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.