Do You See What I See?
This story is personal, friends. I haven't been sharing much about this, but I've been secretly worried for a few months about my eyes. I recently had surgery to correct a muscle problem I've had since I was a child. The surgery occurred on December 4, 2017 and I've had unexpected double-vision since that day. For the past 17 weeks and 3 days, I have managed to drive (...with the help of a 3M stick-on prism; don't they seem to make everything?). I've gotten used to two moving images on the television at night. I've managed to take photographs and edit while also getting used to seeing two heads on my husband who sits across from me at the dinner table. I've managed to strategize about what to do about this problem while I close one eye to try to take (half of) it all in. (Trying a joke there!) I've managed to get a second opinion, which wasn't really any different than the first opinion. And I've managed to worry. What doI do if it continues? I am a visual artist after all.
Typically the moment I worry, I remember that God tells us not to worry. Its always been my go-to scripture actually: Matthew 6:25-34
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
So, I try to relax and forget it all and trust in the Lord. I also know, that my worries aren't much in the grand scheme of life and that helps me to feel less anxious. Sometimes when we relax, we get more problem-solving activity in our brains. So, I've also been running through any way to solve this problem in my spare time!
Keep reading below:
When I was a child, my youngest brother had this same muscle surgery. He was in junior high school. We have the same muscle condition where the muscles that hold our eyes in place and allow them to move aren't equal in strength. So, I experienced an outward drift when I was tired. It was rare that anyone saw my drift because it wasn't extreme when I was young and I managed pretty well. I got glasses as a child and that helped both my vision quality as well as the muscle problem.
When I was in college, I was already dreaming of becoming a photographer. I took a photograph of just my eyes and thought I'd name my future studio "Iris Photography" to make the cheesy point that my work is how my eyes see the world. After taking many photography courses and realizing how much I loved this medium, I thought more seriously about what I'd call my business. I settled on Photographic Memories. Partly this was because I'd realized my brain is organized so visually that its nearly a photographic memory.
Side story: Yesterday I needed to find cold medicine. I was driving home from taking my youngest child to school and as I drove, I mentally went through my house until I located the cold medicine. I didn't think it was in the medicine bin and I was right. It was in a cabinet in the kitchen. I went home and there it was.
I photographed two weddings by the time I had graduated from college and felt like the title: Photographic Memories was something I could stick with. I liked how the title made it clear that I was documenting something that was already happening. I didn't want to be styling shoots or buying backdrops. I just want people to remember their stories, their memories.
This image is from the first wedding I ever shot in 2005!
It was also in college that I had this vivid memory:
My friend Lauren came to my apartment to stay over and hang out. That night, as I took my contacts out and was washing my face, she said, "Ann, you're scaring me. I can't tell where you're looking!"
I was embarrassed that this eye thing was obvious to someone. I realized that when I was very tired it was more obvious and also that when my eyes weren't corrected that it was also much more obvious. So, I made sure not to take my contacts out at moments when I was really tired so that others couldn't see that drift and feel afraid or nervous about me.
After I had my first son, I was tired and needed to wear glasses more often. I had just gotten new glasses (which are still the ones I have today) at my previous optometrist. That optometrist was retiring so I decided I should be seeing both an ophthalmologist and an optometrist because of my muscle condition, so I got appointments at a new practice.
I remember my first appointment with the Ophthalmologist. He said, "I can't believe how well you have learned to control this. I can't believe you've made it this long with this condition." At first I felt proud about that control but started to understand that my problem was more extreme than I'd ever known. He shared that with age, I'd lose that control and eventually need surgery. He told me that I'd know when I needed it.
In 2017 after my regular summertime appointment, I started to realize that each night when I read stories to my two sons in the lower light that I struggled. It hurt to read to them. I felt myself try to pull that eye back in when it drifted and struggle to do so. I felt nauseous often and started to put the pieces together that my eyes were getting much worse. In a type of confirmation, one night, I suddenly realized that I often had been reading books with one eye shut. Most likely, I was starting to see double but that my brain cancelled out the other image. I also felt embarrassed because who wants to hire a photographer with a wonky eye! I don't think I would! I know that it had nothing to do with how eyes actually worked and that I could work just fine, but the worry about my business was on my mind.
My husband had knee surgery that summer and had hit our deductible so I felt like it was a good time. I made the call and began the process of prep work and scheduling the procedure. I worked it all around my photography sessions because the fall is such a busy time. I had my last session on December 3 and went in for surgery the morning of December 4, 2018.
The surgery was hard. The doctor said that I had a lot of bleeding. It sounded like it was much more bleeding than was expected. He had a difficult time getting it to stop. He had warned me ahead of time that there was a chance that it could be overcorrected....that it was just a risk of surgery. I joked that I hoped it didn't happen but that I was one of those unlucky people who got the weird side effects from things. He said that should it happen, the overcorrection fixes itself over time and its typically very slight. He also said that its a surgery that is just a lot harder to have as an adult as compared to a child. Boy was that true!
I woke up and felt how sore those muscles were. They hurt to move. I took it far too easy the first few days at home. Everything was doubled (this was expected for a few days) and I felt nauseous. As I healed, I began to close the eye that had been surgically altered and only kept my good eye open just to avoid the nausea and double images. After a few appointments with the same test results and no change in my double-vision, the doctor prescribed me a stick-on prism to help me practice using both eyes together. This allowed me to drive. Four weeks after my surgery, I could finally drive! I was glad for this fix, which I hoped would be quite temporary.
This is a terrible quality post-surgery image. I had to make it black and white because the blood in my eye is a little too much to take! I struggled to open it or actually see with it! Yikes!
Here is a photo of me in the window light so you can see my prism. I've been thankful for it, but the plastic film makes my vision cloudy on that eye.
After a few appointments with the same test results and no change in my double-vision, the doctor prescribed me a stick-on prism to help me practice using both eyes together. This allowed me to drive. Four weeks after my surgery, I could finally drive! I was glad for this fix, which I hoped would be quite temporary.
But, appointment after appointment showed little movement in the now-inward drift that the doctor was seeing at check-ups. He eventually apologized that the slight overcorrection risk had happened. He didn't want to have me go back into surgery. He said it was so slight that to re-do it risked us returning to the other direction and being right back where we started. I agreed. He also told me that over time, he felt confident that it would correct itself. The issue was just that he didn't know how long that would be. All I could think about was that I had a June 2 wedding to photograph. I couldn't risk going back in for another surgery and not being able to photograph that event to which I was committed. I also didn't want to risk making the condition worse. I was afraid.
I offered up many ideas. What if I got Lasik on the good eye? Then I can at least stop wearing these old glasses (which were giving me a headache). What if I wear one contact and pop the lens out of my glasses and keep the prism in my left eye? I was desperate to find a way to get my eye right up to the viewfinder for my camera. He said that I could try one contact and see how it went but he didn't recommend Lasik surgery.
He measured my eyes again and again with the same results. He saw improvement but said that I'd have double as long as the eye went in just a little. He didn't understand why I had trouble photographing with glasses on. I didn't know how to describe the problem. I couldn't see as well with my glasses. I especially couldn't get to the viewfinder to zero in for focus. It was just difficult.
This is what my vision looked like until I got the prism. The one on the left is a little yellower. We joked that that person had jaundice. The one on the right was always lower.
Creative Brain Waves:
I used what I had earned the previous year to buy a new camera (Nikon D850) and traded in my older model (Nikon 610). The new one offered many amazing focusing capabilities for all kinds of situations. This (expensive) solution allowed me to feel more confident and work. I was glad I did this.
At my recent appointment on 3/22, I head him say to me that he'd see me in two months. I couldn't believe this. Thoughts flew through my mind, "We weren't going to keep checking...keep seeing what we could do to change this?" I was in shock and full of frustration but it somehow made me quiet and listen. I heard him relay info to the tech who was typing everything. He said something about the near vision movement not changing. I stopped him, though the appointment was really over, and asked, "What qualifies the near distance?" He responded, "6-18 inches." I replied, "But when my glasses are off, I don't have double at that distance." I don't understand why those numbers aren't changing when that's not what I'm experiencing."
He stopped and thought a moment. He got a twinkle in his eyes. He said, "Hmmm. Let's try something." We took off my glasses and prism. He did a near vision test without any correction. It was a much better result. He did a distance vision test as well. (I just used the giant E because that is all I could see.) The drift was minimal. There was hardly any double happening and my numbers improved drastically with these non-glasses tests. He decided to do a dilation vision test the following week to actually check my eyes directly.
He said that if my glasses prescription had been too strong prior to surgery, it would have directed my outward-drifting eye back in and would have helped me control it, essentially making me more comfortable for all those years. But after surgery, the too-strong prescription would have done the same, causing double vision. If he was correct, this would explain a good deal of my double vision and we could fix it. The dilation would tell us for sure. I could see a wave of creative problem solving wash over him. He was excited. I was too. Anything that could give me hope felt worthwhile.
I had already scheduled a second opinion at a larger practice in Pittsburgh. It was the next day (3/23) so I decided to keep this appointment just in case the over-correction idea didn't pan out. Brady and I went together and I worked with staff and the doctor for over two hours! We did all kinds of tests and chatted and reviewed records. This doctor thought that the first doctor did everything just fine. He agreed about much of what we had already gone through.
He did have new ideas though. He suggested that if I eventually need another surgery that he would do it with an awake component to be sure that an over-correction didn't happen and that I wouldn't have double vision. He didn't think that the glasses prescription being too strong was the issue. He did suggest, though, that forcing myself to spend time without the prism might make my brain have to resolve the second image. Maybe sort of baby-ing the eye had not made it recon the two images. This was a good idea.
I tried glasses with no prism and then contacts over the next few days and it made a difference! I've found that when I lean my head slightly forward, it helps the images come together. With each week, I can bring my head back a little further. I'm now able to drive with my contacts in. There are definitely still tough moments like when there is a ton of movement across my field of vision or when I'm walking and moving and everything is changing, but its better and it works for me!
This is me with my family for Easter last week and my second week of wearing contacts and feeling better.
The new frames came yesterday and I was excited to try them on, get real glass in them and see if this helps!
Last Thursday, I went to my regular ophthalmologist for the dilation appointment. Brady and I weren't expecting anything major since the second opinion doctor had not thought this was the problem. But, I did it anyway. And you know what? I am over-corrected! My glasses prescription is 20% over-corrected. My right eye is a diopter and a quarter over corrected and my left eye is a whole diopter over-corrected. (I'm not sure about my contacts. That is a different prescription and would be another appointment to follow up with later.) Remember how I am still using those really old glasses from my previous doctor and remember how much harder they are for me to see with than my contacts?
So, the next step is to order new glasses. My new Warby Parker Keene Beach Glass frames arrived yesterday. I took them to get glass in them this morning. It will be a little while before its all worked out. (We have to do this in two steps of adjusting half a diopter each time. It would be too much of a shock to my system to jump down that much.")
When I got home last Thursday, on the day of the dilation, Brady said to me, "Well, how does it feel to solve your own medical problems?"
I smiled and laughed. I didn't think I exactly solved the problem myself. But I finally began to be a good advocate for myself. And, I feel hopeful.
*So, friends, today I am hopeful!* Thanks for reading this crazytown long story. Thanks for being with me in this journey and for your asking about how I am. You've been so kind. I have been so thankful for you.
Wishing you the best of everything,
I don't always write my own stories. I often share the stories of other people. I love to bring people together by sharing stories so we can see how we're all deeply connected. I think this makes us more compassionate people! :)
If you'd like to check out another blog story, try Brian's Words.
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