Progress?

I was scrutinizing my eye last night while Karen changed my dressing and noticed that there appears to be movement in my injured upper eyelid when I blink (not wink) my good eye! It is just a twitch, and it could be the eyeball moving beneath the eyelid, but I think it is the lid twitching. This would mean that the nerve is healing and that I’m on the way to being able to open my eye! Fingers crossed!

Leaps and bounds

I just washed the dishes!

I’m getting back to normal life, improving by leaps and bounds—at least, that is how it feels. Yesterday, I took no pain killers; showered and shampooed by myself; wore a pullover T shirt instead of a button-up shirt; was awake (if not entirely alert) for twelve hours straight; had a long visit with friends without dozing off; ate some normal (still soft, but not soup!) food, which I got for myself; pooped; watched TV; and did some research online. Such are the earmarks of nearly normal life.

I am weak from five weeks (!) of inactivity. I have lost a lot of upper-body strength, and my diminished three-dimensional perception leaves me feeling a little wobbly—it’s not quite vertigo, but a sense of unsteadiness and a tendency toward motion sickness. How profoundly reliant on binocular sight we humans are! It will take me some time and experience to adjust to being temporarily monocular.

Regarding my sight, my understanding is that I can expect to be pretty much in a holding pattern for the next five months. All three of my doctors repeatedly stress that I suffered a severe trauma and that I need time to heal. I have some vision in my left eye now (when my eye is held open). I can see light and motion and make out shapes even without a lens. The lens will wait, I assume, until the surgery to remove the silicone oil, in about five months. I have a black area at the center of my vision in my left eye, due most likely to hemorrhaging behind the retina; I also have a clear area within the black that appears to me to be getting bigger. My hope is that the black will disappear as the blood clears away. I picture the black getting erased or chipped or eaten away, bit by bit, as the underlying cells heal.

The other part of the challenge to my vision is my eyelids. I will need another surgery to reconstruct my lower eyelid, most likely in early December. I have been growing new tissue on the lid since Dr. Polonski debrided it some weeks ago. He will graft some cartilage and skin from behind my ear to finish it. I may lose my “Yamaguchi ears” in the process, which I have always been fond of, though apparently sticking straight out is not the preferred aesthetic. One more change in the mirror to look forward to. More concerning to me is my upper eyelid, which is still not yet functioning. Dr. Polonski’s attitude is to stay patient and positive. In the original surgery, he repaired the lid layer by layer and thought everything looked good. That said, there was concussive damage to the nerve that controls the muscles of the lid, and it needs time to heal. That, along with clearing the black, is my primary focus. After all, what good will a functioning eye be if I cannot open my eyelid?

So join me, if you will, in envisioning me with two open, clear eyes—and always a big, big smile. Thank you for smiling back!

Waking up is hard to do

Sorry for the long silence. I feel like I have been asleep for most of the last two weeks, since my retina surgery. As my sister noted, the surgery itself took four hours, nearly twice as long as expected, very long for eye surgery. It was outpatient surgery, but it took me many hours afterward to wake up enough to go home; though I went in at 6:30 a.m., I was one of the last patients out. Ever since, my days have been cycles of sleep, eye drops, medication, food, sleep, eye drops, food, medication, sleep . . . interrupted by frequent doctor visits. I have been reading even email only every few days and have managed only a couple of actual replies. In many ways, I feel like I still haven’t woken from the surgery.

This week I can finally feel that I am getting stronger when I am awake, however. And the surgery was successful: my retina is firmly reattached, and when my eye patch is off, I have some vision even with the lens removed. My next goal will be to get my eyelids working again.

Yesterday’s visit to Dr. Harris marks a milestone: After two weeks of sitting up, I no longer have to be upright! I can now sleep on my side (either) or stomach. The first thing I did when we got home yesterday was to lie down on my bed for a nap. Blessed relief! I cannot describe how strong is the urge to lie down when you cannot. But not sleeping on my back has its own challenges. I have always moved a lot during sleep. Even with pillows at my back and a lump bound to my back to make lying on it uncomfortable, I was a challenge to police. Karen lost a lot of sleep trying to watch over me. I cannot tell how much sleep I got myself; today again I spent mostly dozing—upright in my chair when no one is here.

So, again, thank you for all the positive thoughts, and forgive me for not replying. I trust all this sleep is therapeutic, but I don’t know when I will finally be awake enough again to feel like life has resumed. In the meantime, keep those bad jokes coming! Turns out I can still laugh.

Update after retina surgery…

Hi everybody, Amaranth here, Lynne’s sister from Mexico…

Lynne is recovering from her surgery on Tuesday. She has more pain and fatigue than the past 2 weeks, but to our eyes, at last,  she is looking better.

The surgery took over 4 hours because of the amount of trauma that had to be addressed. Dr. Harris found her retina detached in patches. There were a few tears that were repaired with laser and her lens was removed.  Blood was removed from the eyeball and an oil bubble placed in her eye to hold pressure against the retina to keep it in place.  It will be removed in a few months in another surgery.

She is recuperating in a chair at home, her eye dressed and covered by a plastic shield.  She must stay in an upright, sitting position day and night to give the retina the best advantage to heal where it is repaired, so she is propped and wedged tighter than a tick by pillows and towels to keep her from leaning backward, forward or sideways.   We’ve heard of others who have had retina surgery that had to lie face down so Lynne is not complaining.

Tomorrow we see the surgeon who reconstructed her face.

We have been told to expect one or two more surgeries in the future.

Thanks for all your loving thoughts and well wishes. Thanks to those friends who have been keeping in touch by email, those sending cards and flowers.   Your support keeps us thankful and hopeful and keeps Lynne smiling.

Surgery tomorrow

I am clean and scrubbed, ready for tomorrow’s surgery. This is an important milestone. It will be the first true assessment we have of the condition of my eye. All the information we have had so far is indirect, because blood is still obscuring any view of the retina. Tomorrow’s surgery will reattach the retina and also show us the road ahead for maximum recovery of my sight.

Because of damage to my facial nerve, I have the sensation of a large hole in my face, an absence in the whole that is my head. Sometimes that hole feels very cold and very black. I’ve been envisioning instead a space filled with a small gentle sun; a clear, peaceful, healing light.

Feeding this light is all the positive energy all of you are sending me. I cannot express how grateful I am for all the warm wishes I continue to receive from so many of you. It is so unexpected and such a blessing. Thank you.

Picture me looking back at you with both eyes and a big grin on my face.

I’ve taken to watching in a mirror the redressing of my eye. It makes me even more grateful for my caretakers, especially my partner. How brave she is to look at my wound again and again, to face down her fears to take such care of me. And the gravity of my trauma is finally sinking in: how lucky I am to have even survived such a blow, to still have an eyeball, to still have a recognizable face to look into. What good fortune is mine to have love, to have help and care, family and friends. And, by gum, to have insurance. And gifted surgeons.

May such good fortune bless all of you.

A setback

The retina specialist believes the retina is detaching, based on what the ultrasound is showing. She has scheduled me for surgery next Tuesday morning to try to reattach the retina. In the process, she will remove the vitreous gel from the eyeball and replace it with either a silicone oil or a gas bubble to hold the retina in place (vitrectomy) and will put a band around the eye to counter the stress that is causing the retina to detach (scleral buckle). While she is operating she will also remove the displaced lens, since it is complicating the picture and would have to be replaced surgically down the road anyway. She is certain that I will lose some vision; how much is unknown. I’m still focused on a full recovery, even if it takes a bit longer than expected. Keep those positive thoughts and images coming, folks! And thank you! I ardently thank you!

What happened

I was turning an end grain hollow vessel from a short segment of a badly cracked mesquite log. The final form at the time of the accident was about 10 inches in diameter at its shoulder and 6 1/2 inches tall.

I knew it was a dangerous piece of wood from the beginning, and I had been treating it as such. The only reason I was turning such a dangerously cracked piece of wood was to fulfill a specific commission that called for a lot of stone inlay.

I had turned down the exterior and shaped it between centers, including cutting a tenon to chuck it for hollowing, at speeds ranging from 150 to 450 rpm. I had wrapped the exterior with duct tape at the shoulder and along the taper before beginning to hollow. (With 20/20 hindsight, I would instead have swaddled the piece in plastic wrap.) I had hollowed the vessel at varying speeds up to 550 rpm. I had deliberately left the walls very thick, an inch and a quarter to more than two inches thick, out of caution because of the cracks. After hollowing about as much as I planned to, I turned up the speed to close to 1200 rpm to make a couple of clean-up passes on the interior. Note that when I was making these interior cuts at the high speed, I was positioned out of the line of fire, should the vessel have broken at that time. Although I normally dial my speed up from and down to zero, in this case, after I found a nice fast speed without vibration that allowed me a clean cut on the interrupted interior surface, I hit the power button to stop, check my cut, and restart for another cut or two. I stopped and restarted in this way once or twice, possibly three times.

Then I stopped to answer a phone call.

Without the interruption, what would likely have happened next, based on previous practice, is this: I would have felt the interior surface, sucked the shavings out, taken a last look, and, deciding to call it quits on the interior, I would have reached over at that point to turn the speed dial back to zero without turning the lathe back on. That would have completed the rhythm of that sequence.

Answering the phone call interrupted that sequence. Further, it changed the protection I was wearing. Up until that point, I had been wearing my half-mask respirator, my glasses, and a full faceshield. I took off my faceshield and dropped my respirator to answer the phone. After hanging up, I pulled the respirator right back up, out of habit. Instead of putting the faceshield back on, however, I used the opportunity to take a careful look at the vessel.

I had cut as much as I dared from the interior. I saw that the exterior curve near the mouth wasn’t quite what I wanted. I repositioned the tool rest from inside the vessel to parallel to the top, and I pulled the power button on. I wanted to look at the vessel spinning so that I could see beyond the duct tape to see if I wanted to make any other cuts before calling it quits for that stage of the turning.

Now, despite what I just implied a couple of paragraphs back, I can’t really blame the interruption for what happened. Interruptions happen, and I knew from previous experiences the danger of turning on the lathe when it is already set at a high speed. I have in fact been trying to train myself to habitually and automatically check the relative position of the speed dial before turning the lathe back on after any interruption. This I plainly failed to do, and I have to take full responsibility for my failure to do so.

When I did turn the lathe on, the high speed didn’t trigger any alarms for me. I often turn at high speed, because I normally turn much smaller, more delicate pieces, often with interrupted surfaces. And I was only looking, after all. I confess I always thought of faceshields as protecting my eyes from flying chips, not as protecting my head and face from random missiles.

The irony is that my next step would have been to turn the lathe off. I have a clear image of the piece as I was last seeing it. I couldn’t have touched up the surface I was dissatisfied with even if I had wanted to: the duct tape was in the way. I would have turned off the lathe and waited till a later stage to touch up that curve. Although I had a tool in my hands, it wouldn’t have been the appropriate tool for such touchup, and I didn’t have it raised for use. If I had, my forearm might have provided some defense. As it was, I was just looking. I may have even been leaning in to look. It was a peaceful, unthreatening, undangerous moment.

Until it wasn’t.

My general condition

I’m not in pain: regular medication keeps any discomfort at bay. I think I am benefiting in this respect from damage to the nerve to my face—which I can appreciate and not rue, since, as of this morning, I don’t think it is permanent.

I keep my left eye covered under a loose moist dressing. As long as it’s covered, I look pretty normal. I even wear my glasses over the dressing. Without the dressing, I’m a distressing sight.

My unhurt eye gets tired pretty quickly, so I have very limited periods of normal clear sight. I can read or look at a computer screen for only a few minutes at a time before the letters blur on me. I have to blink a lot to read. [These limits make it challenging to keep up with emails, so please be understanding if I don’t respond individually to all of your lovely notes of support.] I can watch TV or look at people longer because I don’t have to keep details in focus.

I can converse easily. I can eat—soft food only to avoid pressure on the broken bone above my teeth. I can’t open my mouth very wide. My top lip is still partially numb. The numbness left my bottom lip a few days after the surgery, so I quit dribbling, thank goodness. My mother and older sister have been cooking delicious, comforting food for me. And I just now managed to scramble a couple of eggs for myself for dinner (hurrah!).

Fatigue hits me hard and fast. At some point every day, even when I think I’ve been taking it easy, I discover I’ve overextended my energy and have to collapse. I constantly underestimate the energy required to heal. I need to sleep and rest more.

For 48 hours after the surgery, I had to have my dressing changed, and usually medication put in my eye, every half hour around the clock. The first night we had the help of the wonderful nursing staff at St. Joe’s. They sent us home the day after the surgery though (!), and since then my partner, with help from my sisters, has done an extraordinary job of taking care of me. [My sisters arrived to look after me within days after my accident.] I (and my caregivers) have seven medications to manage now: four drops and an ointment that go into my eye, and two pills. This is complicated, as they all must be administered at different frequencies and none can be given together. My partner and I have finally got a system worked out, and using two alarm clocks, I am now able to keep track of the schedule pretty well myself. I cannot administer the eye medications to myself though, so I need help at least every two hours, and every fifteen minutes for an hour and a half at the beginning and end of every day. And I have beaucoup doctors’ appointments: four this past week; one with each of three of my doctors (surgeon, ophthamologist, and retina specialist) next week. These visits can really throw the medication schedule off.