Making the Best of the Worst: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

(This series is a personal look at the people who write for Boss Dungeon. This is our effort to share with you our lives and hardships and how gaming has, in some way, brought positivity to our lives. This entry is a bit heavy with medical terms, so I apologize in advance for terminology overload and any gaps in my understanding.)

Sometimes I envy this guy.

I lived the first 16 years of my life blissfully unaware of any severe issues with my body. I’d never broken a bone and missed school more from faking illness than from actually being sick. Then, one morning in the fall of 2004, I woke up to my first major medical incident. I didn’t need to put on my glasses to know that something had gone very wrong with the vision in my right eye, to the point where what I saw could be described, at best, as indistinguishable colored blurs.

It was, in short, the kind of thing one goes to the doctor for. I was told by a general practitioner that it was conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye. While I’ve said I wasn’t a terribly sick kid, I did have pink eye at least once a year throughout my grade school life and I was pretty sure that what I had was not that. A couple days on eyedrops confirmed my suspicion as my condition got worse, with my vision not improving and photophobia, a painful reaction to light, setting in. Thus began a great series of referrals to various doctors and specialists.

I was sent first to an optometrist, a general eye doctor, and then to an opthamologist, a specialist in diseases of the eye. It was then that a primary diagnosis was given: anterior uveitis, an inflammation of the iris and anterior chamber. The ophthalmologist’s primary concern was dealing with the issue at hand, prescribing corticosteroids, both in pill and eyedrop form, to deal with the inflammation and a drop to dilate the pupil and protect the general health of the eye.

Basically, I become this, minus the grizzled good looks.

While the steroids worked their course, I trudged on with my daily life, wearing an eyepatch to deal with the photophobia and adapting to the decrease in depth perception and blind spot that brought. Meanwhile, the chain of referrals continued, with blood tests and body scans being performed to figure out why the onset of the inflammation was so sudden and intense, as the only warning sign was some slight discomfort the night before that I’d attributed simply to having read too much.

Results of the tests led me to a pulmonologist, a lung specialist, who then referred me to a cardiologist, a heart specialist. Unfortunately, those two ended up being related to a completely different issue, as a CT scan revealed a heart defect that I was written off as not having when I was born: right-sided aortic arching. In short, it’s a condition where the aortic arch is formed on the right side of the body instead of the left, forming a vascular ring that can compress the trachea and oesophagus. The real reason for the anterior uveitis was shown in blood tests.

Every cell in the body has peptides, small proteins that can link to other molecules. These peptides are synthesized by the human leukocyte antigen (HLA), a gene family which mediates interactions with white blood cells, letting the body know if a cell is foreign or not. The HLA-B gene in particular has many variations and the blood tests found that mine is the HLA-B27 gene. This configuration can cause problems with the immune system, where the body will misrecognize peptides and attack otherwise healthy cells, believing them to be foreign. That is what happened with my eye: the body recognized healthy cells as an invading substance and attacked them, causing inflammation.

After a couple months on corticosteroids, the inflammation quieted down and my vision returned to normal. That’s all there was to it.

Take my word on this, you don’t want to see what an inflamed eyeball looks like, but at least you get the general idea

Unfortunately, the reality of my condition means that the inflammation can come back at any time. I was lucky to go 16 years without issue, but recent years have found me less than fortunate, with multiple instances having cropped up. As I’m writing this, I’m being treated for, if not the worst, the second worst flare up I’ve had, an incident that required an injection of steroids into the eye.

Due to the nature of the condition, it’s something I’ve learned I just have to deal with. There are no environmental factors and nothing I can do can reduce the chance of an inflammation. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. All I can do is recognize the signs (a slight tenderness to the eye, a little redness, maybe some haze to my vision) and seek treatment.

Whenever an eye gets inflamed, it’s a lengthy recovery process that leaves me with one good eye, as the other’s vision is either too blurry or kept under a patch. It’s not debilitating, but there a definite decline in performance and depth perception that comes from the decreased vision. I get by well enough, but it is enough to impact my hobbies.

I like to read, but it’s more of a strain with just one good eye. I end up having to move closer to the text and I can read less than usual before needing a rest. I also like to write, but the general decrease in vision makes proofreading and catching errors harder. It’s frustrating, seeing mistakes slip into my writing that I know wouldn’t have happened if I’d had my full vision. I’ve recently taken up building plastic models, but trying to work a hobby knife with an eyepatch on is asking for trouble.

Unfortunately, my gaming also suffers from the anterior uveitis, forcing me to limit what I play. As a rule of thumb, I try to avoid portable systems during incidents because of eye strain from having to hold the device too close. That leaves me with console and computer games to occupy my time.

What’s the worst that could happen with a Tanooki Suit? Well…

Each genre presents its own challenges. RPGs are a problem because of how text heavy they are, both with their stories and menus. Platforming games become much harder, as the lack of depth perception extends to judging distances, with the decreased vision making it harder to pick up on cues like foot and shadow placement. It didn’t stop me from playing Super Mario 3D Land the last time I was recovering, but I was definitely making things harder on myself, especially since I couldn’t rely on the 3D effects. Depth perception is also an issue in action games, where I tend to run into enemies far too often from misjudging distances. First- and third-person shooters suffer from a lack of peripheral vision, limiting my situational awareness, and also from the decrease in vision, making it harder to quickly and accurately shoot at distant targets.

So, video game options kind of suck with one eye. They aren’t unplayable, but the noticeable decline in ability frustrates me when I want to be playing for enjoyment. I have, though, found some genres that I actually do a little better at with my reduced vision. In particular, shoot-’em-ups (or shmups) and some rhythm games.

I realize it makes little sense to get better at a game where I have to intricately maneuver a small hitbox through a hail of enemy fire when I can’t manage to stop Mario from ramming into a Goomba, but it’s something that happens. The best explanation I can give is that shmups are a genre that work best for me when I’m not fully aware of everything that’s happening. I’ll have moments where I end up dodging patterns I haven’t consciously recognized, then, as soon as I realize what’s happening, I start thinking about my movements and quickly snuff it on the nearest shot. As a side effect of the impaired vision, I tend to have an easier time not focusing on the game and can enter that state of play more often. I think the same reasoning applies to rhythm games like Rock Band. I end up focusing less on what notes I’m supposed to be hitting and just let my fingers do the work. Like with shmups, this is something that usually happens, but it happens more often.

Alright, I’m not that good.

Like I said, it’s not like those are the only genres I can play, but they’re the ones I feel the most comfortable with when dealing with a flare up. I can spend my time enjoying the games and not get frustrated that I’m playing worse than I usually am, because the opposite usually ends up happening.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I’m inclined to whip a controller across the room when I do poorly at a game. My point is that it’s disheartening. For me, anterior uveitis can strike whenever it pleases, there’s nothing I can do to reduce to risk. When it happens, the recovery process can take weeks. Depending on the severity of the inflammation, my eye might need to be under patch. At best, the vision will be hazy. It worsens my performance at work and limits what I can do for fun during my free time. It’s nice to know, though, that not everything is left for the worst, even if it is something as simple as being able to play Dodonpachi Resurrection a little better than before.

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