24 December 2011

The Eyes Have It

When I was a teenager I used to have scary dreams in which I was losing my sight, in which I could see only dim and blurred shapes and had to be led around by someone else. I always wondered if those were some kind of portent about my eyes--would I go blind someday? Just this week I remembered those dreams.

Earlier this year--when I finally got an insurance that would pay for it--I went to see an ophthalmologist about the doubled vision I have had for the last couple years. People freak out when you tell them that you see double all the time. But, honestly, it creeps up on you slowly. For me it started many years ago, but only happened when my eyes were tired after a long day of lots of reading or computer work. A good night's sleep and the eyes were normal again. About two years ago I realized it had become a permanent condition.

"How did you cope?" and "how did you drive?" people asked when they found out. The answer is "carefully." What happens is that one eye gradually becomes dominant--in my case it was the left eye. The things you see with the other eye you basically ignore. Sometimes you just close your non-dominant eye and keep going one-eyed. Yes, it does affect your depth perception. Given the problem, I chose not to drive if the conditions were adverse--late night, weird weather, etc. The worst was night time city driving in rain when the lights are all multiplied and reflected off wet streets. If I had to drive in those circumstances I probably annoyed the other drivers by my over-cautiousness behind the wheel.

This year I finally decided something had to be done.

My doctor first did tests to rule out nerve damage, and then an MRI to make sure there was no brain tumor. That was a scary moment. The testing facility gave me a copy of my brain scan (a very cool thing to look at), and in it I saw a huge white mass below my right eye--the one that was turning inward the most. Fortunately the people who know about such things let me know that this was not a tumor--just one of the worst impacted sinuses in Northeast Ohio. With those more serious conditions ruled out, the only option left was surgery to correct the muscles around the eye.

I say "eye" singular, because that was the original plan. Just do the right eye--the worst one. See how that goes and if necessary do the left later down the road. For two weeks before hand I could have no painkillers with aspirin, had to limit certain foods like citrus, tomatoes, almonds, berries. The surgery was supposed to be done in the clinic at my doctor's eye care facility. I would be awake, but under a local anesthesia.  On the afternoon I was scheduled--having eaten noting after midnight the night before--I was prepped, given a mild relaxer, and given a shot into the eye-socket area that would paralyze the eye. Or so they thought. Trust me to be contrary. After two shots and a some considerable time waiting, my eye was still able to move. and I could still feel. The doctor gave up for the day.

That was fine with me as the while prospect of someone coming at my eye and me being able to see and feel it was totally horrifying by this point. They bandaged the eye, told me to leave it alone for 24 hours. That night I was in agony. The eyelids swelled up like a plum and the whole thing was about the same color. Cold compresses were only some help. three days later I was back to normal but looking like I had been punched. Whether it was an allergic reaction to the local or (my suspicion) some small particulate in an already irritated eye, I will never know. I just know I was miserable.

 They rescheduled me for a week later at a local hospital where they would do the procedure under a general anesthesia. As long as I was going under anyway, the doctor said we would do both eyes--make them nice and symmetrical and get it all done at once. Now I was beginning to panic. If it was that painful the first time, and the surgery hadn't even happened, what would both eyes be like?

For entire week before the surgery I annoyed my youngest daughters with my "if anything happens these are my final wishes" proclamations. 2011 has been a year of too many deaths, and I was worried the universe was about to kick me in the ass again.

Day of the surgery my daughter dropped me off at Akron City Hospital. Seven hours later, and this time with some serious painkillers, I was done. Steve came to take me home. They didn't bandage the eyes this time, but I could barely hold them open anyway. That was Tuesday, four days ago.  I went home and slept on the couch (a recliner, had to keep head elevated). I have been spending a lot of time since just sleeping. The doc gave me a prescription for an ointment that was both an antibiotic and a numbing agent--a good thing because the eyes itch and are very tender. My throat is raw as well--apparently I have a very small throat and intubating me for surgery was a problem. Who knew.

By the way, the nurses at Akron City are among the nicest people on the whole planet. Seriously. Angels.

The whole thing has made me think about what I value. The idea of losing my sight is about as scary as it gets. Not being able to read. Never seeing a sunset again. Or my cats. Or a rose. Not being able to watch  my five beautiful grandchildren as they change and grow. That scares me the most.

It has been three days since the surgery. I am happy to say that I am no longer cross-eyed. The white of my eyes in the inner corners is totally red and very sore.  I wake up with my eyes gunked shut, but warm compresses help. Bright light hurts. I found last night that too much TV tires my eyes and they cross a bit when tired. Need to be more careful with these eyes, they are the only ones I have.

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