Postponing pre-appointment panic

I’d only just got back to my office after my lunch break on Friday afternoon when my mobile buzzed three times in a row within the space of ten minutes, with ‘private number’ flashing up on the screen.  I cursed cold callers everywhere, and EDF Energy in particular, before the thought suddenly occurred to me, “What if it’s Moorfields, ringing to cancel my appointment on Monday?”.  By this point, a voicemail had been left, so I listened to it immediately, with a sinking feeling of dread.  Sure enough, it was Moorfields to tell me that my appointment on 7 January had been postponed until 11 February due to a chronically overbooked clinic, and to ring back if this was a problem.

This is the third time I’ve had an appointment postponed in this way, plus I was at work, so fortunately I didn’t go into quite the meltdown that I did the first time this happened.  However, I wasn’t happy.  My colleague, seeing my distress, told me, “Well ring them back!  Ring them back now!  Tell them you’ve had to take a day off work for it and you’ve booked somewhere to stay because you can’t travel back with dilated eyes, and tell them how much anxiety it causes you and that it’s damaging your mental health.  Ring them now, before everyone else they’re postponing does the same!”  I think she was worried that I was in danger of pushing myself out of the two-inch gap allowed by opening our ancient office windows and hurling myself onto the stones below.*

I rang them back.  There was no answer.  I rang again.  And again.  And again.  And… oh okay, you get the picture.  Then I gave up and rang the main appointments line and after a lot of ear-drum agony which was so badly recorded that it can’t possibly be considered ‘music’ in any shape or form, I ended up in that joyous place: a telephone queue.  “You are now number five in the queue!”, declared the far-too-cheerful voice which immediately made me want to punch her in the face.  (Avoiding the eyes, of course.  I don’t want to add to the number of people needing eye appointments.)  “You’re number one in the queue?!”, asked my colleague hopefully.  “No… number five”, I sighed, before telling her my theory that sometimes they just leave you on a recorded message with the same number in the hopes that you’ll eventually give up.  “Well, you might as well just hang on now, and carry on working while you wait”, she advised, sensibly.

To cut a long story short, I did eventually get to speak to someone, who subsequently rang me back later to explain that there was nothing they could do as the clinic was so overbooked that it would be unsafe for the doctors to see everyone and hence they were rescheduling some appointments.  They told me that the doctors had indicated which patients should be rescheduled, which made me feel slightly better about the whole thing.  They didn’t tell me why the clinic had become so overbooked or why patients were being rescheduled so late in the day.  However, I imagine the issue is probably a combination of the Christmas and New Year bank holidays and emergency cases which have presented in the meantime.  Having been in that emergency situation myself on a few occasions, I am of course fully aware of the need to sometimes postpone appointments for regular or less urgent cases.  However, this knowledge does nothing to lessen my increasing concern about the state of our overstretched NHS and my fears for its future.  I’ve already written about this in more detail in ‘Sod the Tories‘, and ‘I’m voting for the NHS‘ so I won’t bang on about it again now.  However, I do find the whole thing massively frustrating, incredibly worrying, and hugely depressing, and in my view if Brexit goes ahead then things are only going to get worse.

Of course, the irony here is that although the appointment has been postponed, the pre-appointment panic unfortunately hasn’t as that’s been building up for the past few weeks.  Perhaps if I remember that an appointment can be cancelled right at the last minute, it’ll prevent me from getting quite so stressed about them in the future.  [Pauses to watch a sounder of swine sail past the window.]

* Although sometimes I think that I could possibly squeeze through this gap, our office is on the ground floor so the potential for visiting “the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns” via this method is very much limited.


Brand new year; same old stress

“PING”, went my ‘phone at 09:12 this morning.  It was NHS-NoReply (strange name, I know), informing me: “REMINDER: Moorfields appt at City Road on 07/01/2019”.  As if I could forget.  My last appointment was 25 June in the middle of a heatwave, when I was grateful for a few hours spent cooling off under the hospital’s air-con.  When the receptionist allocated me my next appointment in six months time, it seemed a blissful age away.  Somewhat foolishly, I also thought that with Christmas being so close to the next one, it would take my mind off it a bit and I wouldn’t get quite as stressed.  I’ve always had the feeling in the run-up to Christmas that the New Year is an age away and so have found it relatively easy to push January worries to the back of my mind.

How wrong I was.  Or perhaps it’s simply been that additional stresses haven’t helped my pre-appointment panic.  An AWOL neighbour with a tip of a garden and a recurrent problem with uninvited rodents, plus the news just before Christmas that my workplace is planning major restructures certainly hasn’t done much to spread tidings of comfort and joy over the festive season.  Add to that the grimness of my sister’s dog, Dizzy, becoming increasingly frail in his old age and developing yet another eye ulcer just after Christmas which then burst, resulting in an emergency visit to the vet’s (all a bit too close to home for me), and… well, you get the picture.  I won’t even start on all the other wider issues I also worry about… the B-word*, the overstretched NHS, the normalisation of food banks, why there are people in the world who are just generally nasty…

Naturally, my dear Lady Insomnia has been keeping me company at night once again, and Mr Pip has been creeping around the house, muttering constantly and tapping his extraordinarily long fingernails on every available hard surface until an answering drumming starts up in my head.  A couple of nights ago, I jolted awake in a cold sweat, after an all too vivid dream in which I was at Moorfields being told I needed more surgery.  Ridiculous really, as I’ve known since June 2015 that I need more surgery.  However, I’m still ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place’, just as I wrote about shortly after that time.

“So why worry?”, I hear all the irritating eternal optimists ask, as they repeat their overly simplistic refrain of, “Why worry if you can’t do anything about it?!”.  Why indeed?!  Oh, if only it were that simple!  This is usually followed up by the only marginally less irritating declaration of, “Well, things could always be worse!”.  Yes, I am well aware of that fact.  As I may have mentioned before, the problem is with my eyes, not my brain.  If anyone has any genuinely useful tips for us worriers (for I know I’m not alone in this, particularly where the eye issues are concerned), please do let me know.  In the meantime, I shall heed that very wise old piece of advice and “go and make a cup of tea”.  I might even push the boat out and have a slice of Christmas cake with it, too.

For those readers who may also be experiencing unwanted visits from Mr Pip at the moment, I have some advice.  Ignore the hype and expectation of New Year.  It’s just one day turning into another, after all.  And it’s not all bad, for earlier today I spotted my neighbours across the road with a ladder up the side of their house, taking  down their ghastly bright Christmas lights.  YEEEEEEEESS!  So I shall raise my mug of tea and drink to no more fairy lights for another eleven months, as I wish you all a healthy and fulfilling 2019.

*Bollocks to Brexit.

The amazing eye-friendly office Christmas decorations

Well folks, it’s that time of year again… you know, the crap-crappiest one!  (Have a read of ‘”It’s the most wonderful time of the year” (erm…)’, if you’re wondering what I’m moaning on about now.)  The hideously bright flashing Christmas lights have been up in my neighbourhood since the end of November (yes, really!) and I swear they multiply every year (grrrrrrrrrr!).  Walking to the post office to post my Christmas cards the other day, it did cross my mind that if only I had a pair of wire cutters secreted about my person I could go dashing down the road, merrily snip-snipping my way along, and thereby deal with all the ghastly chaser lights littering the hedges.  [Note to self: check out wire cutters on Amazon.]

Even before my eye issues began I was of the opinion that Christmas should consist of a very small time period around the day itself.  You know, 25 December.  After all, it is supposed to be the twelve days of Christmas, not the two and a half months of Christmas, isn’t it?  The latter wouldn’t really fit into the lyrics of that particular yuletide ditty,  and we’d rapidly run out of pointless gifts to be given by the song’s mysterious ‘true love’, who incidentally appears to have a serious problem with compulsive shopping.  After all, who wants twelve lords a leaping anyway, unless they’re going to leap to the rescue and stop Brexit of course.  In that case, I suspect they’d have an endless queue of people lining up to kiss them under the mistletoe.  But anyway, I’d better stop dreaming of a Brexit-free Christmas and get back to reality…

My work colleagues are well used to me metaphorically rolling my eyes (I can’t really do it properly any more) and clutching my head in despair the moment ‘Christmas’ is mentioned – usually sometime around the end of October.  My plaintive cries of, “But it’s not December yet!” are brushed aside with the excuse that “We have to think about it as places get booked up for Christmas meals really early!”.  A few of my colleagues are pretty keen on Christmas*, to the extent that for the last few years, competitions have been held for the best decorated office.  My no-nonsense colleague casts off her stern demeanor at this time and puts all her efforts into creating a dazzling (quite literally, for us RD patients) display of fairy lights and magic, dishing out hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies to anyone brave enough to enter her office with dark glasses firmly in place (okay, I admit it – that’s just me).

This year, I was more than a little concerned as I’m now sharing an office with two newcomers to our team.  One arrived in August; the other in November.  I was slightly worried in case they were going to want to do all sorts of ghastly things like stringing up reams of fairy lights from the ceiling and filling the office with giant nodding snowmen and singing santas.  It quickly became apparent that I didn’t have to worry in relation to New Colleague Number 2.  His quizzical raised eyebrow and actual rolling of his eyes (I’m so jealous) made it pretty obvious that he certainly wouldn’t be donning flashing reindeer antlers any time soon and he definitely had no plans to grow his beard and dye it white.  (I don’t think red would be his colour either, to be fair.)

As for New Colleague Number 1… well, that was an entirely different matter.  On Saturday 1 December, she sent me a picture of a collection of fir tree branches, holly and ivy in a huge tangled heap on her living room floor.  She’d retrieved them that morning from her local woods, in the pouring rain.  I wondered whether she’d had enough of the new job already and was preparing nesting material to go into hibernation for the winter, but she told me that in fact she was drying it out so that she could bring it in and decorate the office with it.  Frankly, I’m surprised there was anything left in the woods and I was a tad concerned about how it was all going to fit into our rather compact office.  On the Monday evening, just as I was leaving work, her husband arrived, clutching two giant bin bags containing the local forest.  (Note that in my head the heap of branches had already been upgraded to ‘forest’ status.)  I offered to take them out to the rubbish as I passed him to go home, but he just smiled and called me a Grinch.

The next morning, I ventured into work with trepidation, cautiously opened the office door, and peered in.  The first thing that hit me (not literally… “don’t get a head trauma”!) was the smell: a glorious, lung-expandingly fresh and fragrant scent of pine needles, oranges, cinnamon, and basically all things Christmassy.  The walls were festooned with pine branches, intertwined with trailing ivy and pieces of holly.  All was held in place – somewhat precariously in some sections – by drawing pins.  Home-made decorations of baked orange slices studied with star anise, and bundles of cinnamon sticks were strategically hung among the branches along with candy canes, red ribbons, and a small collection of silver bells.  There was not a single ghastly fairy light (or blow-up snowman) in sight.  In fact, the only non-eye-friendly decorations consisted of battery powered candles which flickered alarmingly.  (My eye buddies will be closing their eyes in horror, reading this.)  However, my thoughtful colleague only switched these torture candles on once I’d left for the day, which was very considerate of her.

To go along with the eye-friendly office decorations, my colleague brought in a collection box for Guide Dogs and raised a bit of dosh for them.  To our surprise, our office was judged the winner of the highly-sought-after title of ‘best decorated office’ this year, announced at the end of our Christmas do, amidst cheers.  (It’s a shame our earlier meal at Canterbury Cathedral Lodge didn’t receive the same reaction, but that’s another story…)  All credit for our win must of course go to New Colleague Number 1 and her equally determined husband for their impressive transformation of our dull office.  It just goes to show that flashing lights really aren’t needed.  Hmmm, I wonder if I could persuade New Colleague Number 1 and her husband to come round and have a chat with the people living along my road…

All that remains is for me to wish you all a cracking good Christmas, and a healthy and happy 2019.

* MASSIVE understatement alert.




Cramped carriages and uncomfortable encounters

I had an old uni friends reunion last Sunday.  We arranged to meet at a coffee shop in Greenwich so that those of us getting earlier trains could wait for the more tardy ones in the warm and dry.  Annoyingly, there were engineering works on my usual line into London, and a much-feared bus replacement service was in operation (UK readers will know exactly what I mean here).  So I abandoned that route altogether and caught the slow train from Herne Bay instead.  As the train chugged its way along the coast, it rapidly became apparent that everyone in east Kent had come up with the same bright idea.  More and more people piled on at each stop, and I had to remind myself that I was on the way to a uni meet up, not playing a game of railway sardines.*

Fortunately, about half the passengers vacated the train at my stop in London, so I didn’t have to fight my way through hoardes of people.  I met my old chums and we had a wonderful day (despite the grey weather).  We enjoyed a tasty meal, talked about everything you’re not supposed to talk about (religion, politics, death…), and indulged in a spot of silliness involving a giant deckchair belonging to Greenwich Student Union.  We then had an entertaining wander around Greenwich Market.  (Note to RD peeps: although picturesque, Greenwich Market at dusk in December is not an ideal place to visit.  Fading light + thousands of Christmas lights + bright stall lights + crowds of people = aaaaarrrrgghhhhhh!)

All too soon it was time to say toodle-pip to my friends and head back home.  Waiting for the train on the platform, I was somewhat nervous as more and more people joined me and began forming little queues (how do they know exactly where the train doors are going to open?!).  The train arrived.  It was packed.  It was soooo packed that I briefly contemplated waiting an hour for the next one.  But I knew that would probably be packed too.  Plus, it was cold on the platform and getting late.  So I squeezed myself through the door and wedged myself into the carriage.

I soon wished I’d just waited for the next train, regardless.  The grubby looking lad standing to my left was sniffing, deeply and noisily, at regular intervals.  I debated offering him a tissue, but he had that look about him which suggested I might receive a punch in the face for my efforts and the words “Don’t get a head trauma” rang in my ears, so I decided against it.  I caught the eye of a man squished in on the other side, and realised that his thoughts were running along a similar track (cue unintended railway pun).  I then felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see a woman motioning impatiently down to my right-hand side.  I turned further and spotted a young child trying to get past me.  I hadn’t seen either the woman or the child as both were in my area of lost peripheral vision.  I aplogised, and flattened myself against the side of a seat to let the child pass, as the woman tutted.

Sniffer Man was still engaged in a competition with himself, trying to outdo each effort in a mucus-rattling crescendo.  I had to make a conscious effort not to wrinkle my nose in disgust.  The man on the other side of him struggled out of his huge black puffer jacket and I briefly wondered whether he was going to try and smother Sniffer Man with it.  He didn’t.  He probably decided that the dry-cleaning bill would be a high price to pay.  At that point, the train jolted to a standstill and a few people actually got off!  In the crush, I realised that I was being offered a seat by a woman in the seat next to me.  I nodded gratefully and slid past her and her suitcase parked in the aisle, into the free seat and away from Sniffer Man.

I glanced at my saviour and we exchanged small talk about the state of the rail services.  She told me that her stop was Gillingham and she’d been attending a conference in London.  After learning an assortment of facts about her life, she asked me what I did for a living.  I told her I work at a university, to which I received the standard response: an impressed look and the query, “What do you teach?”.  In retrospect, I should have informed her that I lecture in Astrophysics and find the work blissfully satisfying.  In reality, I admitted that I work in admin and although the job is okay, something more rewarding with less screen work would be preferable.  She wanted to know why I’m not keen on screen work, so I told her I have eye problems.  As an aside to my eye buddies here… why do we feel the need to minimise the ongoing horror of RD to people who ask us about our eye issues?  I sometimes find myself almost apologetically explaining that, no, I’ll never regain the sight I’ve lost in my RD eye and no, unfortunately my other eye isn’t ‘all okay’.  But I digress.

After dodging a few eye-related queries with watered-down, simplistic answers, I  found myself being subjected to an interrogation as to what I enjoyed doing in my spare time, what sort of work I’d like to do ideally, and whether I believed in God(!).  It transpired that I had been rescued from Sniffer Man, only to be trapped by an evangelistic life coach (she’d given me her card by that point) touting for business.  Fortunately, at the point at which she offered me half price life-coaching sessions the train juddered to a halt once more and I was saved from having to respond by the announcement, “You’ve now arrived at Gillingham”, whereupon I choked down a cheer and bid her goodbye with considerable relief.

Note: The moral of the story is: wear headphones on the train if you don’t want to hear people sniffing or end up in tricky conversations.  The drawback of the moral is that this plan means that I would then effectively be dealing with self-inflicted hearing loss as well as partial sight loss.

* Sardines, for those who have never enjoyed this childhood game, is a group game whereby all group members shut their eyes and count to 50 or so, whilst one person goes and hides somewhere.  The group members then hunt for the hidden person and, upon finding them, get into the hiding place with them and remain silent.  (Giggling is an occupational hazard when engaged in a game of sardines as it immediately gives away the hiding place.)  The loser of the game is the last person to find the hiding place.  The hiding place is usually a relatively small space which, as the game progresses, more and more people have to pack themselves into.  Favourite hiding places during my childhood included inside wardrobes, underneath beds, or in the coal shed for those of us who were brave enough to cope with the spiders’ webs.

Twinkles at Twilight 2018

There was much excitement in the air as the day finally dawned on our much-anticipated yearly fundraising event for Moorfields Eye Charity and Marie Curie, which my sister had catchily christened ‘Twinkles at Twilight’.  Her logic for this is that we hold the event at twilight, when Marie Curie nurses begin their shifts to provide care for terminally ill patients; and the ‘twinkle’ refers to a twinkle in the eye, thus providing a seamless link to Moorfields.  (Have a read of ‘Twinkles at twilight; dread at dawn‘ if you’re wondering why we support these particular charities.)  In reality, of course, we all know my sister’s fondness for twinkly fairy lights (not the evil flashing ones, of course, which tend to freak out RD patients) and little fairy cakes.

In the run-up to the event, we’d been plotting and planning to come up with ideas for raising more dosh, as well as baking a variety of eye and star related cakes.  At one point, two of the three shelves in my freezer were dedicated entirely to shortbread in the shape of Snellen charts and eye glasses, carrot cake, and starry chocolate brownies.  We’re never entirely sure how many people will turn up, so we tend to over-bake for safety.  I mean… can you imagine the sheer horror of running out of cake?!  [Pauses to enact Edvard Munch’s scream.]  As the event is held in my sister’s workplace (a home for independent living for elderly people, or ‘the olds’ as we affectionately call them), we already have a certain number of victims people on tap as they can’t escape quickly enough with their wheelies and walking sticks.  In addition, many of their families come along, plus members of the committees which run the house as well as other local residents and friends.  So we always manage to get a pretty good number of people over a wide age-range.  This year, the youngest fundraiser was almost two years old and the eldest was 97.

As always, we had some games to supplement the generous donations.  The ever-popular tombola is always a hit with the children, who return to their parents again and again asking for 50p to have “just one more go!”.  We also had ‘guess the number of stars in the jar’.  I should explain that the jar contained star-shaped biscuits and tiny chocolates rather than far-away constellations.  I noticed this year that the men take this game particularly seriously, picking the jar up and trying to work out the correct number via a logical calculation process, rather than simply taking a wild guess.  This year, we also had a game of ‘find the stars in the sky’, which consisted of a night sky dotted with advent calendar style windows.  These were opened at a cost of £1 a go, to reveal potential stars twinkling beneath the midnight-blue sugar paper of the window.  Prizes varied, depending on whether the would-be astronomer uncovered a tiny star, a large star, or a shooting star.

My favourite part of this year’s event was the fact that an excellent local independent optometrist (Penny & Hayter) had – in response to my slightly cheeky email – very kindly donated a voucher for their practice worth £35, to be used for an eye test.  Our plan was to increase awareness of the importance of regular eye tests by asking people if they’d had a test within the past two years and, if not, getting them to put their name in a hat for the chance to win the voucher.  This gave me a wonderful opportunity to enthusiastically nag people about getting their eyes tested.  Of course, I do this quite a lot anyway, but I really went to town on this occasion!  Lots of people put their names in the hat, a fair few of whom promised me faithfully that they would go and get their eyes tested even if they didn’t win the voucher.  I do hope they meant it, as I shall be checking the next time I see them…

People ate cakes, drank sparkly (twinkly?) elderflower cordial, played games, donated money, and there was much laughter and merriment.  All too soon (or perhaps not, judging by my sore throat by then), it was time to pack up and take all the fairy lights down again, much to my sister’s disappointment.  Once the clear-up operation was complete, we refreshed ourselves with tea and cake and began the serious business of counting up the dosh.  The verdict was a grand total of £445.10, but as I write we’re still receiving last-minute donations from people who were unable to make it and the total currently stands at just over £500.  This will be split between Moorfields Eye Charity and Marie Curie.

Huge thanks go to everyone who made the evening such a success by coming along, donating prizes, baking cakes, eating cakes, and generously giving money to two such worthy causes.  Oh, and helping out with the washing up at the end, of course!  Special grateful thanks go to Penny & Hayter for their very kind donation of the voucher.  Now, if there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t had their eyes tested for two years, you know what you need to do… 😉

Sight loss in literature

It’s a truth, perhaps not universally acknowledged, but certainly generally accepted by myself and the people surrounding me, that I’m a tad obsessed by eye related matters these days.  Another obsession of mine is reading, as I find it a pretty effective method of escaping from the world.  A few months ago, these obsessions collided when I found myself reading two novels, one after the other, each of which contained a character with sight loss.  I was surprised as in each case I’d been unaware that the book would be dealing with this subject.  Although finding myself unexpectedly reading about sight loss meant that it wasn’t exactly an escape from my own world, I nevertheless found it fascinating and I started to wonder about the subject of sight loss in literature.

As a fan of nineteenth century English literature with a particular passion for the Brontë sisters in my younger days, my thoughts inevitably drifted towards ‘Jane Eyre’, and Mr Rochester’s blindness towards the end of the novel.  His sight loss is caused by a falling beam during a fire started at his home, Thornfield Hall.  The beam knocked one eye out and after the incident his other eye became inflamed and he lost the sight in that one too.  The innkeeper who relates Mr Rochester’s fate to a horrified Jane tells her, “Some say it was a just judgement on him for keeping his first marriage secret, and wanting to take another wife while he had one living”.  So there we have an example of blindness being used as a form of punishment.  This idea almost certainly comes from biblical sources, so it isn’t really surprising that Charlotte makes reference to it, considering the fact that her father was a vicar.

I’m sure I also remember reading, way back in my student days, that Rochester’s blindness coupled with the amputation of one hand (another injury as a result of the fire) was used as a device to render him and Jane more equal and therefore more suitable for marriage.  For anyone who hasn’t read ‘Jane Eyre’ [pauses to gasp in horrified incredulity] – at the start of the novel, Rochester is rich and not-bad-looking; Jane is poor and plain.  Obviously such a mismatched couple were never going to make it into the serious business of matrimony, especially when you add into the mix the fact that Rochester had a crazy wife with a passion for pyromania whom he kept locked up in the attic.  But – happily – by the end of the novel, Jane had inherited the princely sum of twenty thousand pounds and Rochester was “blind and a cripple”, with the added bonus of having a dead mad wife.  And so, Readers, she married him.

Another interesting point concerning ‘Jane Eyre’ is that Charlotte Brontë had some knowledge of sight loss herself.  Her father went pretty much blind due to cataracts, and eventually underwent cataract surgery in Manchester, in August 1846, after his daughters had managed to scout out a reputable surgeon.  If you’re squeamish, dear Reader, now is the time to avert your eyes as cataract surgery in those days was a bit grim…

Poor Patrick Brontë had to endure his cataract operation without anaesthetic, as it was feared that the vomiting caused by the anaesthetic would cause the wound to rupture.  An incision was made into his cornea and the lens was extracted from its capsule.  No IOLs in those days of course, so he simply remained aphake.  As surgeons didn’t know at that time how to use stitches to hold the cut together, he then had to lie in a darkened room with bandaged eyes for about a month.  Imagine that, fellow RD patients… that’s basically posturing after cataract surgery, isn’t it!?!  And yes – eyes plural!  They operated on both eyes at once!  [Pauses to scream in horror.]  Aaaanyway, poor Patrick had to remain in Manchester for his cataract posturing.  Presumably a rickety horse and carriage ride back to Haworth wouldn’t have been the best idea for his healing peepers.  Charlotte therefore stayed to take care of him like the dutiful daughter she was, and it was during this time that she began writing ‘Jane Eyre’.  No doubt she drew upon this experience when writing about Rochester’s blindness and of how he eventually recovered some of the sight in his remaining eye.

Thinking about all this has made me curious to investigate the subject of sight loss in literature, with a number of questions in mind.  How are characters with sight loss portrayed – are they painted mainly in a positive or a negative light, and how convincing do they appear?  Is the sight loss merely being used as a device to symbolise something such as a punishment or increased insight?  Are fictional characters with sight loss more accurately portrayed by authors who have personal experience of it?  One would assume the answer to this would be ‘yes’, and yet I imagine it depends upon the nature of the experience and depth of understanding and knowledge gained as a result.  How has the portrayal of sight loss in fiction changed through the years?  And finally… the question which is perhaps most relevant to me personally: will reading fiction concerning sight loss help me to fear it less in my own life?  I hope so, for I intend to investigate these questions a little during my attempted escapes from the world via reading.  At the moment, the only other examples of sight loss in literature which immediately come to mind are the grandfather in ‘Frankenstein’ and the gouging out of Gloucester’s eyes in ‘King Lear’, so I’m sure there is much for me to discover on this subject.  If anyone has any suggestions concerning reading material, please let me know in the comments below!

Note: For any readers who haven’t yet read ‘Jane Eyre’… GO AND READ IT!

Headaches on repeat

When I developed a stonking headache at work about three weeks ago, I didn’t think much of it.  Since my eye issues, I get a fair number of headaches and there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about them other than take painkillers when necessary and try to avoid screen work (tricky, when my job involves working on a computer pretty much all day).  When I’ve queried the headaches at Moorfields, I’ve been told it’s unsurprising as my eye has been through so much trauma; my vision in each eye is now so different that this could be causing them; and I’m still right-eye dominant, despite the fact that my right eye is now not an awful lot of use, which puts more strain on my left eye.  Unfortunately, there are no solutions to any of these things, apart from time travel.  With the new Dr Who in full swing, if anyone manages to steal the Tardis, please let me borrow it.

The headache hung around for a couple of days, then eased off, then went away completely for a day or two, then returned and resumed it’s thumping.  This pattern continued for the next couple of weeks and I started to worry (as we oily-eyed RD patients do) that my eye pressure was creeping up.  Of course, the worry didn’t improve the headaches and the headaches didn’t improve the worrying,  so eventually I booked an appointment with an optometrist to go and get the pressures checked.  The lady on reception booked me in for a full eye test rather than just a pressure check, but as I was due one anyway, I didn’t argue.

Upon arriving on the designated day with plenty of time to spare in which to stress, I was dismayed when I realised that the really good optometrist  I’d seen previously wasn’t working that day (have a read of Hunt the optometrist: round 4).  However, I needn’t have worried, as the chap I saw this time seemed equally thorough, firing off a list of questions in his broad Yorkshire accent.  When he reached, “Have you banged your head at all recently?”, I stared at him in horror and related my second surgeon’s “Don’t get a head trauma” advice, whereupon he proceeded to tell me all the other things I should avoid as well: lifting, contact sports, bungee jumping, certain yoga positions… I would have cracked the joke about how much I missed playing rugby since my retinal detachments, but I was too nervous about what my eye pressure readings might be.

He kept me in suspense, as the slit lamp examination came next.  “It looks very shiny in there!”, he exclaimed, peering into my oil-filled RD eye, before observing, “Ah yes, I can see the area of cryotherapy.”  He moved to my left eye and observed with relief, “Ah, this pupil works nicely!” and then went on to perform the pressure check.  Puff!  Blink!  “18 in the right eye”, he declared, as I sagged in the chair with relief.  He administered a puff to my left eye and noted, “14 in that one.”  Rather than simply accepting that everything was fine, pressure-wise, I then asked, “Don’t you take three readings and then use the average, though?”, to which he replied that this wasn’t really necessary and the readings could vary according to certain things, similar to the way that blood pressure readings can vary.  To demonstrate, he took another reading in each eye, and that time it was 21 in the right and 16 in the left.  I voiced my assumption that surely the readings wouldn’t keep going up but would remain within certain limits.  He said this was correct, but laughed and shook his head when I suggested that we test it out, assuring me, “It’s fine – don’t invite trouble!”.  I told him that what I could really do with was my very own pressure monitoring machine so that I could periodically check my own eye pressures.  I was quite hopeful for a few seconds when he mentioned that there was a spare one in the other room, but sadly he didn’t offer it out as a long-term loan.  [Note to self: look up eye pressure monitors on Amazon, because Amazon sell EVERYTHING.  Everything, that is, apart from new retinas.]

Next came the most confusing part of the eye test… you know the bit I mean… where they make you don those fetching glasses and proceed to slot different lenses in and ask,  “Which is clearer… this… or this…?”.  After a while, they all seem to bur into one (no pun intended).  The final verdict was that my distance vision remains unchanged (phew!) but my close vision has altered and I now need [cue dramatic music]… VARIFOCALS!  [gasp]  “AAAAGGGGHHHH!!!  I’m getting old!”… Well, that’s the reaction which I suspect he often receives to that news, anyway.  However, I just shrugged my shoulders and admitted that I’d suspected as much because for a while I’d been reading underneath my glasses as it was clearer.  “A-ha!”, he pounced on this information and proceeded to explain that this certainly wouldn’t have been helping my headaches as although I was finding it easier to read things without my glasses, it would be distorted because of my astigmatism.  So basically, going from corrected middle and distance vision through my glasses to uncorrected close vision without my glasses has been causing me more eye strain.  That’s on top of the existing strain of only having decent vision in one eye and extremely waffy vision in the other, and the whole right-eye dominant thing.  As a result, he advised that I try a varifocal lens in my good eye and a single-vision lens in my RD eye.

This all seemed fairly logical to me, so I decided to just go with it.  I spent the next half hour with a very helpful lady who, when I admitted that I was utterly hopeless at choosing new frames, proceeded to pass me different ones to try, commenting on which suited me and laughing as I peered into the mirror and recoiled in horror at some of the less subtle ones.  (My name’s Emma, not Edna!)  She explained all about the two different types of varifocal lens [note of advice: if you’re relying on just the one eye, grit your teeth and go with the more expensive ones], and joked that really they needed a counselling room out the back for people who couldn’t deal with the news that the time had come for varifocals.  Or maybe it’s more the price of the glasses which requires people to need counselling.  I certainly gulped as I signed the order form quickly before I could change my mind.  And then I told myself that I refuse to feel guilty… i want to make the most of all the decent vision I can manage to squeeze out of my good left eye.

So… if anyone has any tips on getting rid of headaches or getting used to varifocals (particularly if you have silicone oil in one eye), please let me know…