Every issue of Ultimate Motorcycling has challenges, though some are more difficult than others. Sometimes it’s the weather. Other times a motorcycle doesn’t show up on time. Occasionally, someone is late with a story. However, every month since the odometer clicked over to 2006, I’ve managed to piece together a reasonably coherent facsimile of a motorcycle magazine.
Getting this issue together was a bit more worrisome. In November last year, I was approaching the iconic Second Los Angeles Aqueduct Cascades in the Newhall Pass at the north end of the San Fernando Valley, and I noticed that it didn’t quite look right. A quick left/right comparison revealed a fogginess in my left eye. Well, that’s not good. I thought it might have been a side effect of the immunotherapy treatment I had gotten for cancer.
I went to the optometrist to have it looked at—I needed a new supply of contact lenses, too. He performed an exam and determined that I didn’t have cataracts or any problem he could detect. He asked me if I’d like to get some sort of diagnostic scan, but warned me it would cost $75.
I laughed to myself at that. Yeah, my left eye is foggy, and I can’t figure out why. Heck, I would have paid $7500 for a test to determine what was wrong. As I’m sure yours are to you, my eyes are an essential part of my daily life.
His diagnosis of the problem was that I had a macula membrane growing over the retina, causing the fogging. He opined that it might go away on its own, or it might take some sort of medication. He said he would have an ophthalmologist call me for an appointment—a call that never came.
I went with the “It will go away on its own” observation, which has usually worked for me in the past, including the side effects of immunotherapy.
However, this time it didn’t go away. The problem became less manageable when my left eye started magnifying everything about 20 percent larger than my right eye. It was double vision, but not as you usually think of it—left to right. Instead, the double vision was front-to-back—very strange.
When I finally threw in the towel and decided my malady wasn’t self-correcting, I ended up in the offices of Dr. Tara A. McCannel at UCLA Health—the same organization that helped me out with my exceedingly rare desmoplastic melanoma.
I was in the big leagues now. She’s the Director of the Ophthalmic Oncology Center at the UCLA Stein Eye Institute of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She is also a leader in developing new treatments for ocular melanoma—something I would have been worried I had, if I were smart enough to know it existed.
She had a look, and some tests were performed. The results weren’t as dramatic as ocular melanoma, fortunately. Instead, as she calmly and clinically explained, I had a wrinkled retina, which I had never heard of.
The good news was that I noticed it fairly early, so her prognosis was that it could be completely fixed, and I’d have normal vision restored.
With continued calm, she described the treatment. I can’t replicate her matter-of-fact description of the process, but it involved cutting into my eye, draining out the vitreous humor, and sticking some tools in to remove the unwanted membrane and smooth out the retina. Then, she fills the eyeball with saline, stitches up my eye, and sends me home with an eyepatch—aye, matey! Sounds simple.
As you can imagine, I was a bit concerned about my participation in this “routine” surgery. I was told that I wouldn’t get a general anesthetic and I would be conscious for the surgery. That did not sound like a good day.
The anesthesiologist assured me that I would be “comfortable.” I asked if I would be aware of what was going on. Again, I was told I would be “comfortable.” I tried a few other lines of inquiry, but “comfortable” was the mantra that was repeated back to me. Really, it didn’t matter—the surgery was going to happen, and I would have to deal with being “comfortable,” whatever that meant.
On July 3, they wheeled me into the large, well-lit, high-tech, and heavily staffed operating room. They stuck a cushion under my head and asked me if I were, you guessed it, “comfortable.”
The next thing I know, my eyes are closed, and I hear my wife talking with someone. I opened my good eye, and it was all over. If I was awake for all the digging around in my eyeball, I don’t remember a thing—whew! I was told the projected 45-minute procedure went smoothly and took just 35 minutes.
My follow-up was the next day—yes, Independence Day—and I was given a timeline for my recovery. Of course, my first question was, “When can I ride motorcycles?”
The “fellow” (a doctor training to be an expert in a field) wasn’t particularly encouraging; it looked like it would be at least a month away. When I mentioned dirt bikes, he was even more circumspect.
I was given drops and instructions to take it easy and not lift anything over five pounds. Not wanting to do anything to wreck the surgeon’s work, or give me a reason to second-guess my recovery, I followed every directive to the letter.
I was fortunate to not have any complications. I was given eye drops for pain, but it never hurt. It’s incredible that they can do invasive surgery like that, and I never felt a thing, even though the white of my eye was blood red. Although I was told that the stitches might bother me, I never was aware of them, and they dissolved on their own—thank you, modern technology.
Ten days later, another fellow doctor is checking me out. He says my eye looks great. I get sent upstairs for a couple of scans. But, while I was waiting, he came running up to say that it looked good enough that the scans were unnecessary. I did an eye test, and everything checked out as normal—correctable to 20/20, compared to 25/20 before the operation.
The fellow told me to continue with the eyedrops for the rest of the month, tapering off as I went. I couldn’t wear contact lenses, and no motorcycle riding until a month had passed.
He then walked out of the examination room to consult with Dr. McCannel. Apparently, she told him he was being too conservative with the recovery—she performed the surgery, after all. He informed me that I didn’t need any more drops, I could wear contact lenses, and, most importantly, I could ride motorcycles, on- and off-road. The only prohibition I had didn’t impact my life—no submerging my head and opening my eyes.
That all startled me a bit, as I was mentally prepared to go through a longer rehabilitation period. So, I waited until the red was almost completely gone before hopping back on a motorcycle—I was being irrationally careful. That took about a week, and I was back in the saddle on a Honda CRF450X and Kawasaki KX250X.
So, you’ll notice that I didn’t write any of the UM Tests in this issue, though I did write the three-bike KTM XC-W feature—that ride was just before the surgery. Yeah, riding through the Ohio woods on high-performance dirt bikes with compromised vision was a bit of a challenge, though not one I wanted to pass up.
There are lots of new motorcycles coming, and it’s great to have my vision nearly normal—the focus needs to reset itself after being challenged for over seven months. Regardless, the difference is huge, and I’m ready for the 2024s! There are a lot of enticing new motorcycles on the horizon, and I don’t want to miss out on them.