Veteran storyboard artist Sharon Forward relates a cautionary tale ...
I’ve just returned from the land of the blind and I can see!
My journey started four weeks ago. I woke up Monday morning and went into work. In this miserable economy, having a job in our field is indeed a blessing, so driving in, I dismissed the funny looking black squiggles in the upper left part of my left eye. Got to my cubicle, turned on my Cintiq and started working on a storyboard, staring intently into the light of the Cintiq as I worked.
Later that day, my friend poked her head into my cube. I took one look at her and exclaimed, “Carin-Anne! Your head is covered with calligraphy!”
“Call the doctor now,” she firmly stated. And I did.
Got a referral and an appointment for the next day. Saw the opthalmologist. He didn’t seem too concerned. He wanted to see me in a week or so. I scheduled an appointment for Thursday, Oct. 13th, and went in to work. I worked all that week with the annoying black squiggles in my eye.
The following Monday, Oct. 10th, I could not see much out of the eye. The squiggle was gone, replaced by the blurriest of blind spots covering my field of vision. Still went into work, but found it easier to wear an eye patch over the eye. But my husband, Bob, was concerned. We did some tests that night. I covered my good eye and tried to ‘see’. I could not make out faces or how many fingers he was holding up. I was only 3 ft. away from him. At one point he walked out of my line of vision, but I did not track him. “Get back to the doctor tomorrow,” he said, worriedly.
The doctor saw me first thing--I walked in at 8:30 am. He declared I had a vitreous hemorrhage, and referred me to a retinal specialist who saw me immediately. The specialist did many tests, including ultrasound, but saw nothing. Too much blood. He wanted to see me in three days.
Went back to work, with patch on eye (working on a pirate show just made it look cool.) Went back to the specialist on Friday, Oct. 14th. He still couldn’t “see” anything back there. I’m sure he was concerned, but took no action. He wanted to see me in a week. I went back to work, driving with a patch, and thought nothing of it.
My crew and friends at work were curious and concerned. I just explained it was a vitreous hemorrhage, would pull up the patch and demonstrate how I couldn’t see their face. I just shrugged it off. But they persisted in their concern. And it made me wonder...
More than one coworker wanted to know if it was from the Cintiq. Sitting nine hours a day 14 inches away from the illuminated drawing tablet started me wondering too. At the end of the day I got concerned enough to call for a new referral, just to get a second opinion. I got a referral to doctor in West Hills. I set up an appointment as soon as I could.
The doctor was young, energetic and seemed to love what he did. He examined me, and did an ultrasound of my eye. Bob peered over his shoulder at the image. Both he and the doctor leaned back and were very quiet for a minute. ‘This is very serious,” the doctor said. “When was the last time you ate?”
“I had lunch a couple of hours ago.”
“You need surgery immediately. Unfortunately we will have to wait until first thing in the morning.”
He scribbled a few more notes down and looked up. “We’re going to try to save your eye.”
It was then I realized how much trouble I was in. “Save my eye?” I was in shock.
The surgery took a couple of hours. They sucked the vitreous humor out of my eye (mine was filled with blood). Then the doctor lasered the torn retina. It was huge and he was amazed that the retina had not detached completely. If it had, I would have gone blind. Then he did some cryosurgery and finally filled my eye with a special gas bubble-- like filling a balloon with air.
Once the surgery was over, the doctor came out to talk to my husband. The doctor was beaming. He felt he had been able to get to it just in time. But with a caveat: I had to stay immobile, face down for two weeks. TWO weeks. And I did exactly that. The second week he allowed me to stay in a modified face down position. As the gas bubble in my eye started to dissipate, my own natural fluid filled in my eye slowly. The first week I saw nothing, but by the second week I could make out shapes, light and colors! Finally the bubble disappeared altogether, and I could ‘see’.
On November 9th the doctor gave me the good news: my retina had reattached completely. There was some permanent damage to the lower peripheral vision, but my central vision was restored!
I couldn’t stop crying. I was so happy. Instead of going through the five stages of grief, I was going through the five phases of joy. Bob smiled patiently as I made all my confessions; promising to be a better person, clothe the naked, feed the hungry. Seems silly, but this was a transformational event for me, and it put my life in perspective big time. In addition to acting like Saint Sharon of Chatsworth, I have been doing a small amount of research--enough to make me wonder if we are all guinea pigs in this digital world of LCDs, CRTs, LEDs, refresh time and electromagnetic radiation.
The fluorescent light inside the monitors gives me pause for concern for all of us. Correlation is not causation, but if the LCD screen is fluorescent-lit, it may affect our eyes. Here’s what I found researching online, specifically from the following website:
‘With natural, real sunlight, the spectrum is distributed fairly equally between the visible regions. UV is something like only 12% of the total. The rest is visible. The problem with fluorescent light is in order to make it bright (sorta like "sunlight") they must use a great deal of green and blue. "Full spectrum" uses a huge amount of visible blue.
What it does is peak at an incredibly high level. Sunlight has approximately a level at 225 of visible blue and fluorescent has over 1000. The problem is, our eyes have developed to operate and see things visually at the range of 225 and fluorescent light over stimulates the eye to produce the same effect indoors.
The retina of the eye is best stimulated by "blue." I have in my possession only a fraction of animal/insect research that proves visible blue damages the retina at a level that is not easily seen on routine eye examination. In the studies, if the exposure was short, then there would be repair by the eye. If the exposure is long-term, there is permanent damage.’
So each of us needs to absorb as much information as we can about these “tools” we’re using, compare notes, side effects and, most importantly, get help immediately if you experience any black squiggles that suddenly appear in your field of vision. This is blood. You need to take action.
Lastly, I am not diabetic and do not have high blood pressure. These are additional concerns for the health of our eyes. With 30 years doing storyboards for animation, I am not naive--expecting perfect visual acuity. We have always needed to be proactive with our health. Before computers we had to use light tables that gave similar potential eye strain and complications.
3-D artists have render time, and usually they can take breaks, and much needed breaks at that. The rest of us may not realize how important taking breaks really is. My computer automatically “saves” every 20 minutes. This might be the ideal time to stand, move, stretch and rest your eyes. In addition, there are yellow tinted “Gunnar” glasses that can be purchased to ease eye strain. This applies to editors, game designers as well as animators.
I don’t want anyone to ever go through what I experienced this past month. And I consider myself lucky. So now you know what I’m thankful for this holiday season. And Happy Holidays to each and every one of you!.