Friday, August 14, 2020

The Eyes Have It

Director’s DVD Commentary: This is another “Easter Egg” post; just a little something apart from the usual posting cycle that I’m throwing out here for anyone who may stumble upon it.

I’ve worn glasses since 9th grade and contacts since my sophomore year in college, so I’m pretty used to the eye care routine. But a new problem started last year. When I went in to see my eye doctor to get new contact lenses last spring, I thought my prescription might need an update. But after testing, she gave me the same prescription.

A couple months later I was finding myself unable to read street signs, like at a neighborhood intersection. And the bigger freeway signs, I could read them but not until I got close. And driving at night? I had big trouble reading anything. It got so that I wouldn’t drive anywhere at night unless I was taking a familiar route. There had to be something wrong there.

So in October, I went back to the doctor and asked for a retest. She did and came up with the same prescription yet again. I said, “But I can’t read a freakin’ street sign!

She got out some more equipment and had another look into my eyes and said, “Well, it looks like you have the beginnings of cataracts.”


[blink blink]

Shit. I’m old.”

She gave me a referral to an eye surgeon and that set me on a new course for this year. Well, what really got me moving was the appearance of “floaters” in December, where in my right eye, it looked like I was reading through a jellyfish. That got me to the eye surgeon in early January, where they found a small retinal tear, which they fixed with laser surgery in late January. I wrote about that here.

Once the endless series of retinal checkups were done, it was time to turn to fixing the cataracts. (Unfortunately, the jellyfish is here to stay.) In that same post I linked above, I also wrote about how even my “good” insurance leaves much to be desired because it will only cover the bare minimum to fix cataracts.

To review, from the previously linked post, there are two surgery options and two lens options.

The first surgery, the doctor works on me for about 10 minutes to break up the current lens, extract it, and insert a new one.

The second option, I get laser-guided prep first, to break up the lens while making smaller cuts in the eye. This produces less physical trauma to the eye and leaves the doctor with a 5-minute process to insert the lens. They said they would use this technique for every such surgery they do but for one problem: Insurance will only cover the first option.

As for the lenses, the first option is for a single-focus lens that will enable distance vision. I would need glasses or contacts to read a book, newspaper, computer monitor or phone. (Or in other words, about 85% of my waking hours.)

The second option is a multi-focal lens that would allow me to see distance plus anything around arm’s length away. Guess which one Insurance covers.

So, to get full insurance coverage I need to choose a method that will cause more trauma to the eye, with higher risk, and put in a lens that will need nearly constant correction.”

Not wanting to fool around with my vision just for the sake of money, I chose the laser prep and multi-focal lenses. That comes to a total out-of-pocket expense of over $3600 per eye.

I’ve been going through the prep since the end of July, which included eyeball measurements and having to wear glasses for a week before they could take a second measurement (because the constant presence of a contact lens can change your eye dimensions.) It just reminded me how much I hate wearing glasses. Although it WAS nice to be able to just fall in bed without having to remove my contacts.

Surgery day for the first eye was last Thursday. A couple days before that, they called to collect payment in advance. These guys weren’t fooling around. I figured they want payment first so that in case I sneeze while they’re firing laser beams into my eyeball and they accidentally laser off the top of my head, they’ve already got my money in hand.

When we showed up that morning, I was relieved to see that they had several walled off waiting rooms, so Sweetpea didn’t have to spend an hour and a half waiting in the car. The first thing they did, of course, was to give me the eye dilation drops. And THEN, they thought it was a good time for me to read and sign off on eight pages of waivers, disclosures, and other documents that presumably hold them blameless if they should laser off the top of my head.

So here I am, with my rapidly deteriorating short-distance vision, putting my nose to all this paperwork, and trying to sign on the dotted lines. Seems like they could have planned that out a little better, you know? Like, email me the paperwork packet the day before?

Anyway, they took me back and got me on a gurney pretty quickly. Then there were more eye drops to start numbing my eye… which I’m all for. Numb away, I say. So I’m in the room, right beside the big laser thingy, but we have to wait. The doctor is in another room, still working on someone else. Meanwhile, they had to keep putting in more numbing drops, as I’m lying there on an angle with my head below my feet. I’m just sayin’ it’s not the most comfortable way to lie around… half-blind, blood all up in my ears, and listening to the nurses shoot the breeze.

Finally, after about 20 minutes, it was go-time. The doctor came out and I was next on the assembly line for the laser prep. The anesthesiologist did his thing and I was supposed to be rendered loopy.

I was happy to see that the laser gizmo wasn’t like I was envisioning:

Sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their head. (Source)

What they actually do is lower this big machine down into your face and then the “eyepiece” goes right onto your eye. (Hence then need for all the numbing drops.) You’re told to look at the light up until you have no choice because the lights are all you see. Then everything kind of went dark, like my eye was immersed in a large cup of coffee with cream. And psychedelic colors shooting around. It was cool, Starbucks should totally work on something like that.

I understood that with this kind of setup, the odds of lasering off the top of my head were slim. But then I realized that any kind of mishap here would result in burning a hole from the front of my head to the back. That wasn’t as comforting as I’d hoped it would be.

My enjoyment of the “light show” was short-lived, however, because I was becoming acutely aware that this was starting to feel very uncomfortable… as if someone put a finger on your eyeball and started pressing. Any latent loopiness seemed long gone.

At one point, the sensation caused me to flinch, which they said, “broke the suction between the machine and my eye.”

Gah! They were sucking on my eyeball? I should have insisted on more numbing drops. In fact, I should have had them give me a whole bowlful so I could numb my whole face!

They said they had to “start over,” but I think that was only to make me feel bad because once they did, it was only another minute more.

Then they wheeled me into another room for the lens implantation. I don’t remember much about that part. I think I was still too traumatized over the idea of eyeball suction to worry about them sliding a new lens into the hole they just cut in my eye.

But the next thing I knew, they were walking me back out to the parking lot where Sweetpea had the car pulled around. They taped a plastic shield over my eye, I presume to keep me from poking at it. It would have been much more fun to wear if it was black, so I could pretend to be a pirate.

They said I only had to wear it while sleeping though, for just a couple of days. Or did I hallucinate that? I hope not because that’s what I did, starting with the nap I took immediately upon getting home. That was glorious.

A little later, I ventured a look in the mirror. Yeesh.

Looks like the Big Red Spot of Jupiter on there.

Sweetpea told me the spot might give me super-powers, so I’d better come up with a Superhero Name. I decided on The Eye-Talian. One look from this eye will make bad guys crave pasta and wine. And who can go around being a villain when they’re full of pasta and wine?

So, how did it work? Not too bad, so far. Every day my vision seems to be a little better, a little sharper. This was my left eye, my “reading up close” eye and I can read my computer screen without any trouble.  And I can see reasonably well at distances. But reading the newspaper or my phone has been a problem. I have to wear readers to see them clearly. But when I compare eyes, just looking around the room, things seem brighter through my new eye.

It’s like with that eye, there’s a new LED bulb lighting the room. With the other eye, it looks like a dimmer, yellower, traditional bulb.

I know it will take a while before things stabilize. Sometimes it feels like I have a really old contact lens in there, that needs changing. And sometimes, the eye will burn and water for no apparent reason. I’ve been using all the prescribed eye drops so I’m hopeful that will subside.

But it’s really nice to get up in the morning and be able to see something… at least the things on my left. I have another week of putting in one contact lens, then Thursday I go in for them to do the other eye. Knowing what to expect really helps. Maybe I’ll see if they can crank up the loopy-juice this time, or failing that, scare me up some nitrous oxide.

I’m investing a lot of time and money into my eyesight. I only hope that in the years to come, the world is still worth looking at.

2nd Eye Update
I had the other eye done Thursday 8/20 and it went much smoother. The secret was to keep that left eye open while they're doing the laser prep on the right. That keeps you grounded in reality and helps avoid being sucked into a darkened, swirly-light abyss. So no Big Red Spot of Jupiter this time.

As I write now, I have very good vision in both eyes, although they do burn a couple of times a day. But even if it never gets any better than this, it's a huge improvement. Totally worth it.


VoenixRising said...

I've got "a very small" cataract in one eye according to my doctor. So far it's behaved itself. I also have a jellyfish in that same eye now for almost two years, but thankfully my retina's are in fine shape. Initially my doc told me that the jellyfish might "migrate out of my field of vision," but after two years we both agreed it was there to stay.

Getting old sucks. Here's hoping for a full recovery for you!

bluzdude said...

Yeah, they keep telling me the same thing... that it might just go away. But it hasn't reduced since it appeared in December. And there's no good way to get rid of them either, without draining out all the eyeball fluid and replacing it, which doesn't sound like something I care to try.

Anonymous said...

You were brave and made the right choice. I'm sorry for your pain. Much Love and well wishes.

bluzdude said...

It's OK, the pain fades and the vision should remain. It's all good.

Faith said...

Dang! 2 years ago my eye doc said I had the beginnings of cataracts. 46 seemed awfully young for that. But I think I have a few years, or maybe never after reading of your experience. Great superhero name, by the way!

bluzdude said...

Don't let this sway you. I mean, I'm going back for the other eye. A little discomforts is worth it if I get to see well in the end.

Hell, you've had a baby... this would pale in comparison.

Cousin Angela said...

Hope you see much new beauty, Tony. Eye-Talian should wear a cape of checkered table cloth and carry a fork and big spoon shield to teach villians how to properly twirl their pasta. 😘

bluzdude said...

OMG, the tablecloth-cape is perfect. In fact, it's an upgrade from the dish-towel cape I used to wear as Batman, in 1st grade. And the Wooden Spoon is a weapon that never goes out of style, at least not in Italian families.

Cousin Angela said...

Love it all, my awesome funny cuz!

RO said...

I'm that person who absolutely needs my eyes for books, movies, blogging and most important of all - nosiness.(lol) I also do not like eye touching. In fact, many, many years ago when I decided to get colored contact lenses, there's a class they give to show you how to insert them in your eyes. There were 7 people in that class in Baltimore. Six people left very quickly. An hour later they were ready to kick me out because I had a devil of a time getting past the squeamishness of actually placing those things in my eyes!!!
Finally I did it! (lol) But when it came time to go out or go to work, I always had to allow myself 15 extra minutes to insert those dang things.(lol) I hate that you had to experience any type of discomfort or pain, but I'm glad that you're doing so much better and your vision has improved. By the way - fast forward to today and there are no contacts anywhere in the house. Stay safe and continue to feel better. RO

bluzdude said...

As a 30-year veteran of contact lenses, I could have helped you with placement. There are some good "hacks" to use to minimize the skeeviness.