I had a scary moment this month.
I know I’m not bomb-proof, and understand I’m not twenty anymore. Still, when I have minor aches and pains, I tend to self-treat. I’m the child, step-child, grandchild, and niece of RN’s, who taught me many common sense remedies, and in other cases, when to worry and call a doctor.
On the heels of a bad post-holiday cold, my left eye started to bother me. It hurt when I rubbed it, and I figured there was probably some “dry-eye” or sinus pressure going on. The eye got a little bloodshot, so I picked up some red-eye relief drops. Now, one of the things my Mum taught me was to read labels. So when I got home, I reviewed what the box had to tell me. Big as life, it said not to use the drops in the case if eye pain (or many of my other symptoms) – to ask the doctor instead.
OK, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, because I immediately began to imagine an aneurysm or stroke lurking. I realized the pain had probably been getting worse for a day or so, and I was aware of “floaters” behind the eye. I’d had a recent glaucoma test, but I wondered if my retina was detaching, or some other awful calamity was brewing. It seemed the vision in that eye was getting blurry. I wondered if my newly failing vision would spread to my other eye.
I called the doctor.
I especially wanted to rule out anything life-threatening, so I started with my family doctor, who saw me right away and did exactly that. She also ruled out tissue tears and other similar damage. However, I could tell she was still concerned. She called their group’s ophthalmologist and got me an appointment the same afternoon. While this sense of urgency on her part made me feel I was in good hands, it did nothing to quell my rising panic.
Let me stop here to say that my immediate fear of losing the vision in my already weaker eye isn’t so irrational as it may sound. My father-in-law (a former architect and a watercolor painter until he lost his visual acuity) suffered from Macular Degeneration in his later years. It robbed him of so much. My own father (an avid reader and sports fan) lost most of his useful sight to Diabetic Retinopathy. His frustration was palpable. I watched these incredible men stumbling, giving up driving, relying on books on tape and radio, unable to read their own correspondence. So… yeah, a little scary.
Back to my actual diagnosis. I have a condition called Iritis, or anterior uveitis. My iris was inflamed and in my case the white blood cells sent to help were sticking the lens and iris together, so the iris was struggling to open and close. Turns out this disease is a fairly common cause of preventable blindness, and often the cause of an episode isn’t known (in my case there’s an auto-immune history that probably contributed) – but it’s very treatable. I’m glad I follow instructions well and went to see the doctor.
The good news is there are various (prescription) eye drops to treat this, and wonderful technology so my doctor can follow my progress. The bad news is that it will take a few more weeks to completely clear up, and it can recur. One more thing to think about, and one more reason to make the most of every day and be grateful for what I have!
For now, I’m still on my beloved’s medical insurance through his employer, and he also has a flexible spending plan there to help with these expenses. The co-payments on these multiple doctor visits and some of the drops (steroids) would have been much more daunting if I were on Medicare and Medigap plans. This is certainly a wake-up call to evaluate those plans carefully as we look at that inevitable change down the road.
So, one fear allayed, another looming.
Scary moments certainly, but I’m hopeful I can stare them down with my doctor’s help, a little common sense, and some careful research and planning.
Some other helpful sites on these vision problems:
- Macular Degeneration – Mayo Clinic
- Diabetic Retinopathy – NationalInst. for Health
- Iritis – Web MD
- Common Eye Complaints – Senior Health (about.com)
- Over 60 Vision – American Optometric Assn
- Aspirin linked to age-related blindness (abc.net.au)
- Vision Impairment Increasing in the United States (lvib.org)