Saga of an artist’s eyes

Drawing of the bubble in my eye, three days after surgery
Drawing of the bubble in my eye

It all started with my left eye, which for most of my life tracked upwards and to the left, relative to my right eye, and is also my dominant eye. Recently the misalignment became no longer manageable with prisms in my glasses lenses, and my optometrist feared that I was in danger of losing sight in my right eye as my brain ignored it in favor of the errant and dominant left. My husband knew someone to whom this had happened. Hence, the referral to a strabismus surgeon and subsequent muscle surgery on the left eye, and then the cataract surgery / lens implant in my right eye (by another specialist) to clear up the right eye’s vision.

But my right-eye vision didn’t appreciably clear up, and the eye began showing misalignment patterns it hadn’t before, while continuing to lose visual clarity. The surgeon who had done the strabismus surgery (call him Dr. S, for Strabismus) noticed this first, and said I had to get an MRI right away. I’m claustrophobic, and flew into a panic, so he changed it to a CT scan. Those results caused him great concern, and he insisted I see a neurologist. In turn, I insisted that I see the cataract surgeon (call him Dr. C, for Cataract) first, since he’d done the surgery on that eye. Dr. S’s office set up an appointment with a neurologist to follow my appointment with Dr. C.

The next week I saw Dr. C, who said that he’d received neither CT results nor communication from Dr. S. When C’s office finally got the results faxxed from S’s office, C said I didn’t need a neurologist — I needed a retina specialist. His office set up an appointment with a retina surgeon (call him Dr. R, for Retina), and I cancelled the neurologist appointment. Next I saw Dr. S again; he was upset that I hadn’t seen a neurologist, and said that Dr. C didn’t understand the issue — “you two have to TALK to each other,” I said — but he agreed that I did need Dr. R as well (“a wonderful surgeon.”). He dismissed my own theory that my brain was simply trying to recreate the former pattern of misalignment. Meanwhile, he pointed out, my right-eye vision was still in decline. S’s office made me an appointment with the first neurologist they could get me in to.

…who, as I soon found out, had really unfavorable reviews online. At wits’ end, I heeded my husband’s advice and contacted my GP (Dr. G, for General practitioner), asking for opinions and guidance. Everyone was supposed to be sending him exam and test results but of course they hadn’t. His office assistant immediately swung into action — got all of the test results for him to review, and set up an appointment for me with a neurologist to whom they refer. Dr. G didn’t see anything abnormal in the CT scan, but felt I should go ahead, see the neurologist and get an MRI, just to tie up the loose ends. I felt so relieved with a knowledgeable but neutral physician involved, someone who’s known me for years.

So I saw the neurologist (Dr. N, for Neurologist). His practice’s office seemed to be in a state of chaos. In contrast, the doctor himself was calm, authoritative, and informative. My husband and I were impressed with him, if not with the practice. After an extensive interview, health history, reflex checking, pin-pricks, and eye-tracking, he said that as far as he was concerned, there was nothing wrong with my brain — that it was just trying to replicate the former misalignment pattern. (Yes!) But he wanted an MRI just to be sure, and agreed that I was in danger of losing sight in the right eye. He issued orders for an open MRI machine, due to my claustrophobia.

Except that, when I got to the hospital radiology department a week later, Dr. N’s office hadn’t sent the order. After calling N’s office for more than an hour and leaving messages, the hospital got a verbal approval from one of the other neurologists in the practice… but not for the open MRI. I took a long and anxious look at the closed machine, discussed it with the radiologist, and made an appointment for the next weekday in the open MRI… by which time N’s office STILL hadn’t faxxed over the order. But the test was finally done in the open machine, and with a dose of Xanax it wasn’t too awful. Sort of like I’d imagine a Philip Glass concert, actually, but with loud percussion.

I haven’t heard from Dr. N’s office since that first consultation — neither the promised test results nor an appointment for a follow-up. Instead I got the “nothing wrong” results from Dr. S when I saw him next. His office had to call N’s office to get the results, of course. By then I’d seen Dr. R and was scheduled for surgery in Syracuse, 60 miles up the road.

So. After a two-week delay on Dr. R’s part, and rescheduling, one morning Sweetie and I headed up the highway at the crack of dawn.

The Syracuse hospital was wonderful, and the surgery went well. The car was parked for us at minimal cost. All the staff we encountered were cheerful, friendly, polite, helpful, and seemed very involved in their jobs. Everything was explained, all questions patiently answered. I was 15 minutes late into surgery, but was visited separately by Dr. R, by the anesthetist, and by the surgical nurse, before going to the OR. I suffered no pain or discomfort and they dealt cheerfully with my anxiety. (I babbled, I think.) It was “twilight” anesthesia, but I was given enough drugs to make it interesting rather than grisly, and throughout the hour-long surgery, someone held my hand. Gluten-free breakfast back in the hospital room followed my stint in Recovery. We left for home that afternoon, then returned to Syracuse the next day for an all’s-well post-op. My right-eye field of vision was was mostly filled by a large air bubble inside the eye, part of the post-operative healing process.

Each day since surgery the bubble has been smaller (if more annoying!), and my vision has become clearer. Today, ten days after surgery, the bubble is finally gone. Vision in that eye is still blurry and slightly distorted, but although Dr. R says it’ll be “months yet” before healing is complete and vision stabilized (and I can get a new, correct lens prescription!) it’s evident that my brain is once again using both eyes. I’m ready to drive again, I think, and most important, ready to paint again — and hoping for no more eye surgery!


Many, many thanks to my loving and supportive husband, and parents, and to all the friends and family members who’ve followed my saga piece-by-piece on Facebook.

An emerging new process, and The Joy of Dancing

KwanYin and Chrysanthemums, 20x16 in., oils on canvas
KwanYin and Chrysanthemums, 20×16 in., oils on canvas

Two weeks and two days ago I had eye-muscle surgery. Nothing scarier for an artist than eye surgery, except maybe encroaching blindness. I’ve had this wonky left eye, which tracked upward and to the left of my right eye, since I was a kid. All along there were murmurings about the possibility of corrective surgery, but as time went on either the opthamologist was discouraging it or I was avoiding it. Prism arrangements in my glasses lenses brought the disparate images together, until recently. My optometrist encouraged me to see a specialist about the surgery — for real — because the maxxed-out prisms were no longer adequate to the task and he was concerned that my right eye would lose sight to the dominant and errant left. I’d already lost some depth perception, and had a growing cataract in the right eye. So I did it. Quite a do, and I’m still recovering. My eye is still not tracking quite properly all the time, but the surgeon said it would take six weeks to heal so I’m still hoping it’ll all straighten out. Meanwhile the cataract in the right eye has grown significantly in density, so that’s scheduled for surgery in May.

Hasn’t stopped me from painting, however — in fact, I’ve been quite productive. In my last post I talked about a paint-together still life session with Mary Robertson and Jan Wood (just before my surgery), and I’ve finished the painting I started that day, Kwan Yin and Chrysanthemums. Using a process new to me, I painted in semi-transparent glazes (mixed colors thinned with oil/resin medium) over my initial underpainting, saving the lightest lights and darkest darks for last. I love the result. So I started another — Henry and Rebecca — and have worked on a couple of earlier underpainted pieces, Demeter and Rebecca.

Demeter 04 -- almost finished!
Demeter 04 — almost finished!


Rebecca 03 -- progress!
Rebecca 03 — progress!


Henry and Rebecca 02 -- first color glazes
Henry and Rebecca 02 — first color glazes

These last two had given me problems due to my use of Turpenoid Natural for thinning the paint in the underpainting, but they did finally dry and I’m quite pleased with their progress. I’m close to finishing Demeter, thanks to a lovely paint-together session at Mary’s studio today.

This painting in transparent layers over a show-through underpainting has intrigued me for some time, and although I’d tried it before, to a limited extent, I’m finding it really freeing as an overall technique, That, plus saving the lightest lights and darkest darks for last — a lesson from John Singer Sargent — and I’m in a whole different ballfield than before: one I like a lot.

Meanwhile, my first long drive alone since surgery was the hundred-mile trip to Ithaca and back, to help take down the Joy of Dancing exhibit at the Tompkins County Public Library, where my Unlikely Dance series was the cornerstone. What a wonderful space, and wonderful show. My thanks once again to Sally Grubb, Scottish Country and contra dancer, exhibit coordinator at TCPL, and curator of this show. I got some photos before we disassembled it. A wonderful review of the show is here.