My greatest fear in life isn't dying, but losing the ability to do the things I love. And of course, losing my eyesight would be catastrophic to both enjoying and creating photography. Here's how a recent health scare made me appreciate something I took for granted.
I've been very nearsighted my entire life. My eyeballs are more elliptical than spherical. In other words, they're too long for the focal point of light that passes through their lenses to strike my retina; the focal point falls in front of the retina. So, I wear concave contact lenses that shift that focal point to the back of my eye where it belongs. While they correct my vision, they don't change the fact that my eyeballs are fundamentally misshapen. Because of the deviation from spherical shape, there are uneven tensile forces on the vitreous, the gel that fills the space between the lens of my eye and the retina. Those uneven forces make the vitreous more likely to detach from my retina at an early age (posterior vitreous detachment), which is common in older people and in itself is not a problem, but as the vitreous pulls away from the retina, it can sometimes tear the retina by pulling it along with it — a serious condition that leads to vision issues and can lead to permanent blindness.
Recently, I noticed a sudden increase in floaters, which are small pieces of collagen that clump together in the vitreous, causing shadows to be cast on the retina, looking like small black flecks and strings drifting across my vision. It's normal for these to appear as people age, and they generally settle at the bottom of the eye eventually, or your brain simply learns to ignore their presence in the field of vision. However, when a lot of them suddenly appear, it can signal a posterior vitreous detachment. And in nearsighted people, the risk of an associated retinal detachment is higher. I called my optometrist, and while I normally have to schedule my appointments about a month out, they wanted to see me much sooner, first thing on the following Monday morning.
Naturally, I did what I've always done when something I don't fully understand catches my attention: I dove into learning about it. That is, of course, a terrible idea when you have a potential medical issue on your hands, as you'll quickly fall into the black hole of Internet self-diagnosis and worst case scenarios, which is basically what I spent the weekend doing. I'm a huge believer in the power of science, and in the back of my mind, I knew I was being proactive in that if my retina was tearing apart, I would catch it in time and surgery would in all likelihood fix it. But then again, the idea of my eye being sliced open to fix the problem wasn't exactly a comfort.
So, Monday rolled around finally, and I drove to the optometrist, who saw me immediately (rare for their normally overbooked office). She dilated my pupils and proceeded to shine lights into every nook and cranny of my left eye as I watched her own eye concernedly flit back and forth as she peered through the magnifying device, giving me instructions to move my eye in different directions. We then repeated the process with my right eye. She furrowed her brow, then had me repeat the process, looking all the more carefully, making me think she saw something. It turns out she saw nothing. She pulled back from the optical device, and finally, the concerned interest turned to a relieved smile: "Your eyes are completely fine."
While my pupils were still hilariously enlarged and I couldn't focus on anything closer than six feet, I asked the hazy blob sitting in front of me why I had the sudden increase in floaters at a relatively young age, and my doctor said it was just the normal transition that happens with age; it just happened a little sooner and more quickly for me than most. My brain would eventually learn to ignore the bothersome but essentially harmless spots in my vision, and they would probably settle out of my field of vision at the bottom of my eye anyway. So, for the next six months or so, I will have to deal with the annoyance; otherwise, I will be fine.
They tend to become most visible when I look at a bright, relatively uniform thing, so they do make working on a computer all day a bit more tedious. But after a few weeks, they're starting to become less severe, and I've become less sensitive to them drifting across my vision. And in the grand scheme, they're really not a big deal.
More than anything, though, I'm just thankful to have my vision intact because it made me realize again (at a conscious level) that photography is dependent on my eyes continuing to function as they were designed to, and that's not guaranteed. I mean, vision is a wonderful thing for all of us lucky enough to have it, but obviously, it's particularly cherished by those who are in love with the art of capturing beauty with a camera. And the idea of that vision being in jeopardy jolted me into not taking it for granted.
So, is there some grand or profound message I meant to get to after regaling you with this unsettling, but ultimately nonexistent health scare? No, and I'm sorry if you read this waiting for me to get to such a message. Rather, it's the obvious, but sometimes easy to overlook message: it's important to appreciate the gift of sight, because we're not guaranteed to have it forever. Also, if anything threatens that, be sure to stay proactive in addressing it. It's pretty cool that we get to do this for a living or as a serious hobby. I do wish I had taken a selfie while my pupils were dilated, though; you would have laughed pretty hard at that.