Oklahoma Joe: Surgery offers setback to summer plans

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Joe Hight

I woke up at Summit Medical Center to a nurse pushing a grape popsicle into my mouth. After being under anesthesia for 2 1/2 hours, my mouth was dry and the ice cream was welcome, along with the bag of animal biscuits she handed me.

At the beginning of June, my summer was already starting with a trip to Victoria, Canada, to see my youngest daughter, Elyse, participate in her second Ironman. I had planned to start and complete several projects over the summer while preparing for the fall semester at the University of Central Oklahoma.

Then, on my way back from Seattle, I noticed what looked like a curtain starting to cover my left eye. I thought it was allergies, maybe a cataract. I wasn’t worried, but Nan insisted on an appointment with my eye doctor.

“Which eye did you have that detached retina?”

“I don’t remember,” I replied.

Although my eyesight wasn’t perfect, I was fine 6 and a half years after surgeries to repair a detached retina in that eye. The odds were with me too: only one in 10,000 people already have detached retinas. And, as a 2020 study from the Beijing Tongren Eye Center found, only 21% of them have a recurrence in the same eye, with most occurring within three months of the initial surgery.

But after several photos and scans, Dr. M. Andrew Hogue told me that I had to go immediately to the Retina Vitreous Center in Oklahoma City. It had been four years since I had seen specialist Dr. Brian S. Phelps, who performed surgery a day after my “routine appointment” I wrote about in this column in 2016.

This time I insisted that Dr. Phelps perform the operation again, but it would take at least a week before he was available. So, instead of sitting in a dark room waiting for an operation, I decided to move on with my life. I planned a trip to southern Colorado with my oldest daughter, Elena.

“If I lose the sight in my left eye,” I thought as I watched Elena kayak across the blue lake as an older couple fished nearby, “I will at least have my right eye.”

At that time, the curtain now covered most of my left eye. Sometimes, however, I could see pixelated images through the eye. Elena did most of the driving because I also lacked depth perception.

Prior to the surgery, Dr. Phelps was less than optimistic due to scar tissue complications and other issues.

“I hope you get 50% vision back in that eye,” he told me before asking if he could say a prayer, as he had done before.

I did not hesitate to accept.

The complications caused more headaches, eye pressure and other problems than before. My eye also has the gas bubble which won’t go away for several weeks so I won’t know if I’ll be able to see well until then. And I wear a green bracelet that warns that a change in atmospheric pressure “could lead to blindness”. I can’t exercise, lift weights or do anything strenuous for the rest of the summer. But I’m hopeful because Phelps told me last week that the retina was reattached.

My life and summer plans have been cut short for the immediate future. With Nan’s help, however, I voted last week and went on the date, but that was about it until my eye healed more.

In the meantime, I’ll probably have more grape popsicles and animal crackers while using my one good eye to catch up on the latest series on cable and streaming networks.

Joe Hight is a director and member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, a publisher who spearheaded a Pulitzer Prize-winning project, the Chair in Journalism Ethics at the University of Central Oklahoma, president/owner of Best of Books, author of ‘Unnecessary Sorrow’ and editor/editor of ‘Our Greatest Journalists’.

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