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Diabetic Retinopathy: John's experience

by IBD Medical on May 02, 2024

John's story with his Diabetic Retinopathy diagnosis came about in 'divine intervention', as he commented. At the time when he went in to check his eyes, he had already been managing diabetes for a few decades (about 24 years). 
Diabetes Retinopathy

The story started while John was on vacation one week:

"I was raking leaves on a neighbour's lawn. Needing to remove leaves from a bush, I leaned into the bush to grasp them and a twig went into my eye. Going home to wash out my eye, I noticed what I thought was a slice on the cornea. 
Calling my doctor I was referred to an optometrist. I immediately called the 

optometrist and was informed that he just had a cancellation for 11:00AM, an hour from now, and if I could get there he would see me. During my examination he diagnosed a small laceration of the cornea and prescribed an ointment to assist in the healing process. He also blew my mind when he asked how long I had been a diabetic". 

In this particular eye appointment, John's doctor proceeded to let him know that he had second stage diabetic retinopathy: a proliferation of blood vessels in the retina. John got told that he would require laser treatments to cauterise these proliferations.

At 5:00AM the next morning, John's Pastor called:
"Pastor: "Something woke me up early this morning. There's some reason I felt I had to call you this early. What's happening? What can I do for you?"
Not having spoken to the pastor since Sunday he had no way of knowing I needed a ride.

After our pastor drove Joann and I to my appointment, I had drops applied to my eyes to get them dilated. An hour or so later they asked me to go to the treatment room. Dr. Beyrer explained the laser treatment, positioned me in front of the hardware and began to work on my left eye. It's difficult to describe the feeling of a laser beam as it enters your eye. Your pupil is fully dilated and your eyelids are held open with the insertion of the lens of the laser 'gun'. I declined the option of being strapped into the device framing my head and specially designed to rest my chin. I compare the discomfort to someone holding a thumbtack to your eye and every few seconds applying extra pressure. Two hours and several hundred lasers later my eye was patched, another appointment was scheduled and I was allowed to go home. My thinking I would have been able to drive myself home was a real joke.

My headache lasted until well into the evening. Because my head had to be elevated, I slept in my recliner. Saturday and Sunday gave me two days of rest before going back to work on Monday. Because my vision was impaired, they placed me on restricted duty and used me to train new computer operators. This included hands-on loading of paper into printers and loading magnetic tapes into tape drives. It was amazing what I could do from memory". 
John shared in his writings to us that if you take a look in the glossary under retinopathy, you will see the words 'poorly controlled diabetes'. According tho John, 3 out of 4 endocrinologists will agree with this definition. However the 1 out of 4 endocrinologists will believe that even with decent control of your diabetes, long-term diabetes can and sometimes does cause issues such as retinopathy. 
John: "Agreeing with the approach that long-term diabetes can cause retinopathy doesn't make me feel any better that I still required laser treatments". 
"I had diabetes twenty-four years before beginning laser treatments. I had prided myself on good diabetic control, doing everything possible at the time to stay within proper guidelines. During these twenty-four years I was under the care of a General Practitioner. During my earlier diabetic life, endocrinologists were not readily available. Today, an endocrinologist is a most valuable asset while attempting to achieve the best control of diabetes.
John's eye health today:
John currently wears one pair of glasses to read, another pair for driving, and another for computer work.
"It doesn't seem a big compromise after being legally blind for six months. My eyesight didn't get worse because of the retinopathy . The laser treatments actually saved my sight. Only ageing has caused me to need glasses". 

John's advice to anyone living with diabetes:

  1. Have an ophthalmologist examine yours eyes twice a year
  2. Become a member of your own health-care team
  3. Beyond your primary health care provider, work with an endocrinologist
DIABETIC RETINOPATHY | Diabetes Community Stories | Glucology

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call 911 (in the US) or 000 (in Australia) immediately, call your doctor, or go to the emergency room/urgent care.
*Disclaimer: Remember to always seek advice from your medical practitioner before changing anything about your diabetes management. The above information is not medical advice.