My Vision One Year After Eye Surgery


One year ago today!

One year ago today, My husband and I were driving to Pittsburgh for a morning eye surgery during a huge snowstorm. Covid was on the horizon and we were checking worldwide numbers daily, wondering when it would hit the U.S. It was a moment of fear worldwide, but on this day of February 5, 2020, the fear was also very personal.

I spent the previous weeks closing up all kinds of work. I concluded my involvement in a local charitable organization. I squeezed in being a guest reader at my local library for their Sprouting Readers program.

I scheduled "last lunch out I'll be able to have for awhile" with friends too. I knew I might not be driving for awhile. Little did we know how true it was because Covid-19 was spreading in our midst. A few weeks later, we were all shut down!

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I made sure that I had presents wrapped and ready for the kids to give to my husband for his birthday that would be days after my surgery. We did a bowling night to celebrate his birthday with friends the weekend before surgery too.

We had even met with our lawyer to refresh all of our emergency documents that I was required to show at the Pittsburgh hospital for surgery. I was worried. Can you tell?

How Did I Get Here?

I had eye surgery in December of 2017 to fix a muscle condition that I was born with but that had worsened with age. The surgery didn't result in my muscles being fixed but resulted in an over-correction. I ended up living with double vision for more than two years. Depending on the angle of my head, the level of light, and how tired I was I would see two of everything. I couldn't drive in the evening at all and worried every time that I drove in daylight. Most people who interacted with me didn't know what I had been living with.

Headlights were beams of light like lines. Each road line was doubled but converging. It was crazy! At one point, I drew a picture to illustrate how many lines were on the road at the very beginning, right after the surgery.

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Living with it:

I quickly figured out how to live with this condition, though it could be stressful. I realized that my eye-glasses correction was part of the problem and instructed my doctor on what I had learned. He gave me a prism to stick onto my glasses to redirect the light and help me navigate the world better. He talked about options for me but this had never happened in all of the years he had been in practice and he was unsure of what he could do.

But, I decided to find another doctor who might be willing to try to fix this. I called the UPMC Eye Center and made an appointment. I met my new doctor, Dr. Pihlblad, about six months after the first surgery.

After about a year of Pittsburgh appointments and comparisons and many migraine-inducing eye tests, Dr. Pihlblad saw that my measurements had steadied and whatever changes might have happened while my eyes healed were done. If I wanted to do another surgery, my doctor would be able to fix the situation in one, maybe two more surgeries, but I would need to be awake for the surgery. This terrified me.

One day I just knew it was worth the risk. I was leaving the soccer field from my son's practice and felt my stress and worry about my eyes as I turned my body every which way, trying to be sure that no other children were around as I pulled the car out of my parking spot slowly. I had to regularly go to the chiropractor to try to adjust my neck for the strange way I had to walk around to avoid seeing double. I was ready. I made the call and got scheduled for February 5!

If I wanted to do another surgery, Dr. Pihlblad would be able to fix the situation in one, maybe two more surgeries, but I would need to be awake for part of the surgery.

This terrified me.

The Drive to the Hospital:

See the photo here? Notice how there are NO cars in front of us? We got stuck on the highway for awhile. Suddenly I realized it was our last chance to slip off of a nearby exit and take back roads. We followed the back roads, all the while seeing the LONG line of cars on the highway through the bare tree branches. We had made the right decision. Then, we just had to choose all of the correct back roads to stay on time!

When we jumped back onto the highway a few exits later, we were the only ones on the road! Such an eerie feeling!

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Pulling into the parking garage at Mercy Hospital

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Strabismus Surgery:

I nervously awaited surgery. I knew that I would be asleep for part of the surgery - the part when they took the muscles off of my left eye and loosely reattached them. Then, they would wake me up and I would have to go through a series of eye tests to figure out if the sutures were placed correctly for my vision to no longer be double. Then, they would adjust the sutures while I was awake and tie the knots and cut off any excess thread.

My condition is called Strabismus. It is when the muscles that are attached to your eyeballs aren't all the length they should be, causing your eye to appear uneven in its forward gaze. You can be born with this or it can happen later in life. The side effects are problematic as they lead to headaches, body compensation, and double vision, all of which I had been having.

So the surgery can involve shortening the muscles or repositioning the muscles. Because my doctor wanted to be sure my muscles were set just right to avoid double vision, I had to be awake for part of the procedure.  That part went better than I expected. I was surprised that the tests were not super official and based on a computer screen, but rather me looking up close at a name badge and then maybe 8 feet away at a few paper signs.

I will never forget the pull in the inside of my eye as the doctor adjusted my sutures or the feeling of the knots being tightened once everything was finalized. It did make me a little queasy, but I made it!

My doctor was so good. His name is Dr. Pihlblad and he works as a Pediatric Opthamologist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and also works at UPMC with adults. Even though I was nervous about the surgery, I felt really confident in his expertise. Today, one year later, I am SO thankful for him!

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After Surgery:

(and lots of ice)

Then we had our drive home. Much of the snow had melted. I felt better MUCH more quickly than I had after the first surgery. It was the beginning of things all over again.

Then began a week of on and off icing. This is how I spent my week. :)

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Blood in the Whites of My Eyes:

There was not nearly as much blood covering the white of my eye after this surgery compared to the first one. It doesn't come out of your tear duct as it leaves. It dissolves slowly as your body absorbs it. So, it does take time to go away but this was so minor compared to surgery 1.

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Healing / Scarring:

I got worried at one point when a gray line seemed to appear in my eye, so I took these photos and sent them to the doctor's office. But, it turned out that it was fine and this is just part of the healing process. You can still see the line faintly. That scar will always be there.

The images above were taken on March 19, about six weeks after surgery.

Scars don't really bother me. (That's probably because I am an Enneagram 4 W 3!) I view them as part of what builds and forms us and makes us into the people we become - both internally and externally. I try to embrace them as truth.

Glasses/Contacts Before and After Surgery:

When I had the surgery the first time, I was told not to wear contacts for a week or two before surgery. This time, that was not a concern. Then after the surgery, I could not even wear my contacts so I don't remember when I was allowed to wear them, but this time I waited until about a month after surgery until my eye felt better.

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Covid-19 Lockdown:

Around the same time as the concern about the gray line was our state shutdown because of Covid-19. I didn't have many opportunities to practice my driving for awhile, but that was okay because I felt so ready when I did get to be out at night. Now, I don't worry about criss-crossing streetlights. I haven't been back to the chiropractor because I am no longer compensating to cancel out the second image. I have had a few good follow-up visits. (One was virtual and one was in-person. I even drove myself to that in-person visit!)

We began to go out only for hikes and outdoor visits, distanced, with family. This is my son and I on one of our spring hikes. My eye looks pretty good here!

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This photo was taken at the beginning of October. I took it because we were GOING SOMEWHERE! It was an outdoor wedding and we hadn't been out of the house and dressed in months. But, you can see that easily visible scarring is gone. (It is still there but I would have to turn my eye for you to see it.)

The last image is part of our Christmas card photo for 2020. I feel so good! I am so glad my eyes are fixed and SO thankful for my doctor!

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What am I about?

My business is Photographic Memories by Ann M. Bickel, LLC and is about providing art opportunities in the Altoona community as well as portraiture photography work. As a creative person, I like to dabble in other areas that allow me to bear witness to others' lives and explore what brings us all together. Though If you would like to follow along, you can check out my last blog article or join my newsletter!

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