Monday, April 15, 2024

Floaters: The Eyes Have It

Late in 2019, I wrote about developing floaters in my right eye, in conjunction with cataracts. I had cataract surgery the following January but was told I should just “get used to” having the floaters. There was surgery available, but they were reluctant to take the risk. They said it was “low risk, but not no risk.

So I adapted to looking through what looked like a twirling red spider web. Then, last December I developed floaters in my left eye as well. Trying to read anything, especially against a white background, (or watch hockey) was difficult and frustrating, like reading through a jellyfish. At that point, I began pursuing the surgical remedy for floaters, called a “Vitrectomy.”

This is a procedure where they use a laser to cut the floaters away from the inner lining of the eyeball, then drain out the floating material and eyeball fluid (aka Vitreous Fluid), and replace it.


Yes, it skeeves me out too. Whenever one thinks about eye surgery, the mind conjures up images like from this old ad for Thorazine:

I wonder how much Thorazine this ad ever sold. Seems counter-productive to me to terrify your prospective customers.

But I just had my right eye done last Wednesday so I’m here to tell you about it and try to provide some insight (heh) on the experience. Many web resources tell you what it is, but I didn’t see any that told you what it’s like to go through it.

For me, the scheduling was half the battle. My original surgery date was 3/27 but about two weeks before that, they called and said the doctor wouldn’t be in that day (then why schedule me in the first place?) and bumped it to 4/10, two weeks later. This was a kick in the head because the original date was perfect. Sweetpea (a schoolteacher) would be on spring break that week, so she wouldn’t have to make arrangements and write Sub Plans to cover her absence while she took me to and from my appointments. (They do a follow-up appointment the day after surgery, and then again a week later.) But after the postponement, she would have to do all the extra work. (Which she did, because she’s such a good wife!)

I was also required to get a pre-op physical, to ensure I was fit enough to undergo the surgery. (It was the same for my cataract surgery.) I was due for one in another couple of months anyway, so this one wouldn’t go to waste.

As with all the surgeries I’ve had in the past, there was a strict “No eating or drinking” edict to be followed from midnight until “go time.” That’s usually a piece of cake, but this appointment wasn’t until noon, so I wouldn't be allowed to eat all morning nor have my customary iced tea. On the bright side, I’d get to have a post-op feast!

So we arrived about 10 minutes early, checked in, and then sat on our thumbs for the next hour. Obviously, we were scheduled for their convenience and not ours. I understand it though. They had a lot of other patients rolling through there and dealing with latecomers would jam up the whole system.

They took me in around 1:00 and got started with putting dilation and numbing drops into my eye, and inserting in the IV. That would be used for administering the light anesthetic later. They don’t want you out cold, just comfortable and able to follow directions. There were several applications of drops and it took about 20 minutes for them to take effect.

I was in sweats and a T-shirt. They laid a tri-folded blanket on me and there was no need for the diabolical hospital gown. I swear those things are designed by a sadistic branch of IKEA.  As usual, I joked around with the nurses and anesthesiologist so that they would like me. Just like with restaurants, you never want to piss off someone who can spit in your food, or decide not to worry about your pain level.

I understood about the blanket later when they rolled me into the operation room, which was about 15 degrees colder than the previous room. I presume it’s something they do to keep the laser machines from overheating.

At this point, I felt fine. Even when they started working on me, I didn’t really notice any altered feeling. I was just going along with it. Maybe that’s the trick… getting a patient pliable without their noticing anything’s different.

The first thing they have to do is put injections into your eye, to numb the whole site. That is the part I was most concerned about because, you know… [shudder]. I wasn’t even sure when the doctor was doing it. He would say, “Look up and to the right. Now up and to the left.”

It wasn’t until he was halfway done that I even realized he was giving me the injections right then. I didn’t feel a thing. I didn’t even see the needle. I suppose he brought it up from the opposite direction from the one he had me looking.

After that, they lowered a big device over my right eye and covered the left with a towel or something. I could hear various things beeping and the doctors moving about, but there was no pain whatsoever. If I didn’t need to keep my eye open, I could have had a nap.

Before I even knew it, they had a plastic eye guard taped in place (lined with gauze) and had me sitting up in the recovery room. They wheeled me back out to Sweetpea at about 2:30, so aside from the initial wait, the whole thing took an hour and a half.

Instructions were to keep the guard in place until the next day’s appointment, don’t get it wet, don’t sleep on my back with my head facing up, not bend at the waist, no alcohol, and don’t pick up anything over 20 pounds. No problem.

On the way home we picked up some KFC for my post-op feast. (It had been a long time because I usually tried to stay away from eating things that would kill me. But it was sooo good.) It’s weird operating with only one eye. My depth perception was definitely off, so when I reached for something, it usually took some adjustments in aim. So I had to be careful not to poke myself in the eye with a chicken bone or spork full of mashed potatoes.

After that, nap time! I put in a solid two hours, then got up, watched a little TV, then turned in early. I figured the more time I spent asleep, the less time I’d have to wander around all cockeyed.

The next morning’s follow-up appointment would be the moment of truth. I was dying to see what I’d be seeing. They told me things would be blurry for a while but would gradually clear up over a week. When the eye tech removed the guard, I was shocked. I expected it to be blurry as in the letters looking distorted or unfocused. What I got was looking through a fish bowl. Then I really started to panic when the tech started going through the usual drill of asking what I could see.

She was like, “Can you read these letters?


Now how about these?”

No. I can’t even see that there are letters there, let alone read them.”

She narrowed it down to one giant letter, which I still could not see. So she asked how many fingers she was holding up. I was like, “I can’t even see that you have a hand.”

She left to let the next batch of dilation eye drops take effect before the doctor came in.

Now, I was expecting the blurriness, but the fact that she was testing me like I could still see something made me start to seriously worry, especially sitting alone in the room for 20 minutes. I kept thinking, “Holy shit, why couldn’t you have just lived with the @#$% floaters?

When the doctor came in, he explained that the issue was that because I had a retina tear repaired in this eye four years earlier, they injected an air bubble into my eye to protect the repair site. It was this bubble that was making things seem like I was underwater. It was like my face was a leveling tool and the eye contained the bubble you try to line up. The bubble would reabsorb into my eyeball/face gradually over the next week. He said that after examining it, everything looked good, just like it was supposed to look. I was greatly relieved.

I guess the tech who scared the shit out of me was just going through the usual pre-visit checklist they do with every patient.

So I was dismissed with basically the same warnings. Don’t rub, keep water out, use the guard for sleeping, stay off my back (looking up), no bending from the waist, and take it easy for a while. He also mentioned that some people use an eye patch while they’re healing, which is exactly what I’d planned to do. 

We stopped for an eye patch at the drugstore on the way home, although not before I poked myself in the repaired eye with the earpiece of the sunglasses I was trying to put on. Like I said, the hand/eye coordination is way off when you’re down to mono-vision. I was lucky that the numbing drops were still in effect so it didn’t hurt, but I was worried that I jostled the whole structure which would cause more focusing problems.

At the store, I had the choice between the traditional black eye patch or the adhesive “Band-Aid” colored ones. I went for the black patch, obviously. So I could either wear my Pittsburgh Pirates ball cap and audition to be their new mascot or put on a straw hat and go out on tour singing “Cover of the Rolling Stone.”

Once home, I got to scope out the site in the mirror and yeah, it was as bad as I expected. Basically, the cornea from the bridge of the nose to the iris was bright blood-red. Again, it’s supposed to clear up over time.

I wore the eye patch constantly for the first couple of days. It was hard to see clearly, not only because of the mono-vision but because I still have floaters in my left (good) eye, so what vision I had was often blurry.

By the weekend, I could see a distinct reddish line going across the upper portion of my vision, like I was looking through a goldfish bowl, at the water level. Throughout the weekend, the line began to get lower and I found I could see reasonably well over the line. If I looked down, I could see a clear darkish circle. It was almost like a magnifying glass, in that if I held something up and looked through the circle, I could see it in super detail. But the farther away, the blurrier it got.

Today is Monday and I’m not wearing the patch at all. All of my computer screen is “above the line,” and the bubble is shrinking steadily. I’m betting that I should be fine by the end of the week. And then it will be time to schedule to have the other eye done. And that one should be a breeze because they won’t have to inject a bubble into that eye. Plus, my right eye will be floater-free.

OK, there are still a few tiny fragments floating around. I’m not sure if those will settle out or if I’m stuck with them, but it’s still a big difference.

If you ever consider such a procedure, I fully recommend doing it. The pain was minimal, (managed with Tylenol) and the recovery hasn’t been bad at all. I don’t yet know what the cost will be but I’m sure it will be worthwhile. One’s sight is something that’s often taken for granted, right up until it becomes damaged.

I write posts like these to help people who are evaluating whether they should undergo such a procedure and provide some first-hand information. If you have a question I haven’t addressed, please drop it in Comments.

Here’s looking at (anything), kid.”

Director’s DVD Commentary: Here’s to anyone who got that “Cover of the Rolling Stone” joke! Dr. Hook lives!


rick shapiro said...

If eye surgery gives you the shivers, check out the scene in this short film by Salvador Dali.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I am glad this helped you! Having to have shots in my eye every quarter I too was shocked I didn't see the needle coming at me or that it didn't hurt that badly. I think them telling us where to look is the secret that I am glad they shared. :-)

bluzdude said...

I'm sure they know who freaked out people get at the idea of shoving pointy things into their eyes. I don't even give it a second thought now. Perhaps 40 years of wearing contact lenses got me used to the idea of sticking things in my eyes.

bluzdude said...

Rick, Geezus, that was disgusting. What a way to open a film, huh?

I bet this really shook people up in the 20s. And now too.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for your pain,you were brave. Happy Healing Bluz

bluzdude said...

Pain was minimal and I'm all healed up now. Just looking forward to doing the other eye. I get to schedule that appointment next week. Knowing their scheduling process, surgery won't be for a couple months.