It was a long haul over the mountain from Ashland going south to Redding. The doctor had said not to drive over 40 mph, so we found a big rig going slowly up the grade and fell in behind it. That way our little car wouldn’t be such a conspicuous nuisance to other drivers – not to mention being dangerous And just in case, we kept the flashers on the whole time.
The good doctor (Jeffrey Rincoff in Medford) also said to pull over and rest a while if the pressure built up too much.
What’s this all about? – It’s about a “detached retina”. May I explain – just in case it interests you as much as it does me.
A detached retina is when the eye ball separates slightly from its eye socket – most often, but not always -in older people. This disconnect between a visual image and its neural transmission to the brain causes a jet black shade to drop over a significant part of the vision in one eye, resulting in a total loss of vision in that particular area of normal sight. In my case it was like a thick cloud was descending down over one eye. It’s not like a floater in that it doesn’t bounce around. Rather it is a steady blackout right in the area of the separation. Actually, the separation had occurred in the lower part of the eye. But since images are reversed when passing through the eye, the big black spot appeared to be on top.
The first good doctor (Robert Trent at Redding’s Shasta Eye Med. Group) had immediately arranged for me to go up to Dr. Rincoff for an operation. Even a few days delay could lead to total blindness. At Ashland’s Hospital the separation was lasered back in place and the eye’s fluid replaced with a medical gas. Because gas tends to rise, it applies constant gentle pressure on the repaired area so as to hold the repair in place until natural bonding is complete. This required that I lie on my face day and night for up to three weeks. The exceptions were twenty-minute breaks each hour, for eating, etc. So, aside from the monotony, how does one breathe lying face down for three weeks? With a special horseshoe-shaped pillow and an inner determination not to turn around – even when asleep. Lying on one’s back could easily negate everything that had been gained, because the bubble would rise away from the wound.
So far, do you find this interesting? If not, I’ll try more – read on. This is about the effect the change in altitude has on the gas pressure in the eye. Remember Boyle’s law in High School? A change in pressure causes a change in volume at constant temperature. Therefore, in order to travel from Ashland to Redding one has to navigate up a 4000-ft mountain, with the accompanying changes in atmospheric pressure. The gas in the eye definitely tries to expand in the process, but if one travels under 40 mph, the eye has time to adjust without pain and possible rupture. While the norm of 40 mph takes care of most people, it might still be necessary to pull over every few miles, to await the eye’s pressure adjustment.
Anyhow, we made it, behind that big rig (driving friend Norm Lougee and me) and the eye is healing well. The only problem now is that it can take two months before the gas is replaced by the eye’s natural fluid, which means not only no driving , but seeing through one eye during that entire time. If you want to experience that pleasure, cover one eye for one day and see how many water glasses you knock over.
So why do I tell this story? Well, I’m as vain as anyone else when it comes to enjoying seeing my writing in print. But besides that, it just could save someone’s sight if they recognize these symptoms and know that speed in getting help is essential to ward off total blindness.