On the 4th anniversary of my return from blindness – May 5
This morning I had my yogurt and coffee in the lanai on a nice, rainy day watching sand hill cranes for the first time in what seemed like a very long time.
Yesterday my daughter delivered me to the outpatient surgical center at our local regional medical center at 5 30 AM for a scheduled vitrectomy of my eyes two hours later. The day was here.
Bleeding into the interior vitreous of my eyes had resulted in blindness. They were so filled with blood and debris that they were virtually unusable. I could not see the screen of my giant TV. It was dark. This is how long term diabetics go blind.
Suddenly while watching t.v. streaks appeared in my vision; it was streaks of blood inside of my eyes – both of them at once. The streaks of blood from leaking arteries slowly dissipate into the clear vitreous, the “goop” inside of your eyes which gives them their shape. The dissipating blood slowly makes everything go dark. Within hours I was blind.
I have been diabetic since my youth. My mother had it. She died at age 43 on April 1, 1966. I have been insulin dependent since the very first day. Two shots a day for most of my life. I survived a heart attack in 1995 and a stroke in 2004 which left me peripherally blind on my left. Now I was losing the remainder of my vision.
Last November while my daughter was on her honeymoon I had bleeds inside of both eyes which left me blind for a couple of weeks. I was unable to see my insulin needles nor my microwave oven. My youngest daughter stayed with me and in-laws chauffeured me around to the ophthalmologist’s office. He took a conservative approach. My eyes eventually cleared enough to provide some vision but vision was obscured by the debris filled eye gel. It was like looking though a sandstorm or a lightly frosted pane of glass.
Last week’s new bleeds were the last straw. The eye doc said “It’s time Toritto” And now it was. This young doctor was going to drain the vitreous out of my eyes and replace it with a clear artificial gel, while fixing the bleeds at the same time. The artificial gel would prevent future bleeding as well.
The ophthalmologist would punch three holes in my eyes, remove the vitreous gel, fix any blood vessels that were leaking with a laser and refill the eye with an artificial substitute to maintain its shape.
What a fun day!
Removal of vitreous gel is done to repair many of the eye disorders previously considered inoperable. The procedure is done through three tiny incisions in the eye for three separate instruments. These incisions are placed in the pars plana of the eye, which is located between the iris and retina. Entering the eye through this location avoids damage to the retina and the lens. Both of my lenses had already been removed and replaced with man made ones during cataract surgery before I came to Florida.
The instruments, which pass through these incisions, include a light pipe, an infusion port, and the vitreous cutting device. The light pipe is the high-intensity flashlight and is used to illuminate inside of the eye. The infusion port is required to replace fluid in the eye and maintain proper pressure within the eye. The vitrector, or cutting device, works like a tiny guillotine, with an oscillating microscopic cutter to remove the vitreous gel in a slow and controlled fashion.
Trans pars plana vitrectomy (TPPV) is used to treat prolific diabetic retinopathy which causes hemorrhaging into the vitreous eye gel. In the old days, like when I was young, you simply went blind.
Getting prepped for surgery evolves all those usual incidences which take away your dignity. “Put your dentures in here” is always the most humiliating leaving you lying on a Gurney with no upper teeth. Hot!
The eye surgeon comes in. “Ready?:
“Sure doc. How you feeling? Get a good nights rest? Hand steady today? Smile to relieve the tension.
“I’m going to put a block on your eyes this morning” as he holds a syringe filled with a blue-green fluid. “This may pinch a bit”.
You know when he says that its gonna hurt.
I am a stoic by nature and I stoically accept that he is going to put that needle in my eyes. Besides, I can barely see.
“Look up” says doc and I dutifully do so. The needle goes in near the corner.
“You will feel some pressure” as he begins injecting the blue green fluid.
The eyes fill and feel like baseballs. Then all goes black
The eyes are immobile and it’s completely dark. I mean black. The weirdest thing is that I cannot tell if my eye lids are open or closed. I reach for them.
“They’re closed Toritto”. Apparently they do so automatically, kind of like headlights on your ’77 T-Bird when you turn off the lights.
The injections couldn’t be done while I was under anesthesia since the doc had to ensure the eyes were completely immobile. Oh well.
Time for the O.R. In the operating room I slide off the gurney onto the operating table which has a brace for my head. Navigating is difficult in the total blackness. I slide onto the table – and it’s the last thing I remember.
I wake up a while later with a heavily bandaged eyes. Doc comes in. “It went great. See you at 1 PM in my office”
My daughter picks me up and I stay with her. I catch a one hour snooze.
At his office the doc takes off the bandages.
Dazzling white light engulfs me, like a near death experience. Reaching for the light.
“Geez that’s bright”
“Bright is good” says doc with a smile admiring his work. Drops every four hours. He covers them again. “Each day this week will be better”
This morning I took off the bandages. It was great. No junk in my eyes. I could see.
So this morning in the Spring of 2011 I watched the big birds, counting my blessings and thinking of all those in darkness who don’t have to be. Those without health insurance, money or means. Those without a doctor of eyes.
They stumble in darkness today while I have seen the rain.
I will celebrate this anniversary for the rest of my life. My own Cinco de Mayo.
It has been four years. I have had regular follow-ups and thus far all is well
photo is mine – across the road behind my house