Category Archives: Retinal Tear and VItrectomy

Rereading Childhood – How going back to favorite books brings comfort in rough times.

Recent surgery on my retina forced me to spend several weeks laying on my right side so my eye could heal properly.  I was prepared for the recovery and I’d set up several stations in our house.  I placed a low table for my laptop, Kindle and phone, baskets of books and magazines and a power strip at every spot to charge my electronic devices.  But three days into my recovery, I reached electronic overload. I had read through the magazines, skimmed through the books and the electronic reading was causing strain on my vision.  I needed a break. The only problem was – I love to read and just watching television or staring out the window was not going to do it.

In fact, I was feeling a little sorry for myself.  The eye surgery was a piece of cake compared to the restrictions of the recovery period.  A gas bubble in my operated eye was holding the newly fixed retina in place.  While it healed I had to keep it bathed in drops, bandaged for several weeks and keep my head down on the right side.  There was to be no driving, no work, no strenuous activity for 6 to 8 weeks.  It all sounds doable until you realize you don’t like being restricted to hours of lying still and being a hostage in your own home.

The problem was solved by happenstance.  In that, as I was heading to the kitchen for something to eat, I accidentally bumped into the bookcase.  With one eye patched I had a hard time with depth perception and sometimes came up short against objects.  Hitting the bookcase caused a stack of books to slide out onto the floor.  Although I wasn’t allowed to bend over, I could slowly lower myself to the floor and slide the books back together.  But as I went to put them back on the shelf I felt a row of books jammed behind them.  I reached back and out came an old copy of a Nancy Drew mystery!  I couldn’t believe it.  What was that doing back there?  I reached back and brought out several small stacks of books.  It was a treasure trove from my adolescence!

Whatever reason I’d been heading to the kitchen was now forgotten as I pored over the titles of  my childhood.  There was the dusty set of Little House books, The Great Brain series, the Cathy books and even, some teen novels based on The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch!  I had spent hours of my adolescence and teen years reading these series.  I was kind of a bookworm and in those pre-internet days, I’d spent many a lazy afternoon curled up with a good book.  I thought I had given those away a long time ago, or perhaps thought they’d been lost in a move.  But here they were reappearing at a time when I needed them.

My favorite childhood books often had strong reliable characters, with good morals and exciting adventures – think Laura Ingalls and Nancy Drew.  The heroine might get into a scrape or two but she always rescued herself and came out on top in the end.  Maybe I could look at my recovery like that.  I was going through a bit of a rough spot but I was strong and I had been through rough patches in the past and gotten through those.   Maybe I could channel those childhood heroines and act as if my recovery was just a short chapter and by the end I too, would be better and looking forward to my next adventure.

It didn’t hurt to try.  I placed the books in the different baskets throughout the house and whenever I felt a little overwhelmed with my slow healing or had watched enough election coverage on the news or followed enough trending stories on social media  – I would escape for an hour with one of the books from the basket.  It helped.  I found myself getting lost in my childhood books all over again and when I’d close the book after the last chapter I’d feel a sense of accomplishment for the hero or heroine.  In addition, I felt a little better about my circumstances myself.  With each book finished I’d find myself a little more grateful for the simple fact that I was healing, that I could read – even with only one good eye and one blurry one.

I have a few more weeks to go in the recovery process until I can return to a more normal  existence, return to driving and return to work.  I’ve decided not to put the books away when I’m done but instead, keep them out.  The process of going back and rereading them has helped me on the road to recovery.  Kind of like long-ago friends.  I think I’ll keep them around.

Diagnosis of a Detached Retina

Diagnosis of Retinal Hole

I met with an Opthamologist at UCLA in late May who did a through exam and then referred me to one of their Retinal Specialists.  Since they are a pretty busy facility, my initial appointment would be with one of the teaching Fellows.  I was fine with that.  I was feeling a sense of urgency and would have welcomed anyone looking at it.  The flashing lights happened daily, sometimes several times a day and eventhough my past Opthamologist was content doing “watchful waiting” – I was not.  I wanted to have a specialist look at it and tell me what they thought.

In June I met with the Retinal Fellow at UCLA.  He did a thorough exam and then stepped back and said something that I’ll never forget.  “I would just like to page Dr. Prasad, our Retinal Specialist”.  The Fellow was very calm and professional but something about his clipped tone just then told me he was seeing something he wanted the head Doctor to take a look at.  I was in luck.  Dr. Prasad was in the building.  In about 15 minutes he showed up in the exam room and introduced himself and then with the Fellow looking on, Dr. Prasad examined my right eye.  He was very thorough.  Then he stepped back.  “It looks like you have a tiny hole in your retina and perhaps some fluid behind it.  We need to take care of that right away”.  I was stunned.  “Is that an operation?  Isn’t that an emergency?”  I rushed the sentences together.

He told me it would need an operation and although it didn’t need to be done that day, it needed to be done in the next seven days.  Dr. Prasad then took me into a lab room where he sat me in front of a computer that could take a picture of my retina.  Within moments he had the image of what he was looking for.  A definite hole and fluid building up in the retina.  “We need to get you scheduled for surgery “, he said.  I had been pretty stoic up till then but now it was hitting me.  My eye had a serious problem.  My past Opthamologist had not seen it and had just been doing watchful waiting.  I had noticed a decline in light and peripheral vision in the right eye and I knew something wasn’t right.  I just needed someone to confirm it.  Thank goodness I had made the call to UCLA that day.

We went back to the Opthamology waiting room where Dr. Prasad instructed his staff to schedule me for retinal surgery as soon as the next available opening.  As luck would have it, there was an opening at the end of the week.  As soon as it was scheduled I excused myself to the restroom where I ran into a stall and sobbed.  I had wanted answers, I had sought out a specialist to look at my eye and now, with diagnosis in hand – it was a little more than I could deal with.  I texted my husband to tell him what had happened and we spent the next 10 minutes texting back and forth.  I was in no mood to talk just yet but I just needed to know he was there.  We’ve been married a long time and he knew when I just needed someone to listen.

When I had calmed down I drove back home.  My husband and I went on the internet and spent the next week preparing for the surgery.   As we soon learned, it’s not the surgery that’s hard on the patient – it’s the recovery.  I learned that following surgery I would have an eye patch and most likely would have to spend days face down or at the very least, on my side.  The reason being that a gas bubble would be placed in the eye to hold the newly reattached retina in place against the back of the eye.  From what I read, the recovery can be pretty grueling with the requirement to lie flat at all times either on your face or side.  I did everything I could to prepare.  Bills were paid, laundry done, special pillows were ordered, I stocked the freezer with frozen meals and I called all my friends and family.  I went around the house setting up recovery areas in different rooms of the house.  I knew that trying to just stay in the bedroom would not work so I made sure I had little stations in the bedroom, living room and family room  – stocked with kleenex, wipes, sanitzer, charging cords and wastebaskets.  That way I’d have a place to move to every few hours if I needed a new vantage point during recovery.  I was ready.