Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Oh, Gee

In addition to my regular annual checkup with Dr. N, yesterday was my annual eye exam. This was no accident; when Dr. N schedules appointments for her patients, she looks for appointments they already have and schedules around those. This is handy for people who live far away or whose insurance only charges one copayment per day, but it always makes me nervous that I will miss an appointment. 

Dr. N saw me promptly, however and came bearing mostly good news. My blood work looked good and my total cholesterol had dropped even more.

So then it was on to my ophthalmologist, Dr. Hottie. No, I don’t call him that to his face, but he is a sight for sore eyes. First I had something called a visual field test, and had to push a button every time I saw a flickering light. Then the standard vision test, then I had my eyes dilated and got the standard glaucoma tests. Somewhere in there, a technician took pictures of my optic nerves.

By the time Dr. H came in to see me, I was checking my watch wondering when I’d get out of there and if I’d have enough time to go buy my husband’s Christmas present at Lowe’s. I wasn’t expecting to hear that I have glaucoma. My left optic nerve is showing signs of notching on the lower margin, and I have corresponding “shadowing” in the upper left visual field. (The eye is flipped with respect to the optic nerve, the lower nerve innervates the upper eye and vice versa.) Dr. H reassured me they had caught it early. He also explained I have low tension glaucoma, which wouldn’t have been diagnosable by a standard test of eye pressure. In low tension (or normal tension or normal pressure) glaucoma, eye pressure is normal but the optic nerve shows damage anyway. Treatment is the same: eye drops to lower eye pressure and if that doesn’t work, surgery to increase drainage of eye fluids. Ten percent of people with glaucoma can lose their vision even with treatment.

I cannot figure out if I am the healthiest sick person I know or the sickest healthy person I know. What I do know is that I have an interesting reaction to bad health news. Whatever anger, fear, or self-pity comes along later on, my initial reaction is always the same: shame. If something is wrong with me, I caused it. 

I don’t think I’m the only person who reacts that way, either, because we have the Adam and Eve story to suggest that this is a pretty widespread belief. If human beings feel soreness and pain, and eventually die, it must be because we did something wrong. We must have brought it on ourselves some way. Women must have done it, because we’re the ones who bleed mysteriously. Shame and pain, they’re almost sisters.

Today I’m feeling a little calmer. I have drops to put in my eye each night and I go back to Dr. H in a month to see how they’re working. Other than that, there isn’t anything I can do. This isn’t something that diet and exercise will fix. This isn’t something that requires major lifestyle changes.

Oh, gee. I wasn’t expecting this.


  1. Firstly, I'm sorry about the glaucoma and glad that you've been diagnosed early and are (I think) in a position to be able to something about it. Good luck with the eye drops.

    Secondly I know what you mean about the shame reaction. I wonder how much of it comes from western society fetishising youth - a reaction to not being the perfect ideal of 18-25 year old robust and glowing health. How much is a reaction to percieved failure, to maintain that ideal. How much is feeling that you're failing the people around you, by not being able to maintain the ideal, to stay strong. To not fail them by being mortal.

    All of my most recent reactions are to a cold, believe it or not. Unfortunately the cold does prevent me from being at the hospital where I need to/should be. Damn viruses.

  2. Thanks for the good wishes. You may be onto something with shame being related to aging, because now that I think about it, I didn't start reacting this way until I was in my 40's.

    So are you saying someone you love is in a hospital and you can't visit because of a cold? What rotten timing. I hope you get better (and the other person, too, if possible) really soon.

  3. Yeah, sorry, tiredness-related obtuseness. My son is in NICU (born prem), and obviously we (myself and my husband) can't go in when we're not fully well. Which was all weekend - longer for my husband, who has a lousy (male) immune system. Still, got back in today, which was nice. Hopefully my husband will make it back again shortly!

  4. I'm glad you're well enough to get back to visiting. When is the little one likely to be going home? I hope it's soon.

  5. Not sure at this point. Originally it was Christmas, "if all goes well", then January and now I'm just saying "before Easter I hope". He's moving along slowly, but getting there.

  6. I'm glad to here he is "getting there". Back when I was decorating the tree, I heard "For Unto Us a Child is Born" on the radio and thought about you and your son. When it got to the part about "For the government shall be upon his shoulder", I hoped it meant he would be home for Christmas and ruling the roost as babies do. My continued warm wishes for his recovery.