Thirty Miles Per Hour on I-5

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.

Good luck.

Robert Rock has lived in Redding since 2001. He is an author/writer and retired environmental engineer.

Robert Rock moved to Redding from Santa Rosa in 2000, soon found the local Writers Forum, and became its President for four years. Was a former Technical Writer for McDonnell Aircraft Corp., published environmental engineering articles as a professional engineer, public interest articles for newspapers and periodicals, and a book of short stories which covers the 1920s to 2001, including WW II. Is presently secretary of the local Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), and assists students at the Good News Rescue Mission in earning their GEDs.
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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Charlotte says:

    Thank you, thank you. I have an unreasonable fear of losing my eyesight. Knowing you story gives great information should I need it.

  2. AJacoby AJacoby says:

    Interesting and important information to have . . . especially as I move into THAT portion of the population that most frequently needs that info!!

    thanks . . .

  3. Avatar NormaLee says:

    Robert, there is "Face Down" equipment that can be rented for a very reasonable fee. It includes a chair and mirror for watching TV and a device for sleeping. However it seems you have already finished your 3 weeks and the tough part is over and you're on the way to full recovery. Good luck!

    Should anyone need this equipment it can be viewed here:

  4. Avatar Bob Parker says:


    Been there, done that, twice. You have related the experience in a much better way than I ever could have. It could save someone's sight!

  5. Avatar Sally says:

    Oh my heavens – and you still seem to have a sense of humor! What a trial to experience…and I complained of having to sleep at a 90 degree angle for 6 weeks! With wishes for a full and successful recovery as soon as possible.

  6. Avatar Joanne Lobeski Snyde says:

    It's astounding that this cure has been worked out so that it can help everyone! That is to say, who the heck came up with the medical gas pressure idea.? Wow. Your article was educational and suspenseful and upbeat despite what must have been a tedious ordeal.

  7. Avatar Gonealot says:

    For you and anyone else that ever has to go over the "hill" at slow speed. Once you're out of Calif. you can drive (slowly) in the breakdown lane, if you pay attention you'll see a lot of slow moving trucks doing this.

  8. Avatar KarenC says:

    I've spoken with two other folks who had this done, but none mentioned the ordeal you went through. One of the folks is a local radio station owner and she was back to work within a few days, Are there different levels of this separation issue that is treated differently?

    I can't even imagine having to do what you went through. Bravo for being so good and getting the healing that you needed.