There I sat in the eye specialist’s office. As I gazed around at the many people sitting like me and waiting (and waiting) for their turn, I noticed that everyone was a senior. You know you are in that age group when everywhere you go you seem to be in their company. You go out for breakfast and their they are, the 65+ set. You stop for a cup of coffee at a local Tim Horton’s and there they are again. They’re nursing a cup of coffee, often adding water to mellow the taste and talking away to others who appear unsurprisingly with grey hair, sagging midriff and a slow exit walk. At the grocery store they’re back, clutching their sales flyers and looking for the deals before moving on to the next store. They’re even at the gas station tanking up and then patiently waiting for a car wash.(Is it true only seniors wash their cars?)
Being at the eye specialist’s office is an invitation to converse with other bored seniors. The wait seems interminable. I lean over to say a few words to the person next to me: “Are you here for cataracts?” The answer is inevitably “yes” but I am starting to notice that there is a new breed of old folks who have regressed beyond cataracts. If they say “no”, I’ll ask them: “Are you here for a wrinkled retina?” “Yes, I am”. “Me too!”
So what is a wrinkled retina anyways? Bearing in mind I am no medical aficionado, here is my understanding of what it is.
First you have the retina. It’s the tissue inside the back of the eye that senses light shining into the eye and sends signals to the optic nerve in the brain to identify what is being seen. In the centre surrounded by a gel-like “vitreous fluid” is the macula. This thin delicate tissue sharpens the central vision. It is particularly important for reading and clearly discerning objects in a field of vision. As people get older pieces inside the eye tend to break away (floaters?), sometimes adhering to the vitreous fluid near the retina. Accumulations of this material can form thin cells or fibres on the macula and sometimes can distort the macula’s shape i.e. causing a wrinkle. This situation adversely affects the clarity of images coming from incoming light to the retina. In my case I have trouble reading the newspaper. As a golfer I can neither read the greens for putting nor accurately follow the track of my golf ball when I hit it. It’s the pits, to say the least.
Apparently eye drops, medications, nutritional supplements or even hypnotists cannot improve vision distorted and affected by “wrinkled retina”. However, when people have experienced sufficient vision problems, the provincial health authorities allow them to have surgery to fix the problem. Hallelujah, I guess. I finally qualified for the knife and underwent a procedure called a Vitrectomy.
I must say I was quite impressed with the skills of my surgeon. The hospital hand-out described the surgical efforts as a peeling away of the vitreous gel membrane to prevent it from pulling on the retina. My surgeon also replaced the gel with a saline solution (I was asked about shell fish allergies as apparently it is derived from this source). This work was performed while I was under local anesthesia and took about 40 minutes to complete. As the surgeon peered through a microscope into the depths of my eye he calmly gave orders to an assistant to remove this or that. During the operation I could see him picking up scaled material with little forceps and eventually pulling it away. It was definitely a weird experience watching him – from the inside – working on my eye.
After the operation they fitted me with an eye patch to protect my eye and the following day they removed it. A climactic moment, I was initially pleased to be able to see out of the eye. And while I waited for my turn to see the surgeon to give his “all clear” I started looking at the monitor showing travel videos in the waiting room. I remembered the difficulties I had experienced watching the monitor during my last pre-surgery visit and suddenly I realized that I could see much better. I looked around reading signs and feeling great that I could see people’s faces. Others were probably wondering why I was so intent looking around the room at any visible objects in my line of vision. No one in the waiting room was reading but I managed to find a “Hello” magazine and began pouring through the exciting details of little Prince George’s latest walking efforts. While I cared little for the content, I was thrilled that I could see the letters and read the script.
By the time I met with the surgeon it was hard to contain my enthusiasm. Outspoken views or reactions were deeply frowned upon in this office. My surgeon was renowned for his poor bed side manner and his actions were sometimes compared to the famous Seinfeld “soup nazi” character. I couldn’t help it though. When he came into the room I blurted out a rather confusing statement of gratitude to him for a job well done. Taken back at first I told him more succinctly that I could see so much better. He muttered in a very humble manner that good results were obtained all the time. I answered that these were my results and I was extremely grateful. He smiled, something I sensed he seldom did in his professional capacity, but I knew he also felt good.
I am now working on the denouement to the surgery, trying not to lift things or bend over too deeply, attending to my eye drops and mostly just waiting for the protective air bubble in my eye to disappear in the next few days. Its disappearance will allow me to drive again and signify a new chapter in my life. I am looking forward to enjoying reading again and playing golf with a greater degree of confidence and fulfillment than I have enjoyed in a number of years.
As you get older more and more things seem to disappear or be taken away. It’s great to get something so critically important back into my life again