The Prairie Doc Perspective

What is it like to be blind?

By Richard P. Holm MD

If you had to lose one of your senses, which would be the most devastating? Imagine losing vision and how bad it would be to no longer see the beauty of a sunset over the prairie, or the kind twinkle in Grandmother’s eyes. Play-out losing hearing and how bad it would be to no longer hear Beethoven’s 5th symphony or the babbling of a mountain brook. Consider these or losing the sense of touch, smell, or taste and it helps one appreciate five senses and empathize for those without.

One day at work about 5 years ago, I noted my right eye was blurry at the center of  vision, and it struck me at the end of the day that I was losing my central concentration vision in my right eye. Over a few days it seemed to be getting worse.

In short order I was at the eye doctor and learned the problem was related to the bag or sack of vitreous gel, which fills the center of the eye. This bag of fluid was apparently separating from my retina, pulling and distorting vision.

My ophthalmologist sent me to the retinal specialist, and after taking pictures of the retina, and after follow-up over several months, he finally advised surgery. This involved removing the vitreous sack, called a vitrectomy, followed by peeling off the inflammatory membrane that had formed over the light-receptor-retina in the back of the eye. Since then my vision has stabilized, with some loss of the fine vision, but enough left to make me appreciate what I have with my left eye.

I have had many patients with vision loss, including one who lost an eye from a bottle rocket and several farmers who had similar traumatic loss of one eye. I know of glaucoma patients diagnosed late with vision loss, and of diabetics with progressive overgrowth of leaking blood vessels with significant blindness. Mostly, however, vision loss in my practice occurs in elderly patients with macular degeneration due to unknown causes, but sometimes related to smoking.

I have always sensed the sadness and loss these people experience as their vision goes away, but never so much as when I started to lose mine.

Dr. Rick Holm wrote this Prairie Doc Perspective for “On Call®,” a weekly program where medical professionals discuss health concerns for the general public.  “On Call®” is produced by the Healing Words Foundation in association with the South Dakota State University Journalism Department. “On Call®” airs Thursdays on South Dakota Public Broadcasting-Television at 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain. Visit us at OnCallTelevision.com. 

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