Hmmm… posturing. Before my retinal detachment I only really came across the word in terms of several people telling me, ‘Don’t slouch, you’ll develop a bad posture!’ I have that typical bad habit of tall people in trying to make myself look more inconspicuous at times by hunching over slightly. These days, the word ‘posturing’ conjures up an entirely different meaning. For anyone reading this who hasn’t had the misfortune to experience the RD meaning of posturing, let me explain. Retinal re-attachment surgery involves removal of the vitreous fluid from the eye, flattening of the retina, and insertion of a gas bubble or silicone oil to keep the retina in place. It acts like an internal splint, to hold the retina as it heals. The gas then gradually disperses over time (the time depends on whether a short or long acting gas bubble has been used) and is replaced by the patient’s own natural fluid. The oil has to be surgically removed at a later date. The gas or oil bubble floats in the eye (think of the bubble in a spirit level), so the patient will usually be told to sit or lie with their head in a certain position, to make it float and push against the part of the retina which needs flattening. It’s this act of lying or sitting in a certain position which is referred to as ‘posturing’ in the world of retinal detachment. The posturing position will depend on the location of the detachment.
My most challenging period of posturing was July 2014 (did I mention that it was the WHOLE of July? I mean, the ENTIRE MONTH?!). During this time, my posturing routine was as follows for the first two weeks: half an hour lying on my stomach, clutching a couple of pillows to my chest, with my head tipped forwards, chin tucked into my chest and forehead touching the mattress. Then half an hour lying on my left-hand side, after which time I was permitted 10 minutes break before starting again on my stomach. Oh, and then i had to sleep all night on my left-hand side. Now you’d think this would be a bit of a doddle, right? When my consultant described what I had to do I nodded as enthusiastically as I could manage in my post-op brain-fogged state and remember thinking, ‘Yep, I can do that!’ Back at my mum’s house a few hours later, I wasn’t feeling quite so confident. In fact, I was feeling decidedly sorry for myself. In addition to the eye ache and occasional stabbing pain of the stitches, I had back ache, neck ache, shoulder ache, headache… and when I say ‘ache’, I mean ‘ooooooouuuuuuuccccchhhhhhh!’. A good three of my precious ten minutes of break time were spent groaning loudly and cautiously moving my aching limbs in a massive effort to haul myself upright very slowly in an attempt to minimise the pain and avoid the inevitable dizziness which washed over me like a sickening cloud whenever I sat up. A few days later I started to develop sore patches on the skin of my shoulder and hip from the pressure of spending so much time lying on my side and was prescribed barrier cream. ‘Indications for Use: Protection of at-risk skin from damage associated with incontinence and related symptoms’, stated the instruction leaflet. I had the sneaking suspicion that it was sniggering at my dismay. ‘I’ve been prescribed cream that’s usually used for INCONTINENCE!’, I wailed to my sister in disgust. When the GP later explained that the sore patches were occurring because I was thin and a bit bony, I decided to attempt the alternative solution of consuming extra supplies of chocolate, which was far more satisfactory if disappointingly ineffective. I still don’t understand why I haven’t managed to put any weight on during my long periods of enforced inactivity due to posturing.
After a few more days of groaning and occasional short bouts of grizzling face-down into the pillows, I followed the advice of a friend and packed my sister off to purchase a memory foam mattress topper. It wasn’t the magic route to glorious pain-free comfort I’d been hoping for, but it certainly helped. Another thing which helped was the change in posturing routine for the remainder of July to fifteen minutes face-down, fifteen minutes on my left-hand side, followed by a positively luxurious thirty minutes break. Suddenly, I was in heaven… okay, maybe not heaven, but it was certainly an improvement from the hell of the previous two weeks. I could eat all my dinner in one sitting instead of having to break off when my ten-minute break finished; I was able to have a long shower, allowing the hot water to soothe my aching shoulders; and I had time to shuffle around and reacquaint myself with the rest of the house instead of being confined to one room.
All this posturing hasn’t been much fun for my family either, but I definitely couldn’t have got through it all without them. My mum, who cast aside her watch when she retired from teaching a few years back, declaring triumphantly that she would no longer be governed by time, was suddenly setting the oven timer and supplying me with cups of tea and meals in my ten-minute breaks, as well as putting two lots of eye drops in for me four times a day. (I couldn’t see to do it myself at first, but have since mastered the technique.) ‘What do you want in your next break?’ became a constant refrain, as did the familiar sound of my mum plodding up the stairs talking to someone on the ‘phone and entering the room of posturing doom with the words, ‘Oh, she’s face-down now, she won’t be able to talk to you at the moment, you’ll have to wait until she’s on her side.’ My sister would call in during her breaks from work, bearing plates of ‘good eye food’ and relating stories to attempt to take my mind off things. She also encouraged the dogs to venture into forbidden territory upstairs with the excuse that they cheered me up, despite my mum’s increasingly half-hearted attempts to maintain control of her usual house rules. My aunt came to stay for a week and decided she’d keep me amused by reading me a novel. I was somewhat concerned that her choice of ‘The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year’ by Sue Townsend might turn out to be prophetic, but she carried on regardless and my amusement at the main protagonist’s antics was matched only by my aunt’s entertaining but rather strict sensoring of certain excerpts she deemed inappropriate for reading aloud.
A few people have commented that I must have got incredibly bored, or asked me what I did to pass the time, but perhaps I’ll tell you about that in another post… it’s bedtime now, so I’m off to lie down on my left-hand side…