I had a birthday last week. I’m not going to divulge my age. Suffice it to say that I know who Jan Brady is and I wore bell-bottoms in junior high.
As I’ve trekked through middle age, birthdays have become less, well, fun. I think I speak for a lot of tail-end Baby Boomers. Gone are the highly-anticipated birthday parties of our youth with games, personalized cakes and a bevy of gifts such as Barbie clothes, girly books, and craft kits. We no longer add “…and a half” when people ask our age. If anything we round it off to the decade.
Most of the time we celebrate at a special restaurant with a few friends, a movie, or some other entertainment that would bore today’s kids. We get a few birthday cards—the paper snail-mailed versions. (I got four this year; three of them from women over age 80.) Most greetings come via Facebook and emails. Some people forget due to life’s busyness. I don’t fault them as I totally blanked out my cousin’s birthday until a week later. We might even get a gift or two, usually not high buck. After all, at our age we have most everything we need except the high-buck stuff, like a retirement nest egg.
There is one high-buck gift I’d like, but it’s not something anyone can buy at a brick-and-mortar or online store. In fact, I’ll need to finance the gift myself—hopefully through health insurance.
It’s not liposuction, a facelift or Botox. It’s improved eyesight.
I’m nearsighted and have worn glasses since third grade. But I knew something else was wrong with my eyes five years ago when things weren’t as sharp and clear as I knew they should be despite stronger prescriptions.
A routine eye exam revealed that I have Fuch’s Dystrophy. It’s a rare condition when cells in the corneal layer called the endothelium die off. These cells normally pump fluid from the cornea to keep it clear. When they die, fluid builds up and the cornea gets swollen and puffy. Vision becomes cloudy or hazy.
Yep, that’s me. I have “foggy mornings” even when the sun is shining brightly. Glares bother me, and I’m more sensitive to the sun. I tear up to the point where I’m afraid people will think I’m crying. When I was at the dentist having my teeth cleaned last year I could feel tears sliding down my face. I had to reassure the dental hygienist that I wasn’t crying because of pain.
Fuchs’ Dystrophy has two stages.
In the early stage, vision is usually hazy in the morning but gets better throughout the day. With stage 2, vision remains blurry all day as too much fluid builds up during sleep and not enough dries up during the day. Tiny blisters form on the cornea, the eyes feel sandy or gritty, and sensitivity to light increases.
I estimate I’m at stage 1.5. I don’t have eye pain from blisters, but the cloudiness sometimes lasts until after lunch, my eyes occasionally itch, and light sensitivity is increasing.
What’s the treatment?
I use sodium chloride eye drops that dry out my eyes and reduce swelling of the cornea’s cells. They work, somewhat. I roll my eyes (pun intended) whenever I see commercials for dry eye solutions. At times I could bottle my over-abundance of “tears.”
The only other treatment is—gulp—a corneal transplant, which would either transplant some of the cells, or the center of the cornea would be replaced. Sooner or later—probably sooner—I’ll need a transplant. The sobering fact is the cornea would have to come from a recently deceased person.
In the meantime, I’ve adapted by using the zoom feature on computers, keep magnifying glasses handy, and make sure I have plenty of light (and reduced glare) for typing and reading. I found large over-the-frame sun glasses which help my light sensitivity. I no longer drive at night because of the glare from car and street lights.
The reality of needing a corneal transplant sent me to the internet for research. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t! One procedure made me cringe: penetrating keratoplasty. This surgery replaces the entire cornea. It could take a year or longer to get complete vision back. The risk of rejection is 3-in-10.
A less invasive procedure is a thickness corneal transplant when damaged front and middle layers of the cornea are removed and replaced. Another is when the innermost layer of the cornea called the “endothelium” is replaced. Recovery for these two range from 3-6 months and rejection is rare.
There’s one facet of the transplant procedure that I try to block out: I’ll be conscious the entire time! Sure, I’ll be sedated so I won’t care or be aware of what’s going on, but the thought of being awake during the procedure gives me the shivers! My mother, bless her heart, eased some of my apprehension when she shared a “Jeopardy” question/answer she had heard recently: “What is the only bloodless transplant? The cornea.” Good to know!
Wise up, coach!
Last year, Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer suffered a detached retina. He first injured the eye after scratching it during a game. Since then Zimmer has had eight surgeries to restore as much of his sight as possible.
I reeled at the news: EIGHT surgeries?
Based on news reports, I thought Zimmer was a bit cavalier about the situation—attending practices and games when he probably should have taken it easy to let the eye heal. I was perturbed at Zimmer’s attitude and was tempted to verbally wop him upside the head in an email. “Don’t take your vision so lightly, buddy! So you miss a few practices or games. It’s better than needing a white cane to draw out defensive plays.”
He finally took much-needed time off, and I hope he makes a full recovery.
Anyway, I digress.
When I was first diagnosed with Fuch’s Dystrophy, I recalled a contemporary Christian romance I had read. I discovered “Insight” by Deborah Raney during my genre research in the early years of writing “Embracing Hope”—before my sight problems.
Without giving away spoilers, the story centers on a successful painter, Reed, who undergoes corneal transplants to prevent blindness. The first transplant is rejected and he fears losing his sight entirely. As if to prepare himself, he tries painting with his eyes closed using his mind’s eye. He feels somewhat confident about what he had created on the canvas—until he opens his weakened eyes. All he sees is a mess.
Even though I’m not a visual artist, Reed became real to me. Like him, I pondered, “What if?” My first question was, “How would I keep writing?”
I did research into how I could write with greatly-reduced or no sight.
- Voice recognition software is growing in use and technology.
- A scribe could be used, much like those who transcribed oral traditions and histories of what would eventually become the Bible.
- Braille can be used on computers or personal digital assistants (PDA) and there’s Braille translation software.
- Applications for computer accessibility are always being developed and refined.
Yet I realize how laborious writing would be, especially after the ease of writing now—on my laptop sitting on the sofa, editing, proofing, rewriting, deleting, reading the content over and over again. I can’t fathom how I’d have to adjust my writing skills and flow of creativity.
More importantly I’d have to adjust my lifestyle, career goals, and, quite frankly, my entire outlook on life (again, pun intended). While I wonder and even worry a little about what lies ahead, I have hope that my eyesight will someday be corrected. Heck, I probably won’t even need glasses and those pesky middle-age cataracts will be removed.