Last week, a fellow RD patient left a comment on my blog post, ‘Do you see what I see?‘, in which she asked questions about looking through the gas bubble and how much of what she was seeing was ‘normal’. So I thought it might be helpful to write a post about that very topic. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that I’m not an ophthalmologist (I’m pretty sure I’d fail the eyesight requirements) or even an optometrist, and I’m just writing about my own experiences as a long-suffering RD patient as well as what I’ve learnt along the way. If you’re worried about any visual symptoms after undergoing retinal reattachment surgery, it’s always best to get them checked out by a qualified medical professional.
I’ve had two gas bubbles so far – the first was a long-acting one which I was told would last for six weeks but in fact it lasted for nine. A year later, I had a short-acting gas bubble, which would probably have lasted for about two and a half weeks if my dratted retina hadn’t decided to re-detach yet again. Following each of these surgeries, once the eye patch was removed I was able to see light but everything else was a crazy blur – a bit like when you open your eyes under water. It’s impossible to read or make out any detail at all at first. However, it should be possible to detect a moving hand, when waved around in front of your face. It can be very scary at this point, and personally I also felt very unbalanced and dizzy at times. My depth perception was completely screwed and I was terrified that I wouldn’t get any vision back.
Once the gas bubble starts to disperse, things begin to get interesting. The rate at which it disperses will depend on whether it’s a long-acting or short-acting bubble. However, the effects are pretty much the same for both. When sitting up, you’ll start to notice a sort of line at the top of your eye, over which you can see things more clearly. It looks a bit like a spirit level and the line will gradually move further down your eye each day and you’ll start to see more above it. Below the line, it will still look as if you’re trying to see underwater. The bit above the line probably won’t be perfectly clear – people often see tiny dots or the odd floater, and colours and lines often appear distorted. For me, colours were faded and very different to how they appeared when looking through my good eye, and lines were slightly crooked. For example, the straight edge of a door frame would look as if it had slight kinks in it.
As the bubble disperses further, the edge of it takes on more of a curve, which can appear as a thicker dark line. When the bubble is small enough, if you lie face down and open your eye, you can see it as a perfect circle. At this point, you’ll also find that it acts as a magnifying glass, and if you try to read something through it, the text will appear much bigger than when you try and read it ‘over the top’ of the line of the bubble. You’ll see all sorts of odd visual effects caused by reflections from the bubble, including shafts of light, which can be very off-putting. Another weird thing is that the bubble, when it’s at a certain stage, can cause you to see certain objects as if they’re upside down. I’ll never forget watching the dog wandering across my vision and seeing him as if he was upside down!
Gradually, the bubble will get smaller and smaller and will appear with a dark line around the edge of it. At this point, many people find that it will start to split up. Sometimes it will split off into a few smaller bubbles which separate for a while and then merge back into the main bubble. I found that I kept seeing a ‘baby bubble’ which would scoot around the edge of the main bubble and then disappear again. Towards the end of my long-acting gas bubble, it became very tiny as I saw it right down at the bottom of my vision. There were a couple of mornings when I woke up and looked for it thinking that it had finally gone, only to have it bounce back into view a few hours later.
Many new people on the RD support group on Facebook get frustrated by the bubble and can’t wait for it to disappear. There’s no doubt that it results in some very bizarre, off-putting, and quite scary visual effects at times. But the bubble is there to push the retina back and hold it in place as it heals. Therefore, the gas bubble is your friend… be patient with it! Below, you will find two photos, which are my visual attempts to describe what it looks like as the gas bubble starts to disperse.