My sister is lying on the floor, face down. She’s been in this position for about an hour, and will continue to lie here for at least another hour, at which time she’ll get up, sit in a massage chair, stick her face in a hole, and stay there for a few hours.
She had eye surgery two days ago and has held her head, face down (parallel to floor), since the moment she came out of the operating room. Seriously. Face down. All the time. Except for when she puts in eye drops or goes to bed. The doctor said it’s fine to sleep on her left side. Huzzah!
My sister developed something called a macular hole, which is exactly what it sounds like – a hole in the macula. The macula is located in the back of the eye, and the hole usually starts small then develops over time, causing your central vision to become distorted, but doesn’t affect your peripheral vision. Anyone can develop it, but usual causes like extreme short sightedness, eye trauma or being over 60 don’t apply to my sister, so she just lucked out. She noticed it on Thanksgiving. Her vision was squiggly, and she saw black spots floating around. She ignored early symptoms until it became obvious that something was wrong.
There’s a substance called vitreous gel inside the eye and as we age, it shrinks and pulls away from the retina. Sometimes the vitreous gel can pull on the retina and create a hole. Then the gel can seep through the hole onto the macula, causing blurring and distortion. The surgery – vitrectomy – removes the gel and fills the hole with a bubble of air and gas. Keeping the face down allows the bubble to press against the macula and gradually be reabsorbed by the eye, sealing the hole. The longer you can bear to do it, the better your vision will be in the long run.
My sister’s still in the chair, watching TV. She’s renting some equipment, specially designed for her recovery. A fancy chair; a pad to lie on, with a donut cushion for her face; a two-way mirror that allows her to keep her head down and watch the TV ahead of her; and two-way glasses that helps when reaching for anything above her shoulders. It’s amazing all the things you can’t do, if you can’t lift up your face. That’s where I come in. I’m staying with her through her first crucial week – cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and taking her to appointments. If I don’t find a massage therapist that does house calls, I’ll be rolling up my sleeves and Shiatsu-ing too. Huzzah!
When I first researched the surgery and recovery process, I thought it was a joke. Some cruel hoax meant to trick only the most gullible patients, while doctors and nurses snicker behind their backs.
“Did you see that one?” They’d laugh, doubling over, “And her stupid sister too!”
Well, who wouldn’t think this was all a joke, considering its resemblance to the recent “planking” craze, where people lie face down in random places, then post or tweet their photos. It was a viral sensation.
Comedian Tom Green credits himself as “The Father” of planking. He used to do something called “Dead Guy” in the early 90’s that was essentially the same stunt. My theory is that someone’s sister originated the idea, while they were nursing their sibling. Even on the third day, it’s as bizarre and hysterical a sight as the first. When we were in hospital prepping for surgery, we came upon a fellow in the hallway, sitting hunched over with his forehead in his hands. Oh my God, what happened? Did someone just die?
As we walked past, we noticed his one eye bandaged and covered with a shield. We took one look at each other and struggled to contain our horrified laughter. Yup, this is where you’re headed, my eyes said to my sister. It’s hard not to look grief-stricken or fed-up sitting in that position. Throw in a sigh or two, as my sister is wont to do and voila! Instant bad mood!
There are loads of blogs out there journaling recoveries. One woman stayed face down for six weeks! Can you imagine? She even had a dinner party! She’d prepared everything ahead of time, even prepped her home for her planking sojourn – placing food and frequently used items on low shelves, getting audio books, cooking and freezing foods. How do you say in your language, Type A?
But it can’t always be that uncomfortable. Yesterday morning my sister started snoring while lying on her face in the living room. Well, why not. I mean, what else is she going to do? The hours are creeping by for her.
“What time is it?” she asked, through muffled mouth.
“8:10,” I replied.
“Oh my God!”
Only 14 hours to go until bed!