In June of 1990, I went to the Red River Exhibition for the first time in at least 10 years. The Ex, as it is more commonly known around here is the annual fair and midway that has been a part of this area for many years. I went on several midway rides and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the midway and exhibits.
By late September, I was starting to notice some changes in my vision. Things weren't quite as clear and there were little black spots sometimes. I hadn't had my eyes checked for a couple of years, so in early October, I phoned the office of the optometrist that I used to see when I lived in the country and asked them to recommend someone here in the city. I booked an appointment and saw a Dr. on October 18. He found some minor changes, but thought he should book an appointment with a specialist because of the spots, The appointment was scheduled for Thursday, November 15, 1990.
Over the next couple of weeks, things slowly got worse, but I kept going as I wanted to get my Christmas baking started and get errands and stuff done before winter set in. It was getting harder to see things clearly, but because I had an appointment scheduled, it never occurred to me that I should go see someone sooner.
Friday, November 2, I spent the evening with my very good friend J. We ate, had a couple drinks, listened to music and talked for hours. I remember telling him that I thought I was slowly going blind. He held me as I cried and shared my fears. I told him how scared I was and that even though I had friends who were blind and visually impaired, that I couldn't imagine how I could cope with loosing my sight. It never really occurred to either of us to go to the doctor sooner - or if it did we never said it.
Over the next week, the spots were slowly getting bigger and were floating around. There were pockets of blurry areas in my left eye - which was also my good eye.
I have no idea how I managed to get around that week and get everything done that I managed to, but I think it was sheer will and familiarity with my routes that kept me moving. I was counting the days to the specialist.
By the 10th, there was a tiny yellow patch in the lower corner of my left eye. Over the next 3 days, that yellow patch slowly expanded. It was like someone had placed a piece of yellow cellophane over a corner of the eye and was gradually stretching it across my entire eye. The spots and waves of blurriness were also bigger.
I was terrified.
My mom had rubella (German measles) during the first trimester of her pregnancy with me. That was a couple of years before the connection was made between rubella and birth defects. I was born with cataracts in both eyes. They were removed by a specialist before I was 2 years old. I continued to see that specialist until I was about 18 or so. He had told my parents that there was nothing that could be done for my sight other than corrective lenses, I assumed this new specialist that I was to see was going to tell me the same thing. I didn't want to face what I thought was the inevitable, so I avoided going sooner than I had to.
By the morning of the 14th, more than half the eye was covered by the wavy yellow cellophane. I called the Doctor's office and was told to come in at noon. I arranged for a cab to take me and then I tried to call J.
He was in meetings out of the office all morning and couldn't be reached, I'd never met the woman who was covering his calls but she heard the fear in my voice and tried to calm me down. She promised to get word to J as soon as she could and that he would meet me at the hospital where the Doctor's office was.
When I got to the hospital, I had the cab driver take me to the info counter where one of the staff called an attendant to take me to the Dr.'s office. I was so panicked by this time that I couldn't relax. I finally was able to reach J by phone and he promised he was on his way. The Dr. was just starting to explain what had happened to my eye and what he was going to do to try and help me, when J arrived. I really wasn't thinking or processing anything to clearly at that point but J helped calm me down and I heard at least part of what the Dr. said.
My retina had detached and the doctor would do surgery to try and reattach it. There was no real guarantee that it would work, but he gave me about a 50/50 chance of getting at least part of my sight back over the next few months IF I followed all of his orders and restrictions.
I asked what could have caused the detachment. Apparently with my eye history, I was at high risk for retinal detachment. The way that cataract surgery was done in the 1950's and 1960's was rather primitive and one of the long term side effects was the risk of a detached retina. It could be caused by any number of things, such as; physical sports, hard falls, or jarring movements. I asked if that included amusement park rides and he said yes - that was most likely what started the detachment. Because my vision was so limited, it took me longer to realize there was a real problem. He was surprised that I had never been told to avoid those type of activities. My parents and I later learned (through his former nurse) that my former specialist hadn't told us of the risk, as I wasn't athletic and he didn't want to frighten us!