Trust Your Gut

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trust your gut retinal tear
home after my retina surgery

Trust Your Gut

No weekend reads today because I am either in surgery or recovering from surgery for my right eye's retina. This is a story about trusting your gut.

A year or so ago, I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. I noticed my left eye adjusted to the dark much faster than my right. My right eye acted as though there was a dimmer switch or tint over the darkness while my left could soon make out shapes in the moonlight.

I made an appointment with my eye doctor, went through a full exam, and was told I should get reading glasses and as we get older our eyes take longer to adjust from light to dark, distance to closeup.

A few months ago, began seeing weird flashes in my peripheral view. Researching perimenopausal symptoms I saw that it was common to see this and that they could be ocular or aural migraines, which can feel painless.

Comparing My Current to the Past

In my 20’s, I got migraines quite often. I remember the first one. I was in a TJ Maxx on my day off work as a district visual merchandiser for Express. I was sipping my Frappuccino, leaning on the handle of a shopping cart, dragging myself through the home goods aisle when I thought I was shot. I even heard an explosion and the pain on the left side of my head and face was instant and extreme.

My migraines only ended once and after being pregnant; it didn’t shock me that going through perimenopause they’d come back and in a different form.

But then one of the readers of my blog contacted me after I casually mentioned this issue and said it could be a torn retina. So I figured, why not make another eye appointment?

I went back to the same practice, but this time saw a different doctor. The same tests were done when I went in a year prior, and I was told my eyes hadn’t changed much and just added some habits to keep my eyes rested and my stress reduced.

Alison awaiting diagnosis
All dilated awaiting my diagnosis

Spidey Senses Tingling…

It just didn’t add up. These migraines were increasing and I had been working on reducing stress. I was meditating. I was on Wellbutrin and seeing a therapist. I was taking hormones and experiencing benefits. I was moving my body more often and with a higher intensity. I was feeling better in every way except my eyes.

Another reader shared how my flashes, which I was now describing as white lightning bolts in the peripheral view and when my eyes were closed, could be a retina issue. A third told me it could be a sign of too much estrogen. I decided to make an appointment with a retina specialist and if it was nothing, make an appointment with my menopause care provider to discuss my HRT levels.

Eye checkup

At the retina specialist, they did the same exact tests as I had weeks prior at the ophthalmologist. I sat in the exam room after musical chairs in front of various machines, waiting for the doctor. On the wall was a photo of an eye, looking like the earth’s core with a small dip in the middle. And on the computer screen was my retina, a black and white version that looked almost exactly the same.

But while the doctor was checking my eyes she was asking more questions about my lifestyle, my medications, and what I was experiencing.

Eye checkup from a retina specialist

She said she wanted to check something else and pulled out a probe about the side of a pencil with a soft rounded tip. She picked up this tiny lens that looked like something you’d snap to your phone case to take closeup photos.

She’d ask me to look in one direction as she pressed the probe in the other, and I felt my eye bulge out as a bright light was shown in. It didn’t hurt but it did feel very dystopian.

She had a virtual scribe on her tablet who was on speakerphone taking in the whole appointment. The doctor said she couldn’t describe what she saw so she’d draw a picture and show it to the scribe. Dear reader, her drawing looked like one of those doilies we used to make valentines in elementary school.

She said it was lucky I came in when I did. I had lattice degeneration in both eyes. One, it wasn’t too bad and could be remedied via laser in that same office. The other however, needed surgery and soon. Like this Saturday, the Saturday of Labor Day.

How Do You Know It's Really Something?

Studies have shown that women have a higher pain tolerance than men. Any person in a long-term relationship with a man knows this to be true, whether it is catching a cold, getting a splinter, or dropping something on their toe.

We regularly joke if men had periods, products would be free, and menstrual leave would be mandatory at every workplace. Going through perimenopause I’d like to add that if men went through “The Change,” we’d have way more studies on it, and way more solutions that would of course be covered by every insurance provider.

Instead, we stumble in the dark, taking moments of light from the friend or elder relative who shares their experience, the TikTokker who shows up on our FYP discussing her experience with testosterone pellets, the YouTuber who made a parody song about hot flashes, and the preview of whatever Oprah is selling before the “buy now” button.

Getting “Advice”

Weird eyes? Yeah my cousin had that, they were ocular migraines. My brother is an ophthalmologist and said it may be a detached retina. They’re aural migraines I’ve had them since I was a teen; you haven’t heard of them? I saw a YouTube that castor oil can evaporate floaters, have you tried castor oil? I saw this woman on TikTok she said her naturopath says they’re due to an excess of estrogen and she said some supplement could balance you out… let me see if I can find that video…

When you’re over 40 everyone has a story about your symptom. And as women, we are used to weird-ass and downright painful symptoms. It’s hard to know when it’s serious and when again we’ll regret making that appointment.

We have gone to doctors who recommend Motrin and a heating pad. We’ve avoided doctors because they ignore our reason for being there and focus on the number on the scale. We’ve had our most sensitive parts treated like car parts by individuals with diploma after diploma on the wall. We’ve been called hysterical, sensitive, stressed, anxious, and over dramatic. Doctors help, doctors heal, and doctors care… but doctors are human too.

We women need to trust our gut. Yes, we’ve dealt with decades of weird symptoms, shame, and pain. But with that we know when something’s different… that is if we listen to our guts and learn to trust them again.

Does it really hurt or is it getting older? Did I do it to myself and can I fix it? Is this serious or is this me just feeling like shit in so many other ways due to age and perimenopause that this is just the straw that is breaking this camel’s back? Will I get help or will I get judgment?

Men vs. Women

My husband has discipline, such discipline. He had back pain and read dairy caused inflammation. That day he stopped consuming dairy and to this day avoids it. He decided as a new dad he was drinking too much at the end of the day so he just stopped drinking and has never drank since. He saunas and Theraguns and takes cold showers and dry brushes and uses the LED face mask I own but let collect dust. He’s hoping to instill some of that in our kid without giving her a complex.

If you spend one week, just one week taking your allergy meds and having a green juice and moving your body daily and going to bed on time, you then have a memory of what it feels like to feel good. Then as you veer into late nights and fast food you’ll know when that good feeling is no longer and also what tools can bring you back.

I love this concept, but it’s not as easy when you have internal reproductive organs. Are you ovulating? PMS? Pregnant? Yeast or other imbalance? Perimenopause? PCOS? I could go on because our bodies are not consistent nor how they feel or react.

Trust Your Gut
A temporary tattoo to be sure they repair the correct eye. The second eye will be repaired once this one heals.

Listening to and Trusting Our Gut

But we still know when something just doesn’t feel right. Call it a gut feeling or women’s intuition but if we get quiet enough to listen, our body will tell us when things are not right and need attention. And now is not the time to be meek or mild, even though that’s what society expects of us once we’re in midlife. So I bypassed my doctor and without a referral figuring this is my vision and vision is nothing to eff with, I scheduled an appointment with a retina specialist.

I know most of you have come to Wardrobe Oxygen for fashion advice and ways to be stylish, especially in midlife. But the most stylish thing is to slow down and reconnect with your gut. So many things are going on with our bodies, our relationships, our families, our countries, our environments, our jobs, our finances… it's hard to have a single moment for a slow breath. But we're at a point in life where it's more important than ever to listen, and to trust ourselves when things don't feel quite right.

It is far more stylish to look like the worry-wort in the doctor's office than ignore a symptom. It may be nothing, but it also may be something big. Exercise your ab muscles, exercise your brain, keep challenging yourself and putting yourself out there to stay mentally and physically and psychologically strong. But also strengthen that relationship with your intuition. It's the chicest accessory we grown-ass women can wear.

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26 Comments

  1. Wishing you a speedy and successful recovery!

    Here’s a technique to try when you are dismissed in a medical situation:

    Say, “I would like you to note in my chart that I told you about [my symptoms, my pain, my experience] and you, the physician, dismissed my concerns and the reason for me seeking medical care today, and I want a copy of my chart in total, including today’s notes, when I leave the practice.” Repeat as many times as necessary during your visit. It gets people’s attention.

    Best of luck in getting proper medical treatment, dear women.

  2. That’s maddening for your issue to be dismissed and take forever to be diagnosed.
    It’s not just women who get jerked around by the medical system.
    My husband had shingles last year and it wasn’t until he’d had two appointments, that he filled out an on-line symptom assessment that anyone thought about his symptoms as being shingles.
    It took all of 20 minutes after he hit ‘submit’ to get a call telling him to come in and get a prescription for antivirals.

    From my own experience of friends with retinal issues and the comments here I’d say that these problems are not uncommon. Thank goodness you’ve got an income and found a specialist who you didn’t have to wait months to see!

  3. Allie,

    A number of years ago I was having terrible cramps, vomiting, no appetite. I had a bad feeling about it. I went to one doctor and he thought it was a stomach bacteria and gave me antibiotics. I asked him straight out, “Do you think it could be my appendix?” He said, “No, I can guarantee you that you will not need surgery.”

    My symptoms didn’t get better with the antibiotics so I went to the ER. They treated me for pain and sent me home with the supplies to catch kidney stones, which they thought was the problem. That wasn’t it and the symptoms got worse. I continued to vomit and could not keep anything down. A few more days of misery and I dragged myself back to college. I felt so bad that I went to the doctor at school. He was quite alarmed. He told me that I needed to be evaluated my a surgeon and that he was going to call one. He asked me if I had a ride to the hospital and if I didn’t he would arrange a ride for me. I got a ride from a friend.

    I met the surgeon in the ER of the hospital. He did a quick exam and although he was sure what it is, he arranged for me to have a Ct Scan right then. After the scan he told me that I needed surgery. I asked for what day I needed to make an appointment. He said, “Oh no. I need to operate right now. We’ll prep you. Your appendix burst and you have a massive internal infection!”

    It had been a week that I had symptoms. Why did it take so long and several to get a diagnosis?. Appendicitis is so common. No particular age or gender of a person is more likely to get appendicitis. Extreme pain in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen is a good indicator of appendicitis.

    Talk about trusting your gut. I had a feeling in the beginning that it was my appendix but I let a doctor talk me out of it. Instead, it almost cost my life. My wonderful surgeon told me months after my surgery, “I really didn’t think you would make it. You are tough.” I did feel horrible with the appendicitis but I didn’t realize how sick I really was.

    My surgeon was furious that the ER didn’t do a sonogram when I was there. He said something about the weekend ER staff didn’t like to call the sonogram guy on the weekend because he was grouchy.

    I wasn’t taken seriously until I met my brilliant, compassionate surgeon. We are still friends to this day. He saved my life.

    My partner has retina problems. They’re different than yours but troubling all the same. It’s good that you live in an area where you have many doctors to pick from. When my partner goes to see the retina specialist he has to take a 600 mile round trip on the Veterans bus to the nearest large Veterans hospital. Yes, we picked an area for it’s physical beauty, smaller population, better air quality, less traffic, etc. But the downside is that there are not the array of services that one can get in a San Francisco or other large city.

    I’m thinking of you and I am hoping all is well very soon.

    Hugs.

  4. I have lattice degeneration that the optometrist caught at a routine appointment. She insisted I see an ophthalmologist so my eyes could be properly evaluated. I go once a year for monitoring.
    I find it concerning that you saw an ophthalmologist and they missed your condition and didn’t recommend you see a specialist. So glad you trusted your gut.
    Wishing you a smooth recovery.

  5. As all others have, wishing you a speedy recovery.

    If you have the time and patience, I hope you pass along your experience to all the doctors who wrote you off.
    If nothing else, they should be aware their lack of interest caused additional pain. My hope would be they step back and do a full evaluation of how they’re treating all their patients, and take their responsibilities a bit more seriously.

  6. I hope your recovery is uneventful. Learning to advocate for yourself is so important. I have taught my children how to do it, too. Continue to speak the truth!

  7. Wishing you a speedy recovery. Your post is so important and true and difficult. I’ve always just trusted doctors but at 66 am finally realizing how important it is to pay close attention and advocate for yourself. Thank you.i hope you are feeling better soon!

  8. Thanks for this—such an important subject. Glad you found a doc who would listen and treat you like the smart and insightful woman you are. Here’s to a smooth and quick recovery!

  9. Hoping all goes well with your surgery & recovery! Good for you for trusting yourself. Please take time to rest & recover as long as you need to.

  10. We have to be our own biggest advocate! Good that you stuck to your guns and kept following up. Wishing you a speedy recovery.

  11. This is such a valuable post. Thank you.
    First, best wishes for a good result and a good recovery.
    It’s hard to keep going when you are the only person who knows something is wrong. Good for you for advocating for yourself.
    I’ve also had experiences where the obvious or common medical solution was just wrong. You did the right thing!

  12. Here’s to wishing you a speedy recovery. Yup, we have to be our own health advocates but it gets tiring sometimes to keep on going when no one seems to want to listen. I’m glad you found a doctor that would. It’s a shame about all the referral nonsense. That’s unnecessary and needs to go and I say that as someone who previously worked in health insurance for years.

  13. I was diagnosed with lattice degeneration probably in 1999 (I was about 28, peri had nothing to do with it); I had no symptoms— it was discovered in a routine eye exam. I’ve been seeing a retina specialist every year since, and have had 3 argon laser surgeries (2 left, 1 right) to keep holes that appeared from getting larger, and so far it’s worked out really well. Every year, my retina guy tells me to watch for flashes and a rush of floaters and to call immediately if that happens. I’m so sorry you had to see so many docs before getting a diagnosis! And kudos to you for listening to and trusting your gut. I hope your surgery went well and you bounce back quickly; in my experience the worst bit is getting your pupil to come back to regular size!

  14. Hope this finds you feeling better. Thanks for reminding us that we are allowed to take care of ourselves. And that we should!

  15. Wow. Good for you, Allison, and best wishes for a speedy, uneventful recovery. I loved your comment on exercising your intuition. Hey, nature gave it to us to help save our lives — we should listen and heed when we feel something is wrong. It could be the wolf at the door!

  16. Sending good thoughts and prayers. I worked in the disability field for many years. People with intellectual disabilities are often ignored when it comes to medical treatment. I worked with an older woman whose demeanor changed and she became aggressive. As she had very limited verbal skills, it was hard to determine the cause. Her residential staff thought that it was a mental health issue and took her to the psychiatrist.
    I was talking to my gynecologist one day and he said, perhaps she’s going through menopause. It turns out she was. After hormone treatment, her moods definitely improved. Just a reminder that each of us needs to be an advocate for all the women in our circle.

  17. I had to look up “lattice degeneration” because I had never heard of it–it says 1 in 10 people have it.Glad you are on your way to being better!!!

  18. Had similar experience, in my case hubby insisted we go to a teaching hospital and medical center when symptoms continued after an ER visit. I was having a brain bleed! Am grateful to this day that he insisted. So not my gut, but his- glad I trusted. Hope you heal quickly and stay well.

  19. Praying for your recovery. Having to get a “referral” to another level of doctor/physician is a joke. You should be able to work your way up the levels, without “referrals”. I worked in insurance for 40 years, not health insurance, but I an educated in the processes. Prayers for your recovery.

  20. Wishing you a quick recovery!!!! So glad you caught it in time. Rest up and avoid computers until you are ready, please.

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