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Eye injury

June 3, 2022

Most of my life I’ve taken my good vision for granted. A trip to an optometrist a few years back reinforced my sense of vision invincibility when he quipped “many people would give a lot for your eyes.”

Earlier this winter, I had my first eye concern when I started getting flashes of light in the peripheral vision of my right eye. A trip to the optometrist revealed a tiny hole in the retina, the source of the flashes, that I would need to monitor closely. An appointment with an ophthalmologist was made for May. Over the next weeks, the flashes diminished and ended. Over three months later, I visited a retina specialist who confirmed that the injury healed over and everything looked healthy.

Three days after this visit everything changed. I had just finished leading a birding walk with friends and colleagues, and was returning to my bicycle when I noticed some floaters in the right eye. Now, I’ve had floaters in my eyes before, but this time was different. The floaters were increasingly obstructing vision in the right eye. In the 10 minute bike ride home, there were more and more waving filaments interfering with vision, some thickening or combining into dense globules with diffuse edges. Thirty minutes later, clarity of view was gone. It was like looking through a thickening screen. By the time the emergency doctor in Hull hospital examined me, about 90 minutes after onset of the first symptoms, I could no longer see my hand in front of my face.

I’ve learned much about eyes and ageing over the past two weeks. The vitreous humor – the jelly-like substance in the eye, gradually loses volume with ageing, sometimes causing the outside surface of the vitreous to dethatch from the retina. Occasionally, as a consequence of shrinking, the vitreous surface pulls a bit of the retina with it, creating a tear, and in a worst case, causing retina detachment.

My injury put an end to plans to drive 10 hours to Cabot Head Research Station on the Bruce Peninsula, spend a week helping Stephane, the Station Scientist, with migration monitoring, and do my birdathon 2022 at Cabot Head. Now I would need to discover what birding is like without use of my right eye.

While I was in the Emergency department of the Hull hospital, trying to figure out what was happening and what to do, I realized that I could see what was happening inside of my eye. Within the fog, I could see increasing density of thousands of tiny black round dots, swishing around the haze. Later I learn this was blood from a blood vessel that ruptured and bled into my eye. My eye filled with blood, or so the doctors told me. This prevented me from seeing out, but also them from seeing in. Doctors tested the pressure within my eye – because adding blood could increase the pressure to a dangerous level. Fortunately this was not the case with me.

Over the next six days I would have four ultrasounds of my eyeball. I didn’t even know ultra-sounding an eyeball is a “thing.” “That’s cool” I thought – can’t see the back of my eye because of all that blood in it, so the next best thing is to use a mini sonar to see the retina, not unlike searching for lake trout in the depths of Loon Lake.

This impaired vision has taught me a few things that I’ve taken for granted. One involves judging distances. When Cris drove me home from the hospital the first time, she pulled into our driveway beside our house. A bit irritated, I told her that she parked too close to the wall for me to open the door, and asked that she reposition the car. She laughed and said “just try.” I opened the door and discovered there was lots of room. Since, I’ve also knocked over a flower vase full of water, poked many things that I had judged as further or closer and came within millimeters of poking out my right eye while attempting to navigate through a brushy section of forest. Lesson to me – I suck at judging distances when I only can see from one eye and need to be more careful.

It also makes birding by vision really tough. As I was largely confined to our house and yard over the week that vision in my right eye was completely obstructed, I spent a fair bit of time in the backyard trying to identify birds for my yard list. I completed 10 ebird checklists over that period. But I learned how tough it is to locate a small bird high in the foliage of the trees in our yard with one functioning eye. Those darn warblers move so fast through the foliage! I know I missed many warblers, flitting through the early leafed-out foliage of the maples in our yard. Fortunately a beautiful pair of Great Crested Flycatchers have moved into the neighbourhood. They are a treat, perching out in the open and emphatically announcing their presence with a loud “RRRRIP” call.

Great Crested Flycatcher perched high

Once the eye started clearing up and my vision started returning, though still quite impaired, I was shocked to learn that my right eye was no longer aligned with the left eye. My eyes were crossed and I had double vision. What a strange an uncomfortable feeling it was. Fortunately it didn’t last long. As the eye gradually cleared, to my relief, the double vision resolved itself. Now, nearly three weeks later, I’ve gone from zero to 100, or more like 90% of my vision has returned. The fog is pretty much gone though there is still a debris field which I imagine is the remains of a comet orbiting a tiny black hole in the middle of my eye. Now I can use both of my eyes to do my favourite pastime – observe birds.

The remaining frustration for birding is the innumerable floaters – from tiny specks by the hundreds or thousands, constantly swirling through my vision, complicated by large diffuse sweeping forms, not unlike drops of ink diffusing in water. Of course when watching the sky, I’ve learned the 95% of the time that I detect movement, disappointingly it is not a bird, but rather a floater in my peripheral vision.

Thank god for my hearing, which still serves me well, but may well be the subject of a blog post like this one in a few years.

My hearing identified most of the birds on my list for birdathon – which I did on May 20. Birdathon will be the subject of the next blog post.

Equipment in one of the increasingly familiar examination rooms at the Eye Centre.

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One Comment
  1. Deborah Doherty permalink

    Wow Ted! What a journey you’ve been on. I’m so glad you’re recovering. Even with your loss of vision I’ll expect you heard & saw more birds than l. Merlin is truly my friend these days.

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