You Don’t Know What You Can’t See When You Can’t See It

Stephanae McCoy

There’s Nothing More That Can Be Done

The news was devastating. “Ms. McCoy,” the doctor said, “I’m so sorry to tell you there is nothing more we can do for you.” Those simple words confirmed my worst fears. I am now legally blind.

I was numb and my heart was beating so violently I had a difficult time focusing on the doctor’s next words. After what seemed like an eternity, the doctor continued, “Ms. McCoy, you have lived with myopia all your life and you have done everything you should do by regularly visiting the eye doctor but you have reached the point where your vision can no longer be corrected.” This diagnosis was given to me four years ago.

When I was thinking about an article to write for World Sight Day, many things ran through my mind but the one overriding thing was this: How can we understand what we don’t know? I’ll try not to get too philosophical, but there really is something to be said for “You don’t know what you don’t know.” To put it another way, I view the realm of eye care as a secret society of ophthalmologists, optometrists, technicians and others in the field. I say this because – though I cannot profess to understand all things medical when it comes to my personal health – I make it a practice to research and learn all I can about a particular diagnosis so that, at the very least, I can ask my doctor appropriate questions.

Seeing Is Believing

The first time I put on eyeglasses was a little over 44 years ago. The feeling of seeing clearly for the first time stole my breath away. The transition was like leaving a dark movie theatre and stepping outdoors on a bright sunny day. It took a little more time for my eyes to adjust because suddenly everything was so clear and focused. It was as if all my senses were reborn: sound was keener, flavors more savory, smells more aromatic, touch more sensitive and sight – well, sight was indescribable. Depth perception was strange, crossing streets and walking down stairs was a little precarious as I acclimated to what is considered 20/20 vision.

Macular Hole Diagnosed

For 37 years I was blessed with perfect vision, provided I wore corrective lenses. Then eight years ago when I removed one of my contact lenses, looked in the mirror, and noticed half of my face was missin,g I thought it was due to a change in my medication. However after consulting with an ophthalmologist, the diagnosis was a macular hole and, luckily for me, all the statistics pointed to a favorable prognosis: (1) I was considered very young to experience a macular hole; (2) odds were it would not occur in my other eye; and (3) I had a 95% to 99% probability of having my vision completely restored in my affected eye. Unfortunately, my eyes refused to fall in line with the statistics and here I am today with vision reduced to counting fingers.

Lamellar Retinal Defects, RPE Hyper and Hypopigmentation, What??

I find it interesting that, while I lived with wearing corrective lenses most of my life, I never heard the term high myopia until approximately one year prior to my first macular hole. When the technician used the term, I must admit that I thought I had a serious eye disease and when I asked what high myopia was I was told that “It’s only a high degree of nearsightedness.” By the way, high myopia is a severe form of myopia. In my case, high myopia meant that my eyeball stretched and became too long. This can lead to holes or tears in the retina and can also cause retinal detachment. Abnormal blood vessels may grow under the retina and cause changes in vision.

When one thinks of nearsightedness it seems so trivial and I believed that I would always be able to get new lenses and experience that feeling of seeing anew once again. Such was not the case for me and like the good doctors said and recommended, I was diligent in going to the eye doctor and taking care of my vision. Though what happened to me is not considered typical, there are many eye conditions that can be avoided with proper nutrition, vitamins, exercise and regular visits to the eye doctor which brings me back to where I began.

Eye Care Professionals Should Use Lay Terms

If ever there was a need for laymen’s terms I’d say it would be in the eye care profession, since some of the terminology is not very patient-centric. Every time I go to my ophthalmologist she uses technical terms while she’s examining my eyes and I always ask her “what that word means” or “what is she looking at or for.” It is everyone’s individual responsibility to become your own health care advocate and this extends to the world of vision. You need to see your eye care professional on a regular basis and ask questions, and if you don’t understand the answer, keep asking until you are satisfied. If each and every one of us continues to ask the questions and let the professionals know that we need to understand what they are telling us, it is only then that we can begin to have an open dialogue.