The Devastating Battle I Didn't See Coming
Tears streamed down my face as I listened to the doctor's words.
"There's a mass in your left eye. We're not sure what it is."
The only thing that ran through my head was cancer. I was terrified that I would lose my eye.
He said he would send the images to a specialist, and schedule an appointment for me to be seen.
I was completely taken by surprise. The only symptom at the time was a small, dark spot in my vision that made it hard to see whenever I was applying eyeliner to my right eye (because when I do this, I close that eye, relying solely on the left eye to see for application).
When the problem arose, I was uninsured at the time, and decided to "wait and see." But after a few months, it started to grow larger, and I decided to pay out of pocket for a checkup.
I was still in tears when I left the doctor's office. About ten minutes later, he called to tell me the specialist looked over the images, and she said it wasn't cancer. She would go over the details the following Monday morning.
At the visit, she told me I had Presumed Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome, a chronic, degenerative disease endemic to the river valley region. Histoplasmosis is a fungus that grows in fecal matter from birds or bats along the Mississippi River, becomes airborne, and invades your lungs. In rare cases, such as mine, it travels up to the eye.
POHS acts very similar to Macular Degeneration. Swelling inside the eye causes bleeding. Bleeding kills cells and leaves scar tissue, and causes permanent damage to the central vision.
By the time symptoms start showing up, the damage is done. The beginning effects are "Histo Scars" -- scar tissue along the peripheral that is undetectable without medical equipment.
There is no cure. All you can do is fight it with regular treatments, and hope that it doesn't spread to the other eye.
The treatments include needles, needles, and more needles, which is totally awesome when you're dreadfully terrified of them! Throw in the added fun of having veins that either hide or move around whenever syringes are near, and you're in for a rollicking good time!
One type of treatment, photodynamic therapy, involves being shot in the eye with a cold laser. You have to hold completely still for this one, or you'll risk permanent injury. The first time I had this, my Nervous Giggling Fear Response was in full swing.
I sat there laughing uncontrollably for a good twenty minutes, much to the dismay of the doctor, the annoyance of the techs, and to my own embarrassment.
A more common treatment, ocular injection, is every bit as scary as it sounds. When I had to get this, I was terrified.
Since it was a busy day, it took the specialist a long time to get to me. This left me plenty of time to work out my alternating laughing/crying fits in preparation for getting stuck in the eye with a needle as I sat alone in a patient's room.
But nothing would prepare me for the most terrifying thing: a metal apparatus shaped like a set of tiny claws that they needed to pry my eyelids open.
They talked me through the process, but when they showed me "the claw," I panicked and started screaming uncontrollably like an ingenue under attack in a classic horror movie. I had never before been filled with so much terror.
When they were installing "the claw," I had to hold perfectly still. It prevented me from blinking, which made me want to blink even more. Which, in turn, made my eyelids incredibly sore afterward.
I utilized my yoga breathing technique to try to calm myself, focusing on a spot on the ceiling. A tech held my hand, and reassured me as the specialist injected a numbing shot, then the actual medicine.
Despite the treatments, my central vision in that eye is pretty much useless. It's like looking out of a fish-eye lens that has been covered in mud. I can't read from that eye, let alone see to drive.
Thankfully, the peripheral vision in that eye is still intact, and vision in my other eye is practically perfect, so I'm still able to do all the things I love: read, write, and design.
I hope the day never comes when I have to fight that battle with my other eye. From this experience, I learned just how precious vision is, and how quickly it can be destroyed.
I became fully aware that it might not always be there. Not just because of POHS, but because, at any time, there could be an accident that decimates something previously taken for granted.
At any time, a parasite could invade and feed on a precious organ until the source is rendered useless. At any time, some unforeseen force could take away that which you never imagined living without.
That's why it's important to remember what you have, and be grateful for it. Your organs, your mental faculties, your very life, are all precious and fleeting.
Sooner or later, they will be gone. Will you be able to say that you made the most of them? That you valued that which you were given? Every day is a gift, an opportunity to create, an opportunity to utilize what you have.
Don't let it go to waste.