A week or so before the big day – that’s me ready to board the limo my husband surprised me with for my 60th birthday – I started to experience the visual phenomenon affectionately known as floaters. Little swirls, dots and squiggles that elusively darted in and out of the frame of my vision. Certainly, I’d heard of them but until now was ignorant of the fact that as we age, there is a gel-like vitreous fluid that eventually shrinks and separates from the retina of the eye, as more fully explained here. Perusing Google as I normally do when confronted with something outside my (limited) realm of knowledge, I was reassured that these little fellas are relatively harmless and just a normal part of the aging process.
So why the limo photo? After a celebratory dinner with family and friends, the driver brought us home and as I stepped out of the vehicle, which was lit up on the inside with funky lights in the ceiling and along the interior walls, and into the dark evening air, I experienced the sensation of what seemed at the time akin to paparazzi snapping photos of me as I exited the limousine. The lights flashed a few times and it seemed as though an inverted image of the night was on display before me. The surreal nature of these flashes (which I assumed were caused by the sudden emergence from the lights inside the vehicle and stepping out into the darkness of the night) was compounded by the fact that it was a stretch limo we were getting out of, not just any ordinary sedan. Weirdness, indeed.
Not wanting to alert the others to the drama playing out before my very eyes and thereby ruining what had been a very lovely evening, I said nothing. Images flashed intermittently the rest of the night and throughout the following day, vertical shapes that presented themselves on the right side of my peripheral vision. I still had not said anything to my husband about what I’d experienced but started to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t get this checked out with my eye doctor.
Two days after my birthday, I made the call and spoke with the nurse to see if this was something that merited a look-see. After answering a few questions (and covering my left eye to determine the range of my vision – all good, by the way) the nurse asked if I could come in that afternoon. She said it sounded as if I had a retinal tear and that it was important to rule out retinal detachment.
OK. Now she had my attention.
I steadily worked my imagination into a frenzy on the way in to the appointment and as I sat in the waiting room. The tech who did the initial exam allayed my fears as I began to cry, saying that it was good I’d come in to get it checked and that it was most likely nothing to worry about. And even if I did have a retinal detachment – per my Google searches prior to the appointment, I’d learned blindness was a potential outcome – I was in good hands for them to address the issue.
Well, I’m happy to report there was no retinal detachment. Huge sigh of relief upon hearing that diagnosis. What had happened when I experienced the flashes of light (in conjunction with the floaters I’d begun seeing a week or so earlier) is what’s known as PVD: posterior vitreous detachment which refers to the gel separating from the retina. A retinal tear occurs when the vitreous gel is so firmly attached that when it pulls away from the retina, it causes a tear. This tear can cause fluid to accumulate and ultimately cause a retinal detachment. I read this is similar to the situation where there is a rip in the wallpaper in a bathroom. If the rip is not repaired, over time the steam from the bathroom shower can get behind the wallpaper and eventually cause the entire sheet of wallpaper to peel and fall off. In the same way, a retinal tear – if untreated – can result in the retina from detaching. And as noted, loss of vision or ultimately blindness can occur.
So. I had experienced a PVD, a posterior vitreous detachment, manifested by squiggly floaters and the bright flash of non-existent paparazzi intent on snapping birthday photos of yours truly.
I was not aware of this potential hazard in my attempts to age gracefully. A natural occurrence, I’m told, but one not without its perils. I need only now to be alert to any changes in my vision, particularly objects in the peripheral range or to a significant increase in the number of floaters, but to rest assured that my eyes – my 60 year old eyes – are fine now, just the way they are.