Suggestions to Survive the Nights After Vitrectomy Surgery

The first post on this subject is here.

After my vitrectomy surgery I had to remain face down 24 hours a day. The only exception was the 12 times a day when my wife was putting drops or ointment into my eye. Therefore, I had to come up with equipment and settings to help me sleep at night and survive in a prone position during the day. This post is about the night situation, so I will cover the daytime setup later.

The surgeon’s staff gave me a brochure for a company that would rent vitrecomy recovery gear by the week, but I decided to try to solve the problem myself, because I am so tall that I guessed none of the rental stuff would work for me. For example, their sleeping arrangement consisted of a large wedge pillow that raises your body off the bed (so far, so good) and a U-shaped pillow mount that holds your head flat. The problems for me were: a) your head is facing down over, but not too far from, the bed, thus I think it could get hot and stuffy in that little pocket; and b) if I set it up that way, my feet would be way off the end of the bed, which would be quite uncomfortable.

I ended up finding an Earthlite Home Massage Kit on (link valid as of 8/16/2013) that is an extremely flexible U-shaped pillow mounting system. I mounted it between my mattress and box spring at the foot of the bed and ended up sleeping the opposite way from usual (so I didn’t have to mess with the headboard). The result is shown below.

bed side bed down in bed

That first night after the surgery was pretty bad. I had a terrible time sleeping on my face, so I got up and rearranged the Earthlite kit to it would support me over the kitchen table, so I slept there for a while. The picture makes it look like the pillow wasn’t quite flat, but I think I managed to adjust it so my face was parallel to the table.


I dreaded going to bed, because the surgeon instructed me to keep wearing a plastic shield at night. This particular torture device was fitted to me after surgery to protect the eye from me clawing at it. Because it fits on the face, it digs into the face when said face is pressed into a U-shaped pillow for sleeping. My wife tried various things, including putting tape and eventually gauze under the spots it was digging into.


The Earthlite Home Massage Kit is very adjustable, which important for face-down sleeping. If the head is too low, all the blood rushes there and I had lots of swelling around the eye. So I used a couple of pillows to raise my torso above the level of my legs and feet. I also put a pillow under my ankles to help keep my feet comfortable. It is important to raise the U-shaped face pillow enough that the weight of the head is distributed among the forehead and cheeks (too low, and all the weight is on your forehead). If the pillow is too high, however, you’ll be supporting some of your body weight with your face, which is also a bad idea.

No matter how comfortable the pillow seems, it will feel like cement on your forehead after a couple hours, though it will probably be really sweaty, too. This makes sleeping tough. I ended up buying two memory foam replacement pillows for the Earthlite unit as well as a couple of extra covers for them (so some can be washed while the pillows are still in use). I highly recommend getting the memory foam pillows, even though they cost as much as the original unit itself. The original pillow is good, but not good enough for sleeping all night.

My surgeon has given me permission to not wear the shield about 4 weeks after surgery, so that has significantly improved my sleep. I no longer dread going to bed.

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