It feels like Freddy Kruger pays a visit every night.
In the era of BLM and COVID-19, my problems are minimal at best. I am fortunate enough to be in a safe home with a comfortable bed, and I feel confident that I will be healthy (and employed) in the morning. But morning is far away.
Eye drops, ointments, gels, and pastes litter the floor around me. I have a humidifier aimed straight at my face and I’m staring at the ceiling, afraid to fall asleep. I know it’s just a matter of time before I wake up in horrible pain.
This is the experience of a recurrent corneal erosion.
The problem started from a freak accident about three years ago, when my dog managed to stiff arm an oh-so-slight yet oh-so-terrible cut into my right eyeball. The eye healed, for the most part.
While I long forgot about the dog incident, a new issue sprung from nowhere— an eyelid chalazion. I somehow messed up the simple act of staying safe at home during COVID and woke up one day with an eyelid about three times too big.
As all doctor offices were closed for COVID, three times too big quickly became ten times too big. Maybe more. After restrictions were lifted, I got some antibiotics, and eventually, eyelid surgery that helped significantly.
I assumed that was the last of the adventure, and I was excited to return to my new normal life of hanging out at home.
Unfortunately, the corneal erosion started pretty quickly after the eyelid surgery, and it took three doctors and a specialist to correctly diagnose the issue. (The assumption is the erosion was always there, and the chalazion triggered it.) For those of you who didn’t click the link above, a corneal erosion is when the top layer of the eyeball is not appropriately connected to the eye, and every night the new top layer bonds to the eyelid instead of the eyeball. In short, every time I wake up, my eyelid tears off a layer of my eyeball.
When this happens, it feels like Freddy Kruger is in my life. Often triggered by REM sleep (which just adds to the Kruger simile), my eye starts to move under my eyelid, and ultimately rips away from my eyelid. These episodes make me sleep deprived, as every REM cycle ends with executing pain, watery eyes, and significant light sensitivity — followed by days of terribly blurred vision. Once an episode occurs, the only way through it is to wait it out, which takes 30 minutes or more.
I’m in week seven.
For the record, I am not the type of person who toughs out a problem. I have no desire to suffer medically longer than I have to. But in our new COVID world, going to the doctor is not a simple task — and getting the correct treatment takes more than one attempt.
While all good intentioned, treatments included repeated eyelid stabbings with what can best be described as a medical grade push pin, as well as the removal of a calcium deposit (think kidney stone) found in the underside of my eyelid from the chalazion.
However, today’s appointment (my ninth) gave me the most hope yet — but the hope did not come easy.
After spending a few solid minutes looking into my eye, my cheery but very matter of fact doctor told me his plan to perform an anterior stromal puncture. As he prepared his tools, which mostly consisted of a screwdriver handle with a long, Z-shaped needle at the end, I quickly Googled the puncture procedure.
My eyes widened, and we looked like actors in a pathetic horror movie where the bad guy slowly prepares his torture devices while the victim helplessly waits, but yet manages to find a way to Google what torture feels like and its expected recovery time.
Based on my quick research, I realized the medical procedure is like aerating a lawn, except with the eyeball. The logic is simple: Traumatize the eye by poking dozens of holes in it so that the top layer appropriately heals and bonds to the eye itself. It makes sense, in that “leeches can suck out bad blood” kind of way. I mentally prepare myself for about 20 pokes, the Internet’s average expected poke count.
The doctor got started, and I was surprised how well the numbing drops worked. What I was not prepared for was seeing the needle go into my eye, and then only seeing the color grey as the needle was literally inside my vision. I started counting down from 20.
“You’re doing great!”
Twelve to go.
“Let’s take a quick break!”
Five to go.
I found this to be an odd time for a break given it was almost done, but fine. After he resumed, we quickly passed my 20 mark and moved into 30. Then 40. The room started to shrink.
“Let’s take another break, you’re doing well and we’re almost halfway done.”
At this point, we were at about 55 pokes. Breathing started to get difficult (the mask didn’t help) and I was getting light-headed. Finding out we just hit the halfway mark did not help. He continued.
Somewhere around the 85th poke, I flat out lost consciousness. I could not count anymore, and before I knew it, I got a big breath of smelling salts and was in a reclined chair. He told me the procedure was complete, put a bandage on my eyeball, and told me to come back in two weeks.
That was a few hours ago.
Tired of staring at the ceiling, I give up on sleeping for now. Tonight should be my first night of real sleep in weeks, but I am in no mood to participate in a trust fall with my eyelids. I get out of bed and write this post. Morning is not far away.
Read part two of this story here.
Special thanks to family, friends, doctors, and friends who are doctors that helped me through the last few months!