For me, it was a frightening event that occurred overnight that led to a diagnosis of wet macular age-related degeneration (AMD).
Because of my age, the diagnosis wasn’t unusual, but the suddenness was — and it took me by surprise. Apparently, blood vessels deep within my eye grew, then leaked or burst, causing a rapid loss of vision.
For most, AMD is a slower, more easily tracked, gradual regression of sight.
I woke up that morning, and it looked like it was raining, with heavy drops splashing against my window. But when I looked elsewhere, it was a sunny day. I rubbed my eyes and attributed it to not being quite awake, and I went about my day.
The blurriness continued, that day and the next. By then I was frightened, upset, annoyed, and I called to make an appointment with my eye doctor. But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was 5 weeks before I could get in to see anyone.
In the meantime, at church, I noticed that where there used to be only four candles on a wreath near the altar, there were now eight. No, wait: There really were only four.
But I didn’t know that until I closed my bad eye. The six candles at the back of the high altar looked like 12, and by the way, not one of them was straight. They all leaned considerably to the left. That scared me, as well.
Five weeks later, I saw my eye doctor and had the initial tests that showed that serious degeneration had already occurred.
The diagnosis confirmed advanced wet AMD in my right eye and dry AMD (which fortunately isn’t as serious) in my left eye.
The optometrist who did these tests immediately set up an appointment with the ophthalmologist and also explained that I’d need to immediately start getting injections in my eye to treat the wet AMD.
The several days between receiving that information and my first appointment with the ophthalmologist were fraught with fear and anger.
How could this happen to me, a healthy and active 84-year-old? How could it happen so quickly? How would I go on without being able to see out of one eye, and with dry AMD in the other? How much longer before I would be blind and not be able to see at all?
I worried about writing first — my profession for 65 years. Driving. Going up the 16 outside steps to get into my apartment. Reading, a passion. Watching TV, a relaxation. I was angry that my life would change so much. And I was scared at the idea of getting needles directly into my eye.
The ophthalmologist allayed most of those fears during my first visit. He explained the problem, gently told me it could get worse, and while he probably couldn’t make it any better, it was worth a try. At least he felt confident he could halt or at least slow the advance of the degeneration.
He jotted down the name AREDS2 and urged me to pick up a bottle at the pharmacy and take one capsule twice a day.
In addition to my tears of fear and loss, this actually made me angry. If there was an over-the-counter medicine I could have been taking for years, why had my physician not told me about it? Why didn’t the optician, whom I saw regularly, tell me years before? I still live with that anger.
But I agreed to the eye injection immediately. Any help would be a blessing.
And it was. Putting aside the thought of a needle in my eye is all it took, since the procedure is quick, simple, painless, and apparently effective.
First, the doctor covered my “good eye” to relax me, then numbed my right eye, and that was it. I didn’t feel the needle or medication being inserted.
It’s a procedure which has recurred every month for the past 4 months now, but only after tests have been taken, measurements made, and results studied at each visit.
Before the second injection, the doctor informed me there was no further damage and in fact, there was a very slight improvement.
I spent days studying what else I could do to help maintain my remaining eyesight in both eyes.
My daughter ordered the American Macular Degeneration Foundation’s recipe book and told me to start trying a variety of recipes with vegetables and seafood that were new to me.
My son sent me boxes of root vegetables, including beets, garlic, sweet potatoes, and squash, as well as tons of greens, all of which would be healthy changes to my diet and are known to be good for the eyes.
I bought canned sardines (great with cream cheese on crackers as an hors d’oeuvres!), and I switched from the meat department to the seafood department in the market, with an accent on salmon and tuna fish.
I learned I loved them all, and in fact, I eat so much seafood that now I’m beginning to believe I even swim better!
I bought sunglasses, which help considerably whenever I am out in the sun, another suggestion from the ophthalmologist, and a new habit for me.
I quit driving at night and discovered I had friends who were delighted to play Uber for me. I found that as long as I stayed really attentive, I could drive on roads that I am very familiar with during the day.
I started watching TV programs on my computer, which was easier than the larger-but-more-distant TV screen in my living room.
And because I can see up-close with my left eye, I’m fortunate to be able to continue my writing and research, as well as my reading, which are vitally important parts of my life.
Those candles on the altar? They’re still crooked, but now I only see the actual number that are there. And I look at the candles as bowing down in thanks for being able to cope with the differences all of these changes have made in my life.
I’ve adjusted to this new phase of my life. I have confidence in my ophthalmologist. I take AREDS2 twice a day. I’ve learned to wear sunglasses outdoors, which I suppose I should have always worn.
Thanks to a combination of blurriness and the masks of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve become more attuned to people’s voices rather than facial features. I’ve even lost weight because of my new diet. And I swear, I definitely swim better.
Muriel Smith is an 84-year-old widow, retired newspaper editor, mom of four, grandma of nine, great-grandma of 12, and writer of several books on local history and dealing with grief at the loss of a spouse. Active in her church and community affairs, she is a volunteer mediator in court and a member of the Historical Commission in Monmouth County, NJ. Follow her blog at Veni, Vidi, Scripto (I came, I saw, I write).