Monday, April 13, 2009

Terms of detachment

It’s one of Mother Nature's little jokes.

Among the rare things shrinking as we age is the vitreous, the gel-like substance surrounding the eye. As it shrinks, it pulls at the retina and can cause a retinal tear or worse. If not attending to quickly, this can lead to blindness. Those of us with extreme myopia are the most at risk, cause our retina’s are stretched thinner around our elongated eyeballs.

So when the cascade of black dots and cobwebbed floaters over a filmy gray field suddenly descended on my right eye last Saturday as I worked, I was more than disquieted. Naturally, when I got home, I did the expected. I logged onto the internet to check it out—using mainly my one “good” eye. The results were confusing.

The lists of symptoms were vague and comments from others describing what seemed to be the same trouble complained of no cause or cure. The problem was the description. How to tell if what I was seeing was what they were describing? The two definitive photos of what a detached retina would look like to the victim brought about a temporary sigh of relief. They appeared different. One photo looked like those black semaphore flags used to send Morse code in those old movies.

That night, I worried and watched my internal black’n white psychedelic light show. No improvement. My mind kept returning to the phrases “sudden change” and “immediate medical attention.” Sleep didn’t help. What to do on a Sunday morn? I called the service of a glaucoma specialist I had seen several years ago and was referred to the doctor covering for him. That doctor, bless his heart, called me immediately. Turns out, he is a retinal surgeon. “I’m heading down to the office for another patient, why don’t you stop in.”

This stroke of “luck” is referred to in my Buddhist practice “a benefit.”

I feel the need to note how petrified I am of anything regarding my eyes. I’ve worn glasses since 5 years of age. And my myopia increased at such a rate, my family would joke that “next I would need a seeing eye dog.” At night, I would shut the lights and feel my way around the bedroom to memorize it, so convinced was I that blindness was near. Children are literal creatures. As a teen, an attempt at contact lenses (hard plastic back then) ended with corneal abrasions, as if a ring of fire had been stamped onto my eyes. The few times I tried not wearing my specs the results were too embarrassing to mention.

I chanted silently to myself through the uncomfortable exam (another one on tap for later today) and the results were encouraging. The retina was intact—for the time being, he emphasized. It was the vitreous that had detached and those dots were from the broken blood vessels. There was nothing to be done but watch and wait to see if the retina would follow. In the past week, I have noticed no improvement. But I think I may be getting used to the flotsam congesting my view. If I make it though the next few weeks, he said, I would only have to worry about the other eye, which usually follows the same pattern.

“If there had been tear, I’d just take you into the other office and spot weld you,” he added, referring to the laser used to seal the breach. I must say, the thought of it makes me lose my lunch. Let’s face it. There is no “closing your eyes and thinking of England” in these procedures. You are awake and too much aware for my taste.

I have a great deal of company here. The doc is making a fine living. There are so many of us bailing water out of this same aging boat, that it gave me an idea for a new reality show: Retinas behaving badly.

Stay tuned.

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