William Shakespeare once said “the eyes are the windows to the soul”. I think about that saying as I head out for my annual eye appointment to screen for antimalarial toxicity. I’ve learned that not only are the eyes the window to the soul, but medical technology has shown the eyes can also be the windows to the body. Certain types of health issues, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, some neurological issues and arthritis, can be revealed through the eyes – which makes my yearly appointment with my ophthalmologist extremely important.
The appointment is usually broken up into two very detailed visits. The first visit involves a visual field test, which I find disturbingly similar to playing video games of the 80’s. I stare through a lens at a little red dot with a controller in my hand and push the button any time I see green lights flashing in my peripheral vision. I have often wondered if this particular test could also double as a test for my reflexes, since my thumb has a hard time keeping up with my eyes and brain detecting those little green lights in my vision. Click…click…clickety, clickety, click…
The second appointment involves an Amsler grid test, a standard vision test, photographs of my eyes, and the dilation and freezing of my eyeball so they can measure the pressure by poking my eyeball with what resembles a thick pencil with a rubber tip on the end. Not always a satisfying experience, but a necessary one.
Once inside the exam room, my ophthalmologist studies the pictures of my eyes and asks how my arthritis is doing. I tell her it’s the usual ebb and flow, some good days, some not so good. She then turns her attention to my eyes, shining an intense light into them and asking if I’ve had any problems in the last year. There was nothing of significance I could recall. There’s the occasional blurring that I often attribute to fatigue; I do suffer a little from the “dry eye syndrome”; sometimes my vision is a little cloudy and “floaties” like to dance around the edge of my peripheral sight. I recalled a couple of years ago, a bunch of blurry lines developed in my left eye creating a cloudy blind spot that blocked part of my vision for about twenty minutes. I had called my specialist and I was simply told to “keep an eye on it”. It was suggested, but not confirmed, that I might have experienced an ocular migraine, but since that time, nothing of consequence has occurred.
I think of arthritis as primarily a joint disease. It’s easy to overlook the fact that some types of arthritis, such as RA, and the medications used to treat it, have the potential to affect the other organs in the body. I have often wondered, if my ophthalmologist could see the heated inflammation of arthritis pulsing through my system. I now understand that, to some degree, she can see it in the guise of changes in my eyes.
My eyes are the windows to my soul, my body, and my writing life. I am still seeing, glimpsing, observing, spotting and noticing. My yearly eye appointments help keep them safe from the ravages of RA and the medications that fight inflammation. My arthritis is still challenging at times, but at I am grateful that it hasn’t had a significant impact on my vision.
Now, if I could only figure out how to prevent the incessantly creeping escalation of the strength of my reading glasses…
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.