I have spent the past ten months dealing with a torn/detached retina. The four, yes, four surgeries were uncomfortable but uneventful – outpatient, a few hours in and out. Yes, they use anesthesia, but only to “prepare the eye.” Then they want you awake so you don’t move. What? Nobody told me about that before the first surgery, which completely freaked me out. I got savvier as I went along, pleading with the anesthesiologist to give me a cocktail so I wouldn’t remember anything and was even “lucky” to be put under general once. The surgery is called a vitrectomy (not to be confused with vasectomy.)
The recovery from the procedure is the kicker. It’s like nothing I have previously experienced (more like endured) over my lifetime. For the first week post-surgery I had to be face down most of the time. This is so gravity can help the “gas bubble” that was placed during surgery push the retina where it’s supposed to be. That meant being prone whenever I wanted to be horizontal and keeping my chin to my chest when sitting. Trust me, this was not a vacation. Laying around may sound relaxing but not when your orbital area hurts, as well as your neck, shoulders and back. It throws off your whole mojo. I was allowed very limited screen time, which was hard for this avid reader and binge-watcher. I begrudgingly adapted to books on tape. My iPad became my watching device of choice as I could sit with it in my lap, chin to chest, while watching a coveted show or two. Each week my screen time was increased incrementally but I was not allowed to lift anything heavy and couldn’t bend over. I walked around with my chin to my chest for weeks which made me look like a very sad, demoralized person, which I kind of was. I had to sleep on my stomach (not my position of choice) for a long time. The nitrous (or gas) bubble slowly goes away and there is a risk that the retina will detach again, so I was very careful and a little worried, with good reason as it turned out. I developed a large cataract, a common side effect of retina surgery, which had to be taken care of.
The torn retina wasn’t a complete surprise to me as a year earlier I had had floaters and flashes and rushed to the eye doctor. I was handed a brochure called “Floaters and Flashes,” so I obviously wasn’t unique. “So I just wait until my retina detaches?” I asked the doctor. My 80+ year old father had recently had a detached retina. I was told it may never happen to me and there was nothing to do at the time. So when I had increased floaters and noticed a veil over the top of my vision, I knew something was wrong. I did not have any eye trauma and I am not diabetic, two common causes of retinal problems. It’s just another indignity of aging for me.
Unfortunately I am in a small subset of people whose retina does not want to stay attached, with scarring being an issue. I’ve had a second opinion which affirmed I was on the right treatment track. A physician friend told me it’s like getting wet tissue paper to stick together. Never having worn glasses (except for reading as I age) or contact lenses, all things related to eyes gross me out. But I am soldiering along and try not to think too much about the nitty gritty. I’m a little unhappy with the right side of my body which continues to fail me – breast cancer, carpal tunnel surgery, arthritis resulting in a triple fusion of my foot – all on my right side, and now my stupid right eye. What’s next – hip, knee, shoulder?
I had the cataract surgery after the second retina surgery, could see more clearly and hoped the ordeal was behind me. I felt a little bit like a bionic woman with my shiny new lens. I got a real lift in my spirits at the follow up visit when the ophthalmology tech told me I was a young cataract patient. Really? At 58, I rarely get called young. “Didn’t you notice you were the youngest person at the ambulatory care place?”
I felt giddy. Having had three of my four kids after the age of 35, I remember bristling when my pregnancies were called “geriatric” or that I was of “advanced maternal age.” When I needed foot surgery and asked one doctor why I had this particular orthopedic problem, he casually said it happened to “middle-aged, overweight women.” Ouch (and no – I didn’t use him.) As I march along through middle age, I am older than many of my 17-year-old daughter’s friends’ moms which doesn’t really bother me. I feel youthful, even with graying hair, sags, bags and wrinkles.
I wear the “young cataract patient” badge proudly. I have a spring in my step and look forward to putting this latest physical problem behind me. I thought the retina specialist would discharge me to the ophthalmologist when this is over but when I asked him when that happens, he basically said, “Never, how’s never? Does that work for you?” Apparently once you’ve had a detached retina you are statistically at risk to have another one.
I am getting used to my new “normal” of marginal vision and am hoping that with some tweaks, it may get a little better. I am fortunate that my good eye is 20/20. When some friends recently inquired about my eye I said, “There’s nothing I can’t do.” My husband had to clarify that I wasn’t proclaiming a Pollyanna view of life but rather I can drive, read, watch tv, cook and do my new pandemic hobby – knitting. I never thought of knitting as a geriatric hobby, because my grandmother taught me when I was a teenager . My daughter recently took up crocheting as some influencer she follows makes cool hats and bags. The woman at the yarn store told me it’s “trending” now, although my daughter reports she’s getting mocked by her friends.
Although this has been a trying period during an already-in-progress trying period, the up side is that every family member will have a freshly knitted hat whether they want one or not. Sure, some days I feel ancient, some days spry and sprightly. Who is to say what’s hip, or old, or young? It’s all in the eye of the beholder.