I Can't Breathe!
watercolor 7.5" x 11.5"
I read the brochures that the doctor had given me on Wet Macular Degeneration. I searched for information online. And, I used the little Amsler Grid, the chart of squares with a dot in the center, to check my vision daily, as directed.
It was all unreal. "What can I do to make this go away? It is all a dream, isn't it? What am I supposed to do now? What is going to happen to me? I can't go through this. This isn't happening. Does it hurt? Where am I going to get the money?" Thoughts raced through my mind. And, I read all I could find about this disease, illness, disability, condition, whatever it is.
"You are not getting any shot in your eye!" My daughter lectured. "That's gross!"
I didn't respond. I didn't think it would ever get to the point of having to do that. I was still trying to cope with being probed to get an IV in for the dye used in the test in the doctor's office.
Shots and needles are not my thing. I have been known to faint, even when they bring out a needle, or just probe for a vein-over and over. I even fainted when I got my ears pierced by a doctor. I have veins, but they roll, and I only have a couple of good places that they can hit-sometimes. It takes a lot of good luck and a special person to hit one of my veins. I've been told that they hope I am never in anything like a car wreck! And, I've had as many as 6 people at one time, probing my legs, feet, arms, hands, in the hospital trying to get an IV in. They gave up. And, yet, some people have that magic touch and hit it without any problems. The last time I was in the hospital for stomach pains, they were going to give me an IV that had something in it for pain. The elderly nurse couldn't hit a vein. So, she called in someone from Intensive Care. He tried once, then gave up and said he was going to put the needle in my head!
"Oh no you're not!" I exclaimed. "I'm not that sick!" I was ready to run out of the hospital.
"Oh yes you are, or you wouldn't be here," the big male nurse from ICU said.
"Honey, you can refuse any treatment," the nurse advised.
"I refuse!" I said as I sat up in bed.
The male nurse left, and I was left alone with my stomach pains. "Can't you do something else?" I asked the nurse.
"That's all we have orders for." The nurse seemed to ignore me, since I didn't accept the treatment. Pains came and went all night while the IV stand with medicine remained in the corner. Fortunately, they brought in an elderly woman, who didn't speak English, with a crowd of her family. She was in the other bed in the room. I couldn't sleep for the pain, but, at least, they were a distraction, and occasionally, the visitors would talk to me, mainly to ask about hospital routine.
When morning came, a doctor came by, and, without checking me, just told me that they would send me home. No tests to see what was wrong or anything. The docotor who sent me to the hospital had kept me in the clinic all day, and, when they closed, he sent me to the hospital. He said I had a lot of air in my stomach, but didn't know why I had the severe pains. The pains eased but it took a long time for them to go away. What a nice Valentine's Day that was!
Anyway, shots and needles, stitches and that sort of thing are things that often make me faint. And I wanted to be a nurse! I think it went back to times, during WWII, when I was young. Younger doctors went off to war, and older doctors came out of retirement to take care of the town, temporarily. I had sinus trouble quite often and one of the treatments for that was a pencillan shot. Or, we could drive 30 miles to the ENT doctor and have a sinus treatment of various kinds. If we got sick, my mother would take us to one of the town doctors, or call them to the house as doctors made housecalls in those days. If we could make it upstairs, over the bank, we went to the doctor in town. If we couldn't get up the stairs, he would come to the house. One of the elderly doctors in town who was taking care of us had overstuffed leather furniture in his office, much like in the old western movies. It was hard as a rock, to sit on, but looked like it would be soft. I dreaded going to his office, though. He would bring out a long, thick needle from the sterilizer, fill it with penicillan, which was the new wonder drug, then, and walk across the room. My mother would have to hold me down, threaten, and the doctor coaxed, fussed, and anything he could think of to get that needle into me. Well, the needle was bad enough, but these were old, bent, and I could swear they were a little rusty. I was terrified of those shots, and usually ended up with having to have smelling salts or spirits of ammonia to revive me. I would faint away at the sight of a needle. And, I still don't like them. Although, I did want to be a nurse!
A dentist helped me get over that, long enough to think about going to nursing school. Then, it all came back. Later, when my son was killed, I thought,"nothing could hurt me as bad as that train hurt my little boy." I was brave again, but it all came back as time passed.
After the diagnosis of Wet Macular Degeneration, I spent a lot of time online trying to find out more, looking for experiences of others, and pictures, most of the time online. I found a few things such as paintings by people with AMD, in an exhibit from a few years back, and a few stories of people who had AMD. Most seemed to be research of a treatment that had just been approved, or treatments that had been approved for a while and the sites were a bit out of date. Laser treatments seemed to be an option, but they left a "hole" in the vision where the beam burned as it sealed leaking blood vessels. An older treatment involved shots in the affected eye or eyes. But the new treatment was more promising. It, too, involved injections in the eye.
My job was to decide which treatment I wanted. The new treatment sounded most promising. And, there didn't seem to be any question, according to the material I could find, but that it would be the thing that would stop any more vision loss. I couldn't see any point in trying the older treatment, if it wasn't going to work as well, or if it was going to leave a blind spot, as it sounded like laser treatment would do.
I needed my eyes. I was sure of that. Now that I had time, my art and my writing, with some genealogy, some reading, a little cooking, and time with my youngest grandson, and a lot of tv watching, filled my days. Bad knees made me decide that driving wasn't a good thing for me, anymore. And I didn't want to go through surgery. Fear of needles, stitches, and all that again.
I tried to relax and tell myself that there was treatment available, all I had to do was tell them which one I wanted, and show up when told. They said that my insurance would pay for it, and, if I needed help, there was help through a foundation. And, they had made contacts, so all was ready, awaiting my decision.
But, I just didn't know about shots in my eyes. If they poked a hole in my eye, wouldn't all the water run out and it would deflate like a balloon? Wouldn't it hurt? Wouldn't I blink and they couldn't hit my eye? Wouldn't I faint and they couldn't hit it? I had heard people talking about having to be awake while things were done to their eyes. I didn't think I could manage that. I surely didn't want to be aware of anything. But, still, if it could be fixed....I surely didn't want to lose my vision.
In the dark, at night, alone, with lights from the tv bouncing around the room, I sat up straight in my bed, gasping for breath. My eyes were wide with fear. Tears ran down my face. I braced myself on the bed. "I can't breathe!"
"This is so dumb! You're a big girl,now." I lectured myself. "There are so many things worse than this. You are such a baby! It's just part of getting old. Just think about Poor old Pearl, and others, who went totally blind because she needed cataract surgery. They said you won't go totally blind with this, it's just the center part that you will lose. Maybe, with shots, you won't lose much more than this little distortion." It took a while before I could make myself relax and go back to sleep. That was just one night of many when I would sit up straight in bed, trying to get my breath. I might as well stay up and do something, I had learned a long time ago. I always was more energetic at night, and thought that, instead of wearing myself out, tossing and turning, trying to force myself to sleep like a normal person, I might as well get up and write, draw, paint, clean, do laundry until I was exhausted and had to sleep. Usually that was when the sun came up. And that didn't work too well when I had to go to work or had children to take care of. Still, if I were painting or doing sculpture, I might work all the way through the night and several days as well, until I was finished and I lost my mood or idea.
I got my nerve up, made the call for an appointment. and told them that I thought that the new treatment would be best. I was told that my insurance would pay for it, and all was set. Now, all I had to worry about was the fear of having a needle stuck in my eye.
I talked to my sister about her experiences with a tennis ball injury to her eye, some years back. But, then, she was tough, independent, and not a "scardey-cat", like me. And I met others who were getting shots in their eyes and had been diagnosed with AMD, wet or dry, or other eye problems. I knew I wasn't the only one going through this. I felt that I needed support from someone and I didn't have it at times when I thought I really needed it, like at night, when I was alone, or when uncertainty and fear struck. Still, taking care of this was something I needed to do. What would I do if I couldn't draw, read, work on my genealogy, see faces, watch tv, or even cook? I wasn't driving due to my knees, but thought that would return once my knees were replaced. But, what if I wanted to drive, my knees were fixed, but my vision was messed up! I was in a quandry. But, there didn't seem to be a choice. Just which treatment I wanted, all of which seemed frightening to me.
"You are not getting a shot in your eye!" My daughter insisted. I just said nothing, and resolved that this was something I had to do. I knew that she would not want to be tied down, taking care of me for every little thing if I lost my vision. And, what would I do with myself if I couldn't see? I read about some artists who had AMD in the past, and realized that some of their style was due to the fact that their vision was distorted. Probably, no matter what happened, I would create, somehow.
One bad thing was having to wait until there was an available appointment. I was careful to tell myself that going to the doctor and taking care of this was a good thing-something that I must do as a grown person. It probably wouldn't be as bad as I was feeling that it could be. A lot of other people were going through this and I was lucky that there was a new, more effective treatment available now. I tried to stay busy. Staying positive and determined was not so easy.
At night, in my room, the lights from my tv danced, and, sometimes, it was hard to breathe or to sleep. I was doing a good thing, I reassured myself, and everything would be alright. I didn't want to have to think about it, but I couldn't shake the constant questions and fears that I had.
"Night Fears" was done with Winsor Newton watercolors on 140 # Strathmore watercolor paper.