First My Grandmother, Now My Mom, And Maybe Me: A Glaucoma Wake-Up Call

June 1, 2015  |  

I had never heard of singer August Alsina until he revealed his harrowing battle to save his vision. The singer recently had surgery to preserve his eyesight from an undisclosed ocular disease, one that had already taken the vision in his left eye.  Alsina’s candor about his medical emergency was a serious wake-up call for me.

Glaucoma, the incurable disease that can lead to blindness, runs in my family.  My grandmother was diagnosed with it at the age of 31.  In the beginning stages, she didn’t quite know what was happening to her vision.  Neither did her incompetent doctors who negated her symptoms and told her that her eyes were simply “tired.”  It wasn’t until my grandmother read an article in Reader’s Digest that she was able to self-diagnose her symptoms, which doctors would later corroborate.

My grandmother had a very aggressive and uncommon form of glaucoma.  She tried to keep the tremendous pain she experienced due to increased pressure in her eyes from her children – my mother and aunt – but it proved too much.  I’ve heard stories about that time in her life from my aunt especially, who often heard my grandmother crying in pain at night.  My grandma’s ailment grew worse thanks in large part to poor treatment and a series of botched surgeries.  She went through absolute hell and was blind for most, if not all, of the years I was blessed to have her in my life.

When my mother was diagnosed with glaucoma at 50, she knew all too well the harsh realities of life without the gift of sight.  Though her glaucoma is the more common type, she was immediately fearful that she would suffer the same fate as my grandmother.  Who could blame her? But when my mother broke the news to our family, my reaction wasn’t what she expected.  I guess you could say that I was in denial. I didn’t mean to treat her diagnosis nonchalantly, but I was confident that time was on our side, and the medical advances in both knowledge and treatment would not fail my mother the way my grandmother was failed.

But I was scared.  My mom’s vision had always been the best in my immediate family and when I started to see signs of changes, albeit ever so slightly, it was hard to accept.  I didn’t want her to struggle, to experience pain, to know the love of her future grandchildren, but not be able to lay eyes on them.  It was hard not to assume the worst.  I know the seclusion my grandmother felt because of her lack of sight. I know of the mistrust she had for strangers – home attendants in particular – who took advantage of her, and the difficulty she experienced being fiercely independent but needing help with almost everything.  And though she never, ever was, I know my grandmother felt like a burden.

It’s now been several years since my mother’s diagnosis, and she is still blessed with good vision, despite her glaucoma.  She stays on top of her doctor visits (and if she doesn’t, we do) and does everything in her power to maintain optimal eye health.

Given my family’s history, I know that I need to see an ophthalmologist every year.  But I haven’t been in roughly three.  At one point, I didn’t have any health care coverage and decided to put off my annual appointment until I had a medical provider.  I have no valid excuse now that I am insured, especially considering that I’ve noticed a change or two in my vision.

Sometimes my eyes get blurry for no apparent reason, or I’ll get eye floaters.  Neither of these things are cause for great alarm, but, again, considering my family history, I need to be careful. I won’t deny that I’m a little fearful.  I’m roughly the age my grandmother was when she was diagnosed with glaucoma.  And though I can’t help but get angry and sad when I think about all that happened to her, I have to believe that maybe, just maybe she suffered so that my mom wouldn’t have to.  And I wouldn’t have to.  I owe it to her, my mother and myself to get my eyes checked immediately and from here on out, make my eye health a priority.  Sometimes we’re so close to things that we need outside forces to shake us up.  And while I don’t know the names of any of his songs and can’t call myself a fan, I have August Alsina to thank for giving me the wake-up call I needed.

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