SUDDEN VISION LOSS, EMERGENCY LASER EYE SURGERY IN PORTUGAL & MY POST OP UPDATE
I recently experienced one of the most terrifying health scares of my life! Saturday 26th November was a glorious sunny day and we were enjoying a day Mr & Mrs Gardening with our chickens then disaster struck. Early in the evening, I suddenly started seeing over a dozen black dots moving rapidly across the field of my vision. I instantly knew something was very wrong. For the past 3-4 days I had been experiencing a couple of tiny black images which I thought were spiders or bugs in my right eye whilst jogging. I just assumed a bug had stuck to my contact lense and honestly did not think it was connected to my vision but a foreign object embedded in my eye. I rinsed my eye out and put fresh contact lenses in both eyes which seemed to help a bit. Fast forward a few days to Saturday and multiple black dots appeared out of the blue. Within minutes I had lost almost all of my vision from my right eye. I panicked like crazy as my lovely mum had type 1 diabetes, glaucoma and died young from a stroke. Hubby was ready to drive me to the Urgent Care (A & E) in Arganil but I didn’t think that they would have an Ophthalmology department, so I phoned the SNS Helpline who have amazing staff who speak English. They took brief information and sent me to the Urgent Care (A & E) at Coimbra University Hospital. The drive is 1 hour each way, so it was quite a stressful journey. We arrived and managed to park for free in the car park which was amazing. I had already taken my contact lenses out and stored them in a small pot so I couldn’t see much as even with my contact lenses or glasses I have very poor eyesight (extremely short sighted with stigmatism).
A & E Experience
We arrived at 21:00 and after giving my basic information at reception I was ushered to a seating area where I had to wait to see a nurse. Within a couple of minutes, I was called by a compassionate male nurse who asked me a few questions. He put a wristband on me, wished me well and sent me to another waiting area where I would be called to see a doctor. The place was very busy and I just assumed that I would be waiting for hours. I have visited the A & E in Bristol on a few occasions and every experience has been horrendous. I only ever visit A & E if I am basically dying or I know I have a broken bone that requires a cast as I hate hospitals and I know they are understaffed and stretched to the maximum so I would never ever waste their time with insignificant minor ailments or injury. As I looked around the waiting room, I could see tons of blurry images of people all wearing a yellow wristband. Mine was orange and I didn’t realise it at the time but it had all my personal information on it and it said “Urgencia”. Within a couple of minutes, I was whisked off to the Ophthalmology department and a doctor carried out various tests. I was really scared as I couldn’t see anything or walk without support and I thought they were going to make hubby stay outside but he was allowed to accompany me for all the tests and procedures. I linked arms with him and hung on for dear life. It’s times like these when we treasure our loved ones, “In sickness and in health” is real for sure.
The doctor put drops in my eyes and examined their structure for what seemed like an eternity. I then had to have different eye drops and wait 15 minutes, then he examined them further. The diagnosis is: One hole in my retina at 11 O’Clock and one tear at 12 O’Clock. If you imagine the retina as a clock face the timings are where the hole/tear are situated. He explained that I needed immediate laser eye surgery to repair both the hole and tear and that if I had waited a further 24 hours the retina would have completely detached resulting in permanent blindness! It can happen to anyone at any time but usually occurs as we get older. The retina is the thin lining in the back of the eye, which allows us to see. It’s normally attached to the gel-like substance inside the eye, also known as the vitreous. When the vitreous gel starts to tug away at the retina, it can cause the retina to tear. This can also cause bleeding in the eye if there are blood vessels present. It occurs to 10% of the population so aren’t I the lucky one NOT! I was so scared and shocked that I was about to have emergency laser eye surgery. One minute I’m picking oranges in the garden and the next minute I’m wearing an orange wrist band in A & E.
A Different Kind of Orange
Laser Eye Surgery
I am so squeamish when it comes to my eyes and ears as I have some sensory issues. My biggest fear ever is the dentist and I kept telling myself that I got through my 10 long weeks of wisdom tooth extraction ordeal this year so if I can overcome that challenge, I can deal with this trauma. In all honesty I think it was good that the surgery was immediate and not put off for days as I have extreme anxiety and insomnia so I know that I would not have slept for several nights with the worry and anticipation so although traumatised about the prospect of immediate eye surgery, it was the best option for me. The laser surgery was not pleasant and took around 10 minutes to perform. I can only describe it as mini electric shocks to the eyeball. It was painful but not so intense that I swore or wet my knickers, which is good because I really didn’t want to piss the floor (ha ha). I clung onto that little stool as if my life depended on it and hubby was allowed in the room, so he got the VIP observation booth which I’m sure he was delighted with. It’s really hard for me to sit for any length of time on a stool with no back support as I have a back disability from failed spinal surgery. I was a brave soldier to the point that hubby rewarded me with a huge bag of therapy marshmallows (ha ha). The doctor didn’t gift me any marshmallows but he gave me a follow up appointment for 30/11/22 and hopefully gifted me with the luxury of my sight.
I have to mention the timeframe because I am in awe of this hospital and the professional staff including the amazing doctors and nurses who showed me so much compassion and kindness. We left the building at 22:30 so a total of 90 minutes! Wow, is all I can say, what an absolutely tremendous, first class experience. It was such a contrast from my NHS experiences in the U.K. I remember one occasion I visited the A & E at Frenchay Hospital and I waited 6 hours to be seen! Then I was given a bed and had blood tests. I had to wait 2-3 hours for the blood test results and several hours later it transpired that my bloods were still sitting at reception in a basket and had not even been sent to the lab! Needless to say I ripped out my morphine drip whilst swearing profusely and discharged myself. The only ever time I got seen quickly by the NHS A & E was when I had a suspected ectopic pregnancy and my life was at risk.
The Psychedelic Journey Home
The journey home was crazy as I thought I was virtually blind on the short walk to the Coimbra A & E but it was nothing compared to the walk from the hospital to the car park. After the laser surgery and several eye drops my pupils were so dilated and sticky that all I could see was a misty blur. Hubby linked arms and I somehow managed to make it back to the car park. He nearly gave me a piggyback at one point (ha ha). The drive home was one of the weirdest and most bizarre journeys of my life. Every streetlight morphed into a huge circle and Catherine wheel of light, all different colours, bronze, silver, gold and green. All the square road signs looked like sparkly gates, I thought I was dead and meeting St Peter at the pearly gates of heaven. It was disturbing but equally beautiful and I felt like I had consumed a starter of magic mushrooms, a main course of acid and a gigantic spliff for dessert (ha ha). It was certainly the most euphoric ride of my life! I was concerned about being pulled over by the police as my pupils were so dilated, they would have carried out a drug search on our car for sure (ha ha). I kept asking hubby if he could see the wonderful lights but he said no. I then wanted my phone to try and take a photo to show him later but he explained that it was eyes and that it would not work, I think by this point I had officially lost the plot.
Medical Eye History & The Brain Tumor Scare
I thought it important to mention my medical eye history as I have very poor vision. When I was a child (about 7 years old) I had eye surgery as another child at school poked me in the eye and it made my vision go cross eyed. I know what a little bastard, right! I got my own back by rolling his marbles down a hole in the classroom floorboards and melting his crayons on the radiator pipe. I had surgery at a hospital in Bristol to repair the muscle of the eye and that’s all I know really. I have worn glasses ever since this time. About 5 years ago I had my regular check-up at Specsavers in Clifton, Bristol and the lady Optician scared the living daylights out of me. I am tested annually not bi-annually and this is because my mum had diabetes, a stroke and glaucoma (this can be hereditary). I was examined and then sent to perform the test where you have to stare at a central dot, hold a little hand controller and press a button every time you see a flashing light appear on the screen. I don’t know the name of this game but I think it’s called a Kinetic perimetry field test and I don’t like it because I’m crap at it and it gives me a headache. It’s used to find vision problems located in the central nervous system. This includes visual changes caused by a stroke. Anyway, I failed this test with poor results, 3 separate times to the point where the lady optician sent me directly to A & E as she told me I could have a brain tumor! This was a couple of days before Christmas, so delightful news.
I spent over 5 hours in the BRI A & E and it was chaotic as I was the only patient who appeared to be sober. Firstly a man was sitting right next to me with blood pouring from his ear from a fight. Another man crawled into A & E on his hands and knees and would not or could not get up from the floor. No one seemed to care or assist. I eventually got a bed and was examined but there was a young lady experiencing a mental health episode in the room adjacent and she was mad to the point where she kept screaming “I’m fucking raging” in a Cockney London accent, over and over again. She wanted the nurse to stay in the room with her but the nurse told her she couldn’t as she had a job to do so the girl kept repeatedly shouting “I’m fucking raging, I am” and it went on for over two hours and it got to the point where I too was mildly raging. One surprising thing did happen, hubby got offered a sandwich and a cup of tea. I got nothing! The sandwich was limp with a slice of pink stuff, possibly ham but that’s anyone’s guess, hubby said it was edible. The tea on the offer hand was the worst tea I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t know how or why but it was frothy. Hubby renamed it a “Cappu(tea)no” because it resembled dishwater that looked like a Cappuccino (ha ha). It turned out that I didn’t have a brain tumor but luckily for me, I did have a brain, so everything was fine. They still sent me for a follow up appointment at Bristol BRI Stroke Clinic and another appointment to the Bristol Eye Hospital to have an ultrasound on my eyeball (which was as disgusting as it sounds) and more field tests, yeah, my favourite test! Everything turned out normal so maybe I’m just shit at field tests. Thanks a lot for scaring the shit out of me Mrs Specsavers Optician! Lastly I was diagnosed a few years ago with a condition where I have pressure squeezing on my optic nerves which can cause loss of peripheral vision and blind spots. This pressure makes the optic nerves narrower than normal. It could increase and get worse over time but it could stay the same forever. If the pressure gets worse it could result in partial or full blindness but there is nothing I can do about it and I wasn’t offered any medical procedures to rectify the condition. When my vision vanished I just assumed it was connected to the pressure on my optic nerves but my doctor explained that the two are very different and not connected.
Floaters & Thoughts
Ever since my surgery I have suffered from severe floaters (not the poo in the toilet variety). Luckily, I still have my sense of humour (ha ha). I had my follow up appointment and the doctor explained that I might experience floaters forever due to the severity of my case or they might get better in time, it’s a waiting game. Currently, I still can’t see much from my right eye even with my contact lenses which is alarming. I can see shapes but everything has a white and grey fog/shadow and the floaters appear like tiny spiders and cobwebs which is horrible and causes me a headache from hell. Every day-to-day task is affected and my already compromised balance is now appalling. I’m getting super frustrated at myself because I’m such a fiercely independent strong lady and hate to rely on others. I am panicking that I am morphing into my mum, God rest her soul. Mum’s health deteriorated over the years and my dad became her full time carer. I don’t want to become a burden at the age of nearly 49 as hubby works so hard to put food on the table for us and keep a roof over our heads. I want us to grow old together and enjoy the rollercoaster of the ride and I need both of my eyes for this.
We really do take our eyes for granted. I can only hope my situation improves over time as I don’t want to be semi blind with a permanent visual impairment and not have the pleasure of viewing this wonderful country or watching my children walk down the aisle on their wedding days. It can take up to 6 months to recover fully so I just need to be patient. If the worst happens and my sight does not return, I will deal with it and get a guide dog to lead me astray (ha ha). I have had some time to reflect on life and the challenges of 2022 and I just realised that I haven’t actually cried about my sight loss, I’ve not shed a single tear. I think it all happened so quickly and was a dramatic evening so I didn’t really have time to wallow in self pity. Then I didn’t want to cry at the hospital and look like an idiot. During the journey home, my eyes were so blurry that I didn’t want to risk crying and making my vision worse. It’s been a few days and I’m still in shock about the whole situation. I expect at some point I will ball my eyes out (no pun intended), but for now I’m being brave and staying strong. Never take the miracle of sight for granted. Vision is a priceless gift from God – a blessing that allows us to appreciate the world’s beauty. The eyes are the most delicate organ in the human body and they are often called the windows to the soul.
It’s one thing having significantly reduced vision but the constant floaters and flashes of light are really annoying and frustrating to endure. I have discovered a couple of tools to help me recover. Firstly I have my trusty sunglasses which make all the bright lights and flashes fade to darkness so it’s less traumatic and reduces my headaches. Do I look like a nob head wearing sunglasses in December? Probably, but I always wear sunglasses in wintertime on my hikes and when out and about because the Portuguese sunshine is often very strong and bright even in the later months of the year. If I were in the U.K I would probably look like a right idiot wearing shades when it’s nearly Christmas but here I think I can pull it off with a slither of dignity. Secondly, I have an eye patch, don’t laugh! It feels so nice to just close my right eye and that only really happens if I’m asleep. I can’t sleep my life away so I asked hubby to buy me an eye patch at the pharmacy. I am experiencing severe blurred vision in my right eye, with or without my contact lense so my dilemma is: Do I want to wear both contact lenses and experience reduced, blurry vision with floaters or do I want to wear just my left contact lens and an eye patch over my right eye so I have no distortion, blurred vision or floaters but I have just a reduced clear vision as only using one eye. At the moment I’m trying a combination of both tools. I have a third option which is Military Vodka but I don’t think it will assist in my fight against the blurriness! Vision loss is devastating but I’m trying my best to rock the “Princess Pirate” look. I think Johnny Depp did a better job than me in Pirates of the Caribbean. Maybe I can film another sequel, “Pirates of Portugal”; it might become a hit at the box office and a blockbuster movie (ha ha). At the very worst at least I now have my sexy pirate fancy dress party costume sorted for the foreseeable future (ha ha). Did you know you can buy a variety of eye patches online in different colours and designs? How bloody wonderful. Do you know what isn’t wonderful? Hubby has a new nickname for me: “Patch” which sounds like a dog’s name but at least he isn’t calling me “Popeye” or “Leela” from Futurama.
Post Op Appointment
My Post Op appointment was not a good experience, in fact it was pretty hellish. Firstly, it was pissing it down with rain and all the car parks were full, so we had to park far away from the hospital. We eventually found the right entrance after trying 3 separate doors. There was a huge queue to enter as a member of staff was checking everyone’s paperwork, dispensing hand sanitizer and making sure everyone wore a Covid face mask. The single line/queue for the lift had over 100 elderly people waiting so with only 5 minutes to spare before my appointment time we had to walk up to level 8 and we started on -1. Not an easy task when you can’t see shit! I got seen by a nurse fairly quickly who administered 3 different sets of eye drops from an alarming height (not sure why) but they saturated my face and mask. I then waited for close to 2 hours in the waiting room to see the doctor. It was so hot I nearly fainted and when hubby went to find me water, he was told to ask the nurse for a cup and fill it up from the sink in the toilets! No water fountain or vending machine was available and hubby couldn’t leave me to go to the cafeteria because he is my eyes and I need to cling on to him. When I eventually saw the doctor, he had to administer more eye drops due to the time lapse. The news is not great, it is highly likely that my vision may not be fully restored in my right eye and no higher strength glasses or contact lenses will improve the situation.
Just the Ticket!
I waddled back to the car which took a scary blurry 20 minutes with hubby trying his best to guide me around puddles in the pissing down rain. I used the portaloo en route which was leaking through the roof in both cubicles due to the heavy rainfall so I got soaked through, I may as well have just pissed my pants (ha ha). The icing on the cake: We returned to find a parking violation ticket on our car, WTF! Hubby didn’t see any signs saying we couldn’t park in this street. The ticket was a tiny scrap of paper with handwritten scribble from Coimbra Police and was soaking wet. A few more minutes and I think it would have disintegrated or blown away. I managed to dry it out on the dashboard fan heater. What annoyed me the most is there were several cars parked illegally and really dangerously on roundabouts and blocking ambulance access but they didn’t have any parking fines attached to their windscreens. We were on a side street far away from the hospital, I only hope the fine is minimal because I already feel bad dragging hubby off work. With a headache from hell, we then got stuck behind one of those huge wind turbine lorries and were stationary for ages just a few hundred metres from home. I could not let my head touch the car headrest because it was so tender and agony like someone was slowly crushing my skull in a vice. Then hubby left the car lights on, thank God for kind neighbours who warned us. It was definitely a therapy marshmallow and coffee in bed kind of afternoon. My daughter Teanna phoned me to cheer me up which was kind, if only I could hug her via the telephone. What a shit show of a day and I have to return to hospital in 3 weeks’ time just before Christmas for another check-up which will probably bring more doom and gloom.
Feelings, Frustration & Fashion
The prospect of going totally blind is utterly terrifying but do you know what else is scary? Relying on my fashion guru hubby to dress me! If you know my hubby you will know that he gives zero fucks about fashion or clothing. He is a jeans and T.Shirt guy and Mr Casual all the way. Whenever I ask his advice on my attire he is always kind and usually responds with a vague answer. If I have to rely on him to choose styles or colour I will end up looking like a drag queen (and not a good one). He will dress me in lime green and neon pink, it will be a fusion of clashing colours to give Joseph and his amazing technicolour dreamcoat a run for his money (ha ha). I can’t do yellow or green unless it’s khaki and I definitely can’t do bright red unless I want to look like a cheap hooker. If the worst happens and hubby has to be my Gok Wan fashion stylist, please inform me if he dresses me in any of these colours. I’m relying on you guys, don’t let me down.
Mental Health, Staying Fit & Healthy
I’m gutted that I can’t continue with my current exercise and jogging routine due to the risk of retinal detachment. Some physical activities like lifting heavy weights and running can produce jarring, possibly causing the delicate retinal blood vessels to leak blood or fluid. I won’t be defeated so I have adapted my exercise regime and instead of jogging I am just power walking/fast brisk walking. Exercising outdoors in the fresh air has always been my “Me time” and to benefit my mental health (sanity) and not connected with weight loss. I listen to some pumping 80’s music and off I go. It’s really hard to just walk down the hills as I love nothing more than to hurtle down them at lightning speed. It’s scary walking by myself but I don’t want to become a hermit and I always take my phone with me just in case I need to call for assistance. What I have learnt is that dogs like to chase me whether I’m jogging or walking and I don’t see them coming anymore, I just hear them, so I always carry pocket sausages (ha ha). I always follow my doctor’s instructions on what to do and what not to do as I am focusing on a speedy recovery so don’t want any setbacks. I don’t think it’s safe to run up and down mountains anyway as it’s pretty dangerous with restricted vision. I tripped and experienced a nasty running accident exactly a year ago when I was fit and healthy and I’m clumsy as hell, so I need to listen to my body and rest when needed. I have definitely reduced my exercise because I know I need time to heal. I also have been hit with severe IBS attacks and the chronic shits, I think it’s stress related. I’m concerned that I might not be able to paddle board next year and I really wanted to go skiing at Christmas time up the Serra da Estrela but health comes first and is my sole priority for the immediate future and heading into 2023. The mountains will not move but I can move mountains so to speak, I’m determined to heal and restore my sight.
I’m not going to win any speed records with my power walking but at least I’m getting in my steps.
Princess of Positivity
The power of sight is priceless and literally, in the blink of an eye everything can change! I am now entering the waiting game. I don’t like it, it’s no fun and I don’t recommend it. The likeness of another tear occurring once you have suffered one is over 20% so not great news and a constant worry. Not knowing if my sight will improve in time, the liklihood that it won’t and not being able to control this is very emotional. It’s a frightening time and I can’t help but think “Why me?” I’ve already been through so much recently with regards to my health and this year has not been kind to me. I live every day in chronic pain from failed spinal surgery and I have endured a foot injury this year, the joy of the menopause and an impacted wisdom tooth extraction which was 10 pure weeks of hell. I also live with IBS, an under active thyroid and arthritis in my hands. You think someone up there would give me a break (just not my leg please)! Also, why my bloody right eye which is my good eye! Why not my crappy left eye? Afterall it was a 50/50 chance, maybe I’m cursed. I’m not sure I believe in luck; I feel people make their own good fortune and you get out of life what you put into it. Helplessness is definitely a mindset and at the end of the day we are all leaves at the mercy of the wind. I’m a good person and always try to be kind and give everything I do 100% effort in life so I’m hoping that some good karma is coming my way in 2023. Then I flip the situation and think to myself “Girl, you dodged a bullet” 24 hours more and I could be permanently blind in one eye. I may not have much vision in my right eye but at least I have a small amount. Somehow, I need to find a way to accept it and know that I’m not fighting this solo and there are many others in the world that are experiencing the same issue as me which is comforting knowing I’m not alone. I have had friends message me to let me know that their close relative has lived a long happy life with just the vision of one eye and in the U.K you can apparently still drive a car, you just need to inform the DVLA. These snippets of success stories bring me hope. Don’t ever assume that everyone else is living a rosy life around you when you are in hell. Many folk are struggling with their own trauma and fighting a different kind of battle and we are all working out our own shit and managing the best way we can. Not many people glide their way through a perfect peachy life.
There are many technology tools available on the market now such as screen reading software, voice text and enlarged fonts and apps to assist with vision loss so I’m lucky in that respect. I am not very good at using voice text on my phone as somehow it can’t grasp my Bristolian accent (ha ha). I’m not great with assisted technology, I used to have enough difficulty when using auto correct with 2 good working eyes. I once was having a text message conversation with a family member and they asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I said “A black Mascara” but autocorrect changed it to “A black Barbara” so now that family member thinks I’m a lesbian and selective in my preference of ethnicity/race. I’d rather have “A black Leeroy” (ha ha). Taking everything into consideration, I sincerely apologise in advance for any grammar, spelling or other errors in all my foreseeable future blog posts. Bear with me because I can’t see much and I’m trying my darn best.
Hope & Faith
I have officially decided that I can’t live my life in constant fear of something shit happening. I will not sit at home in bed feeling vulnerable and sorry for myself as wallowing in self-pity is not good for anyone. I will not fester unwashed and stew in frustration and anger. I cannot let my vision impairment define me, who I am and how I live my life. I am strong, resilient and I have courage. This is why I am determined to live a full, happy life here and now and always try my best to maintain a positive outlook on life but also adopt a realistic approach. I know my emotions will take over at some point. I can’t be shooting out sparkly rainbows from my butt on a daily basis and be the “Princess of Positivity” 24/7.
As soon as my headaches reduce, I’m heading out for some much-deserved FUN. I might not be able to see much but I still have some level of sight, so I need to grasp every opportunity and adventure. One positive is that apart from the headaches I’m not in any pain at all. You never know when your life is going to be snatched away from you so live for today is my new motto. I also feel that believing in a higher spirit will help me in my recovery journey. Whether it is religion or something else, having hope and faith and finding comfort to help me cope with this dramatic life changing event can help bring a sense of calm to the craziness. It’s never too late to hope. Fear never builds the future, but hope does.
Shady Lady – Glitter & Vodka
Here I am giving my best Stevie Wonder impression, wearing my shades in December. To be honest, it’s a better look than my “Princess Pirate” (ha ha). Today, I am feeling a little sorry for myself as it’s a glorious sunny day but I can’t go out for my walk because IBS attack (severe shits) so need to be close to my toilet. I think it’s all the stress of my eye drama or hubby might be slowly poisoning me because he is the chef of our house and he’s had enough of me (ha ha). I asked hubby to dig out the Christmas box of decorations and had a little fun fashion shoot in my garden to lift my mood and bring a little sparkle to my day. The bloke in the next field thinks I’m crazy. Hubby recently bought me a reindeer headband then I realised that I already have one from last year so now I have 2. I only have one head and hubby won’t wear one, I don’t know why (ha ha). I’m trying my best to shimmer my way through this shit show. I’m bare faced and make-up free because I just can’t be bothered to apply the war paint and I can’t see so I would only end up looking like an Oompa-Loompa if I tried to apply foundation so a hint of tinted lip gloss and natural wrinkles will have to suffice.
As I previously mentioned, I’ve found a trio of tools to help me with my vision loss and blurry sight. Sunglasses, eye patch and military vodka. Shades in December make me look like a Wally but the patch makes me look like a pirate, so I think my best bet is to stay in my cosy gigantic Oodie and drink the vodka because if I consume enough the whole world becomes one big blur. I was hoping the military vodka would come with a military man in uniform because I could easily fit half a dozen firemen under my Oodie (ha ha). It doesn’t so I have to keep the man I got for now. I don’t mind because I love him, he’s a keeper.
I’m back in bed with a coffee and chocolate but I’ve just dropped a bit of chocolate and I can’t see to find where it’s hiding. By the time it’s located by hubby after work it’s going to just look like I’ve shit the bed (ha ha). On a positive note, I just found the rogue marshmallow I dropped last night, it’s covered in fluff and way past the 5 second rule but I’m so tempted! Happy Friday, Keep smiling and never underestimated the power of glitter and vodka.