Sunday, I had a visual event. I was sitting at my favorite picnic table writing when out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a flock of birds. When I turned to see them, there weren’t any birds but the sky was filled with tiny gray dots. What the hell, I thought, noticing that the spots drifted around in my field of vision, animating when I moved my eyes. I was pretty sure they were floaters, another one of those lovely little physiological changes common in those over sixty-five. I’d had ghostly squiggles and nearly transparent rings float around in my eyes before, gradually disappearing over time. According to the National Institute of Health, Floaters occur when the vitreous, a gel-like substance that fills about 80 percent of the eye and helps it maintain a round shape, slowly shrinks. As the vitreous shrinks, it becomes somewhat stringy, and the strands can cast tiny shadows on the retina. These are floaters. In most cases, floaters are part of the natural aging process and simply an annoyance. They can be distracting at first, but eventually tend to “settle” at the bottom of the eye, becoming less bothersome. My particular floaters were very distracting … in addition to the in-focus dots, there were hundreds drifting around like Gray Snow. By Monday, the flurry had increased and I was getting worried but we were out with friends, so I didn’t get to worry until evening.
When your mother lost her eyesight to diabetic retinopathy, you don’t take visual events lightly, even if you’ve never been more than a borderline pre-diabetic. Besides, all of the medical websites (like the National Institute of Health) indicated that a sudden increase in floaters can be a sign of a retinal tear and impending retinal detachment. I considered calling my doctor … or my optometrist … the first thing in the morning on Tuesday, which would sentence me to a sleepless night. I considered the emergency room. Then, I looked on my optometrist’s website and he had an emergency number listed. When I called … at 7:00 pm (on Labor Day), he answered. I told him what was going on and he said, I’ll meet you at my office at 8:00. I assumed he meant in the morning, but before he hung up, he said, I’ll see you in an hour. Amazing**. When I arrived at his office, he was waiting and cheerfully did a complete exam. My retina is OK. He thinks that the spots may be related to a ocular migraine, something I’m prone to, mainly because it happened in both eyes at the same time. We’ll see. I saw my regular doctor today and a referral to an ophthalmologist is pending. It’s the first time my HMO Medicare supplement has made me wait for something I’d like to get looked at. Maybe it’s time to switch during this open enrollment period.
Meanwhile, I can see just fine … there are just gray flurries, gradually decreasing. It is distracting, especially as I’m driving in the bright sun. It’s all too easy to find myself mentally calculating the density of the dots to reassure myself that the event is abating. I’ve taken to wearing those ugly over-the-glasses sunglasses that I’ve always associated with being REALLY OLD. I try to kid myself into thinking I look like the Lone Ranger instead of an even older goat than I am. And life goes on, which is a good thing.
** Thank you to Dr. Jeffery Dougal of OC Eyecare Optometry in Placentia, CA