Smile, it's better than a poke in the eye

Yesterday I had my 12th injection in my eye to halt aging macular degeneration. It started out as once every four weeks, then, seeing improvement over half a year or so, the doctor stretched it to five weeks, then six weeks, then seven weeks. And now I don’t go back for another injection until January. Next year. Eight weeks. Yet it seems so far away.

“You’re holding your own!” the doctor told me as he reviewed all the tests technicians had done before I got to see him for the injection. He remembered, as I so vividly did, that the sight in my right eye 20/200 when he first saw me. I remember how he told me he wasn’t sure what he could do, he was hopeful he could stop the progression.

My aging macular degeneration had come on fast and furious, uncommon, but not rare.

Every month when I went back, the doctor filled me with more hope, more happiness, as each month there was progress. No longer did I see eight candles on the altar where there were really four, no longer did those candles bend down as though melted. Every day I see those candles standing straight up, strong, tall. Just like my vision is becoming.

He started me on one drug for the injections. He explained that AMD is the leading cause of sight loss in people over 50 years of age. At 80 something, I began to feel grateful it had taken that long to affect me.

Each injection there was some improvement. Then one day the doctor decided to try another drug, one far more expensive, but one whose FDA tests and approval indicated might be even more effective.

At the ridiculous price of $5,000 per injection…not for the doctor, simply for the drug itself…one has to be grateful for an insurance plan that covers either all or a good portion of the cost.

It’s almost sinful that American pharmaceutical companies are able to charge that kind of money in order to let people see. Someone told me I should check the price of the same drug in Europe, and I would find it half the price. That certainly doesn’t seem right either.

Both drugs work basically the same. AMD is when blood vessels grow underneath the retina, that little membrane that sits at the back of the eye. It’s the tissue that senses light and sends the images to the brain. It’s the part of the eye that provides that clear central vision so necessary for reading, driving, and seeing detail, like facial features, smiles, and minute details in a flower, tree or art work. When those blood vessels leak blood and fluid, it prevents the retina from doing its job. The medicines to treat that keep new blood vessels from forming under the retina and hopefully prevent further damage.

For some people, the injections might cause what is commonly known as ‘red eye’ for a while. It’s just something that happens because the eye is a little irritated. Of course it’s irritated! Your eye is used to sitting high up on your head, being remarkably busy all day long and never being interfered with except for an occasional tear or tiredness. It doesn’t like to be invaded by a needle or anything else. So it may get a bit swollen or a blood vessel may break and cause an eye to look bloodshot. A small price to pay for vision improvement. And it goes away on its own in a day or two. Doctors can suggest drops to take, either before, after, or both, to ease that concern if indeed it exists. For me, once again, red eye for a fleeting time is a very small price to pay for improved eyesight, and doesn’t impact my vanity one bit.

As I left the office after my 12th injection, the doctor wished me a Happy Thanksgiving. In response I blurted out, “Thanks. I’m grateful for you.” He smiled and said, “that’s nice to hear.”

Then it hit me. I wonder how many of us do take the time to say thank you to the doctor who is making vision possible. How many of us take the time to drop a note or a card to say Happy Thanksgiving, and you’re one of the people who is making it happy for me?

How many of us let that professional know his skill, his wisdom, his choices in medications, his explanations as to why and how he does certain procedures really go beyond what he has to do in order to earn the title of Doctor?

Think about it. Have a Happy Thanksgiving. And let your eye professionals know you are grateful to them as well.


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