Sunday, November 19, 2017

Homeless and once more grounded

My trip home to Geraldton went by pretty quickly. I flew over to Perth, where I stayed a few days with my good friend Naomi and her two irascible kids, before heading up to Geraldton on the bus. We made sure to take our 2017 funny photos of course!

Up in Geraldton for only a few days I managed to pack in a hair appointment, a dental clean, a one and a half hour therapeutic massage from my fave body builder Brad and host a bookclub with home made pizzas. I had to get around by bicycle because my car is in storage, so it was quite a workout into a good strong southerly for the 15km ride in to town. As usual the sunsets were spectacular.

About halfway through the week I became increasingly aware of a new visual disturbance in my affected eye. I had a traumatic retinal detachment in August, and had required two bouts of surgery for the retina to heal. As a result of the surgical gas, which is pumped in to the eye to aid healing, I am left with a thick cataract. This cataract will need to be removed and an artificial lens inserted to give me back my eyesight. In the meantime, the vision in that eye is cloudy.

However, I became aware that right in the centre of my vision I couldn't see well at all, and that the vision wasn't cloudy, but distorted. As in wavy and weird. I was also getting some interesting white psychedelic flashes, like if you drop a stone into a pond and get the expanding ripple effect. Not unpleasant, but worrying when you know what this may signify. So I began composing a message to Harry, my eye surgeon, and quietly flew back to the Land of the Long White Cloud on the red eye via Melbourne, arriving 5am Tuesday morning in Christchurch. I patiently waited one hour until 6am so I wasn't completely antisocial, then sent the message off to him. Thankfully Harry replied promptly, suggesting it might be swelling of my macula, and recommending I increase the frequency of the steroid drops I was using and take regular anti-inflammatory medication. I did as I was told, travelling back to Wanaka by bus, and then on Wednesday I received an appointment for the eye clinic in Dunedin for Friday.

My original plan had been to move out from my house in Wanaka on the Saturday and begin travelling, in the South Island initially, whilst awaiting the rest of the surgery to restore my vision. This new symptom didn't seem to be a big issue, so on Wednesday I packed up the ski/winter gear to leave them with a friend in Wanaka, then Thursday I packed the car, farewelled my flatmates and drove down to Dunedin for what I thought (as did Harry) would be a fairly straightforward minor post operative issue. How wrong could we all be??

It turns out I didn't have macular swelling, but another hole in my retina, this time involving the macula, and hence compromising my vision. Which means more surgery and another 8 weeks of surgical gas and altitude restrictions. Yep, grounded again!

I cannot even describe how gutted I was, especially as there isn't a guarantee that my vision will recover fully. My research suggests that a small macular hole of less than 6 months' duration has a reasonable prognosis of vision recovery, but not having it in the first place would have been a much better scenario. The cause is just bad luck.  My severe myopia, and age, has caused my retina to be fragile and shit just happens. For what it's worth Harry was pretty gutted too, as all his other recent retinal repairs have behaved themselves after one surgery, and here I am being worked up for surgery number three!

I spent the whole Friday morning seeing doctors and nurses, getting all the paperwork and bloods done for theatre, which was scheduled for the following Thursday. This time I will be having a general anaesthetic, my scleral buckle will be removed, as will the cloudy cataract so that Harry has a clear field of vision to repair the macular hole. Then in goes the gas again, and I go back to being completely blind in that eye again.

The positive is that Harry will be performing elements of the original planned surgery (removal of the buckle) so once this hole heals I will then only require one further procedure. Normally a cataract repair is just a replacement of old with new, and needed to be delayed four weeks after the buckle removal to allow the eyeball to settle into a permanent shape before attempting vision correction, but my cataract needs to be removed now so that Harry can see what the hell he is doing. So I will be left with an empty lens capsule for a month or more and will probably have to patch the eye as the vision may be so bad as to be distracting. Another interesting new experience to look forward to...

Of course this new development completely changes my travel options as I will be again restricted to low altitude pursuits only. This creates some conundrums as getting around NZ even by car involves going over mountain passes. Going north to Nelson requires crossing over mountains as the coastal road north of Kaikoura is still closed following the earthquake there last year! So the eastern coastal strip will be my playground for the next month or so. Given I'll be on fortnightly eye clinic reviews post surgery number three I can hardly travel far anyway.

This time I don't have the driving restriction, as I am coming up to three months with single eye vision, meaning I'm well acclimatised to gauging distance with one eye. So I can still get out and about and go for long, not too strenuous walks whilst my eye heals again. My mental health, and my waistline, desperately needs me to stay active or else I'm in danger of succumbing to self pity and depression. This sure has been a tough few months on the psyche....

On Saturday I went for a good long walk along the beach from St Clair to Lawyers Head and back, which really cleared my head after the bad news on Friday.  It meant I wasn't a depressed sad sack at the dinner party Sue and Graeme hosted on Saturday night. I am so grateful to them for offering hospitality to me yet again in their Dunedin home.

Sunday it rained, but on Monday I headed off south to the Catlins before returning to Dunedin on Wednesday afternoon. I had 3 glorious days, where I went on long walks along river estuaries and along beaches, visited waterfalls and crazy tourist attractions, and watched sea lions frolicking in the surf. Getting back to nature totally transformed my mental state back to a positive mind set and I'm ready to take on whatever next challenge awaits.

The Catlins are stunning. There's a whole blog post on them coming soon. But back to Dunedin and eye surgery number three....

I went in Thursday morning to the eye day surgery unit where I was met by the slightly quirky Jane, who got me ready for theatre and put the necessary eye drops in. After a wait of an hour or two I was wheeled up to theatre, met the anaesthetist, and was delighted to also see Hong, the eye registrar who had been present at both my previous surgeries and would be assisting Harry yet again. And then I was in sleepy land until I woke up a couple of hours later in recovery. Half an hour later I was back in the day unit, getting back into my clothes, and heading home with an eye patch on. Having Sue and Graeme home at their place in Dunedin meant I could be discharged that day without needing an overnight hospital stay, so I was able to sleep more comfortably.

Friday morning I fronted up to eye clinic for review and removal of my eye patch. I saw Hong again, who I cannot praise enough for his exemplary communication skills in explaining how the surgery had gone and what I had to expect from it. The surgery went really well, in fact Hong was extremely complimentary about how well the macular peel went (apparently Harry has a very steady hand!!), but they also found another retinal tear at another site (which they lasered successfully). This brings my total tear count to 11, if we merely count the second operation as a failed repair rather than as the result of new tears. Hong says the surgery causes swelling, which then causes vitreous bands to form and contract, which pull the retina off. He says they have now completely cleared the vitreous from my macula, so that can't pull off again, but there is still a chance other parts of my retina could still detach. So I'm now on the high alert list and will be getting another scan of my retina in 2 weeks and Harry will be keeping a close eye on me till everything heals up.

I really do have an awesome bunch of professionals looking after me.

For the next two weeks I'm on 3 different eye drops, at frequencies of between twice a day and six times a day, to ensure that the swelling and inflammation remains under control. I'll stay in Dunedin a few more days, then I plan to head back south to the Catlins to recuperate, go for long walks, and just chill out.

Mentally I'm now in a really good place, and I'm really looking forward to more time in nature. Ciao for now...


  1. Oh boy that is very tough Naomi. Quite the mental challenge. Well done for putting it into perspective. Good luck !

    1. thanks Ellen. Things went a little awry after this but that's another story...