I am appreciating my eyes lately. They are funky, but they do the trick. I am farsighted, with an astigmatism in one eye (I forget which, which is probably fodder for a post about the state of my memory), and something called “deep cups” in my retinas which give me a higher than average risk for glaucoma. Over the last year, I also developed “narrow angles,” which essentially means there is less space in my eyes as I age. As a result, the drainage angles that keep pressure from building up on the optic nerve could suddenly close off. That would be really, really bad.
When my ophthalmologist gave me this latest diagnosis, he was pretty low-key.
“We have a new little problem,” he said.
So my first question for him was “how suddenly” can these drainage routes close off. Like, today, tomorrow, next week? I feel fine. I have no sense of building pressure, that at any minute, I’m gonna blow, spewing eyeball-stuff all over the place, B-rated horror movie style. (Of course, that’s not at all what happens.) My vision is kind of wonky, but I’m in my mid-fifties. They say the eyes are the first thing to go, right?
No clear answer. This is why glaucoma is so tricky. You don’t know the disease is progressing until you notice vision loss, and at that point, the damage is irreversible.
The treatment for my narrow angles is something called an iridotomy. The surgeon burns a tiny hole in your iris with a laser. The hole acts like the valve on a pressure cooker, letting off steam as necessary so that the whole thing doesn’t just explode. They give you some numbing drops (of dubious effectiveness), sit you in the exam chair, place a lens on your eye to help aim the laser, and then zap your iris about ten times to make the hole.
“Don’t flinch,” said my ophthalmologist.
It’s rare to have any side-effects from an iridotomy. My guy has done over a thousand of them, and “maybe twice” had patients who developed a minor issue with glare after the procedure.
Meet lucky number three. After undergoing the iridotomy in my left eye, I noticed a hazy halo arcing up from the bottom of my field of vision, but only in certain lighting conditions. Snow, night driving, sunset. Basically, when the light hits my eye from a low plane, I get this little glare-flare. It’s not the end of the world. At some point, my brain will apparently figure out how to work around it and I won’t notice it any more. I don’t have cancer or a degenerative nerve disease, my joints are in great shape, I sleep pretty well, and aside from gray hair and progressive lenses, I feel like I’ve always felt. Timeless, pretty much.
Yet I find myself looking at things more closely, particularly when I am out walking the dog on the trails: a Milky Way spray of bubbles trapped beneath the skin of ice formed on the surface of a stream; brown hemlock needles caught in a frosty spider’s web; an orphaned ski glove wedged in the upright fork of a spindly tree, as if waving. I practice noticing. Can I see the individual leaves on a tree? The numbers on the speedometer? The faint freckles on my daughter’s nose and cheekbones?