My sister, Anne, has gone through seven eye surgeries in the past 14 months, maintaining her sense of humour throughout. Eventually Anne began a history of her experiences. I suggested her story needs to be passed on, and she agreed.
Here is her incredible story in her own, very funny, upbeat words:
My Journey With Dr. “Z”
I would like to prelude my story by introducing myself. My name is Anne and I am a 66 year old woman who has struggled with severe myopia most of my life. You might ask why, in this day and age, did I just not receive corrective laser surgery as many have. I was told that, in order for this procedure to be a success, so many layers would need to be removed from my cornea that it would become dangerously thin. No one would do it.
Because of my extreme nearsightedness, I am particularly prone to developing an abundance of floaters. Floaters are black or mucous-like squiggly forms that swim around in my vitreous fluid and compromise my vision. At my age, all of my original floaters have now had grandchildren.
I also have an astigmatism: an imperfection in the curvature of my cornea; it affects the light that reflects into my eye, making my vision blurry without a corrective lens.
Finally I developed cataracts, but they were surely to be my saviour, as the surgery necessary to help my myopia could now be done and would be covered by the government. Despite all of my problems I was still confident that the cataract surgery would be straightforward.
My nearsightedness, which was almost a minus 15 prior to my first surgery, (minus 20 diopters is legally blind) has always been a challenge for me. For example, years ago I thought I was trying to coax a cat to come to me only to realize, as I got closer, that it was simply just rust on a mail box. My children love to remind me of the road trip when they told me that a large oil drum in the back of a pick-up truck was not really the cow I thought it was. So that I don’t appear to sound like a complete idiot, I was always a fair distance away from these visions when I encountered them. Then again, my definition of a “fair distance” may not be yours.
One ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) told me that my extreme nearsightedness was the result of a recessive gene that both my parents had, and one in four offspring can have this condition. They only had two children and I was the lucky one.
I smoke. Not good for anybody, particularly not for my eyes pending eye surgery. My optician, “Dr. Jim,” told me that the smallest blood vessels in my body are in my eyes. Smoking constricts all of my vessels, but the vessels in one’s eyes being so tiny, smoking inhibits the vital blood flow that is crucial for their healing. I am neither brave nor strong but, before my first surgery, I cut down to six a day. This was a huge accomplishment for me. Eye related stress has weakened my resolve and the amount has risen again. I have also gained 10 pounds. Since I have also struggled with weight issues all of my life, and because I had finally managed to maintain my weight for the last few years, I am really not looking forward to facing this challenge once again.
I have consistently been “a glass half-empty” kind of person, but I have always rationalized what I consider to be a flaw with, “Well, I will always be prepared for the worst that happens and so I will never be totally devastated.” My sense of humor continues to sustain me throughout my journey.
Before I began this journey I had a plan. My son, Eric, and daughter-in-law were willing to help me by encouraging me live in her apartment at minimal rent so that I could work and be able to save as much money as I could over the next three years. I had planned to continue to work even longer if my health held. I now must rethink the situation.
Lastly, I am a very nervous, analytical person who worries about every minute detail. My surgeon was about to be tested!
I was referred to “Dr. Z” in May of 2012. He took one look at my chart and my eyes and pronounced that he could help me. He would remove my many floaters, remove my cataracts and implant a lens in each eye. His goal was to improve my vision sufficiently without glasses that I would be legally able to drive. He also explained that these surgeries were not without some risks. However, I assured myself that none of those risks would apply to me. When I left his office, I was overcome with emotion: to finally be able to see! I knew it would be months before he could fit me in. As I awaited my surgery, I remained focused on Dr. Z’s simple plan that would change my life. My research indicated that he is an excellent surgeon; what could possibly go wrong?
I would soon learn that my eyes would prove to him and to me that they had other plans.
The date for my first surgery was November 21, 2012. My right eye would be done first.
I hope you will enjoy my story and that it will provide you with some insight and amusement. It is quite lengthy, so you might want to pour yourself a drink and get comfortable.
One day my life was “normal” and the next day it was not! My boring definition of normal consisted of working, driving myself around in my own little world and enjoying my simple computer games. I was afraid to drive in unfamiliar places because my eyesight was challenging. I felt safe knowing where I was at all times. If I encountered a detour or a road construction sign panic would set in.
The first day of the rest of my life?
In October, as I approached my life changing surgery, my co-workers, friends, and family were encouraging with phrases such as “a piece of cake”, and “don’t worry, you’ll be fine.” When I expressed fear or concern to Eric, he would always say “Mom, this surgery will be the first day of the rest of your life!” He could not have been more correct!
The night before my first surgery my plan to stay strong, calm, and relaxed simply evaporated. I lay down commanding myself to sleep. Nope. My feelings of anxiety also resulted in numerous trips to the washroom, irritating me even further. At 3 am, when I reached for that forbidden glass of Pepsi, I reminded myself, “no, remember you can’t eat or drink anything.”
I really think that they want you to arrive starved and dehydrated so that you are more compliant!
No sleep that night, despite my many attempts.
The Day – November 21, 2012 – Surgery No. 1:
Entering the hospital I was still determined to be brave and strong. Have you ever tried to navigate those long halls in an unfamiliar hospital? After many wrong turns, we arrived at our final destination.
As I entered the room, “a piece of cake” and “you’ll be fine” kept running through my brain. However, I am not as dumb as I look. This phrase my favorite uncle, lovingly, told me many times. Little did I know then that my “half empty” pessimism would be right on. The staff were kind and efficient as they explained the details to me; then they gave me a warmed blanket that was absolutely heavenly! I had to wait a couple of hours, allowing plenty of time to conjure up all kinds of scary thoughts!
As they wheeled me into the surgical room I was still committed to being brave and strong. When I am nervous I tend to babble a lot and Dr. Z said that I was talking too much. My friends know that there is not enough sedation on the planet to shut me up!
When they approached me with a large needle and proceeded to inject it into my eye I could feel all my resolutions quickly ebbing away. The operation began immediately and, being sedated, I could only mumble that I was going to pass out. Maybe they heard me amidst the operating room banter. My blood pressure had plummeted from 168 to 50. Thinking back, it might have been better if I had passed out. God is not always good. But I survived; I really had survived! We left the hospital with many instructions and my promise to take it easy. There would be no sky diving for me for awhile.
The next morning when I removed my eye patch I was unprepared for what I was about to discover. I could not see anything out of my eye! Unable to control my fears, I telephoned poor, sleeping Eric at 6 am. He tried to calm me. Waiting for Dr. Z’s office to open was excruciating. I was so relieved when they said that not being able to see out of my eye was perfectly normal because they had injected a bubble in my eye to support the retina while it heals. I should plan on seeing nothing for a week or so. I thought, “did they tell me that at the hospital?” I swear they didn’t but I am sure they must have.
In late December, Dr. Z felt I wasn’t seeing as well as he had expected and he discovered that the lens had shifted. Didn’t I mention that the hospital would be my second home for the next year? A second surgery was scheduled, as he will now need to sew the lens in place. I was not very happy, but I was still resilient.
January, 2013 – Surgery No. 2:
The night before was just as sleepless. I was definitely not a pro at this yet. Dr. Z successfully sewed the lens in place, told me that the surgery had gone well and assured me that the lens would not move. I, pessimist, was convinced that it would. This time my pessimism erred. I still obsess about my eyesight and spread the concerns to my friends and family.
After two months of recovery time had passed, Dr. Z told me I could now get a lens to correct the astigmatism in my eye. I saw my optometrist, and missed some letters on his chart. He worried me, mentioning that the lens could have moved. I knew it; didn’t I tell you it was going to move?
Dr. Z kindly saw me two days later. He ordered an eye scan. It revealed that I had now developed a hole in my retina! Shocked, I said, “Dr. Z, you’re kidding right?” He wasn’t, and he reminded me of the risks he listed at our first meeting. He also explained that severely myopic people who undergo cataract surgery can be at a high risk for retinal issues. He scheduled me for surgery number three and told me that after the retina repair procedure I would have to lie face down for 16 to 18 hours a day for 4 to 6 days.
I had a few weeks, before this surgery, to prepare for my new adventure. I learned that I could rent a contraption that would allow me to recover in “comfort”. It was a large platform made of very strong plastic that fit under my mattress. In the center was an oval hole for breathing; secured to that was a long oval tubular head rest in which I would place my face. They even supplied a pillow for my “comfort.” I soon referred to this as “the rack.”
During a pre-surgical appointment with Dr. Z I asked if I could watch television while I recovered. Here was my plan: buy a small, flat-screen television and place it on the floor under my face. Doing this would allow me to watch TV while I laid on “the rack” and recovered in so-called comfort. Bless my brother for his recent birthday gift and my best buddy for her fabulous idea.
Since I live alone, I “baby-proofed” my house so as not to trip and made certain that anything I might need would be readily available to me. I prepared six days’ worth of meals in advance, filled my laundry basket with munchies, and I was ready to “tackle the world”. I rediscovered peanut butter, which I had not eaten in years. With my head facing the floor I could scoop it with my munchies. (Self-medication… Perfect!) Should I wonder where those ten pounds came from? I would need to remain face-down for at least an hour at-a-time before taking a break. I would soon learn that they would be very long hours.
April 2013 – Surgery No. 3:
As I awaited my third surgery I realized how kind and supportive everyone had been. Even my optician, Dr. Jim, whose office is very close to where I live, offered to bring me anything I might need. “No cigarettes!” he emphatically announced.
No night-before sleep. Still not a pro, but I again survived and, yes, I did know that I had a bubble in my eye. Now for the “pleasure” of face-down recovery. Fully and anxiously committed, I even kept my face down on the ride home from surgery. The television was in place. However, I realized, as I positioned myself on the rack, that being able to see well out of at least one eye was a key issue for TV watching, and wearing my glasses was impossible. and not being able to wear my glasses, I was unable to see it. So I tried sitting in a chair with my head in my hands, my face facing the floor, and my glasses on.
Success! That television helped me keep my sanity for those very difficult days. Every muscle in my body was stiff and sore, and many times I thought I would not be able to continue. I feel very sorry for anyone that must endure this recovery procedure. For me… absolute torture.
But, miraculously, I had made it through those six horrible days and the hole closed. I had done it! With my condition I’ve learned not to get too excited too quickly. I soon realized, as the bubble in my eye dispersed, that I was left with a “negative image” obstructing my vision. It’s actually quite like the negatives you can receive with your photo prints. The best way I can describe it is that it looks like the stem and veins of a leaf. I never imagined that my retinas were that fragile.
Dr. Z was convinced it would disappear in time. I’m still waiting. My brain has learned to see around it quite well. Most of the time I don’t even notice it. Reading is still very difficult as the “negative leaf” cuts into all words. Dr. Z suggested that I take eye vitamins to help with my retinal healing, and informed me that he had done all he could for this eye. He was still confident and hopeful that it would disappear in time.
Late May, 2013 – My Left Eye:
Another month of recovery time had passed. It was time to consider proceeding with cataract surgery on my left eye. Dr. Z had originally felt that I had many months before surgery would be necessary for that eye, but I was about to surprise him once again. A routine eye scan found a large hole in my (as yet untouched) left eye! That hole developed in a matter of months. More shocking discouragement.
At this point, I decided that it might be prudent to get a second opinion. I did so primarily because I hoped to receive confirmation that the “negative image” in my eye would disappear in time. I had seen a Dr. Y approximately two years prior for a another retinal issue. Dr. Z’s office made all of the arrangements for me. When I saw Dr. Y he confirmed that I definitely had a large hole in my retina. H was very surprised that my eyes had deteriorated so quickly. He confirmed that I was in excellent hands with Dr. Z and said that my original eye was in good shape considering the many procedures it had undergone. Unfortunately he told me that, in his opinion, the “negative image” would not go away and that my brain would become accustomed to it. I felt that my hopes were shattered once more. As I was leaving he warned me that there was only a 40-50% chance of closing this hole since it was very large. If this retina could not be fixed I would eventually lose all sight in this eye.
Good thing I had not disposed of the little television! More rack time. I tell myself, “okay Anne, you can do this!”
June, 2013 – Surgery No. 4 – Left Eye Retina Repair:
Summer was here. Canceled my sky diving and went for surgery. Same night-before trepidations. Dr. Z performed his Laser Star Wars on my floaters, repaired the retina and injected bubble number three. Survived and walked out in one piece. After 13 wacky, racky days that stubborn hole had still not closed! I wanted to scream
Enough of these face-down procedures! I am so done!
July, 2013 – Surgery No. 5 – Oily Retina Repair:
Dr. Z, faced with my hostility toward more face-down procedures, suggested that he bring me in again and inject an oil into my eye. He guaranteed me that this oil would definitely close the hole. He also informed me that It may be necessary for the oil to remain in my eye for up to 3 months. My fifth surgery arrived.
Okay, so who says I’m counting?
I was actually able to sleep the night before. I proudly informed myself that I was now “officially a pro at this.” Since I had been told that there would be absolutely no restrictions accompanying this surgery I was feeling relieved and a little excited.
Maybe I could even relax and get out my bikini.
And, don’t forget, I had survived! Even though I was feeling somewhat apprehensive I still managed to convince myself to remain optimistic that the hole would actually close. However, within a few days I discovered that I had something new: a doozy of a negative image. And, BONUS, there now were approximately one hundred “pin-head sized” black dots swirling around in my vitreous fluid. These were the end result of the lasering of my floaters. More challenges on the horizon!
During the wait for this oil to work another miracle for me, in a regular visit with Dr. Z, I challenged my now cataract-free right eye (remember that one?) to read the next, smaller, line of letters on his eye chart. I managed to read all of the letters except one. Dr. Z, evidently pleased, told me I could now see well enough to drive.
Pardon me, what? Are my ears going now?
I don’t hate the human race that much. I’ve decided that, if I ever drive again, I shall be informing my friends and family when I will be on the road so that they can remain safely at home. I plan to inform Dr. Z first because I desperately need him to be there for me for the rest of this journey…
The hole had closed in under 6 weeks! I never really doubted him, but I was, and am still, amazed. He confidently assured me that this was not “his first rodeo.” However, my hundred black dots had now become about one thousand tiny black specks as they had been emulsified in the oil for those six weeks. It was like seeing through muddy water, and I had now become very concerned about the final outcome of this eye. However, all that was immediately necessary was for him to remove the oil and allow my eye to recuperate once again. Before I left his office he scheduled me for surgery number six.
Late August, 2013 – Surgery No. 6 – Removal of the Oil:
Slept like a pro the night before! Dr. Z successfully removed the oil and I had, yet again, survived. I knew that I would not be able to see much out of my eye as I still had the dense cataract and all the tiny black specks swirling around in my vitreous fluid. I had decided that I could most certainly wait for the cataract surgery since I was actually quite concerned about having to deal with the large “negative image” in there. However, I had now assured myself that the rest of this journey would proceed without any more problems. What else could possibly go wrong? We’ll see…………. Dr. Z had now put me on the list for surgery number seven.
As I awaited my seventh surgery I had been walking around with sunglasses on my head, my regular glasses for distance, and then reading glasses over them. When people questioned my appearance, I just informed them that I was a person with “special needs.” Actually all I really need is a progressive lens, but that will have to wait until the end of this journey.
By the way, I’ve been typing this feeble attempt at humor with two sets of glasses on my face, with my computer print on large, and under a very bright light, as I’m not out of the woods yet. I cursed the tiny little punctuation symbols on the keyboard! Typing this wasn’t easy but I was doing it! I was really excited as, at one point, I had thought I would never be able to see well enough again. Yes, I could even play most of my games. When people asked me about my eyes, I loved to tell them that I was just pretending to see. Heh, heh.
I have related my journey thus far with humor, but I assure you that it was never easy or fun! I have had some days when I felt very frustrated as I struggled to do the simplest of things, such as threading a needle. If you had half-an-hour to spare you might find it amusing to watch me. Even so, I was still managing to laugh at myself and some of the silly things I did. I was determined to carry on with this journey, even though I was still apprehensive about the final results.
I’m certain that Dr. Z is not entirely pleased with my progress so far. I know that he had hoped for better results as I did but, for now, it is what it is. He is still hopeful that these negative images will disappear in time, and since he has been right about everything so far I will continue to hold on to a little hope since I really do want to – eventually – believe him. I am also totally convinced that, apart from his technical prowess, he is the only surgeon that could possibly deal with the ever-emotional and sometimes hysterical me!
Eric always manages to put things into perspective. The other day I was feeling particularly frustrated with my eyes and, yes, even with Dr. Z. Defending Dr. Z, my son grinned and said, “Mom, you can always go out and get an old clunker. You can replace the windshield, change the oil, do a tune-up. and install a new battery; however, you still have an old clunker.” How true! I know that Dr. Z, considering my defective eyes that have challenged him at every turn, has done all he possibly can to help me. During my last appointment, after he had thoroughly checked my eyes, he sat back, shook his head, and said, “I just can’t believe your retinas!” I am fully prepared for what might still come!
During these many months that I have been unable to work, I’ve acquainted myself with many of the local business owners in my area. When I stood in front of them, with all of these glasses on my face, trying to pay for my purchases and struggling to insert my “PIN” number, I just looked up at them and simply said,
But my doctor says I can drive.
I have met many kind people on this journey. Many complete strangers have helped me to take the correct bus, and many kindly listened as we shared our eye stories. I have also discovered that I am not the only one with eye problems.
What, it’s not all about me?
I recently met a very young woman who, due to diabetes, had lost the sight in her left eye. I have heard so many horror stories from people, whose eyes were far less compromised than mine, that have experienced much worse results! In Dr. Z’s waiting room I’ve met many that are far worse off than I. Their afflictions vary. Some can barely see at all. I am very grateful for the sight that I do have and I honestly feel that it is very slowly getting better.
I can no longer rush anywhere. Inattention causes me to trip on uneven surfaces, so I often joke about it to people who see me in recovery mode,
Gotta quit that drinking!
One day I did have a bad fall, and some very kind strangers called an ambulance. The above “drinking” comment is not the appropriate thing to say during an ambulance ride. When I arrived at the hospital the first question the doctors asked me was “When did you have your last drink?” Actually, dear reader, it was when I was about 19. I feel very luckily that I did not break anything, and, five weeks later, I can use my left arm again.
Housekeeping during this odyssey has been a breeze. If you can’t see it, you don’t know you need to clean it.
Opportunity knocks when you can’t find your socks.
One more thing: I have decided to try and invent a location beeper that I can trigger after misplacing my glasses, purse, keys, TV remote, and many other things. There must be others who toil for hours, and sometimes days, to locate these things. I may make a fortune with this concept yet.
November 20, 2013 – Surgery No. 7 – Cataract Surgery – Left Eye
“One year less a day.” Sounds like a prison sentence. Not sure which would be worse. Yep, 364 days after my first eye surgery was my seventh.
I am pleased to say that all seems to have gone well, that I am still a pro at all of this, and that I, once again, survived. I was reluctant to remove my eye patch this morning. I was frightened to confront that awful “negative” image. However, I’ve discovered that my vision is quite blurry, and that’s just fine, because the image will reveal itself slowly, making the adjustment easier. During this last surgery, Dr. Z tried to remove all of the black specks in my vitreous fluid, but he was unsuccessful. One day, if I am very bored, I might actually try to count them as they swim by.
November 22: Today is the second day after my final surgery and I can see a little more clearly. During my post-surgery consultation today Dr. Z informed me that he did not sew a lens in place as I had expected. I do not have a lens in this eye at all! I failed to follow when he explained why I didn’t need one. Something to do with the depth of my myopic eyeball – perhaps. I’m was amazed to be able to read the first three lines on the chart without a lens. It’s really nice to be able to “see” out of both of my eyes – a luxury after over a year with only one. It is difficult for me to work both eyes together, but I am up to the challenge.
My daughter-in-law knows me all too well. She said, “Dr. Z should not have told you that you do not have a lens because we are all certain that, at some point, you would be telling us that the lens had moved.” Too funny and, just maybe, too true…
November 30: Ten days after my final surgery, and I’m again told that I can drive “if I’m careful.” I am not feeling quite that confident. If my optometrist can increase the prescription in my lenses it just might be possible. I am apprehensive about nighttime driving because of the glare from the street lights and traffic lights. I must wait until my second eye fully recovers and then, with Dr. Z’s help, a decision will be made. Each day brings a little more hope. I am now confident that my brain will adjust and I will learn to cope.
December 11: Three weeks after my final surgery, and still hopeful! The large print mode on my PC is easier to read than before. continue to feel hopeful. I still find it very difficult to read regular print. I’ve accepted that my sight will never be perfect. I think that my vision can be corrected enough for daytime driving and hopeful that they can provide me with anti-glare lenses that just may make nighttime driving possible. Each day is better than the day before but I’m apprehensive about returning to my job: mainly computer work. I have found a keyboard that has bright yellow keys with big black lettering on the keys. No more grief with the punctuation symbols. Three bucks at the dollar store 🙂
Hopeful at last – and it feels sooo good.
Reflecting on my journey, it has had many conflicting feelings and emotional “ups and downs”. Honestly, I miss my former eyesight. Although it was far from perfect it was devoid of “negative” images and I could see objects well if I held them close to my eyes. I am actually sorry that I needed to start this journey, while knowing I really had no choice. The cataracts had to go.
And I feel I’ve become somewhat of a liability. Not driving has taken away my independence but it has forced me to walk more and to become an expert on public transportation. Dependent on rides from my family and friends, and unable to work for a year, have made me feel that I am failing as a contributor to society. Recently I am beginning to discover a “new me” and I look forward to learning new ways that will enable me to contribute again. If unable to return to work, I can do volunteer work even with my challenging sight. I can easily see a bus, so maybe I should work with that idea 😉
Thinking of those whose eyesight is poorer than mine and those with fatal medical conditions makes me feel blessed. Our family lost a beloved cousin in November. We continue to miss him! I honestly feel that my difficult, stressful experience is minor when compared to what some others are facing.
And there are many people to thank:
My son, Eric, who has provided me with stress-free rides to my many surgeries and doctor visits. Of course, as our reward, we always looked forward to our trips to the nearest Tim Horton’s. Yeaay, Timmy’s!
My brother, for his financial and emotional support. I do so enjoy his frequent phone calls just to check up on me. I love you!
My best buddy, Ardele, who called me daily, listening patiently to me as I recounted every minute detail of my dates with Dr. Z. Bless her for all those shopping trips and dinners out that saved me from dying of boredom!
My family physician, Dr. B, who helped me with many medical forms (without charge) and who even phoned me at home. She takes very good care of me!
My co-workers who have called many times to see how I am doing and to pass on the news that my customers are missing me.
Those customers who have called and sent encouraging cards. One kindly sent me a cheque that I very graciously returned as company ethics didn’t let me accept it.
And, finally, I would like to acknowledge my Dr. Z with thanks and admiration.
My brother is flying me to his home for Christmas and I am so looking forward to this trip. It will be the first time in over forty years that we will be together over the holidays. It will also be so wonderful to see my sister-in-law, my nieces, my nephew and their children.
Thank you for taking the time to read this story. Hope you enjoyed it. Soon, I believe, I will finally be able to stop talking about my darn eyes!
Feeling Blessed! Finally!