A Gift of Sight, Part Two

As I said in A Gift of Sight, Part One, for most of us, our eyesight is something we take for granted. We open our eyes in the morning and see our bedroom, our alarm clock or phone, the sun streaming into our windows.

We may see our pets curled up beside us, or our spouse who’s beginning to awaken as well. We really don’t think that much about it because we’re used to our world of sight, our comfortable surroundings; things looking the same every day.

Until one day it doesn’t. Until our vision starts to gradually fade, blur, become fuzzy or dim. We don’t really notice it right away, because it’s a gradual process.

But then comes a day when someone comments on something they’re looking at, and you realize you don’t see it quite the same as they do. Or quite the same as you used to.

Now imagine being told that you have an eye disease that’s incurable. That’s not a pleasant thought. You may start thinking about what might or will happen eventually. And it’s scary.

Part One described the events leading up to my husband Ben’s eye surgery. But let me explain the reality of that surgery.

Cataract surgery by itself is easy. The recovery time is quick, even though you are limited to not lifting anything heavier than 20 lbs for a few weeks, doing nothing that could cause getting debris in your eye such as gardening or going in the pool or a hot tub, and using a series of eye drops every day for about 4 weeks.

But you can see well out of your surgical eye right away, or at best, the next day. However a combination of cataract surgery AND a cornea transplant along with a stint for drainage entails other issues, a few of which we didn’t expect.

We knew he had to lay flat on his back for 48 hours, which I will tell you is not easy. Or fun. He doesn’t like to read anything but his newspaper and of course he couldn’t even do that. He tried audio books but couldn’t find any he really liked. He found a few comedy podcasts to listen to, but that really didn’t do it either.

He could get up for 15 minutes every 4 hours to eat or take meds or use the bathroom. Other than that he was flat on his back. Laying on our bed was miserable and hurt his back so he ended up on the sofa downstairs which he said was more comfortable.

But he wasn’t able to sleep well, even with sleep aids, so he was exhausted.

Why flat on his back? Because with a cornea replacement an air bubble is inserted into the eye to help hold the graft material in place. The air bubble dissipates over a few days but it’s extremely important for the bubble to stay in place so the graft will heal properly. Which means not moving around or standing because gravity has a way of trying to move that bubble where it’s not supposed to be.

We went back for a post-op visit the next day after surgery. I drove of course with him lying down on the reclined front seat. Certainly not a comfortable position. While the eye looked good for the first day after surgery, the pressure in it was too high, and they had to give him more eye drops as well as a pill to hopefully reduce some of the pressure while we were there. If that didn’t work they would have to drain the eye somewhat, which I didn’t even want to think about.

Fortunately the meds helped, and his pressure went down enough so we could go back home and get him on his back again. And another night of sleeping on the sofa on his back. And another night of not sleeping well.

The next morning he did follow his instructions and waited (but not patiently) til 11:45 to get up since that was a full 48 hours. His eye was still blurry with a shadow in it, which was normal, but still not what we’d expected. He had a lot of trouble trying to read so we bought him the strongest pair of reading glasses they make, which fortunately allowed him to read the newspaper, albeit a little at a time. But that did make him quite happy!

The next visit on Monday fortunately found the pressure lowered down to the teens! He was still restricted from driving so it meant another week at home and him not working. And did I mention he drives as a courier for a bank?

His vision slowly, and I mean slowly, improved daily, and the Thursday post-op visit found his pressure down to 10 in both eyes, which was fantastic news! His doctor was very pleased!

His vision was still somewhat hazy, though. However he ventured out on Friday to try driving and actually did ok. Enough for us to go out for a quick dinner that night to a restaurant not far from the house.

The next two days we went out shopping for flowers and plants for the yard, and he did well driving. In fact his biggest problem was not being able to lift any of the heavier plants into the cart or into the back of the car like he usually does. I had to stop him several times. 

Then Monday morning came, and it was the first day for him back to work. He was a bit nervous because his courier route takes him on a number of back roads in the area, with narrow shoulders as well as narrow roads. But he did fine, although he drove a bit slower than usual, and his vision is still not quite what we expected, although it’s legal vision for driving, but every day it gets a little better. And when it’s time he can get new glasses, and this will all be but a memory. 

We’re thankful, yes, for the doctors and nurses, and most importantly for the donor who made the transplant possible.

Take good care of your eyes, because you don’t want to have to rely on the gift of a second chance to see. Sometimes things happen, and if it does, get to a doctor right away. And if your eye doctor tells you you need to do something to improve your vision, listen to them. You’ll be forever glad you did.

And please, if you’re not already an organ donor, please consider it. For more information on becoming an organ/tissue donor, please go to organdonor.gov. 

A Gift of Sight, Part One

For the majority of us, the first thing we do when we wake up in the morning is open our eyes and look at our clock or phone to see what time it is. A simple thing, right?

But for many people it’s not that simple. Some can’t read the time without their glasses or contacts. Some can’t read it because of eye diseases…cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration.

Some can see but not very well due to those eye diseases, and may be considered legally blind. And some are unfortunately totally blind.

Those of us with minimal or no problems don’t stop to consider how truly fortunate we are to have the ability to see, either with or without the assistance of glasses or contact lenses. We usually take it for granted. 

Until something happens to change our situation.

In my case, a change in my vision started gradually. Which happens to almost everyone as we grow older. It got harder and harder to see my computer screen clearly and working on my jewelry projects was very difficult unless I took my contacts out and used reading glasses to see the holes in the beads because of my astigmatism.

Even though my eye doctor is fantastic, I was still scared to have the surgery and kept putting it off for several years.

Until my husband was diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes.

Which forced me to have the cataract surgery, which was, yes, the best thing I’ve done in ages. 

But this isn’t about me.

It’s about my husband Ben.

Some 25 or so years ago he was on a business trip and woke up in a hotel room four hours from home with his left eye red and extremely swollen and sore. He said it looked like something in a horror movie. 

Fortunately he found a local eye doctor who was able to get it calmed down enough with eye drops so he could see well enough to drive home. He told him to get to an eye specialist as soon as possible because it looked like something called iritis, which could be serious if not treated properly. Luckily he did find a specialist when he got home and was able to get in to see him quickly.

And it was iritis, which is an inflammation of the iris. And according to the doctor, a bad case. So bad, in fact, that he had to have an injection in his eye to help calm it down. 

Iritis is something that cannot be cured. It is an autoimmune disease that in many cases is caused by the chicken pox virus, which is most likely what caused his. And it can also cause problems with vision, which of course it did.

His was a stubborn case, naturally, and over the course of several years he had to have two more injections in the eye. He’s been on daily steroid eye drops which eventually also cause vision problems, and a number of years ago he was put on a daily pill to hopefully help reduce flare ups. So far it has, but not before the eye damage was already done.

The steroid drops caused a cataract and surgery to remove the cataract was done probably at least 15 years ago in the left eye.

But as time went by, and even though the flare ups lessened, the eye damage continued, until he was told he needed a partial cornea transplant to save his eyesight in that eye. You can read more about this in the blog I wrote titled “The Expense of a Second Chance”.

That surgery was fortunately a success. 

That was almost ten years ago. 

Fast forward to now. 

As I said previously, Ben was diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes last summer. Fortunately he has an excellent glaucoma specialist who’s doing everything he can to keep his sight from getting worse, using a number of eye drops to reduce the pressure. Of course he’s monitored frequently.

But his vision was slowly getting worse in his right eye. The pressure didn’t want to stabilize and he began having issues driving at night and especially in the rain. His peripheral vision on the right side wasn’t good either. And he also was having fuzzy vision in that eye from a cataract.

So both his glaucoma specialist and his cataract specialist recommended that along with the cataract removal he also needed a partial cornea replacement in his right eye, because the glaucoma was making the cornea thicken too much. Both procedures would be done at the same time. But before that he needed laser surgery in each eye to prepare for this next surgery.

Yes, that was a lot to take in. A lot to consider. And trust me, we had several discussions with both doctors, and among the two of us.

And there were a lot of “what if’s?” In those discussions. What happens if we don’t do it? And we knew the answer to that. Everything we do revolves around our ability to see, and see as clearly as possible.

The bottom line is, our eyesight is vital. And it’s a gift that many people don’t have. We take for granted that we can see and don’t really think about it until something starts to go wrong.

And then our whole perspective changes.

And in order for this procedure to take place, he had to have a cornea donor. Which meant someone had to die and give him the gift of their eye tissue. If you’ve read the previous blog I referenced you know how that affected my thoughts.

But he did have the surgery. And we are truly grateful for the person who cared enough about other people to decide to be an organ donor so others could have lifesaving or vision saving surgeries that were desperately needed.

The surgery was easy but recovery from the transplant surgery took longer than just cataract surgery, which basically takes a day.

More on that recovery process in “The Gift of Sight, Part Two”, hopefully to be published the week of May 8.

And for more information on becoming an organ/tissue donor, please go to organdonor.gov. Both Ben and I have been included in the registry for years.