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Machu Picchu in a frame the shape of an eye. The whole scene is tinted red and there are blood vessels expanding all around it.

Do It Now

When my mother was only a year older than I am now, we went on a fabulous Alaska cruise together. Two years previously, my father had passed away, following a four-year illness. The Alaska cruise was something they had planned to do together upon retirement. I was a replacement, and I enjoyed every minute of the salmon barbecue in the woods, the saloon visits and just spending time and doing things with my mother, who lived on the other side of the country.

Don’t wait until it’s too late

Mom had macular degeneration, but rarely mentioned it. This was the early nineties and nothing could be done about it. It was just a fact of life. She described a grey translucent cloud shaped like Africa in her central vision. At that time, she could still see well enough to do her crosswords and watch the occasional television show, although reading had become a struggle. She considered herself very lucky to still be able to see most of the bald eagles and ravens in the wilderness, commenting frequently, “Your father would have loved this, don’t wait until it’s too late for you to do the things you want.” It was something my father had said frequently during his last years.

One of the things on my bucket list

As it turns out, I did wait too long for one of the things on my bucket list. Machu Picchu had long been a dream destination, and last year I was suddenly presented with the opportunity to go with a small group of women at a price I could manage. An acquaintance was looking for someone to join her as her original traveling companion had broken her knee in a fall. She wanted someone to travel with her both for the companionship and to reduce the exorbitant expense of the single supplement.

High altitude retinopathy

As always when planning a trip to an exciting new place, I started reading everything I could find about it. In the course of my research into what preparations are necessary before going to Peru, I started seeing little bits of negative information about macular degeneration and the lack of oxygen at high altitudes.** My research was pointing to high altitude retinopathy including dilation of retinal vessels and bleeding in the eye. Even in healthy young people with no macular degeneration! I kept reading, checking to see if this could actually be what would keep me home. Isn’t it just a matter of getting a few travel vaccines and packing the carry-on? But no, it seemed the altitude of Machu Picchu was borderline, while the nearby town of Cusco with the only hotels seemed definitely out.

A visit was out of the question

At that time I was having injections for wet macular degeneration in my left eye at eight-week intervals and had an appointment just a few days later. When I discussed it with my retina specialist he confirmed that a visit to Machu Picchu was out of the question. He commented that he wouldn’t take the chance of traveling to that altitude even with his healthy eyes.

So don’t wait until it’s too late…

So whatever it is, don’t wait for a better time, or more money, or until you can fit in your swimsuit. Enjoy it now. Just do it.

**Retinal vessels may leak at high altitudes, even in healthy adults with no previous history of retinal problems, according to a new study published in the June 5 issue of JAMA.1

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  1. Willmann G, Fischer MD, Schatz A, Schommer K, Gekeler F. Retinal Vessel Leakage at High Altitude. Jama. 2013;309(21):2210. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.5550.

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