Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Left Eye

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:

http://www.cloanto.com/users/mcb/19960719lcd.html

‘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!.

41 comments:

Ard Collier said...

Vitreous detachments are pretty common in folks over 50, regardless of profession; it's a natural consequence of the aging process, and it can happen to younger folks as well due to high myopia (severe nearsightedness). That being said, it is a medical emergency and needs to be handled as such before it progresses.

If you're in LA and have something odd happen to your vision, I cannot recommend the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute guys in Westwood enough if your insurance will cover it, and the UCLA-Harbor eye clinic if you're not insured and can't afford private care. (Same guys. Lower budget gear, longer wait times, less convenient location.) I've been seeing them since 2005 to treat retinal and vitreous issues from a prior car accident, and they've been absolutely top-notch.

Your warning signs for a retinal or vitreous problem are "any changes in vision," including new floaters (black specks or squiggles, like Ms. Forward mentions), flashes (bright specks of light that appear and disappear, sometimes leaving afterimages), odd colored spots, unexplained blurriness, and the like.

You can read up on detachments, of the retina or the vitreous, at the National Eye Institute's excellent website for same:

http://www.nei.nih.gov/health/vitreous/

Anonymous said...

Even scarier is the fact that both an opthamologist and a retinal specialist missed the severity of the problem. Imagine if she'd followed their advice. She'd have to work on pirate shows for the rest of her career!

Sharon Forward said...

I forgot to mention--we are dialing down the 'brightness' and the 'backlight' on our Cintiqs. (The controls are on the upper back of the monitor--right side.) By doing that you greatly give relief to your eyes. The yellow Gunnar glasses off set the high resolution blue as well. AND take a break the minute the save button starts. Instead of being annoyed, just stand up--avert your eyes away from the screen, and walk around your office for 2 minutes.

Kelly James said...

Thank you, Sharon for sharing your near tragic experience to those of us who can now take preventive measures to reduce this risk. Thank you, Mr. Collier for directing us to where to go should we need the excellent care you described. Thank you Fry's Electronics for making me look like a sci-fi techi now that we live in the future...my eyes are already loving the gold tint and thanking me at the end of the day!

Eric O said...

Thank you Sharon for sharing this. Well worth spreading to my art brethren

Mitch K said...

I'm really happy that you were able to keep your vision. Thank you for sharing this cautionary tale!

Anonymous said...

Sharon, Glad you're ok. I had a detached retina two years ago, had a similar surgery and had to lay face down on the bed for two weeks. It was in my weaker eye, but there wasn't much loss of vision. As the bubble dissipated and the vision slowly returned, I had a chance to see the world through the eyes of a legally blind person. That made me appreciate my sight even more.

Larry Latham

Sharon Forward said...

Whoa! Larry! Glad you're okay!

Sharon Forward said...

Wanted to add to Mr. Collier's post--Mine was a retinal detachment. Different from a vitreous detachment--though the first Dr. diagnosed it as a vitreous hemorrhage.

The vitreous in our eyes tends to pull away from the retina as we age. If it progresses to the retinal tear and then detachment, vision is gone unless you get help within the first 48 hours.

How do you know when a retinal detachment occurs? The doctor will say 'when you see a CURTAIN come over your line of vision--go to the emergency ward.' That is their default position. Problem is I didn't see a 'curtain'. A curtain comes from top to bottom, at least that's what I thought. MY experience (and why I lost vision permanently in my lower periphery) was because I saw an ECLIPSE in my lower left eye at 6 pm before I saw the Dr. that healed me.

Imagine a clock, with the numbers 4 and 8--draw a curved line from those points. That's what I 'saw', but didn't know what it was! A black eclipse.

Vincent Waller said...

Great information. Thank you for sharing. I'm so very happy your outcome was so positive.

Mathan's Mate said...

During the Great Depression, my father developed a detached retina. Because he was poor, he volunteered for an experimental procedure. Small electric barbs were stuck through his eyes, and the retina was literally "welded" back to its wall. Only one third of it held, but he could see perfectly through that bottom third of his field of vision. It was the first successful reattachment of a retina anywhere. This happened in Louisiana. I believe we've coe a long, long way since then.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear your Union Insurance plan helps out so much. I'm also glad you're not one of the many freelance artists that don't have/can't afford good, portable insurance, and have to spend much time with bureaucratic DEATH PANELS (traditionally known as INSURANCE COMPANIES).

We need National Health Care NOW. Preferably single payer. But President Obama's plan would be far better than what we have now.

Tom Ruegger said...

Incredible story, Sharon. So glad you were able to save your vision. Dialing down the brightness as I type this.

Ruth said...

So glad you are alright, Sharon! Blessings to you, and thanks for the tips.
Also since our vitreous humour hardens as we age, we should avoid rubbing our eyes, as this can speed detachment or injury to the retina.
I am also turning down the brightness!

Jessica said...

My mom told me about this, Sharon. So glad to hear you're okay. I guess sometimes we need these experiences to remind us all to count our blessings. :)

Steven Kaplan said...

one of the many freelance artists that don't have/can't afford good, portable insurance

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that signing a Rep Card doesn't cost anything.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic Article! I'm an animator myself and small buiness owner so I'm constantly on my laptop at least 12+ hours a day. Plus, I have terrible eye site to begin with. I have had glasses since kindergarten and I can barely see inches in front of my face without the aid of them. However, my eye doctor is very cautious with my eyss because I have such high risk of detachment so she does a thorough examination every year (and actually yelled at me when I skipped a year!) and has told me if I see ANYthing abnormal like flashes of light, etc to come in right away. I cant believe this first doctor told you it was nothing! Black squiggles?! That's definite cause for concern! I'm glad you were smart and got the 2nd opinion!

~Christina
blog.pozzitoons.com
pozzitoons.com

Joey McInnis said...

Thanks for sharing this with us! As an aspiring artist whose family has a history of blindness it's comforting to read stories like this.

Abby said...

Wow, this hits home. I've had a slowly increasing amount of "floaters" (transparent squiggles) and occasional flashes of light in my vision. No curtain or eclipse, and I've been ignoring it, although my last optometrist told me that I'm at high risk of retinal detachment due to "Pigment Dispersion Syndrome," which is when your iris sheds shards of stuff into your eyeball.

I'm a freelance animator, and this stuff scares the hell out of me. My family has a history of poor eyesight and eye problems.

Sharon Forward said...

@ Abby or anyone without insurance: Mr. Collier gave great advice--UCLA Harbor is free (down in San Pedro/Harbor City area) Don't let lack of insurance stop you from taking action.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Sharon for telling your story to the artist that are still in risk. My mom got blind because of her job, long time ago.

Andrei Svislotski,
former SB artist at Disney MMCH

Jim Mitchell said...

Oh my God Sharon..I am sorry to hear this and glad they finally did something for your eye! I've been hearing more and more about these issues.. Happy you are on the mend!

Be well, I insist

Ryan Deane said...

Thank you so much for your story, Sharon, I'm happy that you're feeling better and that you caught this in time. I can relate to this as I myself am a 2D artist. I will take your advice to heart now, thak you.

Anonymous said...

Sharon, when you say your central vision was restored, did your acuity return to the same level as before? I had the same procedure you did on Oct. 19, and only had to lay on my stomach for two days, but whereas before the vitrectomy I could see 20/20 with my glasses at -2.75 diopters, now it's more like 20/30 at -4.5 diopters. I just wonder if my acuity will ever return to what it was and if so, when.

lbergholm said...

Oh my goodness! That is TERRIFYING! I'm so glad you are ok!

I agree that it's always a good idea to take a break and rest your eyes, but I just wanted to recommend that you also get yourself checked for other health issues that may have caused this. Many auto immune diseases can place you at a higher risk for retinal detachment at a young age and these illnesses are not always routinely checked for. Arthritis, uveitis, Diabetes are just a few I know of (because I have personal experience with them) but you should talk with your surgeon about others, just to make sure!

Anonymous said...

You all may want to check out a program called f.lux http://stereopsis.com/flux/
it's a program that changes the color temerature of the scrreen to correspond to the time of day. Good for those who work late at night, it actualy makes the screen 'warmer'.

Heuristic said...

I work in an engineering department having dozens of drafters. In the days of huge CRT monitors that were incapable of combining high resolution with high display brightness, the only solution was to keep the overall background light level low to attain the needed resoultion. I don't recall hearing many (if any!) complaints of eyestrain. Now, with the installation of LCD monitors capable of simultaneous high resolution, high brightness, and high contrast, light levels in the drafting areas are "normal" or higher. And I hear (second hand) complaints of eye strain or eye fatigue or weariness. I wonder what would happen if background light levels were reduced to the "old" levels and the LCD monitors were "dialed back."

On a personal and tangentially related note, some of the newer high-intensity blue halogen headlights in oncoming cars actually hurt my eyes at night. If I had my way, they'd be outlawed, as, on balance, they probably impair the performance and safety of the drivers who must face them more than they improve the performance and safety of the drivers who use them.

Stacey Chomiak-Robson said...

Sharon, thank you so much for sharing this with the digital artist community! A friend at the studio sent me the link to your story today because I have been having incredible eye strain the last few weeks. I paint backgrounds on a cintiq all day, and have used computers as an artist for many years, but only now am I experiencing such strain. I don't see squiggles but both my eyes feel like they are struggling to look into a flashlight... even after I turn down the backlight and brightness. I am currently working through some options with my eye doctor, but I will persist after hearing your story! Thank you!

Sharon Forward said...

Stacey-
Thank you, and pass the info on to others. I would like to set up a data-base of information collected from our members and others in the digital artist/cintiq world. Those that are on the computer, drawing for more than 4-5 hours a day, will be experiencing problems, (though they may not want to admit it.)
I feel strongly that our union needs to put us in touch with practical resources to assist in this most urgent issue. Coal miners know about black lung. What do we really know about how our sight is being affected by back lit screens?

ColinFutureLab said...

Sharon- you had a narrow escape from blindness. I'm just recovering from retinal reattachment surgery here in Nottingham, England. I was diagnosed with a 25% detached retina in my right eye in the Emergency department at Queen's Medical Centre on Saturday 27 October 2012. There was no operating team on duty until the Monday, so I lay still at home for 48 hours. I was seen again on Monday 29 October, and then operated on by one of the best teams in the country at 3pm that day. I'm recovering well, and should have 100% sight restored. Cost: nil. That's why it's good to have a National Health Service.... Best wishes to you for the future. Colin

Stephanie Olivieri said...

Thanks for posting all this. I wasn't digital when this came out, but I am now and so thankful. My eyes kinda burn most days. This entire article with comments is very helpful. I posted on FB as well.

Kenneth Barn said...

Thank you so much, Sharon, for posting this. From now on, I will take precautionary measures. I definitely should care for my eye's health.

kara white said...

I am living this RIGHT NOW, and have my surgery in the morning. :/ Thanks for sharing.

Sharon Forward said...

Good luck, Kara.
This is the scariest thing for an artist to go through. It's like a professional violinist losing his or her fingers. The career is over. For them. Maybe conducting or composing, but their life's work is forever altered.
For us (animators, storyboard artists, etc) WE are fearful. Fearful to even 'talk' about it. Can you feel comfortable letting your producer know that you have lost vision, permanently in your eye?
Not easy or even recommended. Yes, Tex Avery had only one eye, but he was, (you know) Tex Avery! We are worker bees. And it's a horrible and very long haul to recovery.
So good luck to you, Kara. I've gotten so many emails from artists going through retinal detachments (different from vitreous detachments) that it boggles my mind. How can this be happening?!
Thank you for letting us know and we send you 'good thoughts'. Keep us posted. I can only imagine how frightened you are. We're with you!!


Sharon Forward said...

Update form Sharon: present status-
Sorry, but I lost 2/3rds of left eye

Hi ________ (protecting identity)

Just sending my love and support during this journey you are on. I trust you are healing and doing well. That is my wish for you!

Thought I'd add a bit of my experience -- my story, to your story...since we come from the same place: storyboard.

When I went through my ordeal, I had my husband, friends, co-workers, children - lots of love and support. But, in reality, I was by myself. No one, NO ONE could possibly know what it felt like to lose an eye. Lose the vision in your eye. Lose that connection, that window to the world. And as an artist, painter, board artist making a living drawing, -- well, I was crushed to the depths of my soul. I cried the deepest cry, day in and day out for over two years. Each time I went through a procedure, (I went through 5 of them) I laid my being at the alter of the MD preforming the surgery. Sadly, each time I was crushed. Nothing ever worked, and I am permanently blind in my left eye. (I have periferal vision, though, and a little upper vision)

Sharon Forward said...

Part 2 (Sharon continued)

But the distortion and disorientation from having two radically different eyes caused my brain to freak out. My life, walking, moving, was a totally imobilizing and wretchedly debilitating fiasco. I was suicidal through most of the summer of 2012. All the while I continued to work, but it was so hard for me. My distorted vision made my brain 'panic' at going into an elevator. Walking from my cubicle down the hallway was like going through the hall of mirrors in a side show. Going into a store, mall, anything -- I couldn't do it.

I went to two neural-opthalmologisths to see what I could do for my 'visual processing distrubances'. I went to a therapist to help me cope. No one could help me. The doctors were the worst. They'd pat me on the head and said 'I would get used to it, it would just take time'. I was stunned and devistated. There was no one to help me. How is this possible, I kept ruminating. My life is forever altered -- I've done nothing wrong. I went to the opthalmologist the very day I started seeing the 'spurting blood' inside my left eye! I was on top of it. I had great health insurance.

Sharon Forward said...

part 3 - Sharon

I went online. I searched and searched. By this time I knew my vision was gone, it on was never coming back. This was a given. My hurdle now was to find out 'how to live' with the visual imbalance and distortion that I had to deal with every time I opened my eyes. My brain now 'saw' the world as if living in a fun house mirror. It made me agoraphobic. I couldn't go anywhere. My day consisted of getting up, driving to work, (trying to manuever walking from my parking space, through the quad, to the elevator to the 5th floor at Disney.) Getting, with difficulty, to my cubicle. Once at my cubicle, I was safe. I didn't move. I just worked. That was all I could do. I was the perfect employee -- but not because I wanted to be. At the end of the day, I would repeat the process, back to my car, drive home and go to sleep. On weekends I would sleep. Nothing else. Nothing. There was no way I could do the things I loved: painting, playing the piano, going hiking, going out to dinner. Nothing. I was isolated. Alone.

At lunch at work, I would go into one of the writer's nice offices and sleep on his couch. I wouldn't really sleep. I would rest, but cry to myself. I couldn't go to lunch with my friends. It was too hard to 'see'. I just would lay down and wait for the lunch hour to pass.

Sharon Forward said...

part 4 Sharon

All summer. That was what I would do. And I would pray, there at work, crawled up in a ball. Pray to God to help me. Pray for a solution. Pray for mercy. After a few months, I was indeed suicidal.

One day, Anita, our production secretary saw me in the hallway. I had been in the bathroom, crying. I must have looked horrible, because she grabbed my arm and looked at me. I was crying and she held me. She saw something in my eyes. It was a look she had seen before, as her son had been in New York on 9/11.Her son had had a breakdown. She looked at me and said 'You have to get help now!' She hugged me and held my hand. She insisted I get ahold of someone to talk to. So I called a therapist.

With a lifeline to my therapist, I began processing the pain and isolation I was feeling. She helped me with my agoraphobia and my panic attacks. She helped me with so many things. The only thing she couldn't help me with was the 'crazy-ass distortion and panic' my brain threw me in the moment I opened my eyes. All day. Everyday. Forever.

No one could help me with that. I was on my own for that one.

Sharon Forward said...

part 5 Sharon

But I'm a determined SOB, and I didn't stop. I looked on forums. More forums. Even more forums. I found one forum called 'One Eye forum' that one young man had posted on. It sounded like me. He was crazy with thinking he was crazy. The Drs. couldn't address the brain/visual component of the problem. I include the link here:
http://www.losteye.com/message_forum1/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=5447

What the young man was seeing was what I was seeing: a series of cysts, water, watery buildup, was under my retina. It made my vision distorted. I reacted with a panic response in my brain receptors. I didn't know what to do, though.

Looking at his story, I thought I'd try the occluded contact lens. I bought one from Canada. The lens had a dark, non-see-through pupil, so when you wear it, you can't see through that eye. FACT: when you have two eyes, and one of them is distorted and nearly blind, the brain does NOT revert or default to the good eye's input. It tries to 'combine' the two and the result is that the bad eye overrides the good eye. Strangely, I longed for just one eye. I wanted my left eye gone. GONE. Wearing a patch didn't help. No, I needed it gone. But doctors won't just get ride of an eye. I tried using the occluded lens on my left eye for awhile, but it started making my right eye weird. With flashes of light. It freaked me out. ' I can't lose my right eye too!!'

So I ditched the contact. But kept looking online. Looking and looking.

In the meantime, visiting my sister for a weekend, she gave me a pill to help me sleep. It was Trazadone. Didn't know what it was, but when I woke up in the morning, I wasn't freaking out. I was not panicking. Not PANICKING. I repeat that, because my soul had known no respite for over two years. My body, my neurons had been on hyper-atlert for all that time.

Finally, that morning, I could relax. I could breathe. I didn't make my sight return, but I could 'deal with it'. Today, life is good.

Mike P said...

Wow, what a story. Thanks for sharing it with us, Sharon. My sincerest sympathies for what you had to endure! You are a remarkable woman.

This is a great example of how the Web can help--that story is three years old but can still help a lot of people!
(One of my most horrific takeaways was having to lie immobile face down for two weeks! WTF? How do you perform basic biological functions? You poor soul.)

I don't use a Cintique but I did have similar concerns when I was doing regular comics years ago as I used a lightbox to transfer my roughs to board. I asked my eye doc if it was bad to stare into a light for two to six hours in a day. He told me as long as I took breaks and didn't overdue it I should be okay. I was cautious because the logic of the situation (staring intently into light just inches from my precious peepers) just seemed wonky.

It's bad enough today using my Wacom and a 21-inch monitor. I can't imagine staring into it for eight hours a day all week.

I have the brightness on my monitors low to begin with just because it's more comfortable but glad I do thanks to this article. I get my eyes examined every year like clockwork. But the hardest thing is remembering to look away every 15 minutes like I should...It's so easy to just stare at the screen for hours!

My best wishes to you and yours and other posters (especially the individual above) for the future.

Best,
Mike

Roel Bobis said...

just always have regular eye check up so your eyes stay healthy everyday

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