But why?

I’ve had various responses from people when the subject of my retinal detachment has first arisen in conversation.  Responses have varied hugely from a bemused, “You mean you actually lost your sight?” to a slightly accusatory, “How did you manage that?!” to a genuinely baffled, “But I thought that was something that only happened to rugby players!”.  Personally, I sometimes wonder if I did something hideously dreadful in a previous life and am now being soundly punished for it.  But in answer to the above questions: yes, when the first detachment happened, I did lose most of the sight in my right eye.  At the moment, I do have sight in that eye, although it’s extremely poor and I’ve lost a lot of peripheral vision.  As to how I managed to detach my retina – I did absolutely nothing at all to cause it.  Doctors have assured me that even the flight to Berlin (see How it all began, if you’re wondering what I’m talking about here) did nothing to either cause it or make it worse.  The rugby player theory is clearly incorrect, as despite my broad, brawny shoulders and prowess on the sports field*, I’ve never played rugby in my life and certainly have no intention of ever doing so now.

So why, then?  Why did my retina detach so suddenly and spectacularly, completely out of the blue?  According to the RNIB, retinal detachment only affects one in 10,000 people each year, so it’s not exactly a common occurrence.  I had received no blow to the head (unless you count the fact that I cracked it open when I was at junior school); I wasn’t born prematurely (in fact I was a fashionable three weeks late**); I’m not diabetic; and although I’d always been short-sighted, this wasn’t bad enough for it to be a concern in terms of increasing my risk of RD.  (Myopia of -6 or more is where this becomes more of a worry.)

The reason for my detachment, according to the detailed notes made by the friendly doctor in the Berlin eye hospital, was a retinal tear as a result of lattice degeneration.  The tear had rapidly progressed to a detachment, as the vitreous fluid seeped through the break and pulled the retina away from its place at the back of the eye.  Lattice degeneration was also noted as the cause of the two tears in my left retina, which were diagnosed at the same time.

So what is this wretched lattice degeneration which has wreaked such havoc upon my life, and why do I have it?  (You see – there’s that wailing, ‘but why’ again!)  Well.  Lattice degeneration is basically a thinning of the edges of the retina, in a lattice pattern.  I imagine it as being a bit like when the heel of a sock starts to wear through, showing the weave of the fabric.  As the retina is thinner in the areas affected by lattice degeneration, holes or tears are more likely to develop which can then progress to a detachment as explained above.

Figures vary as to how common lattice degeneration is, but it appears to affect between 6-10% of the general population.  Of this 6-10%, apparently the risk of retinal detachment is about 1%.  Many people will live in blissful ignorance as lattice degeneration itself is asymptomatic so usually it’s only found as a result of complications such as – ironically – a retinal tear or detachment.  Often, both eyes are affected by lattice degeneration, and the risk of RD also increases in the fellow eye following a detachment in one eye.  Hopefully, this will help my critics to understand that my fear for my good eye is actually based on hard facts and statistics, rather than ‘negativity’ on my part.

So – why do people get lattice degeneration, and why do I have it?  After extensive consultations with Dr Google, it appears that the answer to the first question is that we just don’t know.  There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer as to why I’ve got it either, but I’m absolutely convinced that my eye problems are hereditary and it seems from what I’ve read that Dr Google is inclined to agree.  My Gran had eye problems and I can remember talk of her having a hole in her retina, although she never underwent retinal surgery.  Unfortunately, I’ll never know exactly what the issue was, but I think there’s a strong possibility that lattice degeneration was involved.  I’d give anything to be able to have a good old chat with her about it all, but then on the other hand I’m thankful that she didn’t live to know about my eye issues as she would have been hugely upset.

The suspicion of a hereditary link doesn’t end with my Gran, though.  My cousin experienced a retinal tear when he was in his twenties, and underwent laser surgery to get it fixed.  Fortunately, he hasn’t had any problems since, but again I do wonder whether lattice degeneration was the cause of the tear.  He was simply told that he had ‘weak retinas’, and of course lattice degeneration does weaken the retina in the affected areas.

So… that’s why my retina detached the first time – lattice degeneration.  As to why the darn thing keeps detaching… well that’s PVR.  If you’re interested, you can read more about PVR in my earlier post, The curse of PVR.

*For those readers who don’t know me, I should probably confess that my shoulders are narrow and rather bony, and my only prowess on the sports field was the ability during my school days to always be the last person to be picked on any sports team.  I was rather good at running away from the ball, too.

**The first, and almost certainly the only, time I have ever been fashionable in my entire life.

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Attributes of an RD patient

Working in a university means that I’ve heard an awful lot about ‘graduate attributes’ lately.  ‘Graduate attributes’ appears to be the latest buzz phrase in the plot to try and convince students that they’re not wasting their money and graduating with a mountain of debt in vain worthy aim of higher education institutions to not only provide students with a good solid education in their chosen field, but also to make them responsible, respectable and, above all, employable citizens.  Basically, ‘graduate attributes’ appears to be a marketing strategy to boost student recruitment and improve league table results set of qualities and skills which students are encouraged to develop during their time at university.  These vary from one institution to another, but typical examples include the following: confidence, digital literacy, adaptability, integrity, effective communication skills… the list goes on and on.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if tuition fees are actually trebled soon, if students continue to graduate with such impressively long lists of transferrable skills.

But I digress.  Hearing so much about ‘graduate attributes’ got me thinking about what the typical attributes of a seasoned retinal detachment patient might be.  So I set up a working party, a focus group, and a couple of committees and then came up with the following list:

  1. Patience
    Waiting in hospitals for appointments; waiting for our eyes to dilate; posturing for hours and hours with our heads stuffed into pillows, bones digging into mattresses, and muscles aching; waiting for gas bubbles to disperse; waiting and hoping that our retinas have successfully reattached…  It’s clear from all this that it’s pretty much impossible to be an impatient RD patient.
  2. Determination
    Those hours, days, weeks, and sometimes even months of painful posturing which we force ourselves through because we know it’s the one positive thing we can actually do to try and get the sodding retina to stick demonstrates our gritty determination in the face of physical and mental torture.
  3. Resilience
    This one is particularly appropriate for those of us who have had to endure multiple detachments and surgeries.  Our vision changes dramatically from blindness, to light perception, to weird wobbly shapes and crooked edges, to underwater fuzziness.  After each detachment and each surgery we have to accustom ourselves to further visual changes, but we get up again (once we’re given the all-clear to stop posturing) and we just keep ploughing on…  In fact, the lyrics of this song’s chorus seem particularly appropriate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LODkVkpaVQA.  If you’re an RD patient, join me right now in having a listen and singing along to the chorus REALLY loudly.  🙂
  4. Anxiety
    Okay, now I get this is supposed to be a list of positive attributes, but I like to take a realistic approach.  Clearly the same can’t be said of ‘graduate attributes’ as neither ‘getting drunk on cheap beer in the student union’ nor ‘leaving half-eaten plates of mouldy food around in a shared house’ seems to feature on any of the lists I’ve read so far.  But anyway – unfortunately, anxiety certainly seems to be extremely common in RD patients.  Eyesight is precious.  It’s the sense which people fear losing above all others.  It’s therefore perfectly understandable that we often feel anxious about the very real risk of further sight loss.
  5. A sense of perspective
    As mentioned above, RD is grim and life-changing.  Eye surgery is frightening, and its after-effects of often overwhelming anxiety can be utterly exhausting at times.  However, I have found that this has led to a useful sense of perspective when faced with other unpleasant / dull / tedious / scary things I have to do.  I simply ask myself the question: “Is it as bad as eye surgery?”.  The answer, so far, has always been a resounding, “No”.  So then I just crack on and do whatever it is that I have to do.
  6.  Awareness of true friends
    They say you find out who your true friends are when you’re going through a hard time, and I can confirm this to be absolutely true.  It can be hugely upsetting and disappointing to discover that someone you’ve known for years and believed was an old friend is actually not a true friend; however with number 5 in mind, I’ve learnt that it’s better not to waste time on such people.  Instead, it’s far more helpful to focus on the genuine people in our lives and enjoy spending time with them.
  7. Extended swearing vocabulary
    When your retina detaches again, and again, and again, and AGAIN (okay, you get the picture), a short, sharp explosion of expletives can prove to be extremely satisfying in releasing pent up frustration.  It turns out that there’s a wide variety of adjectives with which to describe a retina which won’t remain attached, apart from ‘sodding’.

So that’s my list of RD patient attributes.  If you can think of anything else which you believe should be on that list, just let me know in the comments below!  Writing this post has made me realise that I’ve learnt some far more valuable lessons from dealing with RD than I did during my three years as a student.  Never mind my 2.1 in Art and English; I just wish I could graduate from my RD experience with 6/6 vision…

Splish splash splosh (or how to get eye drops in)

One day at work recently, I’d just had lunch with my friend and was about to set off to take the minutes at a hideously dull committee meeting in a room with ghastly bright glarey lights so I paused to pop in some lubricating eye drops before heading off to endure the rest of the afternoon.  I was sitting with my head tipped back and the bottle of eye drops poised over my eye when my friend suddenly declared loudly, “Splish splash splosh!”  This caused me to laugh, which made my hand shake and a torrent of drops splashed onto my cheek, somehow managing to completely miss my eye.

Although I can’t always blame my friend, I do frequently manage to miss my eye completely and end up with eye drops running down my face, soaking into my top, or even finding their way into my ear on several occasions.  Now, with lubricating drops it isn’t so much of an issue, but with eye drops which are prescribed medication it’s vital to get the darn things in properly.  It’s also important to remember that if you’re prescribed more than one set of eye drops, you should wait at least five minutes before putting the next one in.  This is to ensure that the first drop isn’t washed away or diluted by the second drop.

One of the most effective methods I’ve found in getting the pesky things in is by following the instructions of one of the nurses at Moorfields, who showed me the knack after my third lot of surgery.  This is what she told me to do:

  1. Wash your hands (obviously!).
  2. Tip your head back.
  3. Hold the bottle of eye drops lengthways between your fingers and thumb, with your thumb underneath the side of the bottle.  Place the nail bed of your thumb in the dip where your nose meets your forehead, so that the nozzle of the bottle is being held over your eye (but not touching it).
  4. With your other hand, gently pull down the skin underneath your eye slightly to make a pocket.
  5. Squeeze the bottle gently until a drop falls into the pocket.  You should feel it, even if you can’t see it coming!
  6. Close your eye for a few minutes and wipe away any excess drops with a clean tissue.  Wipe gently from the side of your eye nearest your nose out to the outer edge, and don’t re-use the same piece of tissue if you need to wipe more than once.
  7. Put the lid back on the bottle and wash your hands.

You can find a link to a short YouTube video from Moorfields about how to put your eye drops in here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgodZZ2N2wY.

Alternatively, it’s possible to purchase an eye drop dispenser, which is a little gadget designed to help people administer their eye drops more easily.  I’ve never tried using one, but I know that several of my eye buddies use them successfully.  If you search for ‘eye drop dispenser’ on Amazon, you’ll find a variety of different types at various prices.  In fact, there’s so much choice that when I did consider that option a while ago, I felt somewhat overwhelmed and decided to stick with the method of the Moorfields nurse, which usually works for me.  However, if anyone reading this has used a particular eye drop dispenser and found it to be effective, it would be great if you could post a link in the comments below.  Plus, of course, any other handy tips on how to get eye drops in first time would be most gratefully received!

 

Seeing in the new year with a BANG

No, I’m not referring to the fireworks.  As a retinal detachment patient prone to leaping out of my skin with fear at the slightest flash, fireworks aren’t exactly one of my favourite things.  I was tucked up in bed by about 10:30pm on New Year’s Eve with a hot water bottle, a good book, and a comforting mug of Tick Tock tea.  I was even safely asleep well before midnight and pleased (and somewhat amazed) to report that I didn’t hear a single firework.

So, having enjoyed a rare restful and fairly solid night’s sleep, I leapt out of bed early the next morning to greet the new year and Get Things Done, before the imminent dreaded return to work, which I was desperately trying not to think about.  In this state of mind, it seemed like a cracking idea to clean out the giant cupboard under the stairs and get rid of some of the accumulated junk which is always so easy to ignore whilst conveniently out of sight.  Out with the old, and all that!  The cupboard was swiftly emptied and out came the hoover, car cleaning equipment, a large collection of paintings, art folders, old tins of paint, pieces of wood for making canvases, dog blankets, my mum’s smelly old trainers* which she wears when she comes down to give me gardening lessons**, toolbox, stacks of newspapers… okay, you get the idea.

During the process of emptying this cavernous cupboard, it was necessary for me to get on my hands and knees and crawl underneath a very deep shelf set inside it, in order to reach the boxes right at the back.  It was in manouvering backwards and forwards in this manner that I managed to whack the top of my forehead against the edge of the shelf.  Surprisingly, in view of my fear of getting a head trauma (have a read of Don’t get a head trauma, if you’re wondering what I’m talking about here), I didn’t immediately go into hyper panic.  Rather, I was just intensely annoyed with myself for managing to do something so unutterably stupid.

“You stupid idiot!”, I berated myself as I checked for blood (there was none) and bumps (I wasn’t sure whether there was one or whether it was just a natural lump in my head).  I shut my eyes and opened them again, did my visual field checks, cupped my hands over my open eyes to check for flashes, and wondered whether Moorfields would be open on New Year’s Day.  I reflected on the irony of the fact that only a few hours earlier, I’d been congratulating myself for getting through the whole of 2017 without having to undergo further eye surgery!  I took a few deep breaths, and reminded myself that several of my eye buddies had in the past posted panicked comments on the RD support group site after receiving blows to the head, but they’d been okay.  One had even managed to get a rather nasty looking black eye, but her retina had miraculously remained intact.

“That’s enough!”, I instructed myself sternly after about the fiftieth eye check.  I purposefully ignored the uncharacteristically chaotic bomb site of my living room and went to make a giant mug of comforting tea.  (Pause for an aside to my non-UK readers: tea always makes everything better.  Well, this is what we tell ourselves, anyway.)  After drinking the tea and eating a large quantity of leftover Christmas biscuits (good for shock, you know), I did my visual checks again.  Fortunately, everything seemed to be okay.  Or as okay as it has been for the past few months, anyway.  I very carefully put everything back in the cupboard and made a New Year’s resolution: there will be no more bangs on the head due to my own stupid fault in 2018…

*They’re not really smelly, but I bet she gasps in horror when she reads that bit.
**I usually ignore the lessons and continue with my very own special brand of gardening.  This includes the simple principle: hack it back if it starts looking too messy, regardless of the time of year.

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” (erm…)

Note: Musical accompaniment for this blog post can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFtb3EtjEic

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”, crooned the voice on the radio as I sat at my table wrapping presents and swearing under my breath after losing the end of the sellotape for about the eighth time in the past ten minutes.  “No it bloody well isn’t!”, I declared aloud with feeling.

Suddenly, the music did that audible slow-motion type thing where it noisily jangles into silence, there was a loud bang from the radio, all my Christmas cards fell off the bookshelf, and I beheld before me not an angel but a smartly dressed man wearing a suit complete with bow tie.  He also had an expression on his face which didn’t look entirely happy.  “What did you say?”, he demanded with an American twang.  “Errr, who are you and what are you doing?”, I spluttered in response, my eyes almost popping out of my head which couldn’t be good for my retinas.  “I’m Andy Williams”, he replied, “And that’s my song you’re insulting.”  I stared at him, wondering if I’d poured half a bottle of brandy into my tea by mistake and was suffering from alcohol-induced hallucinations.  “But I thought Bing Crosby sang that song!”, I stuttered, closing my eyes and opening them again in much the same way as I switch my computer off and on again when it encounters a problem.  It didn’t work.  He was still there.  And he actually looked even more annoyed.  “Oh no – Bing didn’t sing this”, he said, “This is my song.  But what I want to know is, how can you possibly think that it’s not the most wonderful time of the year?  Most people think it is!”  He stared at me accusingly, with one eyebrow raised.  “Well I’m not most people”, I retorted.  “And it certainly isn’t the most wonderful time of the year if you’ve had five lots of eye surgery for multiple retinal detachments and have an eyeball filled with silicone oil!”  He looked bemused.  “You haven’t been reading my blog, have you?”, I accused him in turn.  He shook his head slowly.  “Well, you might want to start with the post, How it all began, I advised, “But basically, there are quite a lot of things at this time of year which are a bit of a nightmare for people who’ve had retinal detachments.”  He nodded, indicating that I should continue.

I took a deep breath.  “Well, for starters – we only get about seven hours of proper daylight in the UK at this time of year.  That means a lot more driving in the dark, which is much more difficult and needs loads more concentration than it does if your eyes are working properly.  Then along with the winter we get icy weather and I worry about falling over and banging my head, which I’ve expressly been told by a surgeon not to do.  It doesn’t help that my workplace never grits the sodding paths properly when the weather’s really icy.  And all those Christmas lights…”  I trailed off, metaphorically rolling my eyes in despair.  “They’re just beautiful, aren’t they?”, he said, admiringly.  “No!”, I snapped.  “They’re not, actually.  They’re a complete nightmare for people with eye issues.  Have you seen what my ruddy street looks like at the moment?”  He shook his head.  “Come on – follow me”, I instructed him.

I stomped off into the kitchen and flipped up the window blind.  An array of dazzling, multicoloured lights flashed and blinked erratically from the opposite houses, like a scene from ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’.  “The other day when I walked through my front door coming home from work, I saw a flash”, I told him.  “So I kept moving my eyes around and staring at the wall where I’d seen it to work out whether it was a flash inside my eye or something external.  Eventually, I figured out that it was the lights on that house opposite, shining through the tiny windows on my front door and reflecting back off part of the door frame to my living room, as they reached a certain point in their series of various flashing patterns.”  I flipped the blind closed, went back into the living room and sat down heavily on the sofa with my head in my hands.  “Have you any idea how terrifying it is when you see a flash and think your retina might be detaching AGAIN?”, I half wailed.  He shook his head, looking somewhat chastened.  “No, I don’t”, he replied honestly.  “But I think I can understand now why this isn’t the best time of year for you.  Perhaps you can enjoy some parts of it though?”, he asked, hopefully.  “Oh yes”, I agreed, “I definitely will.”  With that, he smiled and then promptly vanished into thin air, rather like the last remnants of a gas bubble after a vitrectomy.

“Well, you might at least have picked up all the Christmas cards before leaving”, I muttered to myself as I collected them from the floor and carefully stood them back on the bookshelf.  At that point, the radio crackled into life again with the start of a familiar tune.  I groaned, but surprise prevented me from switching it off as the lyrics kicked in:

It’s the most frustrating time of the year
For people with RD and rubbish acuity
Who struggle to see
It’s the most frustrating time of the year!

It’s the crap-crappiest season of all
With those slippery pathways and fear of head trauma
In case of a fall,
It’s the crap-crappiest season of all!

More darkness than daylight
Unbearable bright lights
And flashes wherever we go.
More glary than fairy
And really quite scary
For those with eye problems, you know!

It’s the most frustrating time of the year
With shops crammed with people,
More there to bump into
And music so loud!
It’s the most frustrating time
Yes the most frustrating time
Oh the most frustrating time
Of the year!

[Hic]  I haven’t really been on the booze.  Honest.  But here’s wishing all my eye buddies, fellow bloggers, friends and family a very happy Christmas and a happy and healthy 2018.  😉

Q: How long does it take to buy a new (used) car?

A: Three years, eight months, and four days.

I decided I needed to trade in the Toyota Yaris I’d owned since 2005 on precisely 25 March 2014, after wincing as I paid the third hefty bill within the space of two months.  I worked out that within that time I’d spent over a grand on what I’d started referring to as my financial drain on wheels, and my friend warned me that if I carried on at that rate I may as well just weld a new car onto the wing mirror.  I was clearly already halfway down that slippery slope of paying an extortionate repair bill, hanging onto the car to get my money’s worth out of it, and then ending up with further extortionate repair bills in the meantime.  Enough was enough, and I resolved that my car would go before reaching its next service and MOT.

Less than a month later, my retina detached.  Following surgery, I was unable to drive for two months.  Then, just a couple of weeks after starting to get back to some sort of normality and driving once more, the damn thing detached again.  And then again.  And again.  And… well, you get the picture.  In among all these detachments and surgeries and slow recoveries was a stressful and ironically long road trip to undergo testing by the DVLA to ensure that I satisfied the medical standards for safe driving.  (You can read about this in my post Road hogs and road rage, if you’re interested.)  So naturally, as I was worried about whether or not I’d even be able to continue driving at all, a new car was the last thing on my mind.  Fortunately, Ioannis the Yaris (yes, my cars tend to be given names) rallied after his 2014 assault on my savings and practically sailed through the next three years of services and MOTs.  Despite this, the dodgy-sounding rattles increased, as did my local garage’s friendly warnings that such and such would need to be replaced soon, or there was “some wear and tear” in this component, and “give and play” in that part.  Ioannis was definitely on borrowed tyres.

After my May 2017 check up appointment at Moorfields, when they agreed to monitor me six months later rather than planning further surgery, I decided that now was the time to change my car.  And then I procrastinated.  I procrastinated right up to a few weeks before that six month check up in November 2017, at which point I decided to take some action rather than simply browsing the websites of various garages.  I spotted a little Toyota Aygo which was within my price range and emailed the link to a friend who has far more car-buying experience than I do.  She pinged a message back: “I like that one… Can you test drive that one?  Its number plate is MVR… we could call him Maverick..?!”.  So I booked a test drive, and she came along with me for moral support.

I felt like a learner again and managed to stall the car on my first attempt to drive it off.  This was after I’d spent a considerable amount of time adjusting all the mirrors to ensure I could see as much as possible.  I’d already decided not to confess to the friendly salesman that I’m unable to see much out of my right eye as I didn’t want to have to contend with a nervous passenger on top of everything else.  Once I’d got used to Maverick, I rather liked him.  My friend egged me on, telling me I should just go for it.  She’d already warned me some months previously that I was in danger of creating a deep groove in the road, from literally running Ioannis right into the ground.  But I just couldn’t bring myself to put a deposit down on a new car before my next check-up at Moorfields as it felt too much like tempting fate.

So I waited, and worried about what my consultant might find when he looked into my pesky peepers.  In the meantime, each time I drove past the Toyota garage, I had a quick scan to see if Maverick was still there.  He was.  Until the Saturday after my appointment, when I glanced up and saw that… [cue dramatic music]… Maverick had GONE!  Completely vanished!  I gasped in shock and then returned to reality.  “Oh well”, I said to myself as I drove juddering Ioannis along the road.  “It wasn’t surprising really – a good little car with a low mileage which had even been reduced in price within the last few weeks.  And it’s only a car, anyway.”  But just in case, I rang the garage the next day to check.  Fortunately, I managed to amend my question of, “Is Maverick still there?” just in time and received the surprising answer that yes, that particular car was still available.

After a second test drive (I didn’t stall that time) and a thorough examination of the car, I found myself in the unexpected position of actually making a decision and even putting down a deposit.  Before I could say, “but I need to procrastinate”, the paperwork was done and a collection date had been agreed.  My friend came with me to collect the car.  She said she wanted to make sure I didn’t change my mind.  “I know what you’re like”, she told me sternly, “I can just imagine you driving off in the new car and then screeching to a halt, reversing back, and saying, “Oh, but how much for that lovely silver Yaris?  The one with the vintage paintwork and unique markings down the driver’s side, and the artistically-placed dents?””.  “Well, I will be quite sorry to see Ioannis go”, I admitted.  “You SEE!”, she declared triumphantly, “You just can’t be trusted on your own!”.

Needless to say, I didn’t do that, although I did cast an apologetic look towards Ioannis as I slowly manoeuvred  Maverick out onto the road, clutching the steering wheel at ten to two as if my life depended on it.  We’d only travelled down the road and turned left at the roundabout when I glanced in my rear-view mirror and exclaimed in a panic, “Oh no!  There’s a police car behind me now!” . My friend smoothly switched into her best policewoman voice, “Control… yes, Emma’s just picked up a new car and she’s driving erratically.  We’re following her.  Over.”.  “Stop it – I need to concentrate!”, I protested, whilst trying not to laugh.  “She’s just turned left into Sturry Road”, continued my friend, making the sound of a crackling radio before returning to her normal voice and telling me in slightly disappointed tones, “Oh, it’s okay, Em, they’ve gone the other way now.”.

As I drove home later that day, I thought to myself that really I could do with ‘beware, I’m getting used to a new car’ plates.  A bit like P plates for new drivers, but perhaps they should say ‘NC’ instead.  But anyway – I made it home in one piece and am gradually getting used to my new little motor.

The morals of this story are threefold:

  1. Do not name a car before buying it.
  2. Don’t worry about huge car repair bills, as there are far, far more concerning things which can happen to us (like multiple retinal detachments, for example).
  3. Don’t procrastinate.  Unless you have an imminent eye appointment.  Or you’re unsure of the best thing to do.

Note: Grateful thanks to my friend, who managed to turn the serious business of buying a car into something of a comedy sketch of which Victoria Wood herself would be proud. 😀

Edible eyes and appointment anxiety

A few weeks ago, my sister announced that she would be holding her ‘Twinkles at Twilight’ event this year on the eve of my next check-up appointment at Moorfields Eye Hospital.  “It’ll take your mind off your appointment”, she told me, optimistically.  For those readers who don’t know what Twinkles at Twilight is all about, you may like to read, ‘Twinkles at Twilight, dread at dawn‘, but basically it’s an afternoon of tea, cake and games to raise money for Moorfields Eye Charity and Marie Curie.  ‘Twinkles’ relates to a twinkle in the eye, and ‘twilight’ refers to the time at which Marie Curie nurses begin their shifts to provide night-time palliative care for patients in their own homes.  Give us a few years and I’m pretty sure that Twinkles at Twilight will become as much a part of the charity calendar as Children in Need or Comic Relief.  Maybe.

So, following my sister’s announcement that Twinkles would be held on 19 November, I donned my apron* and cracked on with the serious business of baking appropriately themed goodies and cramming them into my freezer.  Much to my delight, I’d discovered packets of edible eyes in my local Sainsbury’s, so I made an array of chocolate muffins and macaroons, decorated with cherry noses and edible eyes.  I made so many macaroons that I actually ran out of edible eyes (there are only 50 in a packet), and had to resort to raisins instead.  That was okay though – the raisin versions just looked as if they’d been sitting in an eye clinic for a while after having dilation drops put in.  I also baked carrot cake (good eye food…?) and chocolate brownies decorated with twinkly stars.  My sister’s creations included fairy cakes with little faces made of chocolate buttons and edible eyes, and giant marshmallows on sticks with cherry noses and rice paper sunglasses.  Other offerings included a beautiful selection of shortbread star biscuits, and miniature star-shaped scones baked by the Duke of Edinburgh students who volunteer at my sister’s workplace.  The process of jamming and creaming the latter naturally led to the inevitable hotly debated question regarding the correct pronunciation of ‘scone’.

A plate of macaroons with edible eyes or raisins as eyes and cherry noses.

Macaroons

Fairy lights were borrowed from various willing lenders and strewn across furniture and curtain poles; sparkly stars were stuck artistically on door frames and mirrors; and the games table was set up.  As last year, we had a tombola (50p a ticket), ‘guess the number of stars in the jar’ (biscuit-shaped stars, that is), and ‘guess where the shooting star is in the night sky’ (each £1 a go).  The games went down a storm and raised a substantial amount of dosh, as well as keeping children entertained and parents probably wishing they’d just popped to the local supermarket and bought that box of chocolates instead of allowing their offspring to have “just one more go!”

A picture of rooftops and a night sky with a crescent moon.

Find the shooting star in the sky!

We realised afterwards that we STILL didn’t have any eye related games this year, so if you have  any suggestions, please let me know in the comments below and we might use them for next year’s fundraising efforts!  Despite this small oversight (pun intended), the evening was a resounding success and thanks to people’s incredible generosity we raised over £400 for Moorfields Eye Charity and Marie Curie.  Thank you very much to everyone who came, baked, helped out, donated, and of course scoffed cake (the best bit, obviously!).

The cake-baking and event organising did help to take my mind off my impending hospital appointment, but as the dreaded day dawned, I awoke to the familiar ‘bang bang bang’ of what I suspect was a tension headache hammering away.  Usually I get these the day after my appointment.  This time, I got one the day before, on the day itself, and on the day afterwards.  “Great”, I muttered to myself, whilst knocking back the drugs** and wondering how I was going to remain alert enough to be able to process any potential bad news if the appointment didn’t go well.  Fortunately, the headache had faded by the time we got into London, which was just as well as we were then faced with signal failures on the tube and had to dash up to the street and flag down a taxi in order to make it to the hospital on time.

The clinic was busier than usual.  There was a huge queue just to sign in, and the receptionist had that stressed look of one who can’t actually see the end of the queue (and not because of dodgy eyesight).  We’d already been waiting for a couple of hours when another patient sat down next to me and sighed, “It’s a long wait, isn’t it?”  I asked her how long she’d been waiting, to which she replied with another sigh, “Almost an hour!”“Ah, that’s not too bad”, I replied, adding, “At least we still have the NHS… at the moment, anyway!”  She agreed, and settled back in her chair as my sister and I exchanged glances and agreed via sibling telepathy that she was clearly a newbie as you never, EVER have an eye appointment which takes less than two hours.

Eventually, I was called through to see the consultant, whereupon I gritted my teeth and crossed my fingers as I put my chin on the contraption and tried to remember to breathe as I followed the usual instructions for each eye in turn: “Look straight ahead… look up… look up and right… look right… look down and right… look down… look down and left… look left… look up and left…”  Then it was all repeated when ‘the Prof’ came to have a look.  To my delight, he said that everything looked much the same as previously and agreed with my view that it was better not to rock the boat by having further surgery as things were still stable and I was coping.  Of course, they’ve warned me that if I start to get side effects as a result of the oil (e.g. high pressure), surgery may become inevitable, but I really do hope that things will remain stable for a long, looooong time.  Or at least until they’ve figured out a magic solution of how to cure PVR and make the ruddy retina stick…

* I don’t actually have an apron, but I probably should invest in one, as I’d make less mess when baking.  Or at least the mess could then be wiped on the apron instead.

** Ibuprofen of course.  What did you think I meant?!