For two weeks, Guthrie, 47, was hopeful that she could avoid retinal surgery — while it’s a simple procedure, the recovery is grueling, requiring patients to sit facedown for much of the 1 to 3 weeks after surgery — and continued anchoring Today each morning while going to doctors for laser surgery, in an attempt to less-invasively reattach her retina.
But the laser treatments were unsuccessful, and doctors decided Guthrie needed the full retinal surgery on her right eye. The night before, on Dec. 11, her vision went from blurry to dark.
“The retinal tear had deteriorated sharply, and I lost my vision,” she tells PEOPLE. “And that’s what happens if you don’t fix this: You lose your sight.”
“That was the first time I felt freaked out,” she continues. “I was hoping that they weren’t going to get in there and see, ‘Oh, it’s worse than we thought. We can’t fix it.’ That was probably the lowest I felt, because I was just really scared.”
But thankfully, the surgery was successful and Guthrie’s eye is looking “solid,” she says. It’s the recovery, though, that’s the tough part. She had to stay facedown the entire first day after surgery, and now she switches off between facedown and sitting up each hour.
“It’s uniquely challenging, this recovery,” she says. “Your body starts hurting in different places, lying down like that.”
Guthrie adds that “it’s hard with toddlers,” though her daughter Vale, 5, is trying to help — she hung up signs around the house “saying ‘Nobody can bother my Mommy.’ I think she’s exception to that rule because she comes in 20 times a day,” Guthrie jokes.
RELATED VIDEO: Savannah Guthrie on Becoming a Mom Later in Life: ‘I Can Really Take My Time and Enjoy My Kids’
And Charley, meanwhile, is being “so sweet,” but Guthrie doesn’t want him to feel guilty about the ordeal.
“He’s a little boy. He didn’t mean to do that,” she says. “He got a two minute time out and that’s it. I would ever want him to feel responsible.”
Guthrie hopes to return to the Today desk before the week of Christmas, but she admits that she’s not exactly camera-ready right now.
“If this eye looks anything like it does right now, I would not do that to America,” she says with a laugh. “It’s pretty ghastly. I look like a prizefighter…who lost.”
So for now, she’ll continue to rest at home with a doting husband and two toddlers — and a few glasses of wine.
“Right after the surgery I was still kind of in the anesthesia haze and [my doctor] said, ‘Do you like to have a glass of wine at night?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I do.’ And he said, ‘Tonight have two.’ So I was like, ‘Well, doctor’s orders.’ ”