I’ve been all over the place with my posting schedule. My goal is to post Tuesday through Friday, with alternating Mondays and Saturdays and for each day to represent a certain category of topics. That’s 5 days a week. So far, I’m doing well if I post twice. There’s a reason for that, though. I’ve had some medical issues that I want to share because 1.) It was a unique experience and 2.) I learned something very valuable from it that I don’t want you to have to have a medical scare to learn.
A couple of weeks after I graduated college in May, I sat down on my couch to watch Netflix with my boyfriend Ethan while eating lunch. Normal activity on a normal day. We weren’t 5 minutes into an episode of Supernatural (Supernatural fam, woop woop!) when suddenly, I couldn’t see out of my left eye. It looked just like when you stare at the sun and then look away – it was just a bright white. This was clearly the work of a demon, an angry spirit, or perhaps a witch’s sneakily placed hex bag. But no, if I were in Supernatural, I wouldn’t be the one who dies in the beginning, I’d be the one they save at the end… so it can’t be that. Maybe it was my contact. I blinked a few times, but it didn’t go away. I told Ethan,”I can’t see!” I took out my contact and he looked at my eye, but it looked perfectly normal. As he was doing this I was looking at his face and I realized that when I closed my right eye, a now light grey-colored blind spot prevented me from seeing it. I was officially terrified.
It didn’t hurt at all. Being a psychology major, I had learned a lot about the brain and how things can just suddenly stop working, so naturally, I thought I had a brain tumor and was going to die. I started crying so hard I could harldy speak so Ethan drove a blubbering, half-blind, shaking Olivia to the doctor.
We drove to the urgent care where, still crying, I told them my symptom. By the time I was taken back to the exam room, though, I was calm. I stared straight ahead at the small television in the room and could only half see the Property Brothers’ finished renovation on the screen (the half I could see was beautiful, of course, good job guys). There were a million things running through my head but they all kind of drowned each other out, like the sound of an audience talking before a show starts; no voice raised above the rest. I knew something had to be very wrong – this kind of thing doesn’t just happen – but somehow I was able to accept that. It’s amazing how quickly the brain adjusts to things that could potentially be life changing.
At the urgent care, they gave me a vision test. You know, where you have to look at the chart with all of the little letters on it. I aced it with my right eye, which was still working perfectly and had a contact in it. When we moved to the left eye and the nurse asked what the smallest line of letters I could read was, I just shook my head. “None,” I said, “I can’t see the chart.” It was true: I could see the area around the chart (peripheral vision) perfectly clear but where the chart should be, where I knew it was, there was nothing but an empty grey space.
The urgent care could do nothing more for me because they had no eye doctor, so they sent me to the ER. By this time, I was doing better emotionally ad was back to cracking jokes. At the urgent care, they had asked if I had any headaches or cogitive functioning issues and I realized, no, I hadn’t. It probably wasn’t my brain. I was still obviously concerned but eliminating that option helped me cope.
At the ER, they were surprisingly fast. I had to tell my story 20 times to 20 different people (why don’t they ever just ask each other??) but otherwise, the experience was not bad. They took my eye pressure by numbing my eyeballs and tapping them 10 times with a blunt plastic instrument. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds, but then again, I wear contacts so I touch my eyes every day. The normal pressure in eyes is 22 or lower. Mine were 23 and 25. They also did an ultrasound on just my left eye (which was more uncomfortable than the tapping thing) and saw some clouding. The doctor said she thought it was a hemorrhage but that she wanted me to see the opthamologist they had been consulting with over the phone to be sure. The next day was Monday but it was a holiday. He agreed to see me anyway which worked out well because I was supposed going to California on Wednesday.
The next day, the opthamologist dialated my eyes and took a look with the brightest light in the universe. He didn’t give me a whole lot of information, but he did say it looked like a retinal vein occlusion, or eye stroke. Finally, some answers! He told me that it was very unusual for someone my age and that he would refer me to yet another doctor, a retina specialist for the following day.
I am the kind of person who is comforted by facts, no matter how bad those facts may be, so I spent the whole rest of the day reading online about retinal vein occlusions. It turns out they are most common in men over 60. I had to laugh at that because this is not the first time my body has gone all old man on me – when I was 16 I woke up in the middle of the night to the excruciating pain of a kidney stone. The unfortunate fact though, was that treating this would require eye injections. I hate needles. Cue freaking out again.
When I went to the opthamologist, I was kind of a little bit totally terrified that he was going to stick a needle in my eye. Because of that fear though, everything else they did was like a damn party. They numbed and tapped my eyes again which I was totally used to by then (and my pressures were 16 and 17 now!), they dialated my eyes and shone the light of a thousand suns in them to take a look (also worse than the eye tapping), and they injected dye into my arm to see the blood flow, which, upon hitting my stomach, almost made me hurl. Seriously, it was so sudden and I heaved like 3 times into a bag, before it subsided just as quickly as it had come on. Weirdest feeling ever.
After all of that, the doctor reviewed everything and officially diagnosed me with a central retinal vein occlusion or CRVO. “Oh shit,” I thought, “this is the part where he’s going to tell me I have to get a needle in my eye.” But then he said the greatest news I had ever heard. He told me that since the blind spot had already shrunk (it was only about half the size it was when it first happened two days previous) and it seemed very mild, he thought that it would go away on it’s own. HALLELUJAH! I could have hugged him. However, I wasn’t completely out of the woods yet. He was very concerned about why this happened to an otherwise healthy 23 year old woman, so he told me to got to YET ANOTHER DOCTOR to get blood work done. There are only 5 causes of CRVO, two of which can only happen to the elderly by definition. So I was left with 3 possible causes: diabetes, high blood pressure, or blood disorder. My bet was on high blood pressure because I have a family history of it and I also have general anxiety.
Last week I went and got 15 FREAKING VIALS of blood taken for all these tests. Yesterday, I got the results. It turns out that there is a sixth cause for CRVO and its “idk” *shoulder shrug*. Everything came back normal. I mean, that’s good because it means it’s not something serious or life changing but also… not knowing is tough. For one, as I said before, I’m comforted by facts and this is just a mystery. For two, how can I prevent it from happening again, maybe even worse, if I don’t know what caused it?
I have a lot of mixed feelings about all of this. I’m happy that it’s not something that will permanently impact my life. The blind spot is pretty small now too! But I’m bummed I don’t have answers. I’m scared it could happen again. I’m worried that the spot will never go away completely.
Mostly though, I’m grateful. For about a day there, I thought I could die, or was going to eventually lose all my sight. I really thought I might never see the vibrant green of the trees again, or the beautiful mountains in the distance. I thought I might never in my life get to see the historical architecture in Europe, or a beach with white sands and blue waters. I thought there would be a point where I might never see Ethan’s or my adorable dog Howie’s faces again or read a book or appreciate a beautifully designed room or see the sunset or even drive myself around. There are so many things that many of us take for granted and eyesight is one that I never considered. After this whole experience though, I learned something profound that a lot of people just brush off. I learned to appreciate everything, even simply the time we have on this Earth. Ever since the day I had that eye stroke, I’m grateful every single day that I can wake up, open my eyes, and see the world around me. It is beautiful and wonderful.
That’s only part one of what I learned though. The other part is this: tomorrow is not guaranteed. Not even the next minute is guaranteed. You could be struck dead at any moment, so for the love of God, stop putting things off. I know, I know, it’s a cliché that we hear all the time, “Live life to the fullest! Yadda yadda yadda.” But for a lot of people like me, it takes a big scare like this for those words to sink in and to realize that we have no control. Bad things can happen to the best or kindest or healthiest people in the world for no reason at all. So get on it while you still can! It’s urgent! I can tell you from experience that the worst thing in the world is facing something you don’t know if you’ll come back from and thinking, “I haven’t done anything I wanted to do.”