Wednesday, October 4, 2017

I Had A Retinal Vein Occlusion/Eye Stroke

Recently, as in, for most of August and September of 2017, I was having a really weird medical issue. At first it seemed insignificant. I was seeing a spot in one eye that reminded me of looking at the sun -- super bright when I close my eyes, and dark when they're open. I thought maybe I was just staring too long at the computer screen.

Then, it started to stay all the time. It took on the shape of an arc, with sharp edges. Almost like a cartoon eye brow. I thought maybe I was having migraine auras, but it didn't go away, and it was turning into a blind spot. I'd never been diagnosed with migraines, but I do get a looooooot of moderately painful headaches. Which is actually the reason I even wrote this post

I started Googling migraine auras, only to find out that they weren't permanent like my aura. This led me to panic a little. DAMN YOU, GOOGLE! 

My mom's brain cancer was discovered because she had a vision disturbance in only one eye, and it was there all the time. Naturally, I freaked out, because I am prone to worrying about my health since she got a crazy cancer diagnosis and died. I promptly made an eye appointment, and even had them do a retinal scan which costs extra. I just had a feeling I needed them to do everything they could. 

I Had A Retinal Vein Occlusion/Eye Stroke //

As soon as the retinal scan images were loaded onto the doctor's screen, he said, "Oh yep. There's your problem. You have a cotton wool spot coming off one of your veins or arteries. You need to see a specialist ASAP to make sure you don't lose your vision completely. It could be bleeding in there, and causing permanent damage and blindness." 

Nice bedside manner, Doc. Way to scare the anxious girl. 

Appointments were made, more freaking out occurred, more Googling occurred, and I ended up having a panic attack and staying up all night before my appointment. Yay, me. I'm so good at making myself miserable. 

I ended up at Moran Eye Center the next day. They are the best in the state, and actually ranked in the top 20 in the US. I had to do tons of eye imaging tests, and even ended up getting an angiogram done of my eye. Basically, the imaging tech takes tons of super rapid fire brightly flashed images of my eye while another tech injects a vein in my arm with flouroscein dye. This allows them to check the blood flow in my eye. Don't be fooled. These tests aren't easy. You're dilated, and it's like staring at the sun. Justin said it's similar to the brightness of a flash bang. These tests went on for over an hour. I couldn't see much at all for about an hour after, and I felt really sick from the light.

After all that, it was concluded that I had a stroke in my eye. The scientific term is Retinal Vein Occlusion. Crazy right?

It sounds scarier than it is. It's not a regular brain stroke. Nothing happened to me except for in a tiny spot in my eye. It's a clot that forms in one of the veins in your eye, and as a result, part of the tissue in your eye gets damaged. Sometimes it heals, but more often, it never does, and you can have permanent vision loss. That is why I was getting a blind spot. Luckily, for me, it was in a vein that didn't really lead to other veins in my eye. So, technically it's a Branch Occlusion for those that are googling (I see you). Some people get these clots in the main trunk of the veins and arteries, where all the veins of the eye branch out, and it completely destroys their vision. So, I was lucky. They even think it will heal. 

I Had A Retinal Vein Occlusion/Eye Stroke //
L: Stuck behind a super bright truck and my eyes were still dilated. // R: Hospital waiting rooms

Eye strokes usually are a symptom of something bigger going on, though. Clots typically are a signal you are unhealthy. So, a lot of medical tests were ordered. The next steps weren't too difficult, but they were definitely stress inducing. I was tested for various cancers, autoimmune disorders, blood disorders, diabetes, and also clotting disorders. I also had to get CT scans of my head to check for any arterial damage, or more clots, and I had to get an echo cardiogram to make sure I wasn't having heart problems. They were determined to make sure I am healthy and that I wasn't a ticking time bomb of death. 

Yeah, it wasn't the funnest situation to be in. I don't do well waiting to find out if I'm really sick/dying/healthy. After a month of doing all the testing, I was able to get my results -- I AM COMPLETELY HEALTHY.

I Had A Retinal Vein Occlusion/Eye Stroke //
Sunflowers represent good news, right?

I am one of the weird people that have a freak/random clot. It is likely caused by migraines, which explains my almost daily headaches. I was even told that not everyone knows they're having migraines. They don't always take you out of life like so many migraine sufferers experience. So... here I am, considering myself extremely lucky. I could be facing a life-altering or life-ending diagnosis, but instead, I'm lucky. I get to keep my vision, and my future. 

It was hard not to miss my mom through all of this. It was also hard not to feel like life is a little unfair. My vision problem turned out to be totally livable and fine. Hers turned out to be a death sentence. I really wanted to talk to her during this month of chaos. At one point, I even just talked to her while I was driving to work as if she were sitting in my car with me. I told her how scared I was, and, I swear she was there. If you've ever experienced those moments after a loved one has died, the ones where you know they are there and it feels like you've been hugged, you'll understand. 

I'll never understand why I got so lucky and she didn't, but I'll never be ungrateful that I turned out to be ok. I have so much I want to do, and I'm thankful I have the option to do it all. 

And, now I can go back to sleeping again.

************ UPDATE: I had 2 more in my healthy eye diagnosed in December 2017, but the previous BRVO from August was healing. At a followup in February 2018, they didn't find any new ones, so they put me on a baby aspirin a day, and sent me on my way. I'll return for twice yearly checkups as long as I don't have any more. Here's to hoping! BRVOs can be a pretty livable condition if they stay away from your central vision. It's the CRVOs that I have to make sure I don't get (hence the baby aspirin). Those ones occur in your central retinal vein, and completely cut off blood flow to your retina. Those are the permanent vision loss ones. It's scary knowing I have this issue without a specific cause, but I'm happy to know I'm at least healthy otherwise. ************

++ Thanks for reading!

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