Back to Moorfields A&E… :-(

It was Friday afternoon and I was just about to log off from work for the day and begin a lovely relaxing week of annual leave, which was very badly needed after my last few hellish weeks.  So naturally, this would of course be the perfect time for me to notice what I can only describe as a ‘scribble’ at the bottom of my good eye.  It literally looked as if a child had grabbed a fine-tipped black pen and drawn a little scribble on a piece of white paper.  This was in addition to the persistent unexplained symptom in my good eye which I previously wrote about in my post, ‘The Moorfields dash‘.

First I told myself I was being paranoid.  Then I eyed (or tried to… it kept moving about at the bottom of my vision) the scribble with growing alarm before proceeding to carry out my flashing lights check.  This entails going into my bathroom and closing the door whilst keeping the light off, thus creating a pitch black space, and moving my eyes around to check for flashes.  I had already carried out this test multiple times since my scare a few weeks ago, and hadn’t seen any flashes, so it was really just a safety check.  But this time my safety check failed: I saw flashes.  My heart pounded, my mouth went dry, and I thought, ‘Shit – I need to get to Moorfields’.

Moorfields have always instructed me that if anything happens, if it’s past midday then I should just go to A&E the following morning as close to 7am as possible, which is when the Vitreo-Retinal department opens.  So I knew there was no point in going that evening.  I also knew that if I had a detachment in my good eye, I definitely wouldn’t cope on my own at home – I’d need to get to my family in Surrey where help would be on hand.  But I knew that I shouldn’t really drive with disturbances in my good eye, although I did debate attempting to do so.  With these dilemmas churning around in my head, I spent the next 30 minutes wandering from room to room, wailing aloud to myself, ‘I don’t know what to do; I don’t know what to do!’, punctuated by more visits to the bathroom to check for flashes in the hopes that I’d imagined them.  I hadn’t.

Possibly somewhat stupidly, I found myself repeating, ‘I don’t know what to do’ to a friend with whom I’d been having a WhatsApp conversation an hour or so earlier.  Before I knew what was happening, she was on the ‘phone telling me that her husband had offered to come and pick me up and drive me to my family.  My protestations fell on deaf ears, as she announced, ‘He’s putting his shoes on and he’ll be with you in half an hour’.  She then ordered me, ‘Go and pack a bag, and then he’ll be with you’, waving aside my horrified objections with, ‘Well it’s too late – he’s on his way’.

Whilst in the midst of total, terrified panic, a tiny element of relief can be obtained by someone issuing sensible instructions, so I proceeded to do as I was told.  Before I knew it, my knight in shining armour was knocking on my door.  We were well on our way in the pouring rain with darkness falling before I discovered, to my horror, that he was due at work at 7am the following morning.  This led to me having a huge guilt attack, but he completely ignored me and continued to drive whilst quietly issuing calming words at the same time.  We reached my mum’s house by about 9pm and my rescuer stayed for a cuppa and cake and made a big fuss of the dog before disappearing out into the damp night.

I set my alarm for 4:50am so that I could catch the first train to London in the morning, and went to bed.  I didn’t sleep.  My heart was hammering so hard that I wondered if I’d have a heart attack and die before dawn broke.  I didn’t feel particularly concerned by this thought, reflecting that at least it would put me out of my misery.  Somewhat disappointingly, I didn’t die in the night.  I caught the first train then got a taxi to Moorfields A&E, and sat on the edge of the seat to wait.  By this point I was seeing a lot of  flashes, even in daylight, and had also noticed loads of tiny poppyseed floaters against the sky whilst I was in the taxi.  Things did not look good, and I tried to calm my internal screams by remembering certain eye buddies who have gone through hell with both eyes.

I went through the usual process of visual check, pressure check, dilation drops, and then sat down to wait some more.  I was in the middle of endlessly chewing a small bite of a peanut butter roll beneath my mask when the doctor called me through.  To my embarrassment, I couldn’t swallow it.  ‘Sorry!’, I spluttered from behind my mask, ‘I haven’t had any breakfast so was just trying to eat something’.  ‘That’s okay’, she replied cheerily, ‘I see you know the process to get here as quickly as possible in the morning!’.  I nodded and swallowed hard, finding that this action merely served to lodge the soggy mass more firmly in my throat.  As the doctor went out to fetch something, I whipped my water bottle out of my bag, lifted my mask, and took a giant gulp to wash it down.

By the time the doctor returned, I was ready for the slit lamp examination: ‘Look up; look down; look up and right’… etc.  She told me to sit back and proceeded to draw on a piece of paper – not a good sign in A&E, as any RD patient will know.  She then told me that I had a small horseshoe tear at the top of my retina, but explained that it could be lasered immediately.  She led me up to the emergency Vitreo-Retinal clinic, where I had another wait before being called in by a different doctor and undergoing another slit lamp examination.

I was told what I already knew: if I didn’t have the laser treatment, the tear would lead to a detachment.  I was also warned that there was a danger that either the laser treatment wouldn’t result in an effective barrier, or I could develop new tears.  But essentially it was a no-brainer, and I signed the treatment consent form once she had told me what it said.  I was then led into another room and sat down at another contraption.  By this point, I’d started to shake and I asked her in concern, ‘I need to stay still while you do the laser, don’t I?’.  ‘Yes, you’ll need to stay still’, she confirmed with a smile, before asking me if I was cold.  ‘No, I’m scared’, I confessed.  ‘Don’t worry – just do exactly what you did before – that was perfect.’  I told her I needed some of whatever it is that they inject before surgery to calm patients down, and she laughed.  I didn’t like to add that I wasn’t joking.

Next came numbing drops in both eyes, and she explained that she’d start off with a low ‘dose’ of laser and then increase it after checking what I could tolerate.  She’d already warned me that I would see bright lights which would dazzle my eyes.  I had to look up and keep my eye still.  ‘Ready?’, she asked.  ‘Yes’, I answered, and was promptly dazzled by a thin beam of golden yellow light and heard a clicking noise as she zapped the laser into my eye: ‘zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap’, it went, before she checked that I was okay before, ‘zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap’ again.  I couldn’t feel anything, so she increased the concentration: ‘zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap’; repeat; then, ‘ouch!’, as I felt a sort of hot stab – more a shock than pain, but certainly a weird sensation.  She stopped and asked if I was okay and if she could continue. Then: ‘zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap’ again.  This continued with a few rounds, punctuated at various intervals by my ‘ouches’, before she said, ‘Okay, I’m just going to do two lots more of two seconds each – can you tolerate it?’.  ‘Yes’, I said, neglecting to add that if only she could make my bloody retinas stick and save me from further sight loss, I’d happily tolerate her ripping out all my fingernails one by one.  So: ‘zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap-zap’, she went.  She stopped, examined her handiwork, then did a bit more for good measure.

When she finished, I sat back and observed with some concern, ‘I can’t see anything now’, before noting a few seconds later, ‘Now everything is lilac and it all looks misty’.  She assured me that this was all completely normal and that my vision would gradually clear and return.  It was only later that I wondered if it was lilac because the laser line was yellow, and the colour opposite of that type of yellow is a pale purple / lilac.  It was bizarre – it looked as if the room was filled with dry ice, and a lilac-coloured light shining through the mist.

I was instructed to return to A&E if I see any new symptoms, which concerned me greatly, and I asked her how on earth I would spot any new symptoms in the current mess of my vision.  She explained that I should return if symptoms become considerably worse – i.e. a substantial increase in flashes and/or floaters, or of course if I see the much-feared black curtain.  She assured me that I will know if I need to return, but I still feel somewhat dubious about that.

So now I sit at home like a paranoid wreck, trying not to freak out at my spaghetti soup vision, praying that my retina will stay attached and that the laser will do its job and create a scar reaction to seal the tear.  I’m counting down the days to my next Moorfields appointment so that it can all be checked, and trying not to think too much about what my visual future might hold.

Employers! How to find your (almost) perfect employee!

After almost twenty-two years working for my current employer, a few weeks ago I was placed at risk of redundancy.  So, in an effort to find suitable alternative employment, I thought I’d advertise my services via a blog post.  For any particularly busy employers who may be reading this post, I’ll give you a spoiler: it’s me.  I am your (almost) perfect employee!  Well, provided you aren’t looking for a car mechanic, a doctor, a sports teacher, a chimney sweep, a bank clerk, a model, a pilot, a hairdresser, a vet, or a tree surgeon, that is.  [Please note that other occupations may also be added to this exclusion list.]  But if you’re not looking for any of those, please read on…

Things I’m good at

  • Admin
    I’ve been working in the riveting world of admin for almost twenty-three years if you count my year out before heading off to university so – let’s face it – I bloody well should be good at it!  I’ve certainly never had any complaints about the quality of my work.  As evidence of my excellence in admin, you only have to look as far as my immaculately organised ‘redundancy file’, containing everything from documents concerning the transparently opaque restructure process, to details of finances, annotated job specifications, meticulously accurate meeting notes, and advice from ACAS.
  • Proofreading
    I briefly flirted with the idea of a career in proofreading many years ago, and as a fan of words and language it’s something which I find rather satisfying.  As practise, I recently proofread my ‘risk of redundancy’ letter, and this exercise yielded the following results: punctuation errors – 15; instances of bad English – 12; spelling errors – 2; factual errors (my job title!) – 2; inaccuracies – 1.  This made a grand total of 32 errors in a 4-page letter.  I was tempted to suggest during my individual consultation meeting that they offer me a job as a proofreader, but suspected that wouldn’t have gone down terribly well.
  • Fundraising
    I’m good at fundraising, and ideas for fundraising prompts.  When my uncle died of lung cancer in 2013, I put together a recipe book of my grandmother’s recipes and sold it (along with help from my family, of course), to raise money for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.  To date, we’ve raised £2,875 (www.justgiving.com/dottyg).  We still have  a very small number of books available, if any budding bakers out there are interested!  😉
    In addition, since 2016, I’ve raised (along with family and friends) over £6,000 for Moorfields Eye Charity, by taking part in the annual Eye to Eye charity walk, and holding ‘Twinkles at Twilight‘ tea parties.  Imaginative methods of fundraising have included getting various canine companions involved in our charity walks, inventing eye-themed games for ‘Twinkles at Twilight’ events, and persuading a local optometrist to donate a voucher for a free eye test to use as a raffle prize.
  • Writing
    I’m a pretty decent writer… or so readers of my blog tell me, and quite frankly who am I to argue?!  I manage to combine factual information with elements of humour, resulting in an entertaining yet informative read… in my blog posts, at least.  Clearly I don’t use this technique when writing student appeal summaries at work, or when composing irritated emails to my MP about the latest farcical government decision.
  • Painting
    I’m reasonably good at putting oil on canvas, although my post eye surgery paintings are somewhat different.  For further details, check out my blog posts:
    Oil on canvas‘ and ‘Paintings for sale‘.  I’m also a dab hand at putting emulsion on walls (after the adequate prep-work, obviously).  Painting ceilings is less successful these days (see: ‘Ceiling painting through silicone oil‘), but I’m not bad at woodwork.
  • Extensive knowledge of eye-related issues
    For those of you wondering how I was going to shoehorn eye issues into this post – this is it!  For potential employers wondering why this might be useful in the workplace – I’m somewhat proud of the fact that I successfully diagnosed a colleague’s PVD on two separate occasions (have a read of ‘I’m not an ophthalmologist, but…‘).  Of course, I did advise her to get to the optometrist’s PDQ and only actually said, ‘it sounds like a PVD to me‘, as anything eye-related should of course be checked by an appropriate medical professional.  Nevertheless I was rather chuffed with myself when, after the first instance, she texted me with the words, ‘Emma, your diagnosis was correct’, once she could see after her appointment.
  • Analysing
    I’m an excellent analyser, although some might describe it as being a tormented over-thinker, depending on which way you look at it.  However, I was recently assured by a senior academic who kindly agreed to act as a referee for me that this is a strength, useful in many areas of life.
  • Baking
    I’m a pretty good baker, specialities being a healthy carrot cake, and not-so-healthy almond macaroons.  Well… it’s all about a balanced diet, right?  And let’s face it, every office needs at least one person who’s happy to bring in home-baked treats every once in a while!

So now, having set out my unique skill-set, I’ll just sit back and wait for the offers of employment to come flooding in via the comments below!  Please feel free to forward to any potential employers!  For those readers who know me, please do let me know if I’ve missed any particularly useful skills out.  To potential employers: please note that I’m perfectly happy with remote working (it seems far more time-efficient and cuts out all that unnecessary and irritating small-talk); however any location-dependent job should ideally be based in Kent or Surrey and definitely within easy reach of Moorfields Eye Hospital.  References available upon request.

The Moorfields dash

I’d booked the first week of August as annual leave, that being the first opportunity to see my family since early March.  The plan was to have a nice break away from my currently hellish work situation and attempt to relax a bit before my planned Moorfields check-up appointment on 10 August.  I arrived at my mum’s house, already in a lather as I announced, ‘I can see something weird in my good eye’.  This weird thing occurred when I moved my eye slightly up and to the right, whereupon I could see what appeared to be a slightly curved line, sometimes black and sometimes bright white.  It was visible only for a fraction of a second – a brief flick – before disappearing.  I described it as being a bit like an after-image type effect – like you see if you accidentally catch a glare of bright sunlight reflected off the bonnet of a car, for example, and then look away.

I’d started to notice this a week or so previously, but only when sitting at home at my makeshift workstation, so I’d dismissed it as being down to a trick of the light.  But as the days went on, it seemed more apparent and larger, and I could see it against other backgrounds too.  I obsessively checked my visual fields (no change), checked for new floaters (there didn’t appear to be any, in the spaghetti soup of existing floaters in my left eye), and frequently went into the bathroom and closed the door to create a pitch black area in which to check for any flashes (no flashes).  So I tried to convince myself that it was just my usual pre-appointment paranoia.  However, I knew that I could see something, and the fact that it was in my good eye meant that by this point I was in a constant state of heightened tension and anxiety.  Monday’s appointment seemed a very long way away, particularly as I knew from experience that a detachment can progress within a matter of hours.  I therefore rang the nurse-led Moorfields advice line.

Over an hour later, and heartily sick off the clip of classical music on repeat, I was informed, ‘You are now number 1 in the queue!’.  I punched the air triumphantly and waved my pointy finger at my sister to indicate that I’d almost made it.  A few minutes later, I got through to a Real Person, who took all my details, listened carefully to my descriptions, sympathised when I briefly explained my horrific history of detachments and tears, and then told me that she was going to check with a VR doctor and would call me back.

True to her word, she called me back within half an hour with the doctor’s advice: the symptoms didn’t warrant an A&E visit and could wait until my appointment on Monday, but call back or go in immediately if I saw a shadow, flashes, new floaters, or experienced any loss of vision.  In other words – classic retinal detachment symptoms.  I felt reassured, and tried to lessen my continual obsessive checking, although without much success.

The next morning, I was relieved to find that I still had vision and nothing  seemed to have  changed.  My relief evaporated upon going out for a short walk with my mum when I noticed against the brightness of the sky a small collection of tiny new floaters.  My heart leapt into my throat and hammered to escape like a trapped bird.  Within an hour, I’d packed a bag and my mum had dropped me at the local train station.  ‘What time will you be returning this  evening?’, asked the friendly ticket man.  ‘I don’t know’, I answered, wondering if I should even be asking for a return ticket as surgery at this hour would be likely to mean an overnight stay.  ‘Well, is it likely to be before 7pm?’, he persisted.  ‘I don’t know’, I snapped, before realising I must be coming across as An Awkward Customer, and explaining, ‘I’m going to the hospital’.  ‘Ah’, he nodded in understanding, and issued me with an open return.

I finally arrived at Moorfields to discover, to my horror, a considerable queue outside the main entrance.  I joined it, before learning from a fellow patient that this was the appointments queue – the A&E queue was around the corner.  Happily, it was considerably shorter, but still took me about twenty minutes to get in.  Upon reaching the front, I was asked various questions about Covid-19 symptoms and my temperature was checked, before I was handed a surgical mask via a pair of tongs and instructed to replace my cloth face covering.  As soon as I mentioned my history of six previous detachments, I was waved into the waiting area.  Ironically, whilst waiting to be triaged, I received a ‘phone call from the Appointments Department, cancelling my appointment on Monday!

At this point, I was in the accustomed waiting, worrying, and feeling increasingly queasy game, but without my sister to distract me with a game of ‘I Spy’.  She hadn’t been able to go with me, due to infection control procedures at her workplace, but I also discovered that only people who were obviously severely sight impaired were being accompanied.  I was eventually called in by the first nurse for a visual acuity check.  My left eye was 6/7.5 instead of the usual 6/5, which panicked me somewhat.  ‘Are you sure those letters aren’t smaller than usual?’, I asked the nurse in consternation, to which she replied with a chuckle that they were just the same.

More waiting, then dilation drops and from thence the blurriness descended.  I was so exhausted by this point that I desperately wanted to just close my eyes, yet I was so afraid of any deterioration in vision that I kept them stubbornly open and attempted to observe my surroundings.  Finally, the doctor called me in and the slit lamp examination of my left eye began: ‘Look up; look up and right; look right; look down and right’, etc.  There were rather long gaps between each instruction, punctuated at times by comments such as, ‘Ah yes, I can see the cryo scars there’, and ‘You have a cataract in this eye’.  The examination finished, and he delivered the verdict: ‘The retina is attached and there are no tears, but you’ve had a small bleed from a torn blood vessel at the back of your eye.’  All I heard at first was ‘attached’ and ‘no tears’, and promptly burst into tears of relief.  The doctor was very kind and handed me tissues whilst assuring me between my gulping apologies that this was a perfectly normal reaction in the circumstances.

Fortunately, I got a grip of myself and moved into my usual inquisition mode, and he was very patient in answering all my questions and explaining various things.  It seems that the torn blood vessel was likely due to PVD; although I’m still somewhat confused by this as I haven’t previously been told that I have PVD.  He didn’t know what the odd after-image type thing is, but said it could be stress-related ocular migraine, dry eye, or traction due to PVD.  I am under orders to return to A&E immediately if I see any new symptoms beyond my current baseline.  Happily, he also checked my right eye and all appeared to be stable.

After thanking him profusely, I sat back in the  waiting room and scribbled what he’d said into my little notebook as best I could through dilated eyes, before stumbling out into the hideously bright sunshine and climbing into a taxi to Waterloo.  One bonus of dilated eyes is that I was unable to read the rising cost of the taxi fare on the meter, as we trundled through the streets of London.  I’m rather proud of myself for managing to make it back in one piece with dilated eyes, but still somewhat stressed [understatement alert] as I’m currently still seeing symptoms.  The floaters have been explained by the bleed, but I have no definitive explanation for the weird after-image thing, and that bothers me.  So, fellow eye buddies and bloggers… please keep your fingers crossed for me.  I desperately need my left eye to remain stable and retain useful vision!

Note: Credit for the title of this post goes to a fellow RD patient on the Facebook RD support group, who sympathised, ‘I know the Moorfields dash only too well and completely understand your fear’.

Unwanted lockdown companion

I was rather touched when, towards the start of the pandemic, a couple of people whom I’m not in particularly regular contact with messaged me to ask how I was doing, noting that it must be tough spending lockdown alone.  So now I feel I must come clean and confess that I haven’t actually been spending it entirely alone.  Now I hasten to add that I haven’t broken any rules; I’ve made no trips to Barnard Castle or Greece; I haven’t attended any illegal raves or invited anyone beyond the threshold of my little house.  My lockdown companion, you see, is an uninvited guest – in fact, ‘intruder’ would be a more accurate description.

Regular readers of my blog will be aware of this unwanted invader, as I’ve previously written about him in ‘The unwelcome visitations of Mr Pip’ and ‘The persistent presence of pernicious Mr Pip’.  Those readers who are finding themselves being introduced to this chap for the first time will gain some insight into my feelings towards him based solely on the adjectives in those previous blog post titles.

Naturally, Mr Pip has pretty much been up to all his old tricks throughout the pandemic.  Towards the start of lockdown, he’d sit on the corner of my dining table as I attempted to concentrate on work, swinging his spindly legs as he gleefully reminded me that all the eye clinics were closed and asked me what I was going to do if I had yet another detachment.  Upon briskly informing him that Moorfields A&E was still open, he’d look smug and retort, ‘Aaah, but I bet there won’t be many doctors on duty as they’re all in the Covid wards!’, before instructing me, ‘Quick – check your visual fields!  And again!  And again!  Was that a dark shadow?  A new floater?  Check it, check it, check it!’.  And on, and on, and on he’d parrot, until I’d lose my temper and reach out to push him off the edge of the table before stomping into the kitchen to make myself a cup of comforting tea.  Fortunately, I could no longer hear the sound of his constant jibing above the roar of the kettle.

‘You need to go to Sainsbury’s tomorrow’, he reminded me after one such incident when I returned to my makeshift office, clutching a steaming mug of tea in one hand and the biscuit tin in the other.  ‘I am well aware of this fact’, I snapped at him, peering into the biscuit tin to discover only two left – a disaster for someone who normally consumes them in multiples of at least four at a time.  ‘Be careful not to catch Covid’, he crooned caressingly with an underlying glint of malice.  ‘You don’t know what it might do to your eyes.  You know it can cause inflammation, and inflammation activates PVR.  It could be curtains for your retinas.  BLACK curtains!’, he added, with a cackle.  I glared at him over the top of my glasses as I bit into a biscuit and thumped away at my keyboard, but he merely raised a thin eyebrow and smiled, showing a set of crowded stained teeth.

As well as confronting me with my most immediate fears regarding sight loss, Mr Pip has also taken to standing in the doorway flicking bits of paper at me as he enquires, ‘Why are you bothering doing all that work anyway; you know you’re probably going to be made redundant soon?’.  I shake my head at him angrily, informing him that we just don’t know what’s going to happen to our jobs yet and I need to wait and see.  He laughs softly and leans close to me, the stench of his foul breath making me recoil in disgust as he whispers into my ear, ‘But they don’t want you.  You know they don’t want you.  They’ve already told you they don’t want you because of your eyes.’  I glower at him, feeling my broken eyes beginning to well up as I know I can’t refute that point.  He smirks, knowing he’s won this round, and laughs mockingly as he slinks into a corner to enjoy watching my misery.

Not content with disrupting my working hours, and indeed my waking hours, Mr Pip applies equal diligence in tormenting me during my time which should be devoted to sleep.  Like a malevolent version of the BFG, he waits until the dead of night, at the time we all know monsters and murderers are on the prowl and will GET US should we so much as stick a little finger out of the bedclothes.  He carefully selects putrid potions of horror and deftly wafts them through my ear and into my brain as he sits back in satisfaction to observe as the nightmares unfold…

I see images of a huge cloud of noisy spitfires gathering in the skies above my house and thunderous explosions and fireballs rain down as a bombing raid begins and the house opposite explodes in a blinding sheet of flames.  I see a dripping tunnel and crawl along its muddy floor, clambering over office desks, chairs, computers, and decomposing corpses as I search for an escape route, but the tunnel becomes increasingly narrower as the air becomes correspondingly stale and I find myself struggling to breathe.  I see an ambulance in front of me, lights flashing and sirens wailing, as I drive at breakneck speed in the dark down a narrow winding woodland road as the rain lashes down.  I screech around a bend and find that I can’t stop… but I know that I mustn’t hit the ambulance… protect the NHS… brake, brake, brake… but I can’t stop, and I know it, and I push my foot all the way to the floor on the brake pedal but I still can’t stop, and I hear a sickening crash as I lurch forward into the windscreen.  I see… nothing… that old, terrifying recurring nightmare of lost sight, compelling me to start up in bed in a panic when I wake in a pool of sweat, heart thudding, and switch on the light to check that it isn’t real.  I check my visual fields and lie down again.

‘I’m still here’, taunts Mr Pip from the corner of the bedroom.  He laughs softly as he lifts his thin lip in a sneer and prods at me with a long, pointy fingernail.  Frankly, I could really do without him as a lockdown companion.

Pandemic positives

People often tell me how negative I am, and entreat me to ‘focus on the positives’, so I’ve had a think and have come up with a list of plus points which I’ve experienced during the pandemic.  Of course, these are all eye-related, but please feel free to chip in by commenting below if you have any other positive points you’d like to share, to cheer us all up during these dark days of doom and despair…

  1. Retinal re-attachment surgery has always been on the list of treatments which may go ahead during the pandemic.  This is because retinal detachment is a sight-threatening condition which can cause blindness in the affected eye if not treated.  I must say that this fact (the first one, not the second) gave me a huge amount of comfort towards the start of lockdown… until I reflected that I had been sent home from the hospital after suffering my fifth detachment as there weren’t enough doctors.  And during the pandemic, a lot of doctors – including ophthalmologists – have been reassigned to Covid wards.  But let’s just focus on the positives here: RD surgery gets the green light during the pandemic.  Hurrah!
  2. When I leap in the air and let out a gasp of shock because someone has surprised me by approaching on my right-hand side in my area of lost peripheral vision, they generally no longer look at me as if I’m bonkers these days.  They occasionally even apologise!  Clearly, this is because they feel bad that they’ve broken the two-metre rule and freaked me out.  They don’t realise that it’s actually because I couldn’t see them approaching until the last minute.
  3. Along similar lines, I no longer have to apologise for bumping into people on my right-hand side / treading on their toes in a crowded area / bashing against their bag; as people generally just don’t get that close any more with social distancing in place.  This also means no more dirty looks cast my way due to accidents of this nature, which certainly makes a welcome change.
  4. I don’t have to worry about driving home from work via a different route during the summer just to avoid that nasty corner where I can’t see very well to turn right because of the angle of the sun.  In fact, I don’t have to worry about the angle of the sun at all during my short commute from bed to dining table.  Hopefully this won’t result in me turning into a nervous wreck when I do have to start driving proper distances again, but let’s FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE!
  5. Nobody gives me weird looks when catching me checking my visual fields, because there’s nobody here to see me.  Yay!  Of course, I’m becoming increasingly hermit-like whilst simultaneously craving human company, yet experiencing palpitations at the mere thought of meeting up with anyone, but hey, never mind about that bit!
  6. I no longer have to swiftly try and dry off the soggy mess on my smart shirt during the working day when I put my eye drops in and miss spectacularly.  There are actually two positive points here (how spoilt am I?!).  Firstly, working from home means that I can stick to comfy t-shirts, and secondly, there’s no-one here to notice the soggy mess so I can just leave the spilt eye drops to dry out on their own.
  7. Another bonus of working from home is that I don’t have to sit through meetings held in rooms with hideously bright lights.  Unfortunately, long online meetings spent staring at the screen aren’t ideal either, but let’s not think about that for now; it’s the weekend!

So… what are your pandemic positives?  If you have any good ones, please share… 🙂

Lockdown listening

I first discovered the exciting world of podcasts during my hellish month of posturing after eye surgery number two, and have continued to enjoy them ever since.  When we received the instruction to work from home, way back on 17 March, one of our Deans pointed out that if we went into lockdown, at least I’d have plenty of time to listen to podcasts.  I acknowledged the truth of this, before noting wryly that listening to news podcasts can be more stress-inducing than relaxing at times.  He jokingly suggested that I rate each one according to categories such as ‘stress-inducing’, ‘informative’, ‘entertaining’, etc, so I thought I’d give it a go.  All ratings given are out of five.

‘In Touch’
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qxww/episodes/downloads
For those readers wondering how on earth I was going to shoehorn eyes into this particular blog post… this is it!  ‘In Touch’ is a podcast relating to all sorts of issues concerning visual impairment.  Discussions range from how to apply make-up if you’re visually impaired, to laws on pavement parking, guide dogs and taxis, voting rights, and the latest gene therapies for certain eye conditions.  It’s been particularly interesting in the past few weeks in its coverage of how social distancing affects people who are severely visually impaired, and problems with food shopping during lockdown, particularly in relation to touch and guiding.  It’s also covered eye services in different parts of the UK during lockdown.  There is more of a focus on people who are severely visually impaired, rather than many of us RD patients who fall into that murky grey area, but it is well worth a listen if you’re the slightest bit interested in VI issues.

Ratings:
Informative:  * * * * *
Interesting:  * * * * *
Stress-inducing:  !
Humorous:  🙂 🙂
Swear box rating: 
Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

‘The News Quiz’
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02pc9pj/episodes/downloads
I’ve been listening to ‘The News Quiz’ for some time now, but I still have absolutely no idea how they award points.  They should really publish a grading criteria, but I suppose that would detract somewhat from the comedy value.  The only potential downside of listening to this is that you need to be aware of the week’s news in order to fully appreciate the jokes.  However, I guess if you’re not interested in the news, you’d be unlikely to listen to a podcast with this title anyway.

Ratings:
Informative:  * * *
Interesting:  * * *
Stress-inducing:  !
Humorous:  🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Swear box rating:  £ £
Overall:  ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

‘Coronavirus Newscast’
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05299nl/episodes/downloads
Coronavirus Newscast is the latest incarnation of Newscast, which was then renamed Brexitcast before flirting with Electioncast and then morphing back to Newscast, and then finally Coronavirus Newscast.  Confused?  Don’t be.  ‘What’s in a name?’, after all?!  I first got into this podcast during its Brexitcast days, and oh weren’t those the days… if only all we had to worry about now was the latest meaningful vote, eh?  [Shakes head and pauses to sigh heavily.]  Aaanyway, it’s not just about coronavirus news now – they do talk about other news too, which is probably just as well as there’s an episode every weekday.  If you think the BBC is biased, here’s a challenge for you: have a listen to this podcast and let me know which way you think the bias lies.

Ratings:
Informative:  * * * *
Interesting:  * * * *
Stress-inducing:  ! ! !
Humorous:  🙂 🙂
Swear box rating:  £ £
Overall:  ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

‘Remainiacs’
https://www.remainiacs.com/
No need to guess the bias here – Remainiacs is unashamedly left-wing, liberal, and as anti-Brexit as a yellow star on a blue background.  However, Brexiteers would benefit from giving it a listen, if only to understand precisely why Idiot Johnson hasn’t ‘got Brexit done’, as  well as the legal, economic, and moral shithole that awaits us.  Oh yeh, there’s quite a lot of swearing in this podcast too.  But it’s interesting, thought-provoking, entertaining, and I guarantee that if you’re feeling fed up, the sound of Ian Dunt’s slightly maniacal yet incredibly infectious laughter will definitely cheer you up.

Ratings:
Informative:  * * * * *
Interesting:  * * * * *
Stress-inducing:  ! ! !
Humorous:  🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Swear box rating:  £ £ £ £
Overall:  ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

‘The Bunker’
https://play.acast.com/s/the-bunker
This is the newest podcast I’ve been listening to, as it’s only been going for a few months.  It’s a kind of spin-off from Remainiacs, and I think the intention was that they’d talk about all sorts of other news and that Brexit would effectively be a banned word (the government would like that, wouldn’t they?!).  Only it isn’t banned, because although lots of people seem to think that Brexit is merely the self-contained single action of leaving the EU, it affects just about every area of our lives in one way or another.  There’s a full-length episode of this podcast every Wednesday of about an hour, and a short ‘bunker daily’ episode on the other weekdays.  Just the ticket for listening to after watching one of the government propaganda screenings briefings.  The Bunker team will set you straight.  Especially if Ian Dunt is on.

Ratings:
Informative:  * * * * *
Interesting:  * * * * *
Stress-inducing:  ! ! !
Humorous:  🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Swear box rating:  £ £ £
Overall:  ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

‘More or less: behind the stats’
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nrss1/episodes/downloads
Now, I’m very much a words and pictures person – I don’t ‘do’ numbers.  It never ceases to baffle me that I’m easily able to recite large chunks of ‘Hamlet’ but I can’t even remember my mum’s ‘phone number.  (I know it definitely doesn’t have a ‘B’ in it, but not sure about a ‘2’.)  So no-one was more surprised than me to find myself thoroughly getting into this podcast, which explains the numbers behind the stats in a way that even I can understand, even though I sometimes have to listen to bits of it a couple of times.  It’s a great one to listen to if you want to understand exactly why the government’s claims about Covid-19 testing are complete bollocks, for example.  Don’t worry: there’s no swearing in this one.

Ratings:
Informative:  * * * * *
Interesting:  * * * *
Stress-inducing:  ! !
Humorous:  🙂 🙂
Swear box rating:  –£
Overall:  ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

As I’m writing this, I can’t help noticing that my listening content is somewhat heavily weighted towards the subject of news.  I would normally listen to podcasts on other subjects as well – two particular favourites being ‘The Untold’ and ‘Word of Mouth’, but neither have released new episodes for a while.  Of course, poor Michael Rosen, who does ‘Word of Mouth’ is currently recovering from a particularly hideous bout of coronavirus.  😦  So if anyone can recommend any alternative listening, please let me know!  In the meantime, I’m off to listen to a nice calming bit of Bach…

 

 

New government eye test regulations!

I was quite excited to read about the new UK eye test regulations, announced by the government last week.  This will make a massive difference to me in terms of saving both time and money!  No more traipsing up to London to attend my appointments at Moorfields Eye Hospital – I’ll save an absolute fortune on rail fares!  No sitting around in clinic waiting rooms for entire mornings; no stinging dilation drops to contend with; no more following the ophthalmologist’s instructions to ‘look up, look down, look left…’ etc, whilst waiting for the verdict with baited breath!  No more pressure checks, with my heart thumping in terror in case it’s too high; no more struggling to read the Snellen chart; no more stumbling home in a literal post-appointment blur, with sore, dilated eyes!  None of that!

Because now, according to the government, all I have to do is pop out and take the car for a quick spin to check my vision!  Well, when I say, ‘quick spin’, the government has said it’s reasonable to drive approximately 30 miles to Barnard Castle before returning back to base.  But I’m assuming I don’t need to take a trip to Durham first, and that a 60-mile trip anywhere will do.  Or possibly just to any castle?  The government weren’t entirely clear on the issue, for some reason.  However, in terms of castles, I have plenty of options!  I could drive to Canterbury castle, but that’s only about 9 miles from me, so possibly not far enough to be sure that my eyesight is really okay for driving.

Alternatively, there’s Deal Castle, which is between 20 and 25 miles, depending on which route I take.  Or there’s Dover Castle, which is between 27 and 34 miles, so that’s looking more likely.  To crank up the mileage, I could always do a route taking in all three, of course.  An alternative option is Leeds castle, which – somewhat confusingly – is situated not in Yorkshire but near Maidstone, at a distance of 29 or 33 miles, again depending on the route.  It’s well worth a visit as the grounds are stunning (if your eyesight is up to scratch, of course), although the admissions prices are eye-wateringly expensive.  But with all that money I’ll be saving on rail fares – who cares!  I can even treat myself to a cream tea whilst I’m there!  I’ll just get out of the car and sit on the side of the moat, being careful to social distance.  Someone may have to butter the scones for me if my eyesight is getting a bit blurry, mind.

So, UK eye buddies… no doubt you’re as excited as me by this news?!  Please do share in the comments below which castle you’ll be visiting, next time you’re due to see your optometrist or ophthalmologist!

Here’s a selection of the best images I’ve spotted on social media, following the government’s news:

 

‘Stay alert’

‘Stay alert’.  This is what an ophthalmologist said to me at the end of an emergency appointment way back in 2014, a few weeks after my very first RD surgery [pauses for fond remembrance of the days when I’d had only one surgery and remained blissfully unaware of the hell before me…].  My gas bubble had reduced considerably and one afternoon I was alarmed when I spotted something odd to the left of my visual field.  Being a paranoid wreck at that point (‘What… and you’re not now?!‘, I hear you cry with incredulity!), I raced into the eye clinic pronto to get it checked out.

Fortunately, after a thorough examination I was told that nothing was wrong and that what I could see was probably just a visual effect from the remnants of the gas bubble.  My relief was matched only by my guilt at having wasted the time of NHS staff, but the abrupt but kindly ophthalmologist waved my apologies aside and assured me I’d done the right thing.  He then instructed me to ‘stay alert’ to any visual changes and return if I was concerned.

Now, as a result of my ongoing ophthalmic adventures, I know better than most people that we should all stay alert to any visual changes and seek medical advice immediately if they occur.  In relation to retinal detachment, warning signs for which to be on the alert are: an increase or change in floaters; flashes; a dark curtain moving across your vision; or any loss of vision.  But in relation to Covid-19, what exactly does the government expect us to stay alert for?  A high fever and a hacking cough perhaps?  Only it’s probably a bit too late by that point!  The Prime Minister himself has likened the virus to ‘an invisible mugger’, and we know that – contrary to government advice at the start of the pandemic – people can be infected without displaying any symptoms.

So really, the instruction to ‘stay alert’ seems pretty meaningless – like so many of the government’s statements and assurances.  Like the figure of 100,000 tests per day for example, which they still haven’t actually managed to meet in real terms.  Or boasting that the UK was one of the most prepared countries in the world for a pandemic, yet neglecting to take action on the Cygnus report.  The lack of PPE.  The promise that a delivery of PPE would imminently be arriving from Turkey when the Turkish government hadn’t signed off on it.  The discovery, once it did finally arrive, that all 400,000 gowns failed to comply with UK standards.  Boris Johnson’s assurance in March that it was very unlikely that people in care homes would be infected with Covid-19, whereas actually about a quarter of known Covid-19 deaths have occurred in care homes.  The herd immunity plan.  The backtracking from the herd immunity plan (although some might convincingly argue that this is actually still the government’s plan).  The displaying of charts at the daily press conferences making comparisons with death data of other countries, followed by the decision to rapidly drop such comparisons as soon as the UK became the country with the highest death toll in Europe.*

Even the ‘lockdown’ itself has been somewhat meaningless, as the government has always stated that those people unable to work from home were permitted to go to work.  And so many explanations of ‘the rules’ have been published by the government and other authorities that this can surely only mean one of two things: 1) the UK population is very stupid indeed; or 2) ‘the rules’ are unclear, confusing, and illogical.

I have wondered why it’s even necessary for the government to continue to roll out slogan after slogan.  ‘Take back control’… well, that went well, didn’t it?!  They’ve really got things under control here!  ‘Get Brexit done’… well, technically I suppose I’ll give them that, but there’s still no sign of all the promised fantastic trade agreements and numerous other problems remain in terms of completing the job.  ‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives’… A lot of people haven’t been staying at home, numerous medical appointments and surgeries (including cancer treatments) have been indefinitely postponed, and the official Covid-19 death toll in the UK currently stands at over 40,000.  Plus of course, if the Tories had properly funded the NHS for the past ten years then perhaps it wouldn’t need protecting.  But, y’know – ‘stay alert’ everyone, cos that’ll do the trick!  Meanwhile, when the next General Election comes along, if all Tory voters could just ‘stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives’, we might actually start seeing some improvements in the state of our country.

*I’m only just getting warmed up here.  There are so many other examples of the government’s utter ineptitude that it would require a couple more blog posts to list them all.

 

Ceiling painting through silicone oil

It seemed like such a good idea at the time… as with so many other things, I suspect.  Being something of a news junkie these days and therefore keeping up to date with the response to Covid-19 in other countries; as soon as we were eventually instructed to work from home in the UK, I ordered paint and decorating materials online with the intention of doing something useful during the lockdown.  My spare room / redundant art studio / dumping ground / clothes-drying area hadn’t been decorated since I moved into my little house years ago.  Clearly, lockdown provided the ideal time in which to transform it!

I hadn’t done any decorating since before my eye issues began, but I used to quite enjoy it.  Slapping paint on walls is so much simpler than agonising over oils on canvas (have a read of ‘Oil on canvas‘, if you’re wondering what I’m blathering on about here).  As I have to avoid tipping my head back because of the silicone oil in my RD eye, I was slightly concerned as to how I was going to manage painting the ceiling.  However, I thought I’d solved this conundrum by purchasing a long-handled paint roller.  In a dry run (literally), I discovered that it was simple to stand back and reach the ceiling whilst holding the roller at a gentle angle, allowing me to look up and see what I was doing without having to tip my head back too far.  I’d also got some safety glasses to avoid any paint splatters in my eyes and also to protect them whilst sanding down the woodwork.  ‘This’ll be a doddle!’, I told myself confidently, whilst painstakingly removing all the books from the tall bookcase and covering them with a sheet in the middle of the room.

Ten minutes into painting the ceiling, I was red-faced and swearing more than Ian Dunt on the Remainiacs podcast.  I hadn’t allowed for the weight of the paint on the sodden roller, meaning that I was unable to hold it at the nice distanced angle.  Yep, that’s right – even the paint wasn’t complying with the social distancing rules.  This meant that I had to either risk looking up and being freaked out by all the black floaters descending within my eye like monsters of doom; or just position the roller and roll away keeping my head down and hoping I was covering the ceiling evenly.  Considering the added annoyance that the safety glasses didn’t fit over my prescription glasses and so I had to remove my specs in favour of the safety glasses, I was pretty much metaphorically fumbling around in the dark anyway.  So the latter option of positioning the roller, keeping my head down and hoping for the best seemed the more sensible one.

Unfortunately, this meant that I failed to spot a number of drips from the roller before they landed, more often than not, on the carpet rather than the dust sheet.  Yes I know, I know… I should have invested in another dust sheet.  I somehow got through about two thirds of the tin of paint which I’d calculated would easily allow me to give the ceiling the recommended two coats.  By this point I was chuntering away to myself asking, ‘Why did you even start this, you total idiot?!’ and declaring heavenward, ‘You’re not bloody getting another coat – I don’t care how damn patchy you are!’.  (Isn’t everyone starting to address inanimate objects in lockdown?)

Fortunately, the ceiling appeared less patchy once the paint was fully dry, and happily I wasn’t prepared to tip my head far back enough to give it a proper examination anyway.  The walls were much easier and there were far less paint splodges involved.  Finally came the woodwork, and I discovered by trial and error that painting this was considerably more accurate when using an angled cutting-in brush.  I hadn’t even realised I possessed one of these, but discovered it in the bottom of my toolbox.  Whilst painting the woodwork, I also discovered the joys of green masking tape, which made it much easier to see the edges of skirting boards and door frames.  Not only that, but the tape was extra wide, allowing for plenty of splodge room.  I won’t focus on the fact that when removing the masking tape, it pulled with it bits of the actual woodwork paint, which then needed touching up.

Anyway, so I think the verdict on this project is basically a huge sigh of relief that I’ve completed it, and also the realisation that attempting to paint a ceiling with an eyeful of silicone oil isn’t the best idea.  If any of my eye buddies have any good decorating tips, please do share in the comments below!  Meanwhile, who’s up for a post-lockdown painting party at my place?  My lounge ceiling hasn’t been done since I moved in either…

Pandemic paranoia

Most of my eye buddies will unfortunately be familiar with pre-appointment paranoia, which I’ve written about previously.  In the past few weeks as many of us cope with lockdown (to a greater or lesser extent), I’ve wondered how many are now experiencing eye-related ‘pandemic paranoia’, as well as the more general stress of coping with the current situation.  Personally, I’ve found that the knowledge that many hospital clinics, optometrists, and GP surgeries are now closed is causing me to worry about what I’d do if I had yet another eye-related emergency.

This worry has translated into somewhat obsessive eye-related checking once more – a habit which I’d managed to largely get on top of in the last couple of years – apart from a brief relapse around the time I had a loose stitch in my eye which caused an infection.  But now I find myself back to checking my field of vision far more frequently than is helpful.  The other day, I was convinced I saw a flash, and and was subsequently compelled to make numerous visits to the bathroom – not to go to the loo, but because if I leave the light off and close the door, it offers the perfect pitch-black environment in which to check for flashes.

In the past couple of days, my RD eye has felt irritated, as if there might be something in it.  This is causing me to continually check for the symptoms I noticed when the loose stitch occurred, as that too had caused my eye to feel irritated.  And, of course, I seek desperately for a benign explanation for the slight discomfort: it could be the high pollen count (although I’ve never suffered from hay fever before, so… ?); I could have got a bit of dust in my eye whilst cleaning or gardening; it could be dry eye or a reaction to the unusually warm weather we had over the weekend; it could be a build-up of insomnia and stress.  But still I worry.  I worry because in this ‘lockdown’ situation, it feels as if my safety net has been removed.  I can’t just turn up to Moorfields A&E if I notice any visual changes, as I’ve always been told to do in the past.

I know that Moorfields A&E is, thankfully, still open, but it seems that patients now have to call and have a video-call consultation first, rather than simply turning up at the hospital.  As many RD patients will know, when it comes to retinal issues it’s often impossible to tell exactly what’s going on in the eye without a slit-lamp examination, which needs to be done in person of course.

In an effort to calm my unease somewhat, I did a bit of digging around and discovered some things which made me feel ever so slightly better.  As I mentioned above, Moorfields A&E is still open.  It seems that treatment for sight-threatening conditions (of which RD is one) is still going ahead.  In addition, my optometrist’s is still ‘open’ in a sense.  It has a ‘phone system in place to determine what the issue is, but it also has limited times available if a practice visit is required.

So for any of my eye buddies out there who are also struggling with this worry on top of all the other stresses we’re having to cope with at the moment, I’d say double-check what services are still available in your area as it may bring you some reassurance.  In addition, I’ve also come across the following articles which you may find helpful: