If the eyes are a window into the soul, mine is a bit cloudy. That scares the crap out of me. Why should you care? Because it could also happen to you.
(No. 98) Plus, how to be really sick, but have a great time, in Shanghai, by Stephen P. Williams
It’s all in the eyes. Photo by Bacila Vlad on Unsplash
I thought my retina had pulled away from my eye. Worrisome, yeah. I hate to scare you, but crazy things can happen to your aging body.
The other afternoon I noticed some big floaters in my right eye -- those strange dark shapes that appear to be a few inches in front of your face, but also inside your eyeball at the same time. Nothing to worry about, I told myself. But then a crescent moon of bright yellow light flashed at the edge of my eye and I got worried. I’d been here before.
About five years ago I was running errands in preparation for a Christmas trip to Shanghai to visit my oldest daughter, Bolivia, who was studying Mandarin at a University there. As I climbed the subway station stairs into the sunny Bronx afternoon my left eye was overcome by bright flashes and colors -- almost like I’d taken LSD, as I’d done in the 70s. I dropped my coffee maker off at an Italian espresso machine repair shop (it’s 36 years old, a wedding gift, and it is very weird and special), and caught the subway home. A few texts with friends who’d had eye problems convinced me I should go directly to the Mt. Sinai eye clinic not far from my house, in case I had a detached retina, which left untreated could lead to serious vision problems.
As we age, the “jelly” (that’s how doctor’s tend to describe the vitreous that fills your eyeball) begins to liquify. The drips are floaters. Sometimes they will pull at the retina, causing tears or even detaching it from the blood vessels that nourish it. A common remedy is to insert a gas bubble into the eye that pushes the retina into place until it reattaches. During that time you have to lie on your stomach, face down, for several days, so the gas bubble floats to the back of your eye.
At about 10 that night a doctor probed my eye, pushing painfully on the socket to make it easier to shine a light inside my eyeball. My retina was intact, but the doctor said something was wrong. I made an appointment to see a specialist the next day. The specialist said my retina had a small spot of blood, maybe a tear, so he used a laser to “rivet” it to the back of my eye. Ptchoom. Ptchoom. Ptchoom. And the smell of burning flesh.
“This will happen to you again,” he said. “That is not an if.”
I’m always amazed that I trusted this doctor, a total stranger, to shoot a laser into my eyeball. Fortunately, he did a good job. But I’ve watched my plumber screw up while fitting a pipe. I’m sure a doctor could do the same.
I flew to Shanghai with my two youngest kids. At the airport, I was coughing a lot, deep, serious coughs that could easily have aggravated the eye issue, but I was not going to miss my visit with my daughter. In Shanghai my coughing increased. (I know, Typhoid Stephen, but at least this was pre-covid.) I could barely walk up the pedestrian overpasses that spiderweb across the city. All I could eat was the broth dumplings came in, and maybe a few of the dumplings too. Hmm, I wondered. Maybe I’m sick? Duh, the kids said. A few nights later, they went out to dinner without me, because I needed to rest.
As I shivered in the cold apartment, my chest tightened. Within an hour my chest felt so tight I thought I might be heading towards death. I called the kids and my older daughter took me to a hospital where x-rays showed I had walking pneumonia. The doctor gave me antibiotics and heavy cough syrup, which helped with the lurching hacks that put pressure on my healing eye.
In the taxi home I felt very old, decrepit and unlovable. (Come to think of it, I felt like that when I woke up this morning, too, until I had my coffee.)
After a couple of days my lungs were a little better and I went to see an eye doctor at the same hospital, to make sure the lasered eye was ok. She examined me, photographed the inside of my eye, and said I was healing well. I enjoyed the rest of this strangely medicalized trip, and flew back to New York, where I recovered my breath and thought about my eyes
I’ve spent the last five years alert, in a quiet way, to any floaters. None came, until the other afternoon when the worms returned, along with occasional flashes. Maybe I’m imagining those flashes, I thought.
I walked the dog over to the Hudson River to watch the sunset. I told myself the flashes were just reflections off the inside of my glasses. I took my glasses off to prove this to myself. The flashes still came.
I returned home and slept through the night, hoping that healing power of deep sleep would take care of it. It didn’t. So, without telling my kids, so as not to concern them, I went to the eye clinic. How I could I call my kids, or anyone else, for that matter. What would I say?
“Hi. I’m going to the emergency room, and I don’t know what the result will be, so I thought I’d call you so that you could also worry with no information for the next three hours. Have a nice day.”
End of story -- for now -- is that my retina is not detached or torn. I was lucky again. The vitreous, for sure is decaying. But I’ve been told to live with it unless the floaters or the flashes (which have largely subsided) get worse. In that case I must return immediately to the clinic.
Detached or torn retinas are considered to be emergencies. Please remember to get help immediately if you ever have floaters or flashing lights in your eyes, especially if you are over 50.
I lied, it didn’t end there
As so often happens when you visit the doctor as an “older” person (ha ha, I notice that these days few of us over 60 use “senior” or, God forbid, “elderly” to describe ourselves), the eye doctor uncovered a different problem while he was checking out my retina. Apparently, the optic nerve in my other eye was looking a little weird. So now, even though my eye pressure is normal, I have to get a bunch of tests to check for glaucoma. No worries, you can treat it with drops.
As I write this, floaters are moving around in my right eye like pond scum. I hope they will recede, but who knows. For me, aging is about accepting your state, while at the same time always looking to strengthen it. This morning I went for a five mile walk, and I hope to lift weights this afternoon. I took my doses of the polyphenol (somewhat similar to an antioxidant) called resveratrol, and the NDA precursor called NMN (it’s supposed to help your cells function). And I’ll drink a lot of water, blah blah blah. And eat my vegetables. And get my protein.
If this sounds like a lot of worry, it actually feels like good fortune to me. I’ve discovered that I’m super healthy, except for all the parts with the potential to break
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Cold Heart (PNAU Remix) is the best pop song in 55 years and I know because I’ve listened to each top pop song of the last half century at least 100 times. (I’m only at about 30 plays for Cold Heart, so far.) Let’s clap hands for this May-September duet.
This song is so joyful, yet sad. Sexual and chaste at the same time. Crafty yet casual. The bass line is like five droplets of water falling into a diamond sink. Yes, it’s that good.
So, I have some history with pop music, just given my age and the fact I was raised in cars. But so does Elton. At age 75, I guess he’s oldish. He’s been around the block. And he’s seen a few moons. This duet with Dua Lipa, 26, gives him the relevance he must crave, but probably also brings a high degree of joy into his heart. Dua Lipa might also feel that joy as she reaches an entirely new audience of doddering old fools — just kidding. I’ve loved Elton John since first hearing Tumbleweed Connection. And I’ve never doddered — yet.
If you have some opinions about this song (contrary thoughts encouraged) please put them in the comments, below.
Thank you for reading this newsletter, and sharing your thoughts. - Stephen
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