By: Katherine Marple
One of the scariest moments of my diabetes life, so far, happened recently. Just a few months ago, after an intense cardio workout, I experienced something terrifying. It was so scary, it left me shaking, sobbing, and curled up like a baby in my husband’s arms.
I lost vision in my left eye.
The fact that I lost my vision was confusing, because my glucose control had been relatively stable for a while. I was consistently exercising every day, lifting weights, dancing, doing cardio, walking, etc. I was getting into great physical shape, just six months after birthing my second child. I felt good about how strong I was becoming. I became empowered and confident in my body, probably for the first time in my life.
That night, I was tired after doing an hour of intense dancing at a fitness studio, so I drove home. Nothing seemed strange, until I walked through the door and said hello to my husband. A few minutes later, in the middle of a conversation, I looked at the clock and realized that I couldn’t see the numbers. The time was approximately 9:08 p.m., but I could only see _:08. When I shifted my eyes to read the 9, the 8 dropped out of my line of sight. I blinked and tried to clear my vision, but nothing I did was making it better.
I panicked a little bit and turned to tell my husband what had just happened. Only, when I looked at him, I could see his face, his shoulders, his neck… except the left portion of his head was missing. One eye, his nose, one cheek, half of his chin, and a large portion of his left shoulder were not visible. I moved my body from side to side, trying to make sense of what I was seeing; trying to change what was in front of me. The most glaringly obvious changes were in my husband’s face and the clock. With those, I could grasp what was wrong with the view. But, no matter where I stood, or what I looked at, there was always something missing.
I went into such a full-blown panic that I nearly vomited. I burst into tears and said, “It’s finally happened; diabetes has taken my vision.” I immediately worried about how life would be changed with such a loss. I worried about the toll it would take on my husband to need to care for me in ways he hadn’t yet needed to face. I would no longer be able to drive, meaning no more grocery shopping, no more family errands, and now carpools to several doctor appointments. It was going to be a huge burden added to our already long list of extra demands my health held us accountable for. Add in the strain on my life in personal ways, such as difficulties with reading, not being able to see the entirety of my children’s faces; put simply, not being able to see.
Up until that point, I had been diagnosed with minor retinopathy; not in my left eye, but in my right. I reversed it by tightening my glucose control in 2010. In 2011, I maintained the status of no retinopathy. It had been years since I’d had any issues with my eyes, besides the normal vision issues. Since childhood, my left eye has been basically blind due to the extreme near-sightedness it has, registering at over 20/200. I can’t see the very first “E” on the doctor’s eye chart. But, my right eye has always been far-sighted. So, between the two eyes, I had nearly normal vision for a very long time.
My whole diabetes life, I was told that this disease was going to steal things from me. It could first take my circulation, or my blood pressure, my kidney production, my sight. They said diabetes was going to lead to heart attack, depression, anxiety issues, psychological damage. I was told, right from as early as my diagnosis 15 years ago, that diabetes was going to rip me apart from the inside out. So, naturally, when I had obvious issues with my eyesight, I thought, “This is it. This is how the end of everything that I know happens.”
The loss of vision lasted for over an hour. I tried to read medical websites, trying to self-diagnose (of course), and none of what was listed seemed like the proper fit to what was happening to me. It wasn’t black spots, like retinopathy would suggest. It wasn’t shooting stars or smudgy vision. It was plain and simple: missing pieces of vision, always in a static place in my line of sight.
Part of me thinks it could have been a spike in blood pressure from working out too intensely that night. I had serious blood pressure issues when I was pregnant with both of my kids, and at the time of my temporary vision loss, I was only seven or eight months post-partum. My pressure still fluctuated from 110/64 to 155/92.
But, as I lay in bed that night, fearing the worst, my vision cleared. By the next morning, when a call to the optometrist would have been appropriate, I rationalized that since my vision was restored, there was nothing the doctor would be able to diagnose. In honesty, I think I was just too afraid to face the possibilities.
Not all health complications are diabetes related. But when events like those of that night happen, it makes me realize that the threat of diabetes complications is real. I cannot shut my eyes to it any longer and must face what’s coming toward me with both feet on the ground. It’s like stepping into the blizzard of life, with a rucksack of ailments, knowledge, tools, and determination on your back. I don’t want to be afraid of the dark anymore.
This year, I am making that eye appointment. My children are a little older and not as thoroughly dependent on me, so my stress level from being needed so entirely is starting to diminish. With lessened stress, I am able to think more clearly, and finish thoughts without so much interruption. I haven’t missed an annual exam in a long time and will continue to care for my eyes as much as possible. I continue to manage my glucose, track my diet and exercise, as I have been for the past 10 months.
When I make that eye appointment for next month, I hope with everything that is in me that I get a good report. Because good health is the beginning of endless positive possibilities. I just have to face it, once and for all, and hope I’m still headed in the right direction.
Katherine Marple was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 14 in 1998. She is the mother of two small children, has battled insulin resistance, pre-eclampsia, and CGM and pump failures, leading to insulin therapy via MDI using Levemir and Apidra, and sometimes metformin. She is the author of two diabetes related novels, “Wretched (this is my sorry)” and “Deathly Sweet.”