To start, a
couple few disclaimers of sorts. First, I am (obviously) not an ophthalmologist (really, I can’t even spell it without the help of spell-check). So if you’re having any similar issues with your eyes, you need to go to your own doctor. That is important. It really could signal a detached retina.
Second, I made some questionable choices regarding my eye health. It all worked out, but, as you will see, it could very well have led to further damage to my eyes. So again, if you’re having similar issues, you need to see your doctor.
And third, this is a really long post. I’m sorry.
So. I’ve been keeping a secret from you.
Three weeks ago (I remember because it was the day before the birth of my granddaughter), Alan and I were at Starbucks, and I noticed a rather large floater in my right eye.
If you’ve never heard of a floater, it’s probably because you’re younger than around 45 years old, a common age for floaters to occur. Floaters are opacities, looking like small shapes such as spots or worms, that float around in your field of vision, seeming to dart away when you try to focus on them. They also seem to drift when the eye is not moving. I’ve had them for several years on occasion, annoying, but normal. The most common cause seems to be vitreous condensations associated with aging. The vitreous gel starts to shrink and may pull away from the back wall of the eye. This sounds quite shocking, but actually is a normal part of aging.
As I sat at Starbucks, I noticed that I had a floater in my right eye that was quite a bit larger than in the past. I thought of it as spider-like. It had been so long since I’d noticed a floater in my eye that I couldn’t even think of what it was called. I just told Alan that I had one of those wormy things in my eye, except that this time it was much bigger.
Then, as I got up to use the restroom, I experienced something like a flashing light in the periphery of my vision. It almost made me feel off-balance and dizzy. This continued as I walked back to our table.
Of course, the first thing I did was look up Dr. Google. And what I read was a little terrifying. In a nutshell, while small floaters in the eye are quite a normal part of aging, if they suddenly get larger or are accompanied by flashing lights, this could signal a torn or detached retina. A detached retina can lead to blindness. It was recommended that you see a doctor as soon as possible.
I felt a little stunned as we drove home. The following day was when they were going to induce my daughter in law’s labor. Nathan and Sarah were counting on me to stay with Samuel while they were at the hospital. I knew that they would understand, but it would leave them in the lurch.
The next week was my long awaited Fascial Stretch Therapy class. It was quite costly and very likely past the point of changing.
I knew that none of these things were worth my eyesight, but this is what was going through my mind.
I could see fine out of my left eye. There was no pain. It was late in the afternoon. I made the choice, correct or not, to drive to Murrieta to stay with Samuel while Emma was being born.
The drive itself was fine. My vision, while annoying, was not debilitating. As I said, the left eye was fine. In the right, I had my spider hovering over the center, and the flashing lights, which were occasional and not very noticeable in daylight. Then were was a layer of what looked like dust or fine sand over my right eye. When I closed the eye, everything seemed fine.
It looked something like this. And the spidery thing floated around, and as I mentioned, when I tried to look at it, it would wander out of sight.
Wednesday was difficult. The drive itself was fine. When my vision bothered me too much, I’d close my eye. The tough part was to have fun and play with Samuel when I was building up a panic inside.
I arrived pretty early, about 7:30. Nathan and Sarah were expected at the hospital at 8:00. I started calling my primary care doctor to get a referral to the ophthalmologist at 8:30. Let me just say that I will be changing my primary care doctor as soon as I can. I spent about six hours trying to even speak to someone. I left messages. My calls kept getting forwarded to the answering service, even though it was regular working hours. They were powerless to forward my calls or help in any way.
I finally spoke to someone about 3:00. I may have cried a little. I’d had time to read more and I was getting really frightened. I told her that while this was not an emergency per se, knowing that she’d just tell me to call 911, it was fairly urgent, that my eyesight was at risk, and that I needed to get a referral as soon as possible. She told me that she would try to get in touch with the doctor (this was Wednesday, is that still doctors’ golfing day?), and that she would call me back as soon as she did so.
No. Call. Back.
I tried a couple more times to call the doctor back but was just sent directly to the answering service.
In the meantime, Emma was born, problems temporarily put aside, and I got to spend time with my brand new granddaughter when she was just a few hours old.
After staying overnight, I drove home early on Thursday morning and I was on the phone as soon as the office opened. Surprisingly I got through right away. I was told that the referral had been sent in.
This part gets a little complicated. It took me about 10 more phone calls, to the insurance company, to the medical group, back to my primary care doctor, back to the medical group, to find out that in this circumstance, I only needed to call the medical group for the referral. Um, it sure would have been nice if someone had thought of that any time during the previous 30 hours. I finally got an appointment with the ophthalmologist (and finally spoke to someone at his office who actually sounded like she cared).
When I arrived at the office, I was taken back by an assistant, who did a vision test (my right eye did not score very well), and put in some drops to dilate my eyes. The doctor who examined my eyes (they always check both for comparison purposes) said that he did not see a detachment or even a tear. That was good news. Then he said that his equipment was limited and that I needed to see a specialist. And here I thought an ophthalmologist was a specialist! The office would handle the referral process and I’d receive a call, probably later that afternoon, from the specialist’s office.
And in case you’ve forgotten, Thursday was also the day that Penny died. We found her when we got home from the doctor. So there was that.
I was back on the phone on Friday morning. I was much luckier this time and spoke to someone fairly early in the morning. And I was given an appointment on Monday. Which was supposed to be the first day of my week long class. In Tempe, Arizona.
Here’s where you could question my choices if you were so inclined. I decided that since the eye doctors didn’t seem to think that my situation warranted immediate attention that I may as well stick with my plans. So, I postponed my appointment for two weeks (the next appointment they could give me), and drove to Arizona as planned on Sunday.
I spent the next two weeks hoping that I’d made the right choice. At some points, I felt like my vision was getting better. At other times, it seemed a little worse. I avoided running for about a week. I’m not sure why, but the pounding seemed like it might not be a good thing. For the same reason, I skipped the weight room. Other than that, life was normal, except I was staying in a hotel room and attending an intense class every day.
And my vision really was better. The spider was a little smaller. The dust disappeared, leaving just the larger dots randomly spread across my vision. I did have some trouble reading, it was quite tiring and hard to focus, making studying for my class a bit challenging. I didn’t tell anybody.
As you know, I passed my class, made it home okay, and finally, last Monday I had my appointment with the specialist. Alan and I arrived at 3:30 for my 3:45 appointment. Three hours later I finally saw the doctor. I think the worst part of that was that they placed me in the exam room at about 4:30. So I sat for two hours, alone, burning up my phone battery as I killed time. Even that was tough since they’d dilated my eyes again. And Alan sat alone in the waiting room, equally as annoyed. And we were in Palm Springs, 45 minutes from home, so it’s not like he could leave and come back.
The doctor thoroughly examined my eyes. He spent about 20 minutes as he looked at both eyes from all angles. When he was finally finished, he told me that he could see no sign of a tear. That is a very good thing. He compared a tear in the retina to a tear in wallpaper. If wallpaper is torn, liquid and dirt can get behind it, eventually causing it to detach from the wall. If this happens with the retina it can lead to loss of vision in that eye.
What I do have is much more common. It’s called Posterior Vitreous Detachment (or PVD) and it happens when the vitreous pulls away from the back wall of the eye. That causes the floaters, which are basically blood or debris that is released. The flashes are caused when the vitreous rubs or pulls on the retina. That can appear as I saw it, like lightening in my peripheral vision, or like stars (like when you get hit on the head).
So, the good news is that I probably have no tear (there is about a 5% chance that it is there and he just could not see it). And the floaters and flashes will calm down, if not completely go away. In fact, I haven’t seen any flashes for over a week. That’s a good thing because it is a very disturbing feeling, like seeing lightning out of the corner of your eye.
The doctor said I didn’t need to worry about my regular activities, that they didn’t cause the problem nor will they make it worse. He also said that if I felt like my vision was partially blocked (like a curtain coming down over part of my eye) that I needed to come back in right away. That would very likely be a symptom of a detached retina.
Unfortunately, there really isn’t a treatment for the floaters. As the doctor said, they should diminish with time, but they probably won’t completely go away. Some doctors have been using laser to treat floaters, but that is relatively new and hasn’t been thoroughly studied (and therefore unlikely to be covered by insurance). I just have to live with them. For now. At least I can see.
Even though my near panic was not warranted, if you or anyone in your family, suddenly have new or larger floaters, experience flashes of light, or a partial loss of vision, you need to see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible and have a thorough eye exam.
Here are a few resources about floaters, flashes, and detached retina:
Have you ever experienced floaters before? Had you even heard of them?
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