Holding the head perfectly still for two weeks | By Richard P. Holm, MD

My Father was in his 50’s when his retina, the lining which provides a blanket of vision on the inside back of one of his eyes, started separating from its base structure. Called a ‘detached retina,’ this condition occurs in three people out of 1000; more often in men, in certain families, in those with near-sightedness, in obese hypertensives, and in those who have had cataract surgery. Dad’s first symptoms included floaters, quick flashes of bright light, and blurred vision starting in the peripheral part of his vision, gradually moving toward his central vision, like a gray veil falling across his line of sight. There was no pain with this, however he became understandably fearful as his vision deteriorated. I remember his having open-eye surgery at a University Center in Minneapolis, which was cutting-edge treatment at the time. It required two weeks of hospitalization with both eyes patched closed and with absolutely no head motion while sandbags pushed into both sides of his head. His constant companion and only entertainment was a radio plugged into his ears. I remember when he finally came home, he was overjoyed to see us, seemed to have a renewed appreciation of life, and was happy that his vision seemed to be gradually returning. That was the late 60’s, and I don t think his appreciation for life ever waned after that. Modern treatment for detached retina may include reattachment of the retina with laser beams (like spot-welding) or freezing small areas (cryotherapy). Sometimes the walls are squeezed together by a band the surgeon wraps around the sphere of the eyeball. In other cases, the vitreous jelly, or the bag of fluid that fills the eyeball, is removed and the fluid is replaced with a gas bubble to push the retina back in place. Each case is different and the treatment approach may vary depending on the severity and type of detachment. Fortunately, modern-day treatment for detached retina no longer requires two weeks of eye patches and sandbags holding the head perfectly still.

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