Although your five senses are crucial for navigating through each day, they can be easy to take for granted. But when something goes wrong with them, the days can go from fine to frightening in a hurry. That's the situation Linda Schweikert, a retired nurse from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, found herself in when her eyesight seemed to be breaking down.
When she woke up one morning, Linda noticed bright blue and gold-bronze colors, along with odd shapes in her vision when she closed her eyes. "When I opened my eyes, it would be gone," Linda says. "My husband, Bud, who worked in the eye care business for 49 years, agreed that I needed to be seen right away."
Linda's local ophthalmologist wasn't able to get her in that morning, so they called Lee Hofer, M.D., at Chippewa Valley Eye Clinic in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, who saw her immediately. "He checked my eye and told me I had a retinal detachment with macula off," Linda says.
A thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye, the retina is vital for healthy vision. But the retina can become detached from the back of the eye for a variety of reasons — none of which Linda was at high risk for. No matter what the cause, though, a detached retina is a medical emergency. If it's not treated promptly, the result can be permanent vision loss.
After examining Linda, Dr. Hofer texted Wayne Wu, M.D., Ph.D., an ophthalmologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire who specializes in vitreoretinal surgery. Within five minutes, Dr. Wu replied and told the Schweikerts to come right over.
"I couldn't have asked for better service. All providers were so cooperative and professional."Linda Schweikert
To Bud's delight, when they arrived at Dr. Wu's office, the couple was greeted in the waiting area by a woman he had worked with previously. That set the Schweikerts at ease, and they knew they were in good hands. "They just did everything," Linda says. "They got me in for exams, tests and had me ready for Dr. Wu."
When Dr. Wu assessed Linda's eye, he confirmed that the retina was detached. She needed surgery to repair it right away.
The plan was for Linda to have eye surgery at 6 a.m. the next day, but there was one complication. She needed a physical exam first. Linda was unable to see her primary care provider in that time frame. So a Mayo Clinic Health System nurse made some phone calls and found an opening at another local clinic in Eau Claire that afternoon. They sent Linda for the physical and to have blood drawn.
"At that point, I was ready for surgery," Linda says. "I couldn't have asked for better service. All providers were so cooperative and professional. Everybody, from the receptionist to the preop nurse, was friendly. The two facilities took the reins to get me the care I needed."
The next morning, Dr. Wu performed a vitrectomy on Linda's eye. The procedure includes removing vitreous gel in the eye to gain access to the retina, draining fluid through the retina tear and reattaching the retina using lasers. At the end of the surgery, Dr. Wu filled Linda's eye with a long-lasting gas bubble to hold the retina in place during the healing process.
"The follow-up is pretty extensive. I had to keep my face down for 10 to 14 days, which involved using a face-down support system with a mirror attached. So my head faced downward, but I could see things in front of me," Linda says. "Everything was available in Eau Claire, including all of the information I needed for recovery and the apparatus itself."
Linda says she didn't have any pain or discomfort during her recovery, other than her eye feeling a bit gritty at times. Although she had to endure nearly two weeks of keeping her head down in the apparatus and three more weeks of eyedrops, she healed well. Today, her eyesight is back to normal. "I can see well now, with no eye irritation," she says.
"We were treated so professionally and personally. We got home after it all and just said, 'Wow.'"Linda Schweikert
Looking back on the experience, Linda appreciates the well-coordinated care she received when time was short and she needed treatment quickly. "What impressed us the most was the cooperation between the different facilities, which is what you like to see in a city of this size," Linda says. "Dr. Wu was nice, congenial, and his staff was professional and well-trained."
The Schweikerts also say they feel lucky to have Mayo Clinic Health System in their town. "By the time I was done with preop and ready for surgery, we said, 'We'd still be in the car driving to the Twin Cities right now and putting off the surgery if we didn't have Mayo Clinic care in Eau Claire,'" Linda says. "We were treated so professionally and personally. We got home after it all and just said, 'Wow.'"
Note: A version of this story previously was published in Hometown Health.