Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. – John Lennon
The disease struck my good eye, the right peeper with the 20/20 vision. Ironically, I had just undergone cataract surgery in that eye and was seeing beautifully for the first time in years. Prior to surgery, Dora, my optometrist suggested I postpone the operation as long as possible. “You never know what might happen,” she warned. Ah the joys of midlife. No matter how well you care for your body shit happens.
The blackness arrived on March 24th. I was showering after a sweaty, Sunday morning workout. I bent at the waist to towel dry my hair. When I stood up pinprick-sized, black dots and large squiggles resembling bugs appeared. I blinked, closed my eyes, administered eye drops, told myself the spots were a figment of my imagination, willed the specks to disappear… but nothing erased the blackness.
Maybe it was stress, after all I was going through a contentious divorce. Unemployed with me as his source of income, my soon to be ex was taking me to the cleaners. That afternoon I was meeting him at my son’s band concert to get my mail, and the thought of seeing him triggered anxiety. Perhaps a relaxing evening with my new man, Beau after the show and good night’s sleep would restore my eye.
Wondering what was going on, I consulted Google. I typed “floaters” in the search bar. The National Eye Institute described my problem:
Floaters are little “cobwebs” or specks that float about in your field of vision. They are small, dark, shadowy shapes that can look like spots, thread-like strands, or squiggly lines. They move as your eyes move and seem to dart away when you try to look at them directly.
Eye challenges have plagued me my entire life. At three I was diagnosed with myopia that progressed into extreme nearsightedness. My Mom, whose eye issues I inherited, bought me my first pair of glasses – ridiculous, light blue, cat eye frames encrusted with rhinestones. I loved them, and so did Mom because while over-the-top she knew if I liked them I’d wear them.
On Monday I called Dr. Weissgold, my retinol specialist who I have been seeing for years for thinning retinas. He examined my eye and said,
What you’re experiencing is a normal part of the aging process. The vitreous, a gel-like substance in your eye, has shrunk becoming stringy and casting shadows on your retina. They won’t go away, but your brain will get used to them so you won’t perceive them anymore.
He instructed me to go easy on the exercise – no jumping, jogging or heavy lifting – call if I noticeed vision changes, and come back in a month.
A week later my eyesight started to fail. A black curtain was closing across my field of vision making it impossible to see anything but a little light and objects right in front of my face. I called Weissgold who told me to come in immediately. The news was bad:
You have a detached retina. If we don’t do something immediately you’ll go blind.
I signed a release and was given a green neon, plastic bracelet that said: “WARNING: gas bubble in eye!” to alert medical professionals that my eye would explode at high altitudes. “No mountain climbing, flying or scuba diving,” Weissgold said as if hiking Camel’s Hump or traveling mattered.
The news and need to operate NOW triggered a panic attack. I removed my sweater, sipped water, ate almonds to raise my blood sugar, and tried to compose myself. Weissgold prepared for a freeze treatment called cryopexy to weld my eye back in place. “Ready?” He asked shooting my face-up with a numbing agent. He then inserted a gas bubble to push my retina back in place, and finally injected the freezing agent.
This will feel a bit like an ice cream headache, he said.
An assistant taped up my eye, and Weissgold sent me home with Beau and instructions for “positioning.” Positioning, a lovely term for lying in a specific position for 19-20 hours per day to allow the gas bubble to cover the welding sight so my eye would heal properly.
The next day I returned to the doctor’s office and received good news. My retina was reattached. I celebrated with more “positioning,” digesting four episodes of The Crown, five of Orange is the New Black and 2 documentaries on Ram Dass reminding me in the words of Ram…
It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.
On Friday, the retina was still attached, but over the weekend my site started to fail. I panicked as my field of vision and psyche blackened. What would happen if I lost sight? How would I work, drive, live…
Relax, Babe, Beau said.
Everything is going to be fine.
I returned to the doctor’s office and learned that my retina was detached again. This time the macula, an area near the center of the retina responsible for central, high resolution, color vision was impacted. Remaining optimistic and wanting to avoid the operating room, Weissgold repeated the cryopexy and sent me home for more “positioning.” By Friday my retina was reattached, but over the weekend the shadows returned. Time to operate.
Fortunately, dozens of people were praying for me and surgery was scheduled for the next day. Weissgold “threw the kitchen sink” at my eye performing every procedure in his toolbox. Post op, I woke up face down in the recovery room, my head supported by a purple, foam pillow; my heart supported by Beau. I remembered nothing after being wheeled into the OR and felt pretty good considering I had just had general anesthesia. The nurse monitoring my vitals handed me chocolate pudding and encouraged me to drink water.
Everything went well, Babe, Beau said easing me into a wheelchair and pushing me out of the hospital and into his silver Chevy Malibu.
For the next week I lay on Beau’s black massage table “positioning” face down for 20 hours a day, watching Netflicks and the Gaia channel on his ThinkPad. I’m an exercise junkie and love movement so getting through each day was difficult, but I had not choice. Fortunately, the retina reattached. My vision is blurry, I can detect light and some movement, and I won’t know for several months how well I will eventually see.
On the surface dealing with my detached retina was a nightmare, but seeing silver linings empowered me, enabling me to get through this. Suffering can sometimes be a good thing because it teaches you important life lessons, lessons you wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Challenges force you to go deep inside and discover resources and insights that you didn’t know you had. By searching for the positive effects you generate inner peace and can respond to any situation rather than react. This puts you in a better position to solve problems, and if there’s no solution you can accept and grow from the situation.
My detached retina has taught me about prayer, healing, compassion, faith and love. I’ve learned to stay balanced, focused and positive and move forward toward my dreams and goals even when faced with illness and loss. I’ve deepened my spiritual practice, a combination of Reiki and Mindful Self-compassion. Practicing self-Reiki and following the Five Reiki Precepts (spiritual guidelines that promote wellbeing and help practitioners embody Reiki energy) was tremendously healing. Years of meditating and offering myself compassion have taught me how to be kind rather than judgmental towards myself and take things moment-by-moment and day-by-day.
Years of spiritual practice and coaching other women through challenges has taught me how to turn off the fearful voices in my head, the shadow self that lives in a world of depression and anxiety. I’ve learned that I am in charge of my happiness and can be joyful no matter what.
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