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February 2nd, 2006

09:35 pm
Yes, I'm still Alive - Part I

OK, I know I've been gone awhile. But this time, I actually have a good excuse. In early December, I started having some trouble with my good eye. I've already lost the left eye to a retina detachment so, you know, I'm out of spares. Naturally, I was concerned.

I started noticing symptoms on November 29 while I was at work. It was all the same stuff that had happened before my left retina detached – lots of flashes and clouded vision. I went to see my retina specialist the next morning. He’s a very good doctor and as an added bonus, he’s HOT so henceforth he shall be referred to as Hunky Retina Guy (or HTG.) Don’t read too much into this – especially you, Randy. He’s hot and I admire him much like I admire a fine painting or a sweet looking car. It’s not like I have a crush or lust after him or anything. I’m just stating facts here. I refuse to ignore facts for the sake of propriety. Anyway… As I expected, HRG told me that the fluid in my eye was very turbulent and was pulling away from the back of my eye. Since there was no detachment, there was nothing to do. HRG was trying to play it off like everything was cool, but I’d heard that explanation before. This was not good news to me but I also knew I had no choice but to wait.

So, I waited. My parents and especially Randy seemed so relieved that there was no detachment. I never felt relief. I had been down this road with the left eye. It was all the same. Detachment seemed inevitable to me. After losing my left eye 6 years ago, I knew I was probably on borrowed time with the right one. I made a deal with myself back then that I would just enjoy the sight I had left as long as I could and if I did end up losing the right eye, so be it. Turns out that it’s not that simple. The realization that I could be totally blind by Christmas - it scared the crap out of me. I think it was this waiting period that was the hardest for me. I was terrified. But, I didn’t want everyone else to worry so I tried not to show my fear. I don’t know how well I succeeded, but I tried.

I spent most of this waiting period thinking about all the stuff I would miss. I was more upset about little things. Like knowing I might not see the love in Randy’s eyes. Obviously the love would still be there even if I couldn’t see that twinkle in Randy’s eyes. But I like the twinkle dammit! And what about my dog? He has such an expressive face. He talks with his eyes and the way he perks his ears is adorable. I have a closet and hard drive full of photos I’d never see again. Even worse, I have been procrastinating about getting my scrapbooks caught up. How the hell would I ever get that done now I would look at my wedding picture and wonder if it would be the last time to see it and be reminded of the joy I felt that day. That kind of stuff really tore me up.

And then there was the more trivial stuff, like video games, Tivo and TV. I've heard there are some adaptive, speech driven games but that just sounds like it would suck. Maybe they would be fun in their own way, but I just don’t see how it could compare to the real thing. And what about my precious Tivo? I don't know. Maybe there's a speech enabled Tivo, but with all the onscreen menus and such, Tivo as I know it would be useless to me. Sports on TV would never be the same. I don't know if you've noticed, but play by play guys don't really describe what's going on in games anymore, or at least not very well. They describe the game with the knowledge that the viewer is watching the game and can see what's going on. The play by play is mostly supplemental information with lots of inane banter mixed in. Plus, about half the time, they have no idea what’s going on. I know it's a tough job, but seriously, sometimes I wonder if these clowns are even paying attention. Just close your eyes sometime and listen to TV play by play guys. They all suck. I talk sports with a blind friend all the time. He’s always asking me about a play or a situation where he never could figure out what was going on. It frustrates the Hell out of him and I know it would drive me batty too. And yeah, there's radio. But it's not the same. And the selection of games on the radio these days is limited. Satelite radio would take care of the game selection issue. But still. I want to watch TV.

So, I had all these kind of random thoughts running through my head as I sat around and waited. Part of me knew that I'd find new, enjoyable activities and interests or figure out ways to still enjoy my old interests. But I still found myself sitting around feeling sad about all the things I would miss. Fortunately, this phase didn’t last too long. I started to think about my Grandfather, Chuck. He was blind for most of his life. But he never used it as an excuse or let it slow him down. He ran a successful business. He could fix anything. He had lots of hobbies and a more active social life than I’ve ever had. Blindness was never an obstacle. He managed his life a whole lot better than most sighted people. He was awesome. He never used it as an excuse to not do what he wanted or needed to do. There's no reason I can't do the same things with my life. I know I could still do my job and take care of business around the house. Sure, it'd take time to learn new skills but I know I could do it. All those little things that I worried about still bothered me. But my memories of Chuck reassured me that I could adapt and I’d be OK.

So a few days later, December 2, when my retina detached, I was relatively calm about it. I started noticing the telltale “dark curtain” late in the afternoon. It would only appear briefly on the very periphery of my field of vision and then disappear when I moved my eye to look for it. I was kind of in denial for a couple of hours even though deep down, I knew it was detached. It was early evening when I finally gave in and decided it was time to get the ball rolling on a plan. I knew I needed surgery as soon as possible and the more I let denial and fear rule my actions, the less likely I would be to get fixed. By this time, it was after hours on Friday, but Hunky Retina Guy always says to call anytime, so I took him up on it and had him paged. He called back right away and told me to meet him at his office the next morning. I was briefly upset that evening, but I had already been through most of my grieving process so all things considered, I handled it pretty well. I remember looking over at the picture of Chuck hanging in my living room and suddenly feeling very calm and at peace about the whole thing. I just felt like Chuck had my back somehow and I didn’t need to worry. I'd have the surgery and whatever happened, I knew I could deal with it.

The worst part about Friday night was seeing the pain that Randy and my parents were feeling about the situation. Randy was devastated and scared. My parents were worried for me. When I called my Dad to tell him about my appointment the next day, he did his best to sound calm and reassuring, but I could hear the worry in his voice. And I couldn’t talk to my Mom because I knew we would both end up losing it. Then there was Randy. This was all new to him. I did the best I could to help him not worry. I know how hard it was for him trying to be strong and supportive for me, but at the same time he was scared and needed support too. We talked most of the night about it. I told him about the surgery and gave him a good idea about what to expect. And he was the perfect husband and did everything he could for me. I tried to distract myself with TV which worked fairly well. But the news spread throughout the family and there were phone calls from well wishers to deal with. By 8:30 or so I was just sick of trying to distract myself. Time was dragging and all I wanted to de was get on the operating table and get this mess over with. My impatience felt a lot like when I’d get so bored riding in the car on long trips. My solution to passing the time back then was to just go to sleep. I’d wake up and - poof - we were there. It was a tried and true method so I just decided "scew it." I went to bed at 8:30.

I got up Saturday morning and got ready. It was C-USA Championship day so I dressed accordingly in hopes that I would get home in time for the game. I knew it was a slim chance, but there was no way I wasn’t wearing my game day attire. I wore my #12 Paul Smith jersey, my gold Chucks with blue laces and my lucky underwear. (These undies are undefeated for the 2005 season – it’s weird. For one reason or another, I didn’t wear them and we lost every time. Creepy, eh?) Believe it or not, I was really kind of torn about possibly missing the championship game. But only for a split second. My Tivo was set and the eye was a bigger priority. By this time I was pretty sure that I would end up on an operating table later in the day. But I still needed confirmation from HRG. Mom, Dad, Randy and I piled into the car (all wearing TU garb, of course) and headed to the Doctor’s office. The exam didn’t take long and I, of course was right. The retina was detached. The Doctor got on the phone right away and set up emergency surgery for that afternoon. I was definitely going to be unconcious for this TU game.

We immediately went over to the hospital to do all the pre-surgery paperwork, you know, so they’d know where to send the bill. I’ve been through this process many times with various eye surgeries and ER visits and I am always amazed at how anxious hospitals are to make sure they’re getting their money from somewhere. I’m sitting there wondering if my impending $20,000 surgery is going to save my eye and all they’re worried about is how I’m going to pay. You’d think they could at least do the procedure and give me a week or so before they start hitting me up for money. But it’s a business and I know the billing stuff has to be done. It just always comes off kind of evil and greedy from my perspective.

After the paperwork was done, I made my way to the outpatient surgery waiting room. It was kind of eerie doing this on a Saturday. The surgery center was deserted. We had to turn on lights when we got there. There was no one at the desk to take my precious paperwork that the business office lady was so concerned about. Apparently, the outpatient surgery department does most of its business on weekdays. I knew we were in the right place, but it just felt like we weren’t supposed to be there. Finally, a nurse showed up and took me to the pre-op area. I took off everything but my lucky underwear and changed into a gown. You have no idea how relieved I was to get to keep the lucky underwear on. Like I said, TU lost every time I didn’t wear them. When I found out I got to keep them on, I nearly jumped up to hug the nurse. I had enough stuff on my mind. I didn’t need the added burden of feeling responsible for the outcome of the C-USA championship game. (Stop laughing. This is serious business. I am convinced that the fate of the TU football program rests on my underwear selection. Seriously, shut it. And no, I don’t need counseling. I am perfectly comfortable with my superstitious delusions.) Anyway… The nurse took my vitals and hooked up my IV then Mom, Dad and Randy got to come back and sit with me.

I just chilled out in a la-z-boy until showtime. We had to wait for a bit while they tracked down an anesthesiologist. Apparently, the first guy that was called in couldn’t be dragged away from the golf course. So there was a last minute substitution. Then the guy that did show seemed kind of put out that my Hunky Retina Guy needed an anesthesiologist. The anesthesia guy asked if I had always had this procedure done under general anesthesia. I told him yes, but he still seemed baffled by it. My thoughts on it are, strange or no, the Hunky Retina Guy specializes in this stuff and knows when general anesthesia is appropriate for what he’s doing. I was kind of pissed at this anesthesia jack off for questioning HRG's wisdom. I wanted to tell him to shut his pie hole and just gas me up already, but I restrained myself.

Finally it was time to head to the OR. I walked in and took my place on the table. As usual, it was about 45 degrees in there. What the Hell is the deal with that? Is there a reason why operating rooms are always abnormally cold? Do they store meat in them when the room is not in use? I need to know. Obviously there has to be a reason or they wouldn’t all be that way. (Making mental note to ask nurse, Mrs. Whodini.) So I got settled and all covered up with a couple of those awesome fresh out of the dryer hot blankets that they have. Man I love those toasty warm blankets. There was a TV in the room. A guy (maybe the anesthesiologist, I couldn’t see clearly) was watching the Big 12 championship game. (Hey, don’t mind me pal. I’d hate for my impending blindness to interrupt a meaningless football game there.) Should you really watch football and operate on someone at the same time? I’d think that things might go better if the patient got the OR staff’s undivided attention, but what do I know. Obviously I didn’t care too much because the last thing I remember was asking for the score.

I woke up in recovery with a big honkin’ patch over my eye. It was my first taste of blindness. It was not that traumatic. I knew from past experience that my eye would be swollen shut for awhile so I never felt panicked. I could also see an area where light was peeking in around the patch, so I figured I still had some vision. I spent some time in recovery while I came out of my drug induced stupor. I had a couple Dr. Peppers and some crackers. Mom, Dad, Randy and Stephanie were there waiting on me. Now, before the surgery, we had a family meeting and decided to not turn on the TU game. The plan was to go home and watch it together as if it were live. There must have been a change of plans wile I was unconscious because one of the first things I remember was Dad asking me if I wanted to know the score. (Of course I said yes.) TU was winning and it was almost over. (Another win for the lucky undies! Woo!) Shortly after getting this news, I heard Randy clapping and letting out a big woo from the waiting room. It was all very strange and hilarious.

Finally, I got dressed and headed home. I settled myself in my la-z-boy at home with my favorite blanket and pillow. We fired up the Tivo and watched (or in my case, listened) to the game. Even though I knew the outcome, it was still exciting and awesome to listen to. My euphoria over the game made me completely oblivious to the pain in my eye. Even after all that I had been through that day, I went to bed feeling like it had been a great day. Ah, the power of football. That game was a great distraction for me.

I went to see Hunkky Retina Guy the next morning for a post-op checkup. He took off the patch and pried my eye open. I could see lights amd fingers waving in front of my face. So far so good. It was all messed up and blurry but if everything went according to plan, it would all clear up. I was just glad to pass the first test.

From here on out it was a big waiting game. The surgery to repair my retina consisted of draining all the jelly-like fluid from my eye. Then a laser was used to reattach the retina. Finally, a gas bubble was put in my eye which would apply pressure to the retina and help hold it in place against the back of my eye while the retina healed. The gas bubble is temporary. It eventually reabsorbs itself into the body. As it goes away, vision returns to normal. The fluid in the eye plays a role in the development of the eye in babies. Once the eye is fully developed, the fluid serves no purpose so there is no harm in having the fluid drained.

It took about 6 weeks for the bubble to completely disappear. For the first few weeks, as I looked over the bubble, I could see, but colors and lights were dimmer than I remembered. It seemed that there was a yellowish brown tint over everything. For awhile, I was concerned that this phenominnon might be permanent. But about a month in, I realized that things were brightening up again. By the time I went to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl on New Year’s Eve, colors were back to normal. I still had a little bubble in there, but it didn’t interfere too much. Reading was difficult, but for generall looking around and walking and such, I could just look over the bubble.

Watching the bubble shrink was weird. At first it was just a bubble. Then I started noticing little “thorns” (That’s kind of what they looked like) sticking up. After a few minutes the “thorn” would break loose, float up and dissipate into nothing. These thorny things happened for about a week. During the next phase, the main bubble would have a small bubble hanging off of it. The small bubble would just roll around the edge of the main bubble for a day or so. Then, all of a sudden, it would just be gone. After a few days of this, I could tell that the main bubble was getting smaller. The next phase started at about 4 weeks in. Instead of just one mini bubble hanging off the main bubble, there were a bunch a mini bubbles that came and wnet. At first it was groups of 3 or 4, then 6 or 7, then 10 or so. The mini bubbles got into the 20s. The most I ever counted was 29. I became really distracted with counting bubbles all the time. It was a very obsessive thing I had going. I was very glad when this phase of the bubble ended because I was worn out with all my obsessing over bubble counting. The final stage of bubble shrinkage was when the bubble split into two bubbles. One was still slightly larger so that together they looked like a headless snowman. The smaller of the 2 gradually got smaller until it disappeared. Then the remaining bubble shrank and disappeared the same way. Each of the headless snowman parts took about a week to go away. Now that main bubble is gone.

I do still have a random mini-bubble that sometimes forms when I tilt my head back (when I put in eye drops, for example)> It never stays very long but always reappears when I tilt my head back. It’s strange. I’m thinking this might be permanent but I don’t know. It’s not a big deal. 95% of the time I can’t see it. I guess it’s camped out around back or something. I have no idea what the deal is with that one. I’ve just decided that it is what it is and don’t worry about it.

So, there you have it. Part one of my big eye saga. I didn’t intend to take so long with this post, but to be honest, I had a hard time writing it. I’ve been working on this for about three weeks now. It was hard to relive all the fear and emotion and whatnot that I went through before surgery. I wrote and re-wrote that crap 50 times or more and every time I had to quit writing because I would get all teary again. I guess I just needed some extra time to process. It all happened pretty fast and I was so busy trying to be brave about it that I’m not sure that I actually fully dealt with it all. But, I’m much better now.

Then, when I was almost done with this update late last week, I started having some trouble with the eye again. So, proofreading my efforts here was not something I really wanted to do. I started having some symptoms Friday. Hunky Retina Guy told me to chill through the weekend and see what happened. The symptoms continued so I went to see Hunky Retina Guy Monday. He couldn’t see a detachment in his exam. I asked for an ultrasound and since I have built up a lot of credibility with HRG over the years, he agreed. The ultrasound showed an area that is “being tugged on.” By what? I have no idea. But the the main point that came from that visit was that it wasn't detached. HRG decided the best course of action was to keep close tabs on it, so I went back in today. This time, there was a definite tear in the retina. It's very early in the detachment process, but because I've only got the one eye and because of my history, HRG and I agreed that it was best to be aggressive about this. So, I'm having another surgery tomorrow morning. I have to be at the hospital at %:30. (Ugh.) HRG is going to go in and laser the hell out of the detached area to tack it back down. Then he's going to put in some oil, an artificial eye fluid, that will apply pressure and hopefully hold the retina in place.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't discouraged. Things had been going so well and was beginning to feel like I was in the clear. I was back at work and doing all my normal activities. I had even joined a gym and had started working out and trying to get myself in better shape. Everything was going so great. Then it all started again. It's very discouraging. But, HRG still seems very positive about my chances so I'll take his word and try to stay positive. I have total confidence in HRG. So far this has still gone a million times better than when I did all of this with the left eye. I never saw anything out of the left eye after my first surgery. This time, I've been seeing for close to 2 months. So, I continue to believe that this second surgery is going to do the trick. It's my only chance.

I don't know how long I'll be out of commission this time around. The recovery time should be shorter this time but I have no idea what will happen. I'll get back as soon as possible with an update. I've got a lot of non-eye related stuff to catch up on, but it'll have to wait for Part II. Right now, I've got laundry to put away so I can get my ass in bed. (I felt compelled to wash the lucky underwear so I can wear them tomorrow. I'm hoping their powers extend to eye surgeries.) Tomorrow is going to be a rough day. I'll update as soon as I can see again. Later...