Retinal Detachment: A Public Service Announcement.

For about a week, I had a “smudge” at the corner of my left eye. All I wanted to do was clean my glasses or my contacts but the smudge didn’t go away. I kept thinking of a photo a stranger took of my husband, my 14-month-old and me in front of the Louvre in 1999, his forefinger filling a large corner of the photograph. We didn’t know until we returned home, as it was the pre-digital age, no do-overs. I finally called the eye doctor. After careful assessment, he determined I tore AND detached my retina in my left eye. I was “rushed” to the retina specialist.

View with retinal detachment and a bad photographer.

Retinal Detachment/Bad Photographer View.


Faster than you can say “Jack Robinson” I had  two surgeries, one Monday night and another Tuesday morning. Messing with a retina is “el ser-i-o-so” I learned, as in potential blindness if gone unchecked. My new doc and I didn’t have time to court each other, gain trust and become friends. I couldn’t research his stats or yelp his reviews. I wanted to Google him but my phone was almost dead; I wasn’t planning on a long afternoon when I went to the eye doctor at 3 pm. I needed to save my phone juice for a ride home.

By 6 pm I was getting a laser light show in my left eye to repair the tear. The doc shot a few flashes in my eye to get started. “That was three shots. I need to do 100.” By the 85th “bullet” I was ready to strangle the guy.  I never liked the seventies laser light shows set to Pink Floyd at the local planetarium. I really don’t like an eye full of colorful laser cobwebs and light explosions either. I endured, because my new friend told me I had to and he’s the one holding the light saber. He warned it wouldn’t be my favorite thing, particularly when he hit the equivalent of a funny bone in the eye. YEOW!


Kind of like a laser light show but it's a peppermint chocolate.

Kind of like a laser light show but it’s a peppermint chocolate, a cheer-up gift.

In preparation for the next surgery, I started calling my pals that evening. I could not drive or read for the next five days. Since mom is spelled T-A-X-I, I was in a pickle. My Superfriends came to the rescue and the driving schedule was set super quick. I walked laps around the house, straightening and cleaning because I also knew the next phase involved lying around for days.


Tuesday morning, I signed a waiver the doc told me not to read; I was still recovering from laser surgery and reading prohibited, convenient. He shot me up with numbing medicine. I was going to be awake for everything like filling a cavity. I warned him I needed lots of numbing juice at the dentist so if I scream, he’ll know why. He wasn’t worried.  As he worked, I asked if he could take out wrinkles. Unfortunately he skipped plastics class he told me. “I like curing blindness.” Ok. If that’s all you can do in a day.  My closing gift, he lifted a couple of blonde hairs from my black t-shirt and said I should be glad to have a doctor with OCD.  I AM!


Scary part. Skip if squeamish. After about 10 minutes my pneumatic retinopexy surgery was over. He soldered the detachment part with a freezing needle, the smallest known to man. I tried to forget the photos from the educational brochure, showing a magnified version of this needle where it looks more like a crow bar or an Allen wrench.   To finish me off, he pumped a gas bubble into the eye to force the retina to “reinflate” like a balloon. The bubble looks like an ink drop sitting on bowl of golden orange cooking oil. I was scared to sleep at night because even with my eyes closed, I could see it depending on the angle of my head.


If you have to go out.

If you have to go out.

The hardest part was the first day. I had to keep my gaze down for 24 hours, as if I was reading a book. Thank goodness for ipads and for Orange is the New Black or OITNB. A riveting show in my lap made 24 hours go by fast. For breaks, my 14 year-old read and sent my emails to alert anyone affected by my absence, a stressful exchange. The next day, the doc checked his handiwork and slapped on a new cotton eye patch. He started coloring on my eye with a Sharpie. I got kind of excited. “Are you giving me pretty eyelashes?” No such luck. He was drawing an arrow pointing to 2 o’clock. For the next five days I tilted my head to the left until the arrow was pointing straight up—my new position for 20 hours per day. Heaven compared to the day before.


"Waterslide Bracelet"

“Waterslide Bracelet”

And so, my hip TV binge began. I could relate to the prisoners of OITNB, ironically. I didn’t really leave the house. I was on the couch or my bed most of the time, rising only for meals and showers.  I even had a “cuff” for my wrist, identifying my specialness. My new “water slide bracelet,” plastic and bright green, made me feel like a fun mom even if I wasn’t having fun. If for some reason I needed medical attention, physicians needed to know about the gas bubble in my eye or it could blow up.

When I ran out of prison episodes, I switched to the other hip show people are talking about: House of Cards. Funny, politics and prisons elicit similar behavior. It’s all about being king or queen any way possible, especially screwing people—both ways. Maybe it just makes good TV. I think both.

The surgery was a success.  Yay!   After one week I could stand, sit or sleep any way I wanted. I could drive, cook, clean and shop. Order was restored. Boy did my family realize how much they LOVED me.  I had one more week of a “marble” loose in my eye; the gas bubble takes two weeks to dissipate, growing smaller and smaller. The purple blot under my eye took two weeks to go away too. I looked like I was married to a wife beater or had a bout in prison or politics.

How did this happen?  Why me?  I wasn’t bonked on the head or bungee jumping. I didn’t skip the carrots or water. I am blessed with bad genes and bad luck. My dad had retinal issues in his 70s. I got lucky in my 40s because that’s when it starts in women with nearsightedness. Guys start in their 20s with bar fights. Retinal tears and detachments affect only 10% of the population. My advice, think about it like a weather report. A 10% chance of rain means a 90% chance it won’t rain. It’s good to be aware because as I mentioned, retinas are “el ser-i-o-so.” If you feel like someone stuck their thumb in your photo, aka a curtain in your eye or you see light flashes and/or a flood of floaters, don’t hesitate to get to the doc ASAP.

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