Four-year-old: “Oh, she’s shining a flashlight in your eyes, Mommy?!”
Me: “Yes, only because she’s a doctor! We don’t shine flashlights in eyes at home though, right?”
Perhaps my son had grown too observant to continue taking him along to these appointments. Earlier I found myself beaming as the staff all gushed over how tall my growing boy had gotten since our previous visit. But in this moment, I could tell his wheels were turning and probably thinking about his own flashlight at home, as the nurse was checking the response of my pupils. I know his flashlight probably wouldn’t cause real damage, but it’s more about the general rule of eye safety, right? I also had to shush him from excitedly leaking top secret info: which letters HE saw on the wall during my vision screening.
Bringing my newly adopted son with me to these appointments was the easiest option for the past year, especially in the earlier days when he was completely insecure with us leaving him. It was pretty simple to pack a snack, toy car, and my wiggly boy along with me. I really felt, since he’s a pretty well-behaved kid, and flipping adorable, that he sparked some joy in an office that mainly sees older adults. There was typically at least a 40 year age gap between myself and other patients in the waiting room, of whom were usually tickled over my son’s bouncy and chatty antics. The staff always cheerfully greeted him by name, and he quickly learned that the receptionist had a secret and barely touched stash of stickers she’d pull out of her desk just for him.
After a year of eye surgeries and recovery, with these professionals seeing me through one of my scariest medical issues to date, it actually felt bittersweet to hear that this would be our last appointment at the Retina Specialist. There is a major sense of relief, knowing that this medical problem is largely behind me… and that I don’t have to worry about my curious son mimicking things done to my eyes at the appointments. Though part of me liked coming to a doctor’s office where we were known and remembered, it’s of course not a great thing to need to be at this medical office in the first place.
A few years ago, in the rush of getting organized for international travel and getting our home ready for our first child, the final year stretch without our baby boy home was one that I naively pushed my own health and needs aside. My mind could not rest from pursuing and nesting long enough to even bother keeping up with doctor follow-ups, or to realize some issues that I needed to address (much echoing the thoughts from: I Forgot To Take Care of Me). When lo and behold, our bright, beautiful, energetic boy finally came home at nearly three years old. This last year and a half of learning how to be Mommy to my son has also thrust some impending health problems to the forefront. The lessons I am learning about self-care in this new season have come out of days I’ve been unable to keep up with my precious bouncing boy. One large issue being: the beginning stages of VISION LOSS.
Last summer, I finally went back to my eye doctor for a routine visit after skipping two years of check-ups. I opted out of that extra photo machine that insurance doesn’t cover, because why pay an extra $35 when my eyes seem fine? In hindsight: chump change. *insert eye roll*
In the doctor’s wisdom, they did the photos anyway. It was this machine that gave the alarming news that I had a tear in the retina of my eye. I had no pain, and no clue that this problem existed. It’s something that can just “happen” after an eye injury or being seriously nearsighted like me (my contact prescription is -8), though it usually happens to people much later in life than myself, a 28-year-old. The tear had started causing a detachment, which led to a black curtain — vision loss — in the corner, periphery of my eye. I was lucky it was caught so early, as it’s a surgically repairable issue with some successful vision restoration — so long as it’s not torn into the central vision. Once I knew about the issue, I started paying attention and noticed it more and more in daily life. I couldn’t relax about the possibility of total blindness in that eye…because that’s just how I roll.
Physical Vision Loss
My first eye surgery last fall, though successful in fixing the one retinal tear, essentially caused a game of whack-a-mole with my retina. It’s not a fun game when referring to the eye, so an additional surgery was needed two months later to repair a second tear and seal off my whole retina.
The initial recovery weeks weren’t terribly long in the grand scheme, but as a mom of a busy three-year-old, it did put a pretty big wrench in our day-to-day life. It was painful, and left me hesitant, tired, and grumpy at best. I had to rest. Looking through a blurry gas bubble in one eye gave me total, temporary blindness on my right side until the bubble absorbed. The days were full of misjudging depth perception, bumping into people and things, and relying on others to drive for me and help care for my son. I couldn’t lift my child or bend over much for a while. I tried a funny approach to normalize the eye patch I’d be wearing for the day after surgery by creating a couple for my son and husband to wear too. It didn’t help much once my patch had to come off though. My eye was so bloodshot that my son felt scared to even hug me. I was so grateful for our parents coming in town to help with our little guy, and our siblings here helping out as needed after that.
In the following months, I was struggling to focus both eyes together on details, started noticing a cataract forming in my healing eye, and I found myself angry about all of it. My eye will never be the same again, with some scarring around the perimeter of my vision — the price to pay for ensuring my retina stays intact. But all in all, the vision loss from the tear was mostly restored.
Emotional, Spiritual Vision Loss
All this mess had kind of sent me spiraling down for most of the past year, on top of the hard work of getting adjusted to this new life with a toddler. Some grief flooded in over the physical eye issues and permanent damage, and I realize now that my spiritual “eyes” had gotten fuzzy and lost sight of the goodness in this life. It sounds dramatic, I know. I am stellar at throwing self-pity parties and dwelling in it for a while. There were other contributing factors to this stuck-in-the-mud mindset, which are topics for another time, but I started feeling a disconnect to who I am, what I like, and what I care about. I was dwelling in fear, unsure of the outcome.
A follow-up visit to my regular eye doctor a couple months ago brought about a shift in my perspective. I was playing the “woe is me” card, when he chimed in and told me of the miraculous magnitude the fact that my vision is still even correctable. He also reminded me that my eye was still healing. Having this surgery done at a younger age than most, and my insistence on getting surgical correction sooner rather than later (combined with an excellent surgeon) was probably what saved my vision in the end. This shift toward gratefulness is part of what helped me climb up out of the hole I’d been in for much of this past year. I finally feel like I’m resting on solid ground and starting to see sunshine again.
August is Eye Health & Safety Month
I’m sharing my story to bring to light that August is Eye Health & Safety Month. Use this post as your reminder; I urge you, if you have corrective eyewear/eye problems, keep up with your routine eye doctor visits. Even if you haven’t noticed a change in your prescription, don’t file it away in the mental folder of Unnecessary Appointments in this season of mothering a little human. And if you HAVE noticed a change in your eyes — sudden onset of floaters, flashes of light, obvious vision loss, etc *** — for the love, don’t delay getting it checked out!
Eye health is part of self-care. I didn’t bother going to my eye doctor for two years because I didn’t need new contacts/glasses and I felt my time was better spent on behalf of my child. That is precisely the timeframe that the threat of vision loss began for me.
Little did I realize the utmost importance of taking care of myself, so I can be well to take care of my child.
Catching a tiny, though temporary, glimpse into the frustrations and practical difficulties of lifestyle changes caused by vision loss made me realize the delicate treasure I have in two relatively healthy eyes. We only have one set of eyes, and if you’re blessed to have a working set, take eye care seriously.
I feel walking through this medical scare has me more attuned to what’s important. There’s a bigger heart lesson I’m learning from it. Yes, life is so temporary and so delicate. Instead of dwelling on that in a negative, fearful way, I want to choose more gratefulness for what I do have — imperfect vision and all — and take better care of it. I’m forever a work in progress, but I’m finally understanding the urgency of working towards healing and health for myself (in more than eye care alone), in order to give my family the wife and mommy they need.
***I am not a medical professional, so please discuss any issues that you may have with a doctor. As I can only speak to my experience, visit the National Eye Institute for more symptoms and eye issues to be aware of. For information and tips on your child’s eye care, health, and safety throughout the year: preventblindness.org/your-childs-sight.