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“This is bad.”
I remember those three words so vividly, not necessarily because of the spectacular diction or memorable composition, but rather what made these words particularly meaningful was how quickly they manifested themselves into such a visceral, physical reaction.
I felt my throat tighten and my anxiety rising. A medical professional was staring straight into my eyes, and in a moment perhaps of complete humanity, he let his own panic show.
The medical halo around his head quickly dimmed as I realized that he didn’t know what to do. I, too, started to panic. I couldn’t sit still. Instead of letting my mind wander, I forced it to settle upon the very real possibility of losing my eye.
Only the day before had I learned the certainty of vision loss from the same optometrist who was now giving me such a bleak prognosis.
My right eye had been bothering me for a couple weeks, but only when wearing my contact lenses. I didn’t think too much of it. My current pair of monthlys was a couple months old because I had run out of contacts and had just been too careless to order more contacts on my own.
Then, my right eye began to burn whenever I would put my contact in, so I decided to take a break from wearing contacts for about a week. After six days, I thought that any irritation had cleared up, so I started wearing my contacts again.
Not even two hours passed before my eyes became bright red and started to sting. I immediately took them out, but it was too late. The stinging pain only worsened, and I pleaded with my sister to take me somewhere to get my eyes checked. She found a nearby optometrist who could see me that afternoon.
The optometrist told me that I had active infections in both eyes, and that a corneal ulcer had developed in my right eye. A corneal ulcer, he explained and as I would quickly Google after my appointment, occurs when an area on the cornea, the main protective layer of the eye, is missing.
If you think of the cornea as being to the eye what skin is to the body, then as a hole in the skin is an open wound, a hole in the cornea is an open wound. Basically, I had an OPEN WOUND IN MY EYE!
The main problem was that the ulcer was right over my pupil. Like an inflammatory immune response to a wound on the skin helps to repair the broken tissue and subsequently causes scar tissue, the inflammatory response to a cut in the cornea will cause scar tissue that is opaque to form, so scar tissue over the pupil can cause varying degrees of vision loss.
I cried when he told me of the certainty of some vision loss, thinking that that news would be the worst of it. What caused the infection? The optometrist said overusing contact lenses.
He asked me if I wore my contacts while sleeping, explaining that it was common for ulcers to develop in people who don’t take out their contacts, but I wasn’t one of those people. I always took out my contacts before bed. Yet he seemed skeptical when I said no.
He prescribed me antibiotics and scheduled an appointment with me for the next day. His initial plan was to put me on steroids to reduce inflammation after the next day’s appointment if the antibiotics were working. I left the office sad and scared about how much of my vision I could lose, yet hopeful that I would get better quickly.
By the next day, Friday, my right eye had swollen shut, forcing my left eye to close as well. And the pain had worsened. My right eye, although closed, became so sensitive to light that I had to wear sunglasses at all times and my sister had to turn off all the lights in any room I was in.
When I left the house for my appointment, I needed to put a blanket over my head because any change in light caused a searing pain in my right eye.
In the optometrist’s examination room, I had to pry my right eye open with my fingers to let the optometrist examine it. The sudden contraction of my pupil, where the ulcer was located, hurt so badly that my eye began to tear up uncontrollably. I couldn’t read anything on the eye chart even when he projected only one letter so that it alone covered the entire chart.
Despite not being able to see or the worsening pain, I was still helplessly optimistic that this was how my antibiotics were supposed to work, that this initial reaction was a normal part of the healing process. But then those three words squandered that hope. “This is bad.”
I felt that universal sinking feeling.
The ulcer had increased in size dramatically, he said. I freaked out. I began to plead with him to tell me what this all means. What do I do from here? Can he fix it? He was noticeably flustered. He wasn’t answering. My breathing quickened.
My sister was trying to calm me, and she asked the optometrist to tell us what this meant.
These pictures show the images that the optometrist took of my right eye on Thursday (above) and Friday (below). The yellow dot on my pupil (red) that the cursor is pointing to is the ulcer. As you can see by Friday, the ulcer (yellow) increased dramatically. Other yellow spots in the Friday photo are also open wounds.
He stumbled on his words a bit before saying, “Well, the antibiotics didn’t work. The infection was resistant to the first round, and the ulcer has gotten worse.”
That didn’t exactly have a calming effect. He left the room to call his colleague, a nearby ophthalmologist, to see if I could get an appointment. It was 4:30 pm on a Friday, but the eye doctor said that he would see me.
I continued to panic at the eye doctor’s office when the medical assistant was examining me. I couldn’t stop crying. I had read that one news story about a woman who kept her contact lenses in for six months and contracted parasites in her eyes.
I couldn’t remember if she went blind permanently, but those fears ran through my mind. I didn’t want a parasite. I didn’t want to be permanently and completely blind. But most of all, I didn’t want to lose my right eye.
When he examined my eyes, the doctor confirmed that I had an ulcer in my right eye and infections in both, but he remained calm while assuring me that he was going to make me all better. He was stern, however, when detailing the instructions for applying the eye medications that he had prescribed.
At first, he prescribed three medications. I had to apply the first one, an antibiotic drop, to the left eye every four hours and to the right eye every 5 minutes for 3 cycles and then every 15 minutes for four cycles before decreasing to one drop every hour including overnight. The other eye medication was a more potent antibiotic that I had to apply to the right eye every eight hours. The third medication was a goopy, antibiotic gel that I had to administer every two hours including overnight.
He told my sister and me that I needed to follow these instructions strictly because we needed to “shock” the infection. If I couldn’t, then he would have to admit me to the ICU.
Fortunately, I avoided the ICU because my sister is a nurse, and she assured the doctor that she could take care of me. He scheduled me for an appointment the next day although it was a Saturday and his office was usually closed on the weekend.
My sister made eye charts, set hourly alarms, and woke up every hour in the night to apply my eye drops. The next few days were awful. I always had to wear sunglasses even when sleeping because my right eye was so sensitive. I couldn’t leave the house except for eye doctor’s appointments because I couldn’t see, so I sat in my bed all day surrounded by darkness, waiting for my sister to apply the next round of medications.
My sister was always by my side, taking me to every appointment, even when we had to meet with the eye doctor that Sunday and Monday. And Tuesday. And that Thursday. And then every other day for the next two weeks. And then every two days in the two weeks following.
She picked up all my prescriptions as the eye doctor kept adding medications and taking others away, and got any necessary refills.
Slowly, but surely, the swelling reduced and the pain lessened over the following weeks. I couldn’t see out of my right eye, but I was improving and the doctor was pleased. After three weeks of antibiotics, he prescribed steroids to prevent scarring. My eye had been recovering nicely, so he was very hopeful that he could prevent any vision loss.
After about a month, I weaned off the steroids under the doctor’s supervision, and then about six weeks after my initial appointment, I had my final appointment. With his treatment, the eye doctor was able to prevent most of the scar tissue formation, so that only minor scarring occurred. The minimal scarring that I do have only slightly affects my vision in my right eye when my pupil dilates.
Now, it’s been about eight weeks since I first went to the optometrist, who by the way, has called multiple times during my recovery to make sure that I am OK. I am so thankful to have recovered almost all my vision and to have had such an amazing doctor and sister to take care of me.
While I didn’t sleep in my contacts, I realize now that this ordeal happened due to my lack of vigilance over my health. I didn’t practice the best eye health habits like sanitizing my lenses’ case every day, or washing my hands before putting in or taking out my contacts.
I wore old contacts. I used old mascara, and never removed my makeup at night. Most of all, I ignored the signs that was body was giving me.
My sister, my incredible caretaker, is also a yoga teacher. As a yoga instructor, she is constantly emphasizing the importance of listening to your body. I ignored the signs that my body was giving me, and I almost went blind because of it.