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Back home: surgery and recovery begins

A few posts back (in “Day 24 - Gyor to Esztergom; a problem arises” and “A problem arises, continued”) I told the story of my left eye’s retinal detachment, the confirmation of that diagnosis by Dr. Zoltan Nagy’s ophthalmology clinic in Budapest, and my decision to return home immediately for surgery to attempt to correct that.

I arrived home in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Friday, August 1st, had an appointment with a retinal specialist the following Monday, and had surgery on that Wednesday, August 6th. That was 8 days after the detachment, nicely within the two-week window during which surgery for complete (macula-off) retinal surgery is considered likely to offer some restoration of vision. The surgeon deemed the surgery “technically successful”, that is, he accomplished all he had hoped to by positioning the retina back into its proper place, but it remained an open question if the organic processes necessary for true reattachment and thus restoration of vision would occur. Only time would tell.

I followed the doctor’s orders which included no physical activity other than walking, no reading or writing with that eye uncovered (to prevent too much movement of the eye), a regimen of four different eye drops four times per day, etc. Yesterday, three days after the operation, some return of vision started to occur. During the time the retina was detached I had virtually no vision at all in that eye and could only see a sliver of light in the extreme upper left of my field of vision. I now can see across my whole field of vision (except where occluded by a gas bubble injected to hold the retina in place). The clarity of vision is not very good, but good enough to make out the general shapes of things, and a strong indication that the surgery was not simply “technically successful”, but that the organic processes necessary for restoration of vision was proceeding.

There is no way to tell how much vision will be restored. With complete retinal detachments there is almost no possibility of vision being restored to its former state, but there is a decent likelihood that a good amount of the former vision will be restored. That is a process that takes about a year to complete. At the present I am quite happy that the process has begun.

 

Ducks in the Mystic River, Charlestown, MA.

Ducks in the Mystic River, Charlestown, MA.

Back home. Sunrise over the Charles River, Cambridge on the left bank, Boston on the right.
I arrived home from Budapest last night and this morning went for my favorite ride in the world, one that I’ve done probably hundreds of times, along the Charles River to its confluence with the Mystic River, where they form Boston harbor. I loved the ride, it was as beautiful as it always is, even with only one eye able to see it.
I am feeling much better today. It was more than a little frightening to be thousands of miles from home, alone, with a serious and disabling medical condition. Now that I am back home and receiving the support of friends I know that I will be ok even if I don’t get my vision back in that eye. After all, it is not a life-threatening condition  it is just something to attend to and then make whatever adjustments are needed. I’m happy to be alive and relatively healthy.
And my heartfelt thanks to everyone who contacted me to express their concern and support. It was really wonderful to hear from all of you.

Back home. Sunrise over the Charles River, Cambridge on the left bank, Boston on the right.
I arrived home from Budapest last night and this morning went for my favorite ride in the world, one that I’ve done probably hundreds of times, along the Charles River to its confluence with the Mystic River, where they form Boston harbor. I loved the ride, it was as beautiful as it always is, even with only one eye able to see it.
I am feeling much better today. It was more than a little frightening to be thousands of miles from home, alone, with a serious and disabling medical condition. Now that I am back home and receiving the support of friends I know that I will be ok even if I don’t get my vision back in that eye. After all, it is not a life-threatening condition it is just something to attend to and then make whatever adjustments are needed. I’m happy to be alive and relatively healthy.

And my heartfelt thanks to everyone who contacted me to express their concern and support. It was really wonderful to hear from all of you.
Vegetable stand. Esztergom, HU.

Vegetable stand. Esztergom, HU.

Row of poplars at sunrise, near Visegrad, HU.

Row of poplars at sunrise, near Visegrad, HU.

Sunrise along the road to Visegrad, HU.

Sunrise along the road to Visegrad, HU.

Dusk approaching the rocky banks of Buda. Budapest, HU

Dusk approaching the rocky banks of Buda. Budapest, HU

Day 24 - Esztergom to Budapest, HU
34 km (20 miles)

I already told the story of today in my previous post. And now it is evening, I am in Budapest again, where my fascination with the Donau began. The Donau is very beautiful here, I will try to take some good shots and post them.
Of course there is tonight a fair amount of melancholy for me.here. Here is where I had planned to meet up with my favorite riding buddy, Adrian, and start a week of riding together. Instead I will be flying home tomorrow, worried about whether my eye can recover.
I am trying to remember all the great people I met on this ride and the wonderful experiences we had and beautiful places we saw: Dirk and Karo who hosted me through couchsurfing, helped me find a route in the Schwarzwald, and picked me up at a train station when the hills there made my day longer than.i could bear; their friend Oliver the kayaker who also let me stay with him, showed me around Ulm, and taught me about the Donau; Lila, the lost girl, her brothers Leo and Theo, her parents Eliane and Thom - Thom emailed me tonight to tell me they’d been.reading my blog and now we’re sending their get-well wishes to me; Pepito, the incredible former alpine rescuer now a long-distance riding machine; Hanna and Georg and their beautiful baby Lucia who all made my stay in Wien delightful; Mihaly and Julia who let me ride with them for three days snd tought came and visited me in my distress and took me out to a great dinner here in Budapest; John and Faustine, who had the cleverness to help me start to figure out what was going on with my eyes; and so many other shorter and wonderful encounters.
It was a good ride, it is just sad for it to end this way. And I can’t help but remember how I started blogging about this ride, trying to overcome my.superstitious notions about having hit a patch of bad luck. Weird, eh?

My friend Bruce emailed me today expressing his sympathy for my situation and noting.that my blog this year had a touch of sadness it hadn’t had in previous years. He is completely correct. This was my longest solo ride ever (more than 3 weeks, 1450 km total, 900 miles) and really more time alone than I enjoy any longer. It is a little strange to be discovering things about oneself at my age (but I guess better that than remaining in ignorance), and as much as I knew I enjoyed the company of others I hadn’t appreciated how much I simply need it.
A problem arises (continued)

Last night after speaking to my eye doctor and.hearing his opinion that I had a detached retina and that this was a medical emergency, I set to work trying to figure out how to get to Budapest and arrange for treatment. The Hungarian railways site listed a train from Esztergom to Budapest at 7 in the morning and then two more in the late afternoon. The site also listed trains.every hour from Visegrad, a town on the Donau 25 km away. My doctor had found the name of a cataract lens implantation specialist in Budapest, Zoltan Nagy, and wanted me to see him before flying home. I found Dr. Nagy and his contact info online.
It stormed liked crazy for most of the night. At the times that I managed to doze off I was soon awakened by crashes of thunder so loud that I thought a bomb had exploded. In the morning I got ready early and rode to the train station.a few km south of Esztergom, arriving on time, but was told by the ticket seller that there was no morning train.

I rode back to the bus station in town but the buses wouldn’t take a bicycle. I decided to ride to Visegrad. Strangely, despite my worries about my physical condition, it was a great ride. The air was extremely fresh after the storms of the night, the morning colors beautiful and I especially appreciated it all given what I faced losing. When I arrived in Visegrad I discovered that the train was actually across the Donau in Nagymaros. I had a coffee and waited an hour for the ferry, using the time to call Dr. Nagy’s office and make an appointment for noon. The ferry ride, then a train ride to Budapest, and finally a short bike ride brought me to the clinic of Dr. Nagy, which occupies a city block. The doctors here confirmed retinal detachment, with the macular off. That means that surgery need only occur within the next two weeks and that it is safe for me to travel now. It also means that the likelihood of recovery of full vision in that eye is not great. Disheartening news.
Day 23 - Gyor to Esztergom, HU. A problem arises.

115 km (71 miles). A fair number of miles, very close to my highest this trip, not close to my record for a day but given the special circumstances (I will explain what those were) a record in its own right.
When I awoke this morning I noticed that my vision was a little filmy and unclear. It had perhaps been so also the night before but not as much. I paid it not much mind and started on my ride for the day which I knew was going to be a long one. On the road I met an older American couple, the first American cyclists I’d met my whole ride. But they were riding a bit slow and I traded them off for a young couple, John, an Englishman, and Faustine, a French girl, who were moving faster. We hit it off well, stopped for coffee together, and I mentioned my vision problem as it now seemed to me to be getting worse. Faustine asked if it was in both eyes. It hadn’t occurred to me to check. When I did I discovered that my left eye had virtually no vision at all but that my right eye was fine.
I rode with John and Faustine for a few hours and their pace and companionship helped me take a big slice out of the day’s miles. We stopped for lunch and parted as they were going in a different direction from that point . During lunch I’d twice spilled water misjudging the distance from the bottle to my glass. Now, riding alone again, I started to think about the implications of my difficulty in depth perception for my ride, as I was planning to meet Adrian in Budapest, some 100 km from where I was, and continue on to Belgrade with him, another 500 km. I noticed I was having problems discerning the height of curbs, an important thing to be able to do when cycling, and I started to think that riding another 600 km in this condition might be unwise. I also wondered about what might be causing this condition. I assumed it was the failure of the lens implant I’d gotten when I had cataract surgery a few years ago. That may seem a peculiar supposition, but the blind spot was centrally located and was perfectly round, the shape and size of a lens. The incident that finally made up my mind was almost getting hit by a car crossing the street. I had looked left before starting to cross, but had done so relying on my left eye. It hadn’t seen the car. I realized that beyond the physical problems with my vision, I also had habits of use of vision that could now be sources of danger. My trip would have to end in Budapest. I also decided that I would call my eye surgeon as soon as I arrived in Esztergom. I realized that my assumption that the implanted lens had suddenly turned opaque had no real basis in any knowledge of these things and that consulting with my doctor was a necessity. I am aware that to the reader it may seem that I came to all of these decisions in a belated fashion. I can’t argue against that belief, I can only say that my thinking should be understood within the context of a bike trip. You are moving forward, you are propelling yourself, not infrequently against feelings of fatigue and pain, and disengaging from that mode requires a mental turnaround. I called my doctor’s office when I arrived in Esztergom. He quickly got back to me and from my description believes I have a detached retina. It is a serious condition that can lead to blindness in the eye if not treated promptly. My.doctor has provided me with the name of a specialist in Budapest whom I will try to see as soon as possible. (To be continued)