I haven’t written much about my accident or recovery because I’ve been so focused on getting better, I haven’t really wanted to think about it, and also partially because my lawyer warned me against talking about any of it online. In fact I was even advised to shut down my facebook account and to delete my entire website. I understand what they’re trying to do, and I’ll stay away from accounts of the accident or liability until they’ve duked it all out, but I don’t think there’s much harm in talking about my recovery. For those who visit this blog for art, please forgive the interruption. Art mingles with recovery in my life now, and so it shall be here too.
Let’s start with my left eye.
It took awhile for me to realize that the left side of my face was paralyzed. Over the course of the next couple weeks after the accident, the timing of the onset of the paralysis became a topic of discussion and concern amongst my doctors. Could I or Greg remember whether the paralysis was instant or had it taken a few hours to set in? The former would indicate a severed nerve and a grim prognosis, while the latter would indicate a compressed nerve and something like a 50% chance of recovery. We both felt like the paralysis must not have been instant. Even in the chaos of the ER, wouldn’t we have noticed something of that magnitude? Even though my condition was critical and the doctors were solely focused on saving my life, wouldn’t they have noticed a symptom that resembles a stroke? I seem to remember talking to Greg in the ER without difficulty in my facial movements. But at the time I felt like I had hands all over me and there was the chest tube OMG THE CHEST TUBE and people sticking things in me and a million people talking to me all at once and overall general disorder, so am I remembering it correctly? I seem to remember that when the CHP officer took my statement while my head was being stapled shut I was only annoyed with his apparent lack of compassion but I wasn’t aware of any difficulty with speaking. Later that evening in the ICU, one of my doctors told me that I would need to protect my eye since it wasn’t closing, and I adamantly denied it. “See, I can close it” I said as I struggled to get it shut and then realized that something was very wrong.
I don’t remember when we learned about taping my eye shut. I was on so many drugs that the line between being awake and being asleep was a thin one. I do know that we hardly got any information from the doctors about how to manage the paralysis. Greg had to do his own research and find the right tape to use on my eye, and we started a little routine that we would stick to for many weeks to come. Every night before he left the hospital he would tape my eye shut. Sometimes I would leave it taped most of the next day because it was hard for me to tape it shut again and there was no napping without tape. When I finally took the tape off I would have double vision for awhile, and then eventually everything would go back to normal. It wasn’t until I got to the rehab center two weeks after the accident that my doctor there started to get insistent about getting a specialist to take a look at my eye.
I still wasn’t walking when I was transported to the first ophthalmologist. I was transported on a gurney in an ambulance, to an office that clearly never sees patients in my condition. They didn’t have room for my gurney so I was moved to a wheelchair, and then the exam chair. At that time moving and sitting were both excruciating. I explained my case to the assistant, and then waited and waited and waited some more for the doctor, out of my mind with pain in the stiff exam chair. The only helpful information I got from that visit was when he told me to keep my left eye over-medicated with drops or ointment or whatever works. “Don’t worry about seeing out of that eye for awhile” he said, right before he told me that he wanted me to see a plastic surgeon to have it SEWN SHUT IMMEDIATELY. I was in so much pain that it was hard to digest this rather devastating assessment, but once I was safely back in my bed at the rehab center and had a chance to mull it over with Greg, we decided it was completely absurd. Not only was I at that point DONE with medical procedures, it had never come up as an option in all of our research. Even the most severe cases, with no recovery of the nerve, are treated with small weights implanted into the eyelid. And that’s after waiting over a year to make sure all recovery is complete.
After I was out of rehab we got a second opinion and this ophthalmologist was much more reasonable. He confirmed everything we had learned so far. Keep the eye all lubed up, tape it shut at night, reassess in three months. If no improvement has been made after three months, we’ll talk about the next steps. I asked him about special dry-eye glasses I’d found online, which have silicone cups around the eyes to protect from sun and wind and he just shrugged and said I could try them. Yet another example of us having to do our own research, no doctor ever suggested these glasses. Once I got them and had them fitted with prescription transitions lenses, I knew they were one of the best things to happen to my recovery so far. Even with my left eye wide open for months, they’ve allowed me to go outside and do all the things I normally do, without fear of damaging my eye. I still use oodles of ointment, which makes my left eye constantly cloudy, but the consequences of that are minor compared to what life would be like if my eye were sewn shut.
My face has started to recover (I’ll get into more about the rest of my face and the complications and consequences of the paralysis in another post), but the nerves around my eyelid are taking forever. I can see and feel my eye trying to blink, and just recently I was able to force my eye all the way shut for the first time in months. But I can’t hold it there, and without the ability to blink I’m still a slave to my ointment and my goggle glasses. I still can’t see very well overall, which complicates everything I do. If I don’t get enough sleep it hurts for the entire day. It makes art hard, and seeing in weird lighting situations (like a recent trip to an aquarium) is really difficult. Working at the computer is stressful, and trying to see anything in detail is nearly impossible. Strangely enough, driving and riding my bike haven’t been all that challenging, I’m not really sure why.
I was feeling great about the recovery in my face so far, until I went to see a facial physical therapist. She was so blasé about the whole thing, acting as if my recovery wasn’t fast but rather fairly average or even slow. I’ve found this to be common amongst doctors who are used to treating Bell’s Palsy, which is related to my diagnosis of 7th Facial Nerve Palsy, but has a much better prognosis and shorter recovery time. She suggested that I should consider the eyelid weight implant right now. “It becomes a quality of life issue” she said when I asked her if I shouldn’t wait at least a year to see how far my recovery will go. And then she told me that the implant procedure is irreversible.
It won’t be the first time I haven’t taken a doctor’s advice. I’m going to blink again someday, I can feel it. In the meantime, I’m starting to like my goggle glasses.