At 80 miles an hour I lost all vision in my right eye, the eye just stopped working. I was in the left lane on Route 128 west of Boston. I worked my way over to the right through traffic and stopped my old Range Rover on the shoulder. I turned on the emergency flashers and sat there. I wasn’t panic stricken; it just seemed odd not to be able to see at all with my right eye. No half vision, no blurred vision, I couldn’t see anything, period.
I sat there for a few minutes and then one-eyed drove to a meeting at my lawyer’s office in the Wellesley Office Park just off 128 on Worcester Road. I got there on time, we discussed an upcoming zoning meeting and I left within an hour. I said nothing to my lawyer about what had happened. During the meeting, a sliver of vision came back, a narrow slot of vision on the side of my eye close to my nose.
After the meeting, I got in the Rover and sat behind the wheel for a few minutes. I drove from Wellesley down Route 9 to my home on Marlborough St in the Back Bay. On the way, I stopped at a traffic light near the Chestnut Hill Mall and another sliver of vision opened, this time it seemed to be in the middle of my eye and was only partially open, like a window with the shade halfway down. I pulled into the parking lot of a Starbucks, bought a coffee and while I was paying for it, my vision slowly returned. Tiny individual slots appeared and slowly opened, one by one. By the time I was back in the car my eye worked normally. I felt strange, but very detached from the entire process, almost like I was watching it happen on a movie screen to someone else. It didn’t feel like it was happening to me.
At home, I took the dog for a quick walk and then sat down on the sofa. Jan was in the air on her way home from Charlotte. I decided to call my eye doctor at Mass Eye and Ear. I told my doc what happened and he said to come over right now. I wrote Jan a note, left her the car keys and gave my dog an ear rub and a cookie. Locked up the condo and took a cab to Mass Eye and Ear.
Dr. Foster did a quick examination of my eye, brought in a neurological ophthalmologist to examine me. After a half hour of tests, they determined it had nothing to do with my cornea transplant. I was on my way to the emergency room at Mass General. I had more tests. By 4 in the afternoon I was in a bed on the neurology floor. I was being pumped full of blood thinner. I left Jan a message on her cell phone telling her where I was and what I thought was going on. She was landing in an hour.
The head resident came in to my room; he looked about 15 years old. He told me I’d had a stroke incident, a minor one. He explained his diagnosis, a small piece of plaque from an artery had broken loose and had lodged in one of the arteries that provide blood to the optic nerve or to the eye itself and had shut off the vision temporarily. He said the good news is, my eye was working. I asked him what the bad news was, he said, you had a stroke and we haven’t assessed if there is additional damage yet or where the problem originated. He left.
Once again, I felt completely detached from the situation. Never the less I was in a hospital bed, hooked up to monitors and had two IVs in my left arm. At least I was in one of the best hospitals in the country. I had a roommate, another stroke victim; he couldn’t talk or move the left side of his body. He had spittle running out of the left side of his mouth.
Just before 5 the chief neurologist came in the room, he was about my age; he looked at my chart and said in a loud voice, “How are you feeling?” I told him I felt fine. He said, “Good”, I asked how long he thought I’d be here, he didn’t answer and left the room. I looked at my roommate and he held up a note pad that said, Asshole. I laughed and my roommate smiled with the right half of his mouth as best he could. My roommate’s wife came in, introduced herself and her husband, she was Mary Margaret and he was Brian, they lived in Charlestown. She looked exhausted as she sat by his bed and held his hand.
My cell rang and it was Jan, she’d just landed at Logan. She wanted come right to the hospital, I convinced her to go home first and feed the dog, change her clothes and then come over, it took a few minutes but she finally agreed. She called again from home, I asked her to bring me a few things, 90 minutes later she was in my arms. It felt good.
Jan was more worried than I was. Maybe I would be if I felt ill, I didn’t. I had no symptoms, I’d gone blind in one eye and it cleared up in a little over an hour. I told her the docs would get to the bottom of it, she was skeptical and upset. I told her I was hungry, I’d been given a cup of chicken broth for dinner; maybe she could go ask the nurses if I could have something from the cafeteria. When she came back, she said they’d bring me something, they did, another cup of chicken broth. Brian had the Bruins game on, Jan climbed in bed with me and the 4 of us watched the game. I wanted a beer, so did Brian.
A nurse booted our wives at 10pm. The Bruins lost to the Pens. I shut off the TV, Brian laid there and I read. I don’t know what time I fell asleep, I do remember nurses coming and going off and on all night.
I was awake early, breakfast was egg whites, scrambled and a piece of dry wheat toast, I bitched that I was starving and I got a bowl of Special K with skim milk. I was drinking a cup of black coffee when the Chief Neurologist came in with a herd of residents. They pulled Brian’s curtains shut and he ran through Brian’s diagnosis at the top of his lungs, when he finished he turned to me, he shouted, “Good Morning, how are you feeling, today?” He was flipping through my chart, not even looking at me, he turned to the residents and said, “He’ll be getting an MRI this morning and later a CAT-Scan.” They started to leave and I said, “Can I ask you something?” he turned with a scowl on his face and said “What?” I said, “I had a problem with my eye, not my ears, could you hold it down. I heard your entire discussion in the room next door and my roommate can hear every bit as well as I can, you don’t need to shout.” The Chief turned and walked off with his entourage. As they left, one of the residents, a young black woman turned and gave me a thumb up. Brian was silently laughing. I had two scans that day, it was Tuesday
On Wednesday my roommate Brian was ambulanced to Spaulding Rehab hospital, I got up and walked alongside his gurney to the elevator, he was on his back and I was pushing an IV stand with wheels. I shook his good hand and wished him well. I had more scans and several neurological tests.
More of the same on Thursday, one of the residents told me they couldn’t pinpoint the cause, but I was in good shape according to the tests.
My hospitalization continued until Friday Morning, 4 days of tests, more tests and then repeats of previous tests. I never heard more than a loud “Good Morning” from the chief neurologist; my information was coming from medical students, residents and the nurses. My primary care doc was out of the loop even though he worked in another wing of the building. Dan did drop by each day and read my chart to me, offered his take and went home. In reality no one really knew what had happened to make me go blind for an hour. Plenty of theories, no hard facts.
I went home at noon on Friday, Jan was out of town, it was a beautiful day so I walked to Charles Street, had lunch at the Sevens, an Irish Pub on Beacon Hill, I had my first beer since Sunday, a small salad and bowl of stew. Then I walked 14 blocks home. The dog was glad to see me, I was happy to be home. I put all my medicine away crawled into bed and took a nap.
Now you know as much as I do about how I went blind for little more than an hour. My personal share or co-pay for this adventure was $17, 363, including the drugs I took home to medicate myself.
My personal doc’s office manager got a couple of thousand knocked off the bill for non-essential billing.
I haven’t had a problem since this happened in 2000. It scares me more 13 years later than it did at the time.