Monday, March 04, 2013

A Five-Inch Needle to the Eye and a Pirate Patch

"Don't look at the needle," the doctor said as a slim syringe with a needle that looked to be about four to five inches long passed directly across my field of vision. Realizing that he needed an instrument from the neighboring room, the doctor promptly left the room, leaving the syringe on the counter in plain view.

Knowing that the doctor was about to somehow stick that needle into the optic nerve behind my eyeball, I might have gone into full panic mode at that moment. Except for the fact that I had the good fortune a number of years ago of spending a week and a half as a patient in a hospital, during which time I became as familiar as is a well used pincushion with being poked by needles—at all times of the day and night. By the time I left that hospital, it was no big deal to be poked by a needle; although, I still don't care to watch the procedure.

Actually, I was quite happy to see the long needled syringe. I had been a total baby the last time the ophthalmologist had cauterized a retinal tear with a laser. I tried to keep my eye steady—a necessity for the operation—but my eyes seemed to move of their own accord as they filled with huge tears that spilled down my face. I felt sorry for the poor doctor. To prevent such problems this time around the doctor had offered to temporarily immobilize my eye.

The pinprick sensation on my lower eyelid wasn't too bad. I've had worse. It was only a flesh wound. "That's an odd sensation," I remarked as I felt something pushing my eyeball from behind. "Um, how long will the injection take?" I mumbled. "We're done," he refreshingly replied.

After several brief instances of weirdly shaped lights flashing in my eye over the past year, I had searched the internet and had figured that I was experiencing eye flashes that are not uncommon in middle aged eyes. But then I had a longer episode that lasted nearly half an hour. Some of the material I read said to get the eye examined by a professional right away or else risk retinal detachment, which can result in blindness. Yikes! So off to the doctor I went.

"What can you see out of that eye?" the doctor asked as he waved his hand in front of my face. I could see only gray outlines. "That's good," he said. He proceeded to place a lens directly on my eyeball. That didn't bother me like I thought it would. He looked through the other end of the instrument. I soon began seeing a small green point of light flash as the doctor activated the laser by foot pedal. My eye didn't move at all. It couldn't.

This was a vast improvement over the previous treatment when my eye was assaulted with blinding flashes of light, something to which I have always been extra sensitive. The 100-120 flashes of a tiny unremarkable green light took maybe five minutes. Probably less. That was considerably better than the 25 minutes the 40-45 flashes of blinding light had taken the time before when I couldn't keep my teary eyes still.

As the doctor bandaged my eye he said that normal eye movement would return "in a few hours" and that I could remove the dressing anytime I wanted. About an hour and a half later, it felt like I could move my eye and my eyelid normally, so I removed the bandage.

Bad idea. Bad, bad idea. My wife asked why I had immediately grabbed the wall. "To keep from falling over," I replied. Even then I wasn't sure that the wall would keep me upright. I could see clearly, but everything was slanted like a fun house room. But only out of the affected eye. In attempting to make sense of the two different views offered by my two eyes, my brain almost succeeded in making me seriously nauseous.

Unable to find an eye patch around the house, my wife drove me to a nearby pharmacy, where I bought what looked very much like a pirate costume patch. My son said that I looked more like a James Bond villain than a pirate. The vague "few hours" recovery time mentioned by the doctor ended up lasting at least 12 hours until I retired. I'm not actually sure when the anesthetic wore off because I awoke with my eye tracking normally.

In the interim, I spent the day with my Bond villain look. I was somewhat self conscious when I accompanied my daughter to a children's museum. Happily, no one seemed to care. Even the young kids (of which there were many) seemed unbothered by my appearance. It was a bit more problematic to attend a wedding reception, where my eye adornment brought unwanted attention from friends and acquaintances. But at least I was able to stay upright.

The vitreous gel inside our eyes hardens with age and pulls away from the retina and outside of the eye. It's usually no big deal. But some of us are blessed with 'sticky' gel that tugs hard enough on the retina to tear that delicate membrane during this process. As mentioned above, it's important to get this treated promptly. You know, impending blindness and all.

The good news (at least for the ophthalmologist) is that once you've had a retinal tear, you are a good candidate for more. So I am getting comfortable with the idea of seeing the eye doctor more often. I guess that as long as I can continue to see him, it will be worth it.

I'm not particularly looking forward to the next time I will need laser therapy on my eyes. But I will definitely go for the eye immobilization the next time around. For me, a five-inch needle and a pirate patch beat seeing bright laser light shot in my eye any day.

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