As you all know, many of us take so much for granted each and every day. I know its never intentional, and those who are in the medical field probably go home thankful for their health and loved ones much more than most people do.
I never thought I would be one of those people who would get a huge scare and wake up call.
In August of 2017, after some huge life changes and events going on in my personal life.. I woke up with something called “eye floaters”. I had never had them in my life, and they were very onset. I am talking at least 10 dots just floating in my vision. At the time I was super scared. So I immediately booked an appointment with an Ophthalmologist in Rochester, NY. (Where I was living at the time.) He told me I had something called lattice degeneration, and that I had fluid seeping underneath my retina (vitreous that was pooling at the bottom of my retina.) What becomes strange about this is he didn’t recommend me to get surgery, or to a retina specialist. He actually told me not to lose sleep over it. He said gravity was on my side and that the likelihood of a detachment was slim.
I went about my day and tried to get used to what I was seeing. I even went on vacation with my family, and had a great time.
Eventually I had a gut feeling something wasn’t right. So I made an appointment with a retina specialist. I saw an ophthalmologist in the office, and he told me I was to be referred to a retina specialist because my retina was going to detach. So they did laser surgery on my left eye. (By laser surgery I do not mean LASIK, I mean a beam of hot light welding spots to my retina to keep it from detaching.)
Unfortunately this was just the beginning of this journey. I had even more floaters and started getting a constant shimmering/flashing light in my upper peripheral vision. I went to emergency appointment after emergency appointment, and I was told these symptoms could possibly subside but could also be permanent. I was told I was going to have to live with them. (I do not want to bad mouth any doctors, but the lack of information that was given to me about these procedures was awful. I was so upset at the doctors, papers were being handed to me and I had no idea what any of it meant at the time. I felt so alone and scared to be quite honest.)
Trying to navigate my “new” vision sent me into a huge depression and spiral. I couldn’t even bring myself to be passionate about photography. I couldn’t be in a white room without my brain going crazy, or looking at a sunset and feel at peace. I became suicidal. I would call my mom and I tell her I wanted to die. To go from clear vision to all of this within a month had me become very sick. My family actually encouraged me to get on anti-depressants because I was so upset every day with the thought of having to come to terms to live with my symptoms. Once I got on the medication (a very low dose) I was actually starting to smile again and felt like I was getting used to things. (Until my right eye started to detach 6 months later, but I will get into that later on.)
This is when fait kicks in. Amanda (My best friend/roommate) offered me to come live with her in Seattle. Once I shot my last wedding in NY in 2017, I got in the car and went.
I knew I needed a fresh start. I knew I wasn’t happy in NY. I knew I wanted to end up on the west coast.
I got a job out here and made amazing friends, but little did I know Seattle was going to save my life. I found the most compassionate doctor who wanted to help me.
The doctors in NY referred me to a specialist in Seattle to go to my follow up appointments, but I decided to seek out new and compassionate doctors on my own. I basically wanted no affiliation with anything this institute had to tell me. Now.. keep in mind, I am grateful my vision was saved in Rochester, but I am actually disgusted with how things were handled. I was truly traumatized. Seeing how easy my procedures went in Seattle, I felt I was given half ass care in NY. And to be honest.. my left eye was (excuse my language) fucked up after the laser I had in Rochester.
My pupil would get bigger and smaller, my eye was in pain, and the visual symptoms I had were bizarre. I was basically dismissed at every appointment when I would tell them about my symptoms. There was never any explanation for what I was seeing or feeling.
Then I found VRA of Washington in October of 2017. I will not post my doctors name out of respect for him, but he has not only saved my vision.. but my sanity.
I had read online that these doctors are “FOV” friendly. (An FOV is a floater only vitrectomy, an elective procedure patients seek out that not all eye surgeons are willing to perform.) When I called VRA.. I was given a doctor at random, totally not expecting that I would find the doctor for me after getting multiple “second opinions.” At my first appointment I spoke up about how I wanted an FOV (Expecting him to look at me like I was crazy because of my age.) Instead he said, “I will give you an FOV if you want one, but I would like to get to know you more and see how you handle your symptoms over the next 6 months without the surgery.” I left the office in tears. I was finally hopeful if I decided to do the surgery one day, I had someone who would help me. My eyes are even tearing up as I write this.. because I truly believe Seattle happened to me for a reason. I needed this doctor. This specific doctor.
..but we had another problem, in January my right eye began to detach. I went to my doctor with the symptoms of floaters and flashes. We had to do laser again. I was so upset and scared. My first set of laser in NY was so painful. BEYOND painful. And it produced this annoying flashing light in my eye that I saw on and off through out the day.
My doctor actually took precaution and said he would be gentle with my right eye when doing the laser.
The difference between the laser surgeries (left eye from right eye) was a complete 180. It was the same machine, but a totally different experience. I remember walking into the laser room, and I started panicking. Amanda was with me and she was trying to cheer me up and make me laugh, but all I could think about was how horrible my experience was in NY, and if I was going to go through that again.
After my right eye was done, Amanda drove me to get some Mexican food and I rested at home. I did begin to see the dreaded light I was seeing in my left eye. But great news! The flashing lights went completely away after a month or two in my right eye. I was certain it would stick around just like my left eye did. But I still have not seen any of it in my right eye until this day.
The combination of having floaters and flashes in both eyes is enough for anyone to seek out getting a vitrectomy. I couldn’t look at the sky without feeling empty. I can’t tell you how many times I thought to myself “I can’t believe I took advantage of opening my eyes every day.” I remember when I first got to Seattle, Amanda took me to the beach and I had just lost it. I couldn’t believe this was my life. I felt like there was absolutely no adjusting to these symptoms.
I finally went to the doctors office and said “I am ready. I know one day I will get a cataract, I know the risks of retina tears, I know the risks of distorted vision, but I trust you. And I want the surgery.” I was SURE of it. I couldn’t live like this. And they scheduled me right away.
I wasn’t that nervous going into surgery, I knew what I was doing. (Also I am on lexapro to get me through this time in my life, and before I was on it my heart rate would be just as high as it would be if you had just ran a marathon. But going into the most invasive surgery I have ever had in my life, I was so calm and at peace. I trusted my doctor. I truly trusted him and still do until this day. I had contemplated it for months and months.
But theres just something about getting wheeled into an OR that puts things into perspective. I wasn’t scared of the surgery itself, but what could have happened after. But before I knew it, it was all over and it was time for me to recover.
I am going to write out step by step what my recovery was like.
Day 1: Surgery. Went home and slept from 11am-9am the next day. Had to be face down. Had a gas bubble inserted.
Day 2: Follow up! My original detachment looked completely FLAT! Eye patch came off, Pressure was 16 (Yay! No Hypotony!) Now laying on my left side 2/3 of the day and 1/3 on my right side.
Days 2-7: Still laying on my side. The gas bubble was starting to go away. TONS of black blood/cells/post op debris. HUNDREDS. (I’m freaking out, but the doctor said 1-3 months it should all dissolve. Takes a lot of patience and trust.)
Day 14: Pressure sky rockets to 29. I’m to be seen back at 1 month post op and to stop steroid drops immediately. (Steroids can cause your eye pressure to go up. A normal range is 12-22)
1 month post op: Almost all the debris is gone! The original flashes in my eye barely come into my vision these days. I still get annoyed by them time to time but its crazy what your brain can adapt to. (Pressure is back to 16!)
2 months post op: Doctor said everything looks great and wants to see me back in 3-4 months! Woohoo!
Do you know how amazing it is to hear that I don’t have to see the doctor for 4 months? Normally that place feels like my second home. Normally I am there every week.
My doctor is willing to do the procedure on my right eye to get me back to that clear vision I desire, but right now I am just enjoying what I have now because it is SO much better. ALSO the chronic pain I had in my left eye after the laser procedure in NY is completely gone. I never feel pressure or pain. And I truly just cannot wrap my head around how my surgery was so painful in Rochester.. how it felt like someone was squeezing my eyeball and I could feel and smell the heat of the laser. The difference in doctors and surgeries is just mind-blowing to me.
If you are reading this because you are contemplating a vitrectomy, just know.. this surgery is not for the faint of heart. I had 3 needles cutting into the center of my eye. But I am so happy I did it and I could say my quality of life is almost back to how I was feeling before all of this happened. When it comes to your health, what I have learned is.. you have to fight for yourself and trust your gut instincts.
My doctor said to me at my last appointment “Are you ready to get your name out there in Seattle and focus on photography again?” And I could genuinely say I was. A fire inside of me was there, but I needed a mental break.
I have to be honest with my clients. I put my business on the back burner for a while to take care of myself, I couldn’t look through my lens without getting upset.. I couldn’t focus. I just couldn’t believe this happened to me and was a part of my life. But I am SO glad it did happen, as crazy as that sounds. I am so much more humble and caring towards others, and I truly live every day like its my last. I encourage you all to do the same.