Wellness | Seeing Double

 This post is in partnership with the Canadian Ophthalmological Society and their "See the Possibilities" campaign.

Think about social media. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many of us it’s beautiful and interesting images. Rich, beautiful pictures of spring flowers, or amazing shots of views you’d love to visit, or quick phone shots of something totally unexpected. Sure, there are opinions and people sharing messages and write-ups, but really, it comes down to images. Videos are images too, so I include them. It’s what catches our attention and what makes us stop to look closer atwhat we want to share with our friends. And you know what the enjoyment of all images rely on? Sight.

Now imagine you wake up tomorrow, the start of another normal day; you go through your usual routine, and then sometime during the day you notice something is a little different. Your equilibrium feels a little off and you notice you’re not as accurate in the little things you usually do. Pouring coffee into your morning cup, navigating through doorways, grabbing door handles – normal, everyday stuff. But it all feels – a little off. Like most people are prone to do, blame it on an imminent  cold or maybe you haven’t had enough sleep lately (we are bloggers, after all), but the feelings persist into the next day, and the next and the next.

This happened to me, and at first I did put it off as maybe coming down with something, or something else minor, but when the symptoms persisted I started to get a little concerned. I found myself concentrating when I had to walk down a flight of stairs so I wouldn’t miss a rung or step past the edge of a step. I also misjudged doorframes and actually bashed into the side of doorways (I messed my shoulder up a bit when I hit one doorway particularly hard). I stopped driving, I had to take public transit – which is cool in one way, but crappy if you’re just thrown into it and have to figure out how to get to work and shuttling the kids around.  I teach, and I suddenly had a huge problem with reading anything either on the board, or on a student’s desk or even my own notes! My entire life just kept rolling along, but everything, and I mean everything had become problematic.

So, it happened to be at a time when I had an optometrist appointment for new glasses. I actually thought maybe it was just this old prescription of mine that was the problem. I thought getting a new one would solve the problem. But my optometrist sent me off to an ophthalmologist to get checked out. I wasn’t really sure what an ophthalmologist was (nor how to spell it).  An ophthalmologist, I’ve learned, is able to not just correct vision, but to restore it. They are the only eye care professionals who are medically trained doctors. Ophthalmologists can diagnose and treat all eye diseases, perform surgeries and prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems. Additionally, they can also diagnose and treat glaucoma, perform cataract and retina surgery and mitigate damage from macular degeneration.They complete medical and surgery education, skills and training and can perform surgeries to restore eyesight.

The ophthalmologist coordinated my visits throughout the ophthalmology department at the hospital where I met the Orthoptics team and was tested. My eyes were not aligning together to create a single scene of what I saw, so everything in my vision was doubled and not synched together. I saw two distinct images of everything, and they were quite far apart, far enough that they wouldn’t realign by themselves (as I understand it, the body can compensate to a point). My ophthalmologist was the lead in my visits to the ophthalmology dept, I kept up visits with him each time I was tested, and he really was the main point of contact for me.

My ophthalmologist and I explored recovery options– we decided that I’d be comfortable in seeing (no pun) if my eyes would realign to a point where they would be stable, and then we could talk about the possibility of surgery, which would be performed by the ophthalmologist. It proved to be a difficult time, and long – it was almost two years before I received surgery. I continued to walk and ride the metro everywhere and I learned to use the accessibility options on my computer so I could get through work, but overall everything that I had taken for granted before was now onerous and required effort. Before, I thought nothing of being able to read public signs, now I had to take a photo on my phone of the info signs in the Skytrain and bus station so that I could zoom in and read it, and even that didn’t always save me. I ended up phoning Jan to pick me up because I had gotten on the wrong bus and ended up in Steveston one time, other times I’d just walk back the few stops I missed. Giving lessons in class was kinda okay, I’d bring my own laptop and zoom in for large text of my own notes to read from, but it was a huge problem trying to read anybody else’s screen. I’d have to lean in and zoom in on their screen, and then, of course there would be the usual bewilderment when I did that. 

For the blog I still went to openings and events, but it was now really difficult. When I had to walk through a crowded event floor I found I had to stare down at my feet to make sure that I didn’t walk into something - or someone! At least by looking at the ground I could watch for everyone else’s shoes, if I looked up, I saw double the people in the room, and I couldn’t really tell which one was physical. I still met and talked with people, but now I’d have two people to talk to instead of one and I learned not to look back and forth between them – I think it freaked some people out.

It was a long couple of years, and I really started to look forward to surgery. I was nervous at first, I told Jan there were only two things I really didn’t want to get surgery performed on, and my eyes were one of them, but it was better than living in my situation. This was awkward and made everything difficult. So I looked forward to it. Kinda.

In a follow up post I’ll talk about the actual surgery, but I can say this - I underwent surgery, and I can’t describe the difference in my life it made. Without it, I’d be a mess, and I was. It took awhile to get through the process, but after I finally received surgery, it changed my life. And now, I appreciate my sight. I love images, and I love the ability to see them. Prior to my difficulties, I didn’t really know what an ophthalmologist was. I’ve found that they are a vital component of restoring eye health, and when you really have eye problems, their work can be transformative.

In the meantime, here are some eye health stats and common conditions we thought were interesting.

More than 2.5 million Canadians have cataracts
Cataracts are cloudy blocks that develop as your lens hardens with age. Cataracts can be removed and your vision can be restored with surgery.
More than 95 per cent of patients have improved vision after surgery.

Diabetic Retinopathy
Estimated half a million Canadians have diabetic retinopathy
High levels of blood sugar (glucose) causing damage to blood vessels in the eye
There are often no symptoms and vision is not affected. This is why it's critical for people living with diabetes to see their eye doctor regularly for comprehensive eye exams

Second most common cause of vision loss in Canadian seniors
More than 250,000 Canadians have chronic open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease
Involves damage to the optic nerve most often caused by high pressure inside the eye due to a build up of excess fluid.
Can lead to the loss of peripheral vision
Risk factors include elevated pressure in the eye, family history, age (after 40 and after 60), ethnicity, myopia and diabetes

So, if you have a problem with your sight, have it checked out. There is hope, it’s just hard to spell.

For more information on the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, visit seethepossibilities.ca and watch inspiring patient videos.

Jan Halvarson

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