Enter the Floater
The picture below is a very clumsy approximation of what my vision is going to be like for the next little while:
(And no, that’s not my Karmann Ghia. I wish it was, but it ain’t.)
That thing bobbing around the right side of the photo above – the black clump that looks like a bunch of knotted-up string or a very small rotten banana – is my rendition of the floater currently bobbing about in my right eye. The motion isn’t as jerky as the animation shows; it’s much smoother, like a dead ant in a jar of baby oil that occasionally gets shaken about.
The floater appeared last Wednesday. It slowly travelled from right to left and I swatted at it. That’s when I realized that it was actually a little object in my eye.
I’ve got a strong family history of retinal detachment. That’s when the retina – the paper-thin sensor at the back of your eyeball that catches light and turns it into electrical signals to be interpreted by your brain – comes loose. It’s common among nearsighted people, whose eyeballs are stretched so that the lens focuses light in front of the retina instead on on it:
If you’re nearsighted, it typically gets worse as you get older and your eyeball stretches. This stretching pulls the retina taut, making it more susceptible to tears or holes, which let the vitreous (the clear goo in your eyeball) seep underneath, causing your retina to peel away like wallpaper in a sauna.
To complicate matters, the vitreous also shrinks as you get older, and it pulls on the retina as it does so.
Floaters are a sign of possible retinal detachment, so I was a little concerned.
A Visit to the Hospital
My original plan was to go to St. Joseph’s Health Centre, which is nearby and where they know me – my Mom’s the chief of cardiology there, and my brother-in-law also a cardiologist there. I figured it was best to go to a place where I had a little clout.
My brother-in-law suggested that I go to Toronto Western Hospital instead, since they are a big opthalmology hospital and would probably have an opthalmologist on call. The Ginger Ninja and I headed there, and sat in emergency, waiting to go through the Harry Potter Sorting Hat of triage.
Luckily for me, my mother and sister (she’s a doctor too) decided to come to the hospital. My sister prevailed on the emergency doctor (a PGY1 or “Piggy 1”, barely a couple of weeks into her first year of residence), who was going to send me home and have me come back in the morning. Our family has a history of retinal detachments progressing quite quickly, so the sooner my eye got looked at, the better.
While we waiting in the emergency examining room, I could hear a couple of family arguments in the adjoining areas. Emergency rooms often bring out the Jerry Springer guests in people.
In the end, the opthalmological resident, Dr. Mandell, gave me a full exam – including poking at my eye with a metal stick – and found a couple of small holes in my retina.
Frickin’ Laser Beams on My Frickin’ Head
“They’re tiny holes, but we can use a laser to seal them so that your vitreous doesn’t leak under them, which will eventually cause a detachment. The vitreous is tugging at your retina a little; I can tell from the tenting.”
I resisted the urge to go all Beavis and Butt-Head and say “Huh-huh-huh, you said ‘tenting’.”
It was after the clinic’s hours, so we had to wait for a security guy to open the locked room where the laser lenses were stored. While Dr. Mandell was going about trying to get his hands on the lenses, Wendy took this photo of me on her phone:
The laser was computer-controlled, and guess what it ran:
“Win2K? I’ve got some Windows 7 discs,” I joked with Wendy. “Maybe I can upgrade him before he comes back.”
The procedure involved my holding my head very still in the headrest. Dr. Mandell held a lens covered with goop to my eyeball, through which he focused a laser to do the retinal spot-welding.
“Keep your head still,” he said. “You don’t want the laser to hit the wrong thing.”
“No, I don’t,” I said in agreement.
All I saw was about ten seconds of a bright flashing green light. Then another ten seconds. Then another ten seconds, after which he said “All done.”
The Floater Remains
There’s only one thing the laser couldn’t fix:
I was told that it would eventually dissolve…”in weeks, perhaps months.”
It’s only slightly annoying when I’m looking at things that are an arm’s length away or farther. When I focus on objects at those distances, the floater becomes a blurred-out grey region and isn’t too hard to deal with. Reading, using the computer and driving aren’t really affected by it.
However, when I focus on objects close by, the floater comes sharply into focus and it seems as though I’m viewing the world through the aforementioned jar of baby oil with a dead ant floating in it. I noticed this when looking through my camera’s viewfinder. Any career aspirations to become a sniper, astronomer, diamond merchant or anything that requires me to look through a viewing lens will have to be put on hold.
Name the Floater!
Since I’m going to be stuck with this thing for a while, I might as well have some fun with it. I should give it a name. And that’s where you come in. I’m taking suggestions for names in the comments, and whoever comes up with the best name will get at $25 ThinkGeek or Amazon gift certificate from Yours Truly.
And no, “Floaty” is not a good name. Get creative!