Sometimes a lost sight is the reason you see better
I looked up from my laptop screen at the blue wall right in front of me, hardly a foot away. My table was pushed against the wall in a little room at my parents’ place. The meeting was going longer than I anticipated and to make things worse, it was going nowhere. Urgh, why can’t we just stop this? I thought, hoping someone would call it a day and we can wrap it up. I wasn’t going to be the person. I didn’t want to be the out-of-place one. Resigning the fact that had become the norm off-late, I went back into looking at the screen that I had been staring at for the last 10 hours.
My eyes were burning but I loved my job. I loved that I got to take decisions, plan strategies, run them, and of course, pull up the risk sheet. It was all taken care of, well planned, and brilliantly executed. The long hours without breaks, I was silently thankful to my body that I was able to pull it all through. What would I have done without the silent non-complaining body? I realised this, subconsciously thanked and I continued to push it day after day. Today had already been a day after 3 weeks of no breaks and long hours. I pulled through all that, but this call was getting unbearable.
Bored, I looked up at the wall again. This time, I noticed something different. I saw a floater in my eye. A dark spot in my right eye, shaped like a small worm. It was not in my line of sight, but it was moving every time my focus moved. A floater they called it. But it was strange. I had had these before, but they often went away with time and some blinks. This one did not. Maybe it was my body giving me a sign. I thought maybe I should take a quick rest.
I shut down for the day. I put on some eye drops before I went to bed, something I had never done before. Maybe my eyes were sore and tired too. I put some cold water compress over it and just like that, I fell asleep.
When I woke the next day I had no recollection of my new floater. My eyes were still closed but my mind was already racing to what should my response be to the calls about the proposal, what emails must I tackle that day, how should everything be done and what would the pressing matter for the day be. I also remembered that my partner had asked if we could meet for dinner that night. But I had a release coming up, I told him. Just like the dozens of releases before that. It is not that I did not want to spend time with him but work needed me. I had to finish that right here right now. Everything else can wait.
Right when I had slept till the last possible moment, I woke up and groggily walked to the washroom. And in auto mode, brushed my teeth. As I stepped out onto the balcony, I noticed something amiss. My floater was no longer a floater. It had become larger like an isosceles triangle. There was a patch in the shape of a triangle in my eyesight where I moved my focus. It was like a black-painted spot. My canvas and vision were not clear all through, it was like someone missed to paint a spot there and it was left black. It was like the screen in the theatre had torn there. This.was.not.ok
Worried about the unexplainable thing, I made up a story of going to the office and headed out to the eye specialist. By myself. I couldn’t bother being a burden in others’ lives. Besides, I did not want to concern my parents. This probably is nothing. I did not tell my partner either. I couldn’t meet him for dinner, it is unfair that I ask him to come by to be with me now. I think the real reason was that it was a point of weakness and I did not want anyone to see me that way.
I reached the hospital a lot more anxious now. It seemed like the triangle spot had become bigger. It was now a rhombus. Am I imagining something? Is this for real? Have I damaged it irrevocably? I tried to keep the right eye closed. I had to save what was left.
After a 3 hour wait, the doctor finally saw me. And when I told him what had happened in the last 12 hours, he looked like he knew what I was talking about. So that is good right? We have a fix. He asked me to lay down and put a strong light over my face. He said this was going to burn a little but bear with it. Just follow my finger he said. That wasn’t tough, the light was alright and that is when he pulled my eyelid far up and his finger was lower making my eyeball move down. He did the same in all the four other directions and did the same check in my left eye also. He made a sound, the kinds you make when you are observing something and have a theory. He slid back in his wheeling chair to his table, he picked his phone and asked for Dr.Syam to join him. Another doctor, what is it? Is there a long worm in my eye? Is that what it is. Is that why he is asking for the other doctor. In less than 5 min, there was another doctor in the room and one quick discussion with the doctor and he comes in to do the same procedure. But this time only in the right eye and at each point he lingers for a little longer. I can just about make out that he has a perplexed look on his face and he and my current doctor discuss and they seem like they conclude.
My current doctor sits in front of me and pulls the lever to put me into a seating position.
Is everything ok? I ask
There is a problem in your right eye, D. He said. The dark spot that you are seeing in your eye is not a floater but a retina break. Your retina has broken.
He gave me a few seconds to absorb that information. It did not matter, because I did not understand what he was talking about.
He continued, Here let me explain. Your retina is a lens-shaped thing around the eye. What you see is not formed by the pupil but your pupil captures it reverses it and projects it behind your pupil. Which is obstructed by your retina and that forms the image in your head.
This sounded familiar, I had learnt it in school. That is where near-sightedness and far-sightedness came into the picture. So am I losing the power to focus? Is that why I see black rectangles now which were now heading to a weird shape.
He moved to get a big book and opened to a page that had a huge glossy picture of the eye sideways.
Think of the retina as a balloon. It is stretched. What is between your pupil and inside your retina is vitreous liquid. It is like a gel that keeps your eye safe and properly stacked.
I am with you so far, I thought and nodded.
What has happened in your case, is that your retina, over time, unable to bear the stress, has torn. Once torn, your pupil cannot focus on that part of the image and hence you see a black spot. The black spot is not because the image is covered. The black spot is because your brain does not have a signal from the retina to fill that space. So although you have the pupil intact, the next part is torn.
Torn? What do you mean it is torn?
Think of it as a wallpaper. The wallpaper peels off. In your case, the retina is torn. It has come out from the back part of the eyes. Because it is torn, and the vitreous liquid is also leaking out.
Slowly starting to understand what he was telling but unable to accept it, I continued to sit in silence staring at him, as though he was going to say this is all a joke.
This happens to a lot of people. And a lot of times, it is negligent also. A lot of them do not even notice the issue but unfortunately in your case, the tear is at the top of the eyeball. With gravity, the wallpaper will continue to peel off. The tear is getting larger, that is why your black spot has started increasing. He paused.
Well, this makes sense but what are you eventually saying? I asked.
It usually never happens this fast. There is always a longer time, but in very rare cases, it is like one falls and everything else was just waiting for that to happen. And that is what we see in your case.
So there should be some way to fix it right. Like put it back up there. Are there eye exercises? Or anything else? Drops?
I am afraid it has gone beyond that. The vitreous liquid has leaked out even more and with time it will only get bigger. The more it leaks, the more it will push out the retina from behind. There is one way though.
I kept quiet, my question was obvious.
We can intentionally pull out a strip of it and then seal the edges of the rest of it with something called barrage laser. It is like basically ripping that wallpaper off, and then putting extreme heat in spots by the edges of the other sides so that they stick. Barrage laser is about applying a powerful light through your eye to seal what is left. We cannot have random shapes there, it would cause a risk to increasing the power. But there is permanent damage to this. You will always have a black strip in your vision as it would not have a retina there….. Do you have any questions?
— — — —
It had been 2 days since that conversation with the doctor. Losing a part of the eyesight permanently he said. I don’t remember now how I took that news, but I was sure of one thing. I was not going to share it with anyone. I needed a second consult. He told me the same reason and approach. I wasn’t convinced. I had to check it. I waited in the queue for one of the top ophthalmologists in the city, patiently waited until was done with his appointments, and then met him only to hear the same thing that my first doctor had said. And this time with more concern as the black spot was getting larger. He warned me that the bigger it gets, the wider would the spot be when they strip it out. I should get it done soon and perhaps right away.
So there I was, on day 3, admitted for the procedure. It wasn’t that complicated. An attendee was not mandatory, they succumbed. After I insisted that I would not have anyone with me. It did not put me in their good books. Doctors always want someone to accompany them for any surgeries. But I did not want to trouble anyone. I still had one good eye and that should be ok. But the truth was I did not call anyone as I was scared of how this would be. I could not let anyone close by in that state of vulnerability. I could do this. I could do this by myself. I thought.
I was nervous when they asked me to get to the room. I tried my best to read about it but on day 1 I was advised to not strain my eye. Hoping that, somehow 2 days of proper rest would change it all back, I shut down from everything. But I had not gathered enough information about the fix. Hence, I was nervous. I had no idea what was going to happen. And we sat. He asked me to relax when he said he was going to put an anaesthetic. He was going to inject and I would not feel a thing. Imagine seeing a needle come onto you that close that you know it is going to poke you right in the eye. I had to think about something else. This is not going to be like the movie The final destination and I was going to be ok. My eye was rested on the chin rest, and I saw a bright green flash of light, a flinch and I felt nothing after that.
It has been 4 months now. When you see me, you will claim I look the same. Because I do look the same. What however has changed drastically, is how I look at things. Literally and figuratively. The surgery was a success. I had my eyes intact but now my vision had a black patch in it. It is as though the whole waiting in front of me has been framed but not in one large one, but split into two, something like the triptych gallery wall.
Right after the surgery, I did tell my family about it. Of course, there was a whole discussion of how I should have called them but that conversation is for a different day. But let us just say that conversation gave me the chance to iron some things with them. There was a silver lining after all.
In the initial days, I was very frustrated. At anything and everything. It was like something was lodged in my eye and I couldn’t take it out. It wasn’t irate but I was just affected that I couldn’t see entirely. It was so different from what I had experienced and what everyone else was experiencing. I think a large part of me was angry because I was now different. I couldn’t see as others did. My anger lashed out in multiple ways with multiple people. Fear of losing everything had added to it. From fear, it was now moving to reality. But as hard as I was inclined to give in to the fear, I also started noticing things in more detail.
In the entire journey, my partner never changed a bit. I realised that he knew the right things to say that would make me get better. From empathising, to motivating to also asking me to get over it when I was wallowing in self-pity a little too much. And I realised that he had always been this way. It was just me who had been too occupied to have noticed and appreciated it. Post the surgery, when I was drifting away, he held on tight and he held to the ground. He gave me the space to change and adapt to the method that I had taken.
My family was there for me at all hospital visits. I noticed that they were always present for me in their ways, but I kept them away at all times because I did not want to trouble them or be vulnerable in front of them. But I learnt that that is what family is about. One of the most, if not the most, safest places to let go and fall because they would have your back. I had obscured that part in my life entirely before I hit this stage. I knew not all were lucky but I started feeling truly blessed to have that in my life.
And work, the one thing I was so attached to. The one thing that my life was rotating around. Everything in my life was about my work and when this happened, I was petrified that I would lose my capabilities. That I would not be able to do long hours, that I would not be able to see or type probably. When I got back to it, it was tough and frustrating because I could not spend the same time as before. My eyes would strain out. I could not see one part of the monitor. And to top it, I had developed a complex that my colleagues would keep me away. But much to my surprise, I adapted. I couldn’t spend a lot of hours, so I started finding hacks and planning well. This taught me significantly that I didn’t always need to spend extra time to get things done. The inhibitions about my colleagues washed away in a couple of days. In fact, a close frienleague gifted me an eye patch and we dressed as pirates for the office Halloween party.
Things changed. Things will always change. We see that in our life but somehow a lot of us don’t accept it right away. We are adept at evolving. We always have been and I can’t stress enough the saying, that there is a silver lining to every black cloud. A lot of times, we are zipping through the coastline at such speeds that we need a sudden break to make us stop, breathe, recover and enjoy the lovely sunset that is unfolding. The traveler in us has often heard, sometimes you need to be lost to find yourself. Catching the same wave, I realised that ironically it was the blind spot that helped me see better.