Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Grid

The Grid 5.5" x 7.5" watercolor

It was time. I thought I would go in a bit early, before my drivers license would expire on my birthday, and get my eyes checked. I knew that going in, as the notice stated, would require an eye test. I guessed that my age would require this, after years of just renewing by mail. And, I was sure that, with the funny things that had been going on with my eyes, I would need some glasses.
I had given up on going back to the doctors where I had been going for years. I lost my good insurance when I retired. Knee replacement surgery was in the works, but I had to drop that idea. I couldn't afford to pay two insurance companies premiums, teacher retirement plus Medicare, plus pay deductables, copays, and whatever insurance wouldn't pay. Teacher retirment insurance was all I could manage, and I really needed that money for other things. When I retired, I was told that I was not eligible for Social Security since they had changed the way they do things. Low paying jobs, when I was younger, didn't pay enough to give me the quarters I needed. During the time of those jobs, I was told that I would be so glad when I retired, that I had struggled with my little paychecks so that I would have that money when I got older. I just threw that money away, and I sure could have used it at the time! I would never see a dime of it.
Texas teachers don't get Social Security, but have a separate retirement plan. If someone has worked other jobs, or if they are eligible for their spouses Social Security, then they will have both checks on retirement. I'm not sure about all the details of it, since it wouldn't apply to me.
I was told that I would have to apply for an individual policy with the clinic where we had our group insurance when I retired. I did, and after years of being with them, they turned me down. They said they didn't have to explain why. Which I thought was kind of a hateful attitude. I had my certain doctors to use and had not found any others who I trusted in town. But, I found that if I had Medicare, plus teacher retirment insurance, I could continue to see my doctors. That worked for a while until I could no longer afford to buy medicine or pay the copays and deductables. And, Medicare went up, so I couldn't afford that either.
I cut out going to the doctor, prescription medicine, along with Medicare, the newspaper, drinking water, my car, getting my hair fixed, clothes, shoes-anything that I could possibly cut, in order to get along on my reduced income after retirement.
I called the office of the Opthamologist who I had gone to before we got the good insurance with a clinic. I asked about the cost of an eye exam, and made an appointment. Then, I borrowed the $132.50 to pay for it.
The appointment was a week away, but, then they called and changed the date to the following week.
I went into the doctor's office, armed with my cash to pay for the visit, and worrying that glasses would be an added expense. I took an old pair of glasses, thinking I could use the old frames, at least. I couldn't see a thing through the old glasses and they weren't in style anymore.
My daughter took me since I knew that I would have my eyes dilated.
Paperwork was filled out, and I put my teacher retirement insurance down, just in case they wanted an insurance company. I told the receptionist that I intended to pay for it. She said, "Let's try your insurance first. We'll bill you, if they don't pay."
Whew. That was a relief. Maybe I could use the money to pay for glasses, and the insurance might pay, but I doubted that. I didn't remember seeing that they would pay for eye exams or glasses. But, then, I didn't know a lot about insurance. I only knew that they would probably try not to pay for anything they could. I could worry about the bill after Christmas.
The eye doctor was very nice and I explained why I was there. I wanted my eyes checked before I went to take an eye test for my drivers license, and thought I might need glasses to drive.
The last time I had my eyes checked, I had trouble reading the chart. That doctor said I had the beginnings of cataracts, and to just blink my eyes until it cleared up. I would blink and blink, but it didn't clear up, until later. He said it was too soon to do anything about the cataracts. But, that had been about 3 years ago.
This time, however, I blinked, and I could read most of the chart with one eye, not as much with the other.
The doctor told me that the cataracts still were in the early stages. He left the examining room and returned with a black card with white squares on it. He told me to stare at the dot in the center, with each eye.
Well, that was strange. There was a purple spot in the center, and the lines waved around it.
He left and then returned to the room to dilate my eyes. I looked into the machines and he looked into my eyes. Then he let me sit for a while.
"I guess he must be planning on going out of town or thinking about what he is going to do this weekend, since it is Friday, I thought."
"Well, the good news is that your eyes are good enough to pass the driving test. The bad news is that you have Macular Degeneration in one eye." He handed me a phamplet. I couldn't really read it, though, since my eyes were dilated.
He escorted me to a chair in the hall where I enjoyed looking at the frosted pink light fixtures on the wall. This office was much more tastefully decorated than the previous office I had been to years before. I complimented him on the nice furnishings and the fascinating, soft lights.
"I want you to see a Retina Specialist this afternoon," he announced. "I didn't see any signs of bleeding inside, yet, but, if blood gets in there, it is permanent and they won't be able to fix it."
"My eye was bleeding?" I wondered.
"These things come on suddenly, but there is treatment and they can save your vision, if you get in right away." He led me to the receptionist, took the telephone, and called to make the appointment himself."
He gave me some wrap around plastic dark glasses, but I was just numb and stunned. "Bleeding in my eye! Save my vision! But, don't I just need some glasses? See another doctor this afternoon? What do they do to you?" I didn't even think that I may not have enough money to see another doctor. I decided that I still had the money so I guess I would use that for the second doctor instead of glasses. After all, the doctor had said that my eyes were good enough to pass the eye test, and that's what I had gone for.
The Retina Specialist was out of town that day, according to his receptionist, via phone. So the first receptionist asked information while the other receptionist asked questions. She gave my teacher retirement insurance information. They could take me Monday at noon. The first doctor said that will be alright. I guessed that I wouldn't bleed to death or go blind by then, if he said it was okay. But, that gave me the weekend to worry.
Would they hurt? Would I be able to get my license? I read the phamplet that the doctor gave me. There was a little chart on the back, which I was told to use daily, mark it, and compare it to see if there were any changes in my vision. I thought that I liked the black one in the doctor's office best!
I stared at the dot in the center, with each eye, and with the left eye, there was the purple spot, and the curved lines around it. I used a pencil, lightly, to trace around the edges where the distortion was.
This chart is called an Amsler Grid. There are examples online. I'm still using the little chart on the phamplet. There is a note on the bottom that says to call your doctor right away if you notice any changes.
One reason I started the blog was to share my experiences, as well as memories, with others. I couldn't exactly describe what I was seeing, but I thought that I could show it through a painting or a drawing. I searched on the internet and couldn't find much information about what people with Macular Degeneration were seeing and experiencing. And I didn't see anything about what people with limited funds go through when this happens to them. I don't have all the answers, but, maybe someone will be more prepared when it happens to them. Even those who do have the funds and the insurance need to know what to expect.
Macular Degeneration happens to more and more people as we age. It's called AMD or Age Related Macular Degeneration.
Of course, the point is that, if you, or someone you know, starts seeing horizontal or vertical lines that seem curved instead of appearing straight, it's time to make a fast appointment with your Opthamologist or a Retina Specialist. It comes on suddenly, without warning, without pain, but time is important in getting a diagnosis and treatment.
The small painting that I have posted today shows how I have been seeing the Amsler Grid. Some of the lines not only curve, but they don't connect to show a complete square, in places. There is the ever-present purple spot in the center.
Along with showing my view of the grid, I thought it might be a bit abstract or design-like.
I used Winsor Newton watercolors on 140 pound Strathmore watercolor paper to do this small painting.

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