My Left Retina

IMG_1780.jpegIf you learn nothing else from my experience this past week, please take this advice: if you encounter oddities in your vision that look like large floaters, but act more like dead pixels, that actually occlude part of your vision, drop everything and call a doctor. Better yet, call an optometrist. While I am confident that I will regain enough of my eyesight in my left eye to be able to correct my vision to 20-20 again, possibly, acting on these warning signs could have caught my detached retina earlier.

Last Saturday, and Sunday, one of those large floaters started to change colour, going from black to white, and started obscuring a greater part of my vision. Realizing this was no ordinary floater, I called Ontario's Telehealth system (811) and gave them my symptoms. They told me to check into the emergency room at Grand River Hospital. They saw me after about three hours waiting (not bad, considering), looked at my eye, listened to my symptoms, and booked me an appointment for Monday afternoon to see an ophthalmologist.

Because I knew that I was going to need my eyes dilated for this visit, I had my father drive me. We waited in the opthamologist's office for a while, took more tests, and he came down with his diagnosis: a detached retina. Fortunately, detached retinas can be fixed with minor surgery. Unfortunately, they can't be done in Kitchener, as the expertise is currently found only in London and Toronto. Could I be in London for an operation tomorrow morning (Tuesday)? Could I be in London for an operation that night? Of course, I said yes.

For various reasons, the operation had to be pushed back to Tuesday morning, but I did meet the surgeon and get prepped on Monday evening. My father drove me to London and back twice (and again on Wednesday for the post-op follow-up). The surgery is unpleasant to describe, but it is truly minor. If you've had cataract surgery, it's similar. They don't put you out. They give you some very good drugs to keep you calm. They numb and paralyze your affected eye, cover your other eye, and get to work on you. You don't see anything, and you hardly feel anything. And, about two hours later, I was able to get up from my own bed and walk over to a wheelchair that wheeled me over to my father's car.

Some people may find this paragraph a little gross, so if you do, turn away: part of the surgery injects a gas bubble into your eye. This bubble is there to gently press against the reattached retina to help ensure that the reattachment takes. For twelve hours after surgery, I was told to strictly keep my nose aimed towards the ground, after which, I just had to keep my head elevated. In Wednesday's follow-up, I was told to walk with my head cocked to the right, and to sleep on my right side. In next week's follow-up, I wonder if he'll tell me to do the hokey-pokey. The gas bubble goes away on its own over two weeks.

My eyesight in my left eye is currently shot. I am not allowed to drive for at least two weeks following the surgery, and honestly it would be clearly unsafe for me to attempt to. I have no peripheral vision on my left, and my depth perception is out of whack. However, I am able to see light, shapes and colour all around the left eye's field of vision, which gives me a lot of hope that the surgery was a success, and my eyesight will improve. I can also see the gas bubble swishing about, which is weird, but it gives me glimpses in my peripheral vision of objects that are sharp and clear, so maybe a full restoration of my eyesight will happen. Fingers crossed.

Though this past week has been an ordeal -- albeit one made easier by having my father able to drive me to London and back, and one made easier by understanding coworkers who keep telling me to take it easy -- I have been impressed by many things: the speed with which our healthcare system identified the problem and prescribed a fix. The fact that we have doctors who will drop everything to fix somebody's eye. The fact that we can perform this surgery in such a way that it can be done within a couple of hours on local anaesthetic. And the fact that, thus far, this ordeal has cost me (and my father) absolutely nothing out of pocket, other than about $30 in parking fees, and about $60 in gas.

While our healthcare system in Ontario may have its flaws, it still works. It's shown me just how valuable it still is to our society. It's good to know that, if you suddenly start to go blind, people can fix you, and you don't have to mortgage your house to save your eyesight.

We need to keep this up. We need to ensure that our healthcare system provides vital healthcare to all of us with no out-of-pocket expense. We need to spend more tax money to improve the quality and range of the service: like bringing in a surgeon who can handle retinal detachments in Kitchener rather than shipping people over to London (one is planned to come to Kitchener's hospitals, but doesn't report for duty for another month).

Governments that cut these services in the name of "efficiency", privatize our medicine, and threaten to move the costs of our medical care off the tax base and onto individuals who can ill afford it, are advocating for pain and death. We deserve better, and we should demand better, even if it means raising taxes to make it happen.

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