Volume 33, Number 2

Take Care of your Eyes, Take care of Your Health

Fred Schepartz

As longtime Mobius readers know, I very seldom write about personal topics.

Despite all that’s going on in the world and in our country right now, I have to take a more personal route this time.

This spring I was diagnosed with and began treatment for glaucoma.

I find that it is getting easier to write and say that word, glaucoma. At first, I had a very difficult time saying the word. With a little bit of perspective from the passage of time, I realize that is due to the difficulty of confronting one’s mortality.

We get older. Our parts degrade. This is a part of life.

I digress.

My father has been treated for glaucoma for more than thirty years. His brother had glaucoma. His first cousin had glaucoma.

I should have been getting my eye pressure checked on a regular basis.

When we are younger, we believe that we will live forever.

Years ago, I was, in fact, getting my eyes checked annually. For some reason, I stopped doing that. I think maybe I had switched medical providers or something like that.

Thus, prior to this spring, I had not gotten my eyes checked for several years. I knew that I should have been getting my eyes examined, but for some stupid reason, I let inertia prevent me from stepping out of my inaction, despite noticing that my vision was not what it had been. But then again, my vision was 20/15 once upon a time. I knew that could not last forever. And generally, my vision is good enough that I do not need to wear glasses.

I had been thinking it was time to get my eyes checked. Especially given that a very good friend of mine had been diagnosed with an especially acute form of glaucoma following a week of crushing migraines. His pressure was more than 100, which is through the roof. Eye drops and laser surgery were immediately effective.

I tried to schedule an appointment with one clinic, but the soonest appointment I could get was months off. I ended up cancelling that appointment when I was able to get an appointment with an optometrist near my house.

It was one of those eyeglasses stores, essentially, rather than an eye clinic. And did they ever push the glasses! After filling out intake paperwork, the receptionist cheerily urged me to “check out the glasses while you wait for the doctor to see you.”

The eye exam followed, and my pressure was 30. That’s well into the range for glaucoma. The optometrist suggested I see an ophthalmologist who would be better suited to treat glaucoma.

“While I’m putting together the referral,” the optometrist cheerily said, “why don’t you check out the glasses?”

Well, getting that referral appointment was like pulling teeth. A receptionist asked me what clinic I wanted the referral sent to. I gave her my suggestion. A week later, I still hadn’t heard from them. I ended up finding another eye clinic within my insurance network. I asked the eyeglasses store to send the referral to that second clinic.

This time I did hear back, but they couldn’t schedule an appointment sooner than a few weeks off.

At the urging of my father, I called them back and was able to get an appointment much sooner, made possible by getting someone on the phone who looked at the diagnosis and realized a bit of urgency was called for.

The appointment was at the venerable Davis-Duehr clinic, smack in the middle of the old Greenbush neighborhood, once the center of Madison’s Sicilian population and culture, long urban-renewalized out of existence. I knew the clinic well from my long tenure driving for Union Cab Cooperative.

I saw a battery of technicians before finally seeing the ophthalmologist. One tech did the visual field test where, with my face pressed to an apparatus, I pressed a button every time I saw the flash of a pin of light. It was rather uncomfortable, especially wearing my KN95 mask.

Another tech performed a complete eye exam. And it is worth noting that she told me the prescription from the eyeglasses store was way too strong for my needs and that I did not necessarily need glasses.

Yet another tech applied eye drops to dilatate my eyes. In fifteen minutes, it was time for the main event.

The ophthalmologist struck me as kindly, with a good bedside manner. My pressure was 30 in my right eye and 40 in my left eye. There was irreparable damage to both eyes, mild in the right and moderate in the left. My vision is still decent but not 20/20, let alone 20/15.

They wrote me a prescription for eyedrops to ease the pressure—something I am well familiar with given my father’s experience with glaucoma.

They also scheduled me for laser surgery ten days later. They were not messing around.

Ten days later, they again checked my pressure. Already the pressure had dropped by ten points in each eye. They did another visual field test. The results were about the same though they told me my results were maybe a touch better.

The ophthalmologist performed the laser surgery. And then I went home. My eyes stung for a couple days, but really, the procedure was not painful at all.

A follow-up appointment is later this month. I’m hoping the laser surgery shows a high degree of effectiveness.

The lesson here is pretty clear.

I discussed my family history with the ophthalmologist. He said the treatments have improved greatly in the last thirty years. There’s a greater variety of medications available. The state of the art for laser surgery is leaps and bounds from where it had been. For instance, it used to be that certain types of surgery could only be done a limited number of times. With today’s technology, such procedures can be done whenever necessary.

As for the lesson, I got lucky that for whatever reason, I got off my ass and got my eyes checked. What this means is that—hopefully—my eyes won’t get appreciably worse, at least from glaucoma. This means that my quality of life say, five or ten or twenty years from now will be greater than if I had not taken these steps.

But it is not just about eyes. I realized that it had been a while since my last colonoscopy, seven years in fact. I called the digestive clinic to find out what the recommendation was for when I should repeat the procedure. They told me ten years.

That was a huge relief though of course, I would have scheduled an appointment if the recommendation was for sooner than ten years.

We get older. Our parts degrade. And yes, we all will die someday.

It is difficult to face up to one’s mortality. That is simply human nature. However, we must not let that interfere with looking out for one’s health. Call it a public service announcement, but do take care of your eyes. Do take care of your health. Do it for yourself. Do it for the people who you care about and for those who care about you.