Glaucoma - and coping with it

Glaucoma is one word I had not heard of till I fell prey to it some twenty years back. I was in Singapore in 1991—staying with my son –a sport journalist.

I had lost my husband four years earlier and was a total wreck. Raja – my son –was the one who helped me regain my sanity – infusing so much confidence in myself, helping me back to have a busy life in this new country. He encouraged me to do things on my own—like going to the British Council library to get books to read, going to the shops on my own to buy whatever I needed for myself or for the house, and most important- to go for walks.

It was during one of these walks I felt something was wrong with my vision. While waiting for the traffic signals to change to cross the road, I was not able to see the cars coming from my left side till they were right in front of me. I thought I was getting cataract as I was above 60 at that time. So I decided to go to Bombay to stay with my daughter Viji who at that time was working with an NGO helping cancer patients. She had contact with many doctors. With her help I saw an optician who, after listening to my problem suggested that I consult a glaucoma expert and sent me to one.

This specialist, checked my eyes and did a field test, and advised me that it was a seriously advanced case of glaucoma. He said I should have surgery as soon as possible, within two days if possible to save the vision – whatever that was left of it -- in my left eye. He advised me to go to Sankara Netralaya in Chennai where I could get the best treatment. So off I flew to Chennai to my eldest daughter Raji who, in the meantime, managed to get an appointment with the chief of that institution for the next day itself.

Thus my treatment started. I was put in the care of Dr L Vijaya who appeared to be very efficient at the same time kind and considerate. I was under her care for the next eight-nine years. During this period I underwent three surgeries, in both my eyes, for glaucoma as well as for cataract which, by this time, had set in and was ripe for surgery, done by Dr Vijaya herself.

Glaucoma is caused when pressure is built up in the eyes. This pressure then starts crushing the optical nerves, which get damaged and start affecting ones vision. And that is when one becomes aware of it, only after this damage is done. That is why glaucoma is referred as a thief disease.

I was told I had lost 85% of my vision in my left eye. The first stage of treatment was laser surgery, done to relieve the pressure on the optical nerves by drilling minute holes in my eyeball. After this I was asked to apply eyedrops – Pilocar, four times a day, and Timolol, three times a day -- till two further surgeries were performed.

After a year or two of stumbling steps, I learnt to take this drawback in my stride and have continued with my life without much problem for the last so many years. I am doing everything I was doing before I was affected by this: knitting, reading, cooking whenever I feel like it, and am now typing this blog on my netbook, too. (as in the picture)But I have stopped going for walks on my own --- I am not allowed to do that by my children wherever I am, so I have to do with walking inside the compound or on the terrace.

Another disadvantage, with practically no vision in one eye, is I am not able to gauge the depth of things. This has led to minor inconveniences. Going down the stairs is a problem. I need the help of another person or I have to cling on to the banisters. Also, when I want to put a glass on a table, I find it difficult to gauge the distance between them. In unfamiliar situations, I let go of the glass an inch above the table as a result of which I spill things, or worse, break glasses. Then when hanging out clothes to dry, it is very difficult for me to locate the clothesline; it is always a few inches this way or that way from where I see them.

The main reason why I am writing all this is that at the very beginning itself Dr Vijaya alerted me that this glaucoma is hereditary and so my children should have periodical eye checkups. I remember my mother telling us that her grandmother lost her vision in her old age. Could she have had glaucoma? Who knows?

Anyway, it is proved now that glaucoma IS hereditary because my daughter Viji has been affected by it. She discovered she had it only four months ago but Dr Vijaya, whom also she consulted, is of the opinion it must have started at least a year back because my daughter’s right eye is badly affected.

I request all my family members and all who read this not to ignore any discomfort you feel in your eyes. Please have an eye checkup at the earliest and save your sight. Some symptoms are a dull but heavy feeling ache in your eyeballs which I used to feel in the early days. Also powerful lights trouble the eyes, giving a lot of glare. Light beams reaching one’s eyes are broken: the stars one sees seem like a comet. Actually I have not seen a single star without a tail for the last so many years, not that I am able to spot any.

Please don’t think glaucoma affects only grownups. It could attack anyone at any age Even babies are affected by this. NO, I am not alarming anybody, just trying my best to make one aware of this. All I want to say is be on your alert and don’t ignore your eyes.

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