On the mend

My surgeon, Dr. Shizou Mukai, did a post-op exam yesterday and pronounced the vitrectomy a success. No serious pain, the eye is a little “insulted” and red, but he was pleased that the retina is now reattached.

The procedure was done under local anesthetic with a nerve block on the eye. I have no idea what occurred, only what I could hear between the surgeons and the attending fellows. I tried to lay very still under the drape and listen to their discussion — tuned into any inflection of concern in their voices. It seems there were multiple tears. As best I can fathom, an instrument was inserted into the eye and some, if not all of the vitreous humor — the jelly-like substance the consistency of an egg white — was removed. A green spectrum laser was used to “spot weld” the tears in the retina close. A lot of discussion ensued as they tried to detect and insure they got all the tears sealed.

What caused the tears and failure of the retina? As one ages the consistency of the vitreous humor changes and it begins to adhere to the retinal wall. Changes in pressure, etc. cause the fluid to tug at the surface of the retina. Eventually, if conditions are wrong, it causes tears. Dr. Mukai demonstrates this by placing a piece of tape on a tissue and pulling, causing a horseshoe shaped tear.

I am very weak-eyed by nature and have a genetic predisposition to bad eyesight. I started wearing glasses when I was 12 and had to give up playing hockey goalie when I was 15 when the word got out in the league that I could be scored on by making a simple slapshot at mid-ice. The embarrassment forced me to switch to wrestling. Any way, extreme myopia and a history of cataract surgery both combine to increase the risk of retina detachment. In 2005 I went to my opthamologist looking for new glasses because highway signs seemed a little blurry and my spectacle were scratched. The glasses were fine – I had a clouded cornea at a very young age. Extraordinarily young age, and the doctors were convinced some exposure to hazardous chemicals, even steroids were to blame. My theory is a youth spent on the water as a sailing instructor and deckhand without sunglasses cooked my eyes to a crisp. Whatever the cause, I was fortunate to have the connections to get me into the best eye hospital in the world and the cataract procedure went off without a hitch.

Three weeks ago, while standing in my kitchen, I witnessed the tearing of the retina — or the aftermath — when I thought I saw a fly on the counter. I actually reached for a fly swatter. There was no fly. What I was seeing was a fragment from the retina floating in my eye. If I had gone to the doctor then I would have gone immediately into surgery to repair the tear.

Instead I went to China. The floaters went away. I didn’t think twice about the “fly” incident. Then last week, a little sick from some Chinese food or the water, or both, I woke up Wednesday morning with a severe migraine. The eye was then filled with flashes of light and little champagne bubbles. Once again I knew something was wrong, but stupid stoic I am, I did nothing. Too busy, I told myself.

Thursday last week. No migraine. Friday, I woke with a new migraine and discovered something new in my eye. A small quarter circle of grey in the corner, near the tear, duct, opaque and fluid, like a spot of grey oil paint floating in my eye.

I told myself it would go away.

Saturday, as we rode out the brush with Hurricane Danny, I asked my best friend, a surgeon, to look at my eye. The grey circle was growing and there was no denying I was losing my vision. I thought I might be having a stroke or aneurysm. Ted Kennedy’s brain tumor was on my mind. I was worried.

Doctors have a great line. “If you hear hoofbeats don’t think zebras.” And my friend hewed right to Occam’s Razor which always defaults to the simplest explanation. He said, “No stroke. That’s the eye that had cataract surgery. It’s probably something involving the artificial lens implant. Go to Boston — to Mass Eye and Ear.”

So Sunday I went to the emergency room at MEEI and the diagnosed was made. Tuesday I was sitting in the exam chair being seen by Dr. Mukai, and to my great happiness he said, “I can operate tomorrow.”

And so he did. Now I have six weeks at home, working by PC and phone. No flying.

Ten minutes ago I lifted the patch and looked down at my hand. There are no blind spots anywhere in my eye. I am happy man and very grateful to all who sent their good wishes. I hope you never experience the feeling of losing an eye.

%d bloggers like this: