When I came across this video and story of this blind mountain biker, I almost knew immediately, I had a gut feeling, that he had suffered the same as I. Naturally I had to watch it. Not only for the inspirational value but also because…I simply felt I needed to. If only to know that someone else had gone through what I had.
That video inspired me to write this…
Our mutual condition is called Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy. It is the most advanced of its kind and is normally very agressive. More often than not, those diagnosed with it go permanently blind. As is the case of Bobby.
In my case I was fortunate. Here’s my story…
I work with computers. Naturally I spend plenty of time in front of the computer screen.
In late 1999 I began to experience blurred vision – I assumed it was because I was spending far too much time in front of the computer screen. I was sadly mistaken.
I went to the doctor who referred me to an optometrist. It was there I began to realize something was up. He said this was beyond the scope of his expertise so he sent me to an endocrinologist because he felt it might be related to my diabetes.
When I saw him, it wasn’t long before he said that it was absolutely crucial that I get in to see a ophthalmologist named Dr. Andrew Burnett in Victoria, where I was living at the time.
I began to get a little worried considering he managed to get me in with only 1 week notice.
When I went to see Burnett he examined me and shortly came back with a prognosis that was really rather serious.
What he told me would forever change my life…
Burnett said that I had Advanced Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy and that if he didn’t get me in immediately for surgeries, I stood a very good chance of loosing my vision for good. He then sent me on my way saying he would call with the appointment date.
I freaked! Completely lost it. How would I work? How would I provide (like any good man does)? What would my future be like if I went blind. My life is computers and my ability to earn a living depends solely on my ability to use computers. I panicked.
So much so that I called Dr. Burnett back but his assistant told me he’d left for a week to go to England. I panicked more.
My GP was the best. Dr. Conway took my call in desperation and listened to what I had to say and how concerned I was that I was about to go blind and had to stew about it for a week while my ‘doc’ went on holidays. He understood and said to let him take care of it.
Within a few minutes I got a call – the call was from Dr. Burnett while he hunched behind a plant in Heathrow Airport in London. He gave me all the time I needed to explain to me that he felt he still had enough time and that we caught it early enough to “probably” save most of my vision.
Upon returning I was in for my first operation that week. That’s when the real pain started.
Ever seen the movie Fire in the Sky about UFO abduction? Well if you have you might remember the scene where the aliens injected a needle in to his eye socket while he was awake and watched it coming. Well that’s PRECISELY what they do in this case.
I new I was about to experience pain like never before when they strapped me to the bed with leather belts and gave me a bar to bite on to. Then the needles. One time the doctor gave me 4-5 needles and in the end he had to stop because he said for one, your eye is chalk full of local anesthesia and it wasn’t functioning for me because the adrenaline I was producing was countering the effects of the local.
Let me tell you something alright? There is no where else on the body, other than the brain, with more nerve endings than the back of the eye. So when they shove a needle in your eye socket…chances are good, no matter HOW GOOD the doctor is, they are going to hit one at some point. Well I tell ya…that gives new meaning to pain. I cussed like a pregnant woman giving birth. I wreathed in pain and agony telling him to take the f***ing thing out.
It’s like someone opening a section of your skull and taking a box cutter and poking your brain with it. Bottom line…it f***ing hurts!
The most interesting part of this is when Dr. Burnett told me something not many people realize or would ever know – he said that I needed to know that the eyes are the frontline defense for the brain. When the body suffers severe trauma…the eyes shut off. Seriously. Like a light switch in a white room.
The good news? Well chances are good that unless it’s sudden, when you die you won’t see it.
Even though I thought I was prepared for it, I wasn’t. When he began the procedure the pain was so much and the adrenaline was mainlining through me…sure enough, like he said, the lights went out. And I panicked again.
You have no idea what it’s like to watch your eyes SHUT OFF.
So I had around 2 dozen sessions like this on both eyes.
Throughout this period, Burnett told me that my eyes will hemorrhage. Well they did. Numerous times actually.
This is an extremely difficult time also. It is here that you are mentally tested to the max. So are the people who are suppose to be supporting you through this difficult time.
The agony is so personal it’s difficult to even talk about again – that’s because it’s your own personal nightmare.
When your eye hemorrhages and as you…and only you…watch the eye fill up with blood and rob you of your vision, you are afraid. So very very afraid. People constantly tell you that you look normal – while you constantly question if they doubt your story because you look normal on the outside. Well what exactly does a blind person look like?
It’s shear hell. You are forever on the defensive thinking that NO ONE UNDERSTANDS the nightmare you are living inside. No one sees what you see.
Once the eyes are full of blood and my vision is at 0%, the doctor can’t see through it all to continue the laser procedure to cauterize the ruptured blood vessels at the back of the eye. So I’d like to now introduce you to the vitrectomy surgery.
This operation is no walk in the park I tell ya. For this one, it does require an overnight stay in the hospital and you are most certainly knocked out for the procedure. Why? Well for starters…they take your eyeball out of your head, cut it open it, deflate it like a beach ball, shove a device inside it like a mini Pacman to cut the scar tissue and a vacuum to suck the shrapnel and blood out. Then they fill it with saline solution and pop it back in again.
How’s that for a visual?
These days I have 20/20 in one eye (the fake one) and slightly less on my natural left eye. The left one still causes me problems and I worry on a daily basis about whether or not the stress in my life will cause me to go through it all again.
I currently am Type I insulin dependent diabetic with kidney disease, heart disease and asthma. The doctor once said I’m a 30 year (hey it was awhile ago) outside but I have the insides of an 80 year old man.
I live with this on my mind 24/7 and having an ex-wife hell bent on it reoccurring…doesn’t help.
You see no one knows your weaknesses more than your wife and this is precisely what her goal has been for the past 5 years. What she didn’t anticipate is my durability to withstand her efforts. I mean that nastiness that is her, even had my medical canceled on one occasion and tried again on a second attempt. Proving once and for all that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” (simply reverse everything she says in order to decipher the real truth behind this garbage)
With any luck, by Xmas 2011, she will be precisely where she belongs as the piper comes knocking for his payment.
These days I look to my son to lift my spirits and every time I look in to his big round eyes, I know why I must fight this. Whatever and whoever “this is”, I must beat it so that I can watch my son grow, live my life to the fullest and provide for my family like any man would do in my shoes.
I will prevail.