[By Nic Lindh on Sunday, 02 September 2018]
DR;TL If you suddenly see black floaters or flashes of light, drop everything and get to an ophthalmologist as soon as humanly possible. You might be going blind. /DR;TL
A few weeks ago I woke up on a Thursday with huge black floaters in my left eye. Floaters, I’ve had since I can remember. For some reason being extremely nearsighted brings them on.
But they’ve always been grey.
These were full black. Imagine having strands of seaweed floating across your vision, obscuring what you’re looking at and, as the name implies, floating, so you can’t get used to them. They’re just floating around in your eye, obscuring as they please. Float, float, float.
So it’s extremely annoying, but it’s a thing that happens. Shrug.
By Sunday, the black seaweed floaters have been joined by what I can only call a gauze across my vision on the left eye. Think vaseline across a camera lens for what it looks like. And in the gauze are little black dots swimming along with the gross and horrible seaweed.
Wake up Monday morning and go to work. Where, it turns out, who knew, I have to use a computer. But I can’t really see out of my left eye. It’s just a blur with seaweed and black dots.
At this point I’ve consulted with Dr. Google and black floaters, it turns out, are a very bad sign that you might have retinal detachment.
So I call around to find an ophthalmologist to take a look. And I have a headache from one eye being all blurry and having to keep it closed to be able to read.
After a lot of phone calls, I finally find an ophthalmologist who can see me on Wednesday. As a sidebar here, apparently ophthalmology is a great business to be in, as most places I called were booked solid weeks out and some of them wouldn’t even take voice mails.
Wednesday rolls around. Gauze and gross seaweed floaters are still there. Scheduled for the ophthalmologist in the morning, then a deep cleaning at the dentist in the afternoon.
Yeah, I party.
To be precise, I’m at an ophthalmology clinic, but the doctor I’m meeting is an optometrist. I figure that’s fine; the optometrist can perform the diagnosis and is hooked up to the surgeons if I need them. Which I hope I don’t. Hoping I can just blink a bunch of times and the black floaters will disappear.
Here’s the drill: Meet a nurse, have your eyes numbed and dilation drops applied, then eye blood pressure taken. Then wait in a waiting room. As the dilation drops kick in, the world goes blurry. Nobody tells you what to expect or how long to wait.
Forget about spending this wasted time on the phone. Can’t read it.
Get taken to a room to wait another unspecified amount of time for the optometrist.
The optometrist comes in and starts the examination.
An extremely bright light is shined into my eye. I am ordered to look in different directions.
Look down. Look up. Look up left. Look up right. Look down right. Look down left.
During this, due to the intense light, I see the blood vessels in my eye. It is a new sensation and it is disconcerting.
I hear: “Horseshoe tear.”
That can’t be good.
And it isn’t.
Optometrist says, “Cancel your plans. You’re going in for emergency surgery today.”
There is very little explanation of what is happening in my eye and why this has to be today. It just has to be today.
The receptionist takes my copay and then starts calling around for places where I can have the surgery.
I’m feeling nothing but dazed.
Am I about to go blind in my left eye?
Is that a thing that’s about to happen?
The receptionist finds a place where I can have the surgery. At 3 p.m. It’s a few miles north of where I work, in uptown Phoenix, about 25 miles away.
Remember the dentist appointment I now have to cancel? My wife was supposed to drive me there, as I have a dentist phobia and was prescribed some Xanax to deal with the anxiety.
Instead, she will now drive me to some random eye shop so I can have this potential blindness dealt with.
Now I’m home and have a few hours to kill before I go in to find out if I’m going to go blind in my left eye.
So I take two dentist Xanax. Hey, they’re for anxiety and if this isn’t anxiety I don’t know what is.
Wife comes home and we depart for uptown Phoenix. Traffic is horrible with several wrecks on the I-10. At 2 p.m. Parked on the I-10, the clock ticking away on my appointment, as I’m heading in to find out if I’m going to keep being able to see out of my left eye.
Xanax helps keep me from freaking out. So, it’s doing its job.
We finally make it to the retina specialist clinic two minutes late. The Trip was supposed to take thirty minutes; we left thirty minutes early just in case. Still arrived late. Thank you, Phoenix traffic.
I check in at the clinic, get my eyes numbed and dilated again, then proceed with the usual medical clinic unknown-length wait until I’m in with the ophthalmologist.
And now I find out that what they didn’t tell me in the morning is that you can only do the laser surgery if there isn’t any fluid in the tear. Is there fluid in the tear?
Stay tuned to find out.
No, there is no fluid in the tear. Yay! They can do the laser surgery.
This is obviously great news, since the traditional surgery involves opening the eye with a scalpel. Shudder.
But no need to freak out about that. We’re go for laser!
While waiting for the laser show, I ask—you have to ask, they don’t volunteer any information—why this happened.
Quote: “Bad luck and age.”
I also ask what the black dots I’m seeing floating around are. Turns out they are red blood cells. The gauze obscuring my vision is blood in my lens. Yeah.
If you’ve never had a laser cauterize a tear on your retina, here’s what it’s like:
You put your face in what seems like a pretty normal piece of optometry equipment.
The ophthalmologist puts what they call a “lens” in your eye. (It’s weird but mostly fine, as your eye has been numbed, so you don’t really feel the thing a person is holding against your open eye ball.)
I’m pretty sure the “lens” is only there to keep your eye from closing.
When the laser fires the light is obviously incredibly bright, and it feels like you’re being poked in the back of your eye with a pencil.
Poke, poke, poke. The laser fires a lot.
You obviously want the laser, because it is cauterizing your wound.
But your brain and reflexes do not want a bright green flash and a poke where nothing is supposed to reach, ever.
So it takes all I have to not rear back.
Which is very annoying to Captain Laser.
And while I very much appreciate Captain Laser cauterizing the wound in my retina, I’m doing the best I can to stay staring at the Super Bright Poking Laser, thank you very much, so I really don’t need shit about how I’m not staying put at this point, thank you very much.
If my stoic restraint isn’t up to your standards, perhaps you could have put a strap on the equipment, eh?
With the stress and the Xanax I’m not sure exactly how long this went on, but probably ten minutes or so.
We’re finally done and I’m drained.
Note that nothing in this process hurt. The blast of light and sensation of a pencil stabbing the back of the eye is weird and uncomfortable, but it doesn’t hurt, per se. But the stress and uncertainty are enormously draining.
I go back for a checkup one week later and it looks like the cauterization is holding.
I am now utterly paranoid about floaters. And for good reason. The tear I had in my retina could have rendered me blind at any point. Blind. As in, Can’t See Anything. Retinal detachment is very much not a joke.
But yeah, this was tiring. May you never have to watch the black floaters creep in. But if you do, literally drop everything and get to an ophthalmologist.