I’m not particularly shy about talking about my eyesight and the problems I have because of it. But I very rarely ever go into the actual specifics of what’s gone on with my eyes unless people specifically ask. It’s one of those things I’ve lived with for so long that I tend to be oblivious when it comes to people’s curiosity. That I’m kind of oblivious about people in general anyways doesn’t help matters much.
My mom and dad tell this story about taking my brother and I to the airport when we were four and five or so, maybe a bit older. We were in the terminal and my parents pointed out the window. “Look, boys,” they said, “do you see the planes?” We nodded, really excited, but here’s the thing – we were looking at the wall.
That was my parents’ first clue something might possibly be wrong with our eyes.
There are a thousand more stories like that I’ll tell you throughout this blog, but that was the first big Magoo moment for both of us. Turned out we had severe astigmatism thanks to bad genetics and progressively worsening macular degeneration. You can look it up for a more specific medical definition, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’s the retina’s slow breakdown.
Bunches of people suffer from macular degeneration. You could probably throw a rock right now and hit someone who suffers from it, knowingly or not. By the way, please don’t. This blog assumes no liabilities from your rock-throwing shenanigans.
We just happened to get hit with a whopping dose of it, and unfortunately for both of us, it grew progressively worse throughout the years. Surgery was never really an option. We saw a surgeon when we were teenagers, who referred us to another doctor in Tijuana (which probably should have been the first warning bell of our search for the cure). We didn’t even get to take in a donkey show before the other doctor told us, “oh hell no.” Well, in more doctory terms than that, but you get the point.
My brother’s vision started to settle a bit as an adult. He’s had a scare here and there, but thankfully, he’s stayed relatively stable and I kid you not, I thank God that it was me He jabbed with the Eye Poker of Doom. Ryan still drives. Ryan’s got a steady job where he can see the screen. Ryan regularly plays games without too much of a fuss. He might not always have those blessings but he does today, and that’s awesome.
My life kinda went a different route. Not a bad one, mind you – without what happened in my early twenties, I very much doubt I’d be wrapping up my fifth novel in just under a year.
When I was in my third year of college, I sat down to play a game of Literati with my mom. You know, the old Yahoo game back when Yahoo was still kind of relevant and doing awesome things instead of churning out other people’s articles in clickbait formats? Good times, right?
That was the last game of Literati I ever played.
I had this funny little niggling floater in my right eye. Now floaters, for those of you who haven’t seen them, are just little irregular splotches or lines of color that creep up in people’s eyes sometimes. It happens for a variety of reasons, but it usually signifies minor – very minor – things going on in the back of your eyes. When one of those floaters doesn’t go away, take my advice and GET YOUR ASS TO THE HOSPITAL NOW.
I didn’t. I waited until the next morning. The spot grew worse, obscuring most of the vision in my right eye. I tried to drive, but I quickly panicked and called upon some dear friends of mine to help haul my ass around the small college town I was living in. The optometrist there advised me, trying to avoid heaping too much panic in his voice, to go to a much bigger hospital an hour’s drive away. So my friend Adrianne drove me even further, and I saw a very nice specialist who became very cross that I hadn’t come in very much earlier, because as it turned out, I had a detached retina, and that’s the sort of thing you want treated yesterday.
Surgery happened like that. Thanks to the support of my hometown and the kindness of several very specific people behind the scenes, my mom was able to fly down immediately. I wanted to pick her up from the airport myself, but when I tried to drive, a small child ran out in front of a parked car a football field away. The kid was never in any sort of danger, but that feeling of the child just suddenly exploding into my sight made me pull over, sweat rolling down my face (and not from my giant ass running several miles, thank you), and cry. Yes. Cry. Like a baby. A goateed baby with magnificent hair and an exquisite taste in video games.
All jokes aside, that was probably one of the worst days of my life that didn’t involve anything horrible happening to people I love. I hate that day more than I hate what came afterwards, and what came afterwards was my private hell. But thankfully some very nice things happened before and during, so it all kind of balances out.
My friend C-Flo (and yes, that’s really his nickname) borrowed a truck from another friend named Tate (God, I miss you, Missouri, and your lovably crazy names), and we hauled ass to Kansas City to pick up my mom. Keep in mind, this wasn’t just a truck, but a freakin’ goliath of a beast, wildly, hilariously over-the-top with exhaust pipes coming up out of the truck bed like two erect steel dongs. It didn’t so much drive down the rode as tore ass. My mom, bless her soul, absolutely loved it. And C-Flo, too, for that matter.
We got back to my car, my mom took me to the same big hospital in Columbia, MO, one of my all-time favorite cities that I’ve visited, and there, I was promptly knocked out completely for most of a day. Not just knocked out, but put in a freakin’ coma, more or less. They had me on a breathing tube thing. When you’re not expecting that when you wake up, it’s not exactly the most pleasant “hey, how ya doin’?” I yakked. Not just a little, apparently, but my guts led a freaking revolution and I put on quite the show.
A while later, I came back to again. Here’s where I talk about the surgeries I had, and this is going to make some of you squeamish, so be warned.
With a detached retina, what the surgeon did essentially was wrap a rubber-band type thing around my eye to sort of shove it into a facsimile of the shape it should be in. But with the delicate structure of my eyes and the years and years of macular degeneration, there was a good chance the same thing would happen to me again, so the doctor decided to strengthen what’s called the lattice structure of my eyes with a few thousand hits of laser. You read that right – thousands.
What he was doing, essentially (I still don’t understand much of the specifics), was sealing up all the little tears, holes, and stretched-thin parts. And with regards to my eyes, there was a veritable shitload. My eyes looked like, medically speaking, Johnny Depp’s Saturday night hookup. He spent a lot of time in there, and his efforts have saved my eyes from a lot of future problems.
The detached retina didn’t go away. It got better, certainly, and now it only distorts a central portion of my right eye (mind you, a big central portion, but not nearly as bad as it was before the surgery). My left eye is now more sensitive to light in some really curious ways. It doesn’t hurt my eyes, but the way my two eyes discern light is night and day, in an almost-literal kind of way. What vision I have in my right eyes, around the edges, sees light the “right” way, in that dark rooms are dark and light is just something that’s there. My left eye… hm. How do I describe this? You know the feeling you get when you walk into somewhere dark when you’ve been out in the bright sunshine a while? What I see with my left eye is like a mild version of that. It doesn’t affect the vision itself in any way, and it’s so slight as to be negigible if I have my right eye closed, but the difference is there.
We’ll talk another time about the recovery from those surgeries, as that three month period afterwards and my college year that followed deserve to be talked about, ugly warts and all. I promised you complete honesty with this blog series, and that includes me at my most despicable and miserable.
What’s happened since then has been less interesting. My degeneration continues, but it’s slowed in my thirties, to the point where I’ve actually had the same vision the last couple of checkups. A small win, but I’ll take it. I’ve had one scary bleeding incident in my left eye, back when I worked as the county’s clerk and recorder, but by and large, I’ve been scare-free since the surgeries. I think peripherally my vision is fading a bit in ways that aren’t easily quantifiable. Even though it was never great to begin with, I think my distant vision is getting a little tiny bit worse, which troubles me, but in a way so vague and indistinct that it’s near the bottom of my to-care-about list. Not like we can really do anything about it anyways.
Right now, I do have a cataract in my left eye. That’s the most troublesome development in recent memory, but it may force my hand eventually into getting a risky surgery that could wind up stabilizing my eye. Right now, the risks are too great – I have vision I can operate with now, but if things went wrong with my eyes, I’d have to adapt to trying to function with near total blindness. Oddly, that thought doesn’t scare me as much as you might think – again, fodder for another blog, but I’m not scared of the future. I’m just preparing for it.
And that’s it! Got any questions about the specifics of any of this, hit me up! I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.