“There’s a drug that I think could help you,” my eye doctor said slowly, watching me for my reaction. “They’re doing clinical trials on it now and I think you would qualify.”
He went on to tell me about a drug called “Lucentis” that was already being used to treat age-related macular degeneration. The point of the trial was to see if Lucentis would work for diabetes-related macular degeneration, as well.
Macular degeneration is a disease that affects the retina. Left untreated, it leads to blindness. Despite a round of laser treatments to stop the bleeding behind my eyes, I was having problems with my vision. Anything that might save my sight sounded great to me.
“Sign me up,” I said.
A month later I was sitting in the waiting room of the Retina-Vitreous Clinic in Beverly Hills waiting for my first Lucentis treatment. I’d signed a massive waiver, initialing every page and trying not to be alarmed by the language in the fine print. Among the possible side effects listed for Lucentis, though it was a one in a bazillion-billion chance, was death. But I was going blind and if Lucentis could save my vision then I would take my chances.
Then they told me that Lucentis is not a really potent eye drop.
It’s not a pill you take like Glucophage.
It’s a shot. An injection.
Or let’s just put it another way: They were going to stick a needle in my eye. A needle. In my eye.
“You won’t feel a thing,” Boris the tech promised as he dripped the first of a series of numbing solution into my right eye–the one chosen for the treatment.
Twenty minutes later, he put in some more drops. Sometime after that he played a drum solo on my eye with a Q-tip.
I didn’t feel a thing.
Fifteen minutes later the doctor came in and lassoed my eye with one of those little wire loops that looks like a torture device and is meant to keep you from blinking. I could see the needle out of the corner of my eye and it looked as thin as a strand of hair.
I didn’t feel a thing. In fact, at that point, my eye was so numb he could have taken it out of its socket, played handball with it, and then put it back in and I wouldn’t have noticed.
I couldn’t see out of that eye for the next 12 hours, but not because of the shot. The drops used to dilate my eyes were so potent the effect took a long time to wear off.
I went to bed early. When I woke up the next day, I knew right away that I had struck lucky. Patients in the trial were on three tracks–the group with the placebo, the group with a low dose and the group with the full dose. I knew for a fact I hadn’t gotten the placebo and I was pretty sure I’d gotten the full dose.
Because the drug worked. Just that fast. Within twelve hours of the shot my eyesight was better.
And it continued to improve throughout the study. Three years into the clinical trial, I was one of a group of participants flown to Washington DC to tell our stories to a panel charged with approving the drug.
“It’s a miracle drug,” I told them. So did everyone else. The drug got its approval.
And now everyone who needs it can get a poke in the eye. No, really, it’s a good thing.
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