What I Learned from Driving One-Eyed

December 17, 2013 by V.R.M. - 3 Comments

I finally went to the emergency room on Wednesday. Vision in my right eye had slowly deteriorated over the last week, but I hadn’t really found time to spend what would surely be a couple of hours waiting for an ophtalmologist to evaluate my problem.  Each day that passed, a black curtain descended lower and lower over the field of vision on my right eye.  But I had kids to drive around and a job and home to take care of, so I had to wait to “squeeze in” an emergency eye appointment.  By the time I did get the eye examined, the news were not good: retinal detachment. Read — eye broken; out of commission. The fix? A one-hour operation…followed by a six-week recovery period and no guarantee that I would regain full vision in the eye again.


Here’s how my eye was fixed…it’s called a vitrectomy.

Sometimes a German work ethic is good (Audi, Porsche) and sometimes it is not so good (keep working while going blind).

After the panic of realizing I could have gone blind subsided, my next concern was, “how will I drive”? Because aside from my love of sportscars and fun driving, I live in a world where I must drive to survive. I have two young daughters who attend school (sometimes grudgingly) and a variety of enriching activities: violin (always grudgingly), soccer, etc. Aforementioned daughters and husband have big appetites (probably the soccer and Mom’s genes) which require copious trips to Whole Foods (and battles with other health-conscious drivers at the WF parking lot). There is also the commute to my job, which pays for part of the aforementioned children’s needs and appetite. There is the house where we live and often run out of toilet paper, which requires trips to Target, where shoppers feel like it is ok to cut across the entire parking lot and high speed to get that primo spot by the door. But I digress.

Broken eye: bad. But fixable thanks to the talent of Dr. Zacks, his super friendly fellow Dr. Grant an dstaff at Kellogg Eye Center. Yay!

Inability to drive? Catastrophic. Full panic mode. Not survivable. Ok, ok, I exaggerate. I was told after the initial ten-day recovery period, I would be allowed to drive. “You are legally allowed to drive with one eye, “said the Retina fellow cautiously. “Just remember your depth perception will be a bit off.” Um, ok, ha ha.

On day 11, I was allowed to drive again, so I did what any sensible person would do: I got behind the wheel. And it was as if I had been beamed up into the body of a brand new driver, or a snowbird in Florida.  You can’t imagine what it’s like to set out to do something you’ve done many times before with much confidence, and to find that said activity is not the way it used to be. The comfort I normally experience when getting into the car was gone because the world simply did not look as it normally did from behind the wheel.


Very groovy…and annoying.

For starters, I was given pupil-dilating drops which kept my eye “relaxed” post-surgery. If you’ve had an eye exam before, you know relaxed pupils are on vacation. Mine wanted nothing to do with focusing. A friend who shall remain unnamed found my state very amusing and said, “ha ha, your pupil reminds me of the sixties and ‘shrooms!” Hilarious…except that I’ve never done either.  To add more fun to said pupil on  prescription ‘shrooms, there was “the bubble.” To help the lasered eye heal, surgeons injected a nitrous gas bubble in my right eye. The bubble will go away on its own over a period of about four weeks. I can’t really feel the bubble, but as soon as the pupil was allowed to go back to work, I could see it, and it was just like looking at the world through a snow globe or a lava lamp.The thing bobs around and disperses light like a night club prop. Good times! Except when you want to drive.

I back out of our garage to take the girls to school. Very. Slowly. I am afraid I am going to take the side mirror off our Audi, and that would not be cool. German car parts are beautiful and crazy expensive (just like my German eye parts, it turns out). As I back up, my husband says, “Use your head…it should be just like driving with a helmet and HANS!” Hmmm, kind of–minus the 60’s party going on in my right eye.

We get on the road at what I consider a comfortable speed and the girls immediately say, “MOM! Why are you driving so slowly?” Lesson 1: I have set my daughter’s standards for speed too high. Must revise that standard before they become drivers.

Then we get to the school parking lot, aka “the war zone.” Normally I am busy doling out sanctimonious silent advice regarding turn signals and inappropriate speeds. Not this time. I am in survival mode. My car’s dimensions feel unfamiliar, and I am not 100% sure of whether I can fit through tight spaces between cars and kids. My head is moving like a chicken’s, ensuring I don’t make contact with a child, a car, a cone, or a curb. It is a highly stressful experience. I make it out alive.  Lesson 2: I need to be more patient with people who may not be as comfortable navigating tight spaces with their cars.

Once dropoff is accomplished, and after considering whether having wine at 7:50 a.m. is appropriate, I am off to work during rush hour. The commute is short, and I normally play my favorite music, sing along, and drive along selecting the best lane to minimize my time at traffic lights. Also, I normally drive 10 mph above the speed limit, especially if the roads are clean of traffic.  Not this time. You can hear a pin drop inside my car (thanks for the lovely silence, Audi). I can’t play music because I am far too busy looking all over the place and trying to keep the bubble party calm. Also, for the first time in the last four years, I stay in the same lane the entire time, fearing that if I make a rash move, I may not notice a car in my now very-dead spot and cause an accident. I am the one being passed. Lesson 3: If you can’t judge traffic, you can’t drive quickly. I need to give other drivers a little more space when I change lanes. And I need to be nice if people want to switch onto my lane.*

All those blurred lights? Not so much fun.

All those blurred lights? Not so much fun.

I get to work in one piece, whew. I notice I’ve parked my wagon about 4 feet away from the curb. Depth perception is not overrated, I tell you.Work goes ok, but then I have to get home. Winter means it gets dark early, so I find myself on the road in dimming light. This, by far, is the hardest challenge. With the pupil and bubble working together, every light is distorted and bright, making it hard to judge where the lanes end. I close the bubble eye to drive, which provides some relief from the bright lights, but also takes away all peripheral vision. Now I am being passed by everyone, and I am terrified I will cause a fender-bender (no chance for a serious accident because I am driving so very slowly). After I get home, I resolve that as long as the bubble is in the eye, I will not be driving at night. Lesson 4: I need to be more patient with folks who drive slowly at night because they may have trouble with night vision.

The overarching lesson learned from this ordeal? Sometimes we need to slow down. In life, and in the car. Unfortunately it takes a major event to shock us into that realization. Hopefully reading this will encourage you to be kinder to yourself.

I am now nearly four weeks out since having the eye operation, and am happy to report that the eye is healing well and I’ve regained quite a bit of my (originally very miopic) vision. I am happy to report that each day that passes, my vision improves, and driving becomes more comfortable. The bubble is still in there, bobbing along, but it is now half of its original size. I’m not going to miss it when it is finally gone. The Sixties weren’t all that great, and I have places to get to and parking lots to conquer. I’ll just try to be a little nicer to other motorists while doing so.

*but only if they use a turn signal.