s vision also changed that evening, going from a swirling opaque mass with black lines running through it to solid black with small slices of sight. Quite frightening, but everything about this situation was frightening.

The next morning, the surgeon’s office called to ask if I was willing to go to Vancouver for surgery. For some reason, there are no retinal surgeons operating out of our hospital, yet there are two (including the one I just saw) in a smaller city about two hours away. Unfortunately both of these surgeons were fully booked, so Vancouver was my only option—provided they could find an available surgeon there.

I got the call at three o’clock that afternoon telling me I had an appointment in Vancouver early the next morning, with surgery booked the day after that. It was a bit of a mad panic, throwing clothes into a suitcase, gathering necessities for my little dog, figuring out where to stay. My youngest son, who lives in Vancouver, found us a hotel that accepts pets. Two hours later, we began the five-hour drive to the coast.

These gorgeous flowers greeted us in our hotel room, a very thoughtful and fragrant gift from my boy. The entire suite smelled glorious.

Roxy settled in her little bed and went right to sleep.

I wish I’d also had a sound night’s sleep, but despite the comfy king-bed, I hardly closed my eyes. Too much worrying and wondering.

Next Monday, I’ll share both the serious and lighter side of our jam-packed Thursday in Vancouver. (Click for next post)

Two of the Longest, Most Stressful Days of My Life

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)