Monthly Archives: July 2015

A Grand Day Out (…at Moorfields Eye Hospital?)

I decided I was going to bite the bullet and actually drive (BY MYSELF!) to Surrey in preparation for my appointment at Moorfields on Monday, so I was delighted when the day dawned grey and rainy.  Perfect conditions for RD patients.  Well, maybe the rain wasn’t so good, but at least the raindrops detracted from all the floaters in my good eye.  I set off in high spirits, enjoying the feeling of freedom from actually being able to make the journey on my own and not having to rely on anyone else or on public transport.  Being very sensible, I stopped off at the service station about half way there, and was mildly intrigued to hear a steel drum band playing as I drove in.   After a stretching my legs and resting my eyes for a few minutes, I set off again and was happily heading out of the service station and back onto the motorway when I realised that the steel band appeared to be following me.  In fact, either the band members had climbed into the boot of my car with their drums whilst I wasn’t looking or… it wasn’t a steel band at all.  It was at this point that the realisation dawned that my exhaust was rattling.  Great.  My first long journey after my last lot of surgery, and my ruddy exhaust decides to fall off on a very wet Sunday afternoon in the middle of the M25.  Well that’s just perfect timing.  After ranting away to myself for a few minutes, I decided that the only option was to adopt the same philosophy as I do with my eyes: keep going and hope for the best.  By the time I reached my destination, it sounded as if I was dragging a long string of tin cans underneath the car.  However, I cheerfully reminded myself that exhausts, unlike retinas, are easily replaceable.  The next morning, I drove it as cautiously as I could to the garage (bearing in mind that my sister was leading the way in her somewhat toned down Formula One driving style), and after this detour we set off to Moorfields, clutching my little eye book and taking bets on how many of my pre-prepared nineteen questions I’d manage to obtain answers to.

It was manic in the clinic – I’ve never seen it so busy.  The scarily grumpy receptionist said that it had been like that ever since my consultant had gone on maternity leave (I knew she shouldn’t have done that), and even the usually chilled-out friendly Irish nurse seemed a bit stressed, telling us after she’d administered the dilation drops that we may as well go back up to the cafe and get a cup of tea as she showed us the huge stack of files for patients in the queue before me. If we hadn’t already found the Moorfields geocache beforehand, we could have killed a few minutes by searching for that, although the dilated eyes would have made it a bit tricky.  Instead, we drank copious amounts of tea before heading back down to the clinic and waiting.  We debated passing some more time by playing a game of ‘I Spy’, but decided it wasn’t really appropriate.

Eventually, I was summoned through by a doctor I’d never seen before, but fortunately the surgeon who did my emergency operation at the end of May was there and so she called him over to have a look as well.  If I were to write a script of the eye examination, it would go something like this:

Ophthalmologist: “Pop your chin on there [indicating contraption] and rest your forehead against the bar.  Eyes wide open.”
My internal voice: “Please let it be okay, please let it be okay, please let it be okay…”
Ophthalmologist: “Now look straight ahead.”
My internal voice: “Please let it be okay, please let it be okay, please let it be okay…”
Ophthalmologist: “Look up.”  [pause]  “Look up and right.”  [pause]  “Look up and left.”  [pause]  “Look to the left.”  [pause]  “Look down and left.”  [longer pause]
My internal voice: “Please let it be okay, please let it be okay, please let it be okay…”
Ophthalmologist: “Look down.”  [pause]  “Look down and left.”  [pause]  “Look down.”  [longer pause]  “Look down and right.”  [longer pause]
My internal voice: “Oh ***** [insert expletive], what’s he seen?!”
Ophthalmologist: “Look down.”  [pause]  “Look to the right.”  [pause]
My internal voice: “Keep calm, keep calm, please let it be okay, please let it be okay, please let it be okay.”
Ophthalmologist: “And rest yourself back.”
My internal voice, wailing loudly: “What’s he seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen?!”

I have an unwritten rule not to ask questions whilst my eye is being examined as I think it’s best to let them concentrate and save the questions until afterwards once they’ve scribbled the notes down.  However, I’ve somewhat unfortunately got to know the signs which indicate when they’ve spotted something which isn’t quite right.  Sure enough, he went on to tell me that my retina was ‘misbehaving’ at the top and starting to detach again.  I stared at him in dismay and launched into inquisition mode, doing my best to ignore my internal voice which by this time was screaming loudly, “NOOOOOOOOOO!”, along with various other exclamations which are best left to the imagination.  Luckily, he was as patient as he had been before my surgery, and calmly fetched a piece of paper and proceeded to draw a diagram to explain what was going on in my eye.  He seemed a bit embarrassed when my sister asked him if we could take the drawing away with us, protesting that he’d have done a neater job if he’d realised we were going to keep it, but he handed it over nevertheless.  He probably realised that if he hadn’t parted with it, I’d have insisted on copying it down, and this would have taken a considerable amount of time due to the inconvenience of the dilation drops.  (See below for my version of his diagram, attempted with the very limited resources available on my decidedly dodgy laptop.)

He explained that the retina was starting to detach a little at the edge, outside the line of the 360 degree laser.  This was what he had suspected may happen at the time of the surgery, which was why he had proceeded with 360 laser.  If the detachment remains outside the laser line, I should be okay, but if it encroaches beyond that then he told me ominously, ‘we have a problem’.  It’s never good when a surgeon says that we may have a problem.  He then went on to discuss potential complications of silicone oil in the eye, most of which I already knew, but there was one issue which was new to me.  Part of me feels the need to ask Dr Google all about it, but for now I’m exercising my will power (or possibly metaphorically sticking my fingers in my ears and singing, ‘la la la la’) and hoping that I won’t need to find out.  He ended by telling me that it’s basically a waiting game now, as we have to see how the retina behaves.  All this talk of waiting to see how it behaves, as if it’s a particularly naughty child, makes me want to whack it into place with a rolling pin but somehow I don’t think that would help matters.  [Note: I should add here that I’m not in the habit of whacking naughty children with rolling pins, although sometimes it is rather tempting.]

retina misbehaving

Note: 360 degree laser is when a line is lasered all the way around the retina, a little way in from the edge.  The laser causes a scar reaction which seals the retina down.  The surgeon described it to me as being like a thin line of superglue.  This explains why peripheral vision is lost as a result of 360 laser.  A retinectomy is when a small part of the retina is cut away and removed because it won’t lie flat.  This also explains the loss of some of peripheral vision.


Impending appointment

I’ve got a check-up appointment at Moorfields on Monday.  These appointments always feel like a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand, it’s always good to get my eyes checked and a huge relief to be told that things are as okay as they can be for now.  On the other hand, I’m always worried about what they might say, and terrified incase I need to be whipped in for surgery again.  My eye buddy put this pre-appointment feeling into words very succinctly when he said, ‘I fear the worst, but secretly I hope for the best.’  The nightmares often intensify in the nights leading up to appointments, which doesn’t help matters.  The other night I jolted awake, heart pounding, after dreaming that I was in the hospital being told that I needed more surgery.  I don’t know whether that’s better or worse than the other recurring nightmare in which I dream that my retina has detached again.  Each time this one wakes me up, I have to switch the light on, sit up in bed, and look around the bedroom to check I can still see.  Someone recently posted on the RD support group page that she’d had ‘the dream’ that her retina had detached again, and it was quite a relief to realise that other people get this too.

I’m particularly nervous before this appointment for several reasons.  My usual surgeon will have left for a consultant’s job in another hospital by now and my consultant is on maternity leave, so I feel a bit like an abandoned puppy.  I tried to persuade the surgeon to stay, but he seemed to think I was joking.  I didn’t like to demonstrate my seriousness by getting down on the floor and clutching hold of his trouser leg as he tried to leave, although I was tempted.  Sadly I didn’t get the chance to try and persuade my consultant that looking after people’s eyes is SO much more important than disappearing to have a baby, but if I had been presented with this opportunity I reckon I could have made a very convincing case.  I could probably also have found her a few people who would be happy to lend her their tiny offspring for the odd afternoon.  I’d also have warned her that changing nappies is probably far messier than performing vitrectomies.  Anyway.  I digress.  The other reason for my increase in nervousness is that it’ll be prime time for discovering whether or not I’ve developed PVR again.  PVR, or proliferative vitreoretinopathy, is often referred to by ophthalmologists as ‘scar tissue’.  It’s a complication of retinal detachment which occurs in about 10% of cases and is effectively the scar tissue pulling the retina off again.  I listened with horror when my consultant told me that some people are more prone to developing PVR and so have to undergo further operations to trim the scar tissue and flatten the retina.  This was the operation I had back in January.  Since then, ‘Can you see any PVR?’ has become one of my set questions in my little eye book, which goes with me on every hospital visit.

The usual drill is that I write all my questions down before the appointment and try to memorise as many as possible before entrusting the book to my ‘eye secretary’ (i.e. my sister or my mum) so that they can remind me of any questions I’ve missed and scribble the answers down in the spaces left for that purpose. This is because by the time I get to actually ask the questions, my eyes are dilated and so I can’t read them or see properly to write the answers.  It’s become something of a standing joke as to how many questions we’ll actually obtain answers to in the time available.  This came about because my original consultant in Surrey tends to be less than patient with my insatiable curiosity and has on several occasions declared, ‘Just one more question, Emma, just one more question!’  Usually I manage to get away with at least two more.  In contrast, my usual surgeon at Moorfields has been amazingly patient with all my questions, which is one of the reasons I’m sorry to see him go.  He actually *asks* me if I have any questions, and then proceeds to answer them all in enough detail to satisfy me.  He’s even been known to ask if I have any *more* questions, which I’ll admit is a rather dangerous thing to do when dealing with a serial inquisitor.  For my last appointment, I’d written 23 questions in the book.  Sitting in the waiting area, my sister read through them in despair and warned me, ‘We’re never going to get answers to all of these!’, before handing the book back and instructing me to asterisk the most important ones.  However, we got answers to all but three, and of those three one turned out to be unneccesary and the others were considerably less important.  I even sneaked an extra query in at one point, asking him if he was sure he had time to answer a couple more or did he need to see the next person, but fortunately he was quite happy.

So… on Sunday evening I shall be compiling my questions and avoiding the consumption of cheese in the hopes that it will discourage nightmares.  Keep your fingers crossed for me on Monday…  😮

You know you’ve had too much eye surgery when…

  • You know what size surgical stockings you need, and are able to shimmy into them in record time whilst watching other patients struggling with theirs.
  • Your pile of ‘spare’ stockings at home steadily grows, but you daren’t throw them away incase you have another period of intense posturing.
  • You recognise the anaesthetist.
  • The Sister-in-Charge in the local eye clinic recognises you by name.
  • The Scary Sister in the Eye Unit remembers where you live.
  • The person in the Education Team at Moorfields Eye Hospital remembers that she’s previously asked you to volunteer to have your eyes examined by the students.
  • You’re able to recite the post-op eye drop drill (try saying that quickly!) along with the nurse.
  • You feel a mixture of slight jealousy and huge relief for people whose detachments have been fixed with the first operation.
  • You feel naked going to bed without your eye shield on.
  • You start bulk-buying reels of micropore tape, tissues, and antibacterial soap.
  • You wonder how much it would cost to buy a flat within walking distance of Moorfields.
  • You’re tempted to give the lady sitting next to you in the waiting room advice about how to posture more comfortably in the correct position.
  • You wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is open your eyes and check that you can still see.
  • Your paperwork from the hospitals starts to spill out of your plastic wallet and you realise that you actually need a proper A4 file.
  • You buy new pyjamas in preparation for posturing after your next lot of (planned) surgery.
  • You’ve mastered the art of washing your hair without getting a drop of water down your face.
  • You seriously consider wearing a hat to keep more of the sun out, even though you’re definitely not a hat person and look a complete and utter plonker.
  • Wherever you are, you work out the quickest way to get back to the hospital incase of an emergency.
  • You realise you’ve actually become one of the ‘multiple surgery’ old timers on the FB support group site, whose stories you read with horror after your first operation, wondering how they got through more than just the one vitrectomy.
  • You wish you had a magic wand so that you could fix your own and everyone else’s eye problems.

The kindness of strangers

The other day, my no-nonsense colleague (that’s right, the same one that suggested I start writing a blog, at: said she thought my posts were a bit angry.  This was just after I’d written the one about the consultant digging around in my eyeball with a pair of tweezers, trying to fish out a stitch (see for a further description of a particularly unenjoyable ten minutes of my life).  ‘Angry?’, I repeated incredulously, steam quite possibly escaping in a fine stream from each of my ears.  ‘Wouldn’t you be feeling a bit angry if someone went poking around in your eye?!’  I might come back to anger issues at a later date, as this particular emotion certainly has a place in the RD world, as many of my eye buddies will verify.  However, in the meantime, I thought I’d attempt to pacify my colleague (who is capable of portraying a scarily angry side of herself at times, I might add) with a cheerful and positive post about all the wonderfully kind people I’ve met during my terrifying RD journey.

Well first of all, there was Taxi Driver Number Two in Berlin (see: for further explanation), who took my friend and I to the eye hospital, realised we didn’t know where on earth we were going in the middle of the night and followed us into the building to lead us through what seemed like a maze of corridors and then spoke to someone on the internal ‘phone system to let them know we were waiting.  We would probably have been wandering around that hospital for hours if he hadn’t taken pity on us, and we certainly wouldn’t have realised about the odd ‘phone system.  Next on the list would have to be the patient in the bed next to me after my first surgery who told me that she had a friend who had a retinal detachment and texted him to ask him questions about how to posture, as I had been given very little information at that point and was feeling extremely confused about it all.  Then there was another patient on the ward after surgery number two who came to my aid after I managed to miss my cup completely and pour water all over the trolley and the floor.  (This wasn’t just me being clumsy – my eye was covered with a pad.  Try getting a jug of water and pouring it into a cup with one eye shut, and you’ll realise that your depth perception is affected).

Now everyone knows that hospital appointments = waiting.  If you’re waiting a long time and have had your eyes dilated there isn’t much you can actually do to occupy yourself, other than talk to people.  I’ve chatted to all kinds of different people who have helped while away the hours, from the old lady who heaped praise on the surgeon whilst telling me all about her two detachments before kindly wishing me ‘good luck, dear’, to the lady who sat and told me all about her imminent move to Devon and showed me pictures of her cats (this was just before the dilation drops), to the little boy who was full of excitement about the recent addition to his family in the shape of a rescue dog.  Conversations seem to stike up in other places too, like in the loo attempting to put eye drops in when one lady came in and ended up telling me all about a tear in her retina which had been repaired twenty years ago and was still okay.  I can’t actually remember why she was there that day, but it was very encouraging that her repair was still holding firm.  We were kept amused one hot afternoon by a man with a guide dog who started telling us a funny story, but then was called into his appointment and so didn’t get the chance to finish it.  I sometimes wonder what the ending was.  Then waiting for a taxi one day not long after surgery, my sister and I started chatting to a very animated young woman who told us all about her operations and what she’d been doing in her recuperation periods, and how she felt about getting back to work.  I tuned out a bit by the time she’d got onto the subject of daytime television, but my sister was thoroughly engrossed so I just sat there chortling away quietly.  All these little chats help the time to pass more quickly, and the ‘good lucks’ and ‘nice talking to yous’ with which we part bring a small amount of positivity into the situation.

One thing which has been an absolute blessing in terms of support and encouragement has been the RD Facebook support group page, which I found whilst hunting for information online.  After having the first lot of silicone oil inserted into my eye in June 2014, I read a comment on the site from someone else in the UK who had oil in his eye and so posted a comment back to ask some questions.  He responded to say he’d be happy to chat and then sent me a message with his ‘phone number and the message, ‘bell me if you like!’.  ‘Yikes’, I thought, in the typical fashion of people who are much better at expressing themselves in writing than they are verbally and who frequently come to a grinding and embarrassing nervous halt when talking to new people.  ‘Talk?  On the ‘phone?  To a complete stranger?’  I spent a good few minutes staring at the ‘phone in undecided anxiety, before paying attention to the little voice inside my head which whispered, ‘But he’s the only person you’ve come across  who has oil in his eye… you could discover the answers to all your questions!’  So I took a deep breath and picked up the ‘phone.  I needn’t have worried – he did most of the talking, telling me about how diabetic retinopathy had led to a detachment in one eye which  wasn’t fixed by surgery with a gas bubble so then he had silicone oil inserted.  Later he also had a detachment in his other eye, but thankfully the gas bubble worked on that and all went well until he experienced a bleed in that eye about the time of my fifth surgery.  Since that first conversation we keep in touch fairly regularly; we always talk before and after appointments and operations and occasionally ring each other in a panic when something weird is happening in our eyes.  It’s helpful to talk to someone who’s going through similar experiences and who understands first-hand what it can be like.

In similar circumstances, via a post on the RD Facebook support group site in which I asked if anyone could recommend a vitreo-retinal surgeon specialising in complex cases of redetachments as i was thinking about getting a private consultation, I ended up speaking to another Moorfields patient.  She had a macular hole operation but is currently under the same consultant I saw when I went in as an emergency.  It was hugely helpful to compare notes about Moorfields and hear about her experience, although also sad to hear what a huge impact it’s had on her life.  We also realised that she’ll be going in for her cataract operation just a couple of days after my next check-up appointment.  Shame it’s not the same day really – we could have met up in person!  (I’m getting braver now!)

As a result of the same post asking for recommendations, I received a message from a fellow RD patient and artist in the US, asking me if there was any chance that I could contact a surgeon over there for a second opinion.  She told me that her neighbour was a retinal surgeon and she would be happy to ask him to review my case, adding that I was welcome to stay at her home and assuring me that she was serious about this suggestion.  Coming at a time when I was feeling increasingly desperate, I felt overwhelmed by such a kind offer, particularly coming from someone who doesn’t really know me at all.

There are many more examples of support and encouragement from other RD patients via the support group.  An eye buddy in the Netherlands who had her oil removed a couple of months before mine was due to come out patiently answered all my questions about what the surgery was like under local, what she could see immediately afterwards, how her vision changed over the next few days, what was normal and what wasn’t…  Then, when I put up a panicked post about seeing some odd floaters a few days after my oil had been removed, she sent me a message in which she went into great detail describing the different floaters she saw after her oil removal, and suggesting various possible explanations rather than the much-dreaded re-detachment.  She sounded almost as gutted as me when I messaged her with the dreaded news that it had in fact re-detached yet again.  Another source of comfort has been an eye buddy in Ireland, who seems to worry almost as much, if not more, than I do.  She too had oil in her eye and experienced some odd symptoms and was told that her retina was re-detaching and would need more surgery.  Upon going in for the operation, it was found that the retina was actually attached, so she had 360 degree laser surgery and her oil was removed.  So far her retina has remained flat, and long may it continue!

I’m hugely grateful to the many people who have encouraged me along the way, many of whom won’t have even realised that they’ve helped.  And to all my fellow eye buddies on the FB support group page: thanks, guys – you’re the best!  😀

Otherwise engaged

One day during my last period of inactivity whilst recuperating from my most recent lot of surgery, I started to get a bit gloomy thinking about certain things I’d missed out on over the past year due to all my surgeries and recovery periods.  I started to make a mental list…

  • All but the first 17 hours of a holiday in Berlin
    For further details about how I spent the first 17 hours, please  see the post, ‘How it all began’:  Quite frankly, I’d rather have missed the whole lot really, although at least I got to see Checkpoint Charlie and find my first geocache on foreign soil. 🙂
  • Student prizes… two years running
    Since I got my current job a couple of years ago, the task I’ve been most nervous about has been student prizes.  I know the only method of quashing this nervousness will be to crack on and actually complete the task.  But I haven’t been able to.  Because of my ruddy eyes.  Argh, argh, argh!
  • My favourite time of year at work – summer appeals, in 2014
    Missing appeals is a bit like going to the beach on a hot day and being denied an ice-cream.
  • A trip to St Petersburg
    Now this was  a tricky one.  I’ve wanted to visit St Petersburg for years, and after finally booking a short trip there with a friend back in January 2014, we then spent ages agonising over whether or not it was sensible to visit Russia because of the political situation.  Well, that decision was taken out of our hands following eye surgery number two.  However, the plus side is that if anyone *is* actually thinking of visiting Russia, I can tell you all about how to obtain a visa…
  • Two weddings
    My oldest school friend’s wedding in May this year, and my university friend’s cow-themed wedding last July.  I’d been particularly looking forward to the latter because I knew it would be highly original and hilarious.  I was slightly mollified by the fact that a friend called in on her way home to show me photos and videos during my posturing breaks, and I got a mention and a toast in the groom’s speech (we’ll skip over the fact that he forgot to toast the bride… tut!).
  • A funeral.
  • An earthquake
    I woke up on the morning of 22 May to messages on my mobile from several friends back in Kent: ‘You missed the earthquake!  The whole house shook!’ etc, etc.  With mounting concern, I checked BBC News Online, which confirmed that an earthquake, measuring 4.2 on the Richter scale had hit parts of Kent in the early hours of the morning.  My overheated imagination pictured a collection of my friends with broken limbs and my house reduced to a pile of rubble, but thankfully there was no damage or injuries.  A friend nipped over to check that the house was still standing and messaged me photographic evidence as confirmation, much to my relief.

I’m not even going to start talking about all the other things I used to take for granted, like the piles of books I would normally have read, the weekly swimming sessions, and simply being able to go out for a walk without wishing I could switch that darn sun off.  However, if any of my friends are thinking about getting married in the next year or so, if you could just hang on until my eyes are more stable, that would be grand… 😉

Stitched up

This week I once again trekked up to what is rapidly becoming my second home in Surrey for another pressure check at the hospital there.  My mum’s dog was delighted to see me.  My old consultant less so.  However, he did ask my mum how she’d been getting on since he performed her cataract operation a few months ago and when I told him that my sister had recently been for an eye test and her eyes were fine, he seemed quite relieved that he wouldn’t be having to deal with any more members of the family.  The pressure check was duly performed (see the last paragraph of: if you’re wondering how this is done), and my pressure was within the normal range – yay!  However, there was still some inflammation, and I reported that my eye had still been getting quite red and continued to be rather more sore and uncomfortable than usual.  ‘Well’, he said, ‘there’s a little stitch in the left-hand side and I can see two little bits of it poking out, which will be causing the inflammation and discomfort so I’m just going to try and get that out for you.’  Having been told by an old family friend about her experience of having a stitch taken out (by the same surgeon, I might add), I was quite looking forward to the same huge improvement which followed it being removed.  She’d told me it was a simple process, done by some kind of machine, and she didn’t feel a thing.  As this friend is hugely squeamish about her eye (she wore dark glasses in the house and refused to look at her eye for a good couple of weeks after her macular hole operation), I figured that it would be a piece of cake for me, and so I nodded happily and rested my chin on the contraption as directed. Instead of using a machine, my consultant tore open a packet and withdrew some kind of instrument which looked suspiciously like a pair of tweezers.  He peered through the magnifying contraption, holding another magnifier close to my eye and approached from the other side with the tweezers.  Luckily I couldn’t see much because of the bright light, but I certainly felt it when he tried to pull out the stitch, and yelped accordingly.  Now I like to think I have a fairly high pain threshold, but that was definitely well over my limit of what I could silently endure.  ‘Pop your chin back, so that I can just have another go’, he said in his deceptively soothing Irish lilt.  I obeyed reluctantly, and braced myself.  A few seconds later… ‘Ooouuuuch!’, I gasped, adding, ‘That hurt quite a lot’, just incase there was any doubt remaining.  ‘No, I don’t think that’s a good idea – it’s not coming out’, he said, stating the blatantly obvious.  I could have told him that the first time, from the uncomfortable pulling sensation in my eye as he tugged at the end of the stitch.  ‘Will it be okay now?’, I asked him nervously, as my eye watered profusely down my cheek.  ‘Oh yes’, he replied cheerfully, ‘it’ll settle down – I’ll just pop an antibiotic drop in it for you.’  He then instructed me to keep up with the steroid drops for the inflammation, handing me a prescription for another bottle.  I walked shakily out of the clinic and went to find a mirror with which to inspect the damage.  Well.  No wonder he’d prescribed more steroid drops: ‘Look at the state of it now – it’s all red again!’, I wailed to my mum.  She sensibly suggested tea and cake in the hospital cafe while we waited for the prescription, and the almond and cherry slab did something to salvage the situation but didn’t stop me asking her every five minutes, ‘Is it still as red?’. This episode has done little to improve my ‘eye paranoia’, as I now find myself peering at it in the mirror and trying to see if I can see two ends of a stitch poking out of the left-hand side of my eye.  Of course, I can’t.  But I know they’re there now.  The next morning, coming out of the bathroom following the customary few minutes of staring at my eye in the mirror, I bumped into my mum coming up the stairs and asked her casually, ‘Got any tweezers?’.  ‘Yes’, she replied, ‘What do you want them for?’  ‘Well’, I answered with a straight face, ‘I thought I’d have another go at getting that stitch out’.  She gave me ‘The Look’ before shaking her head and half laughing at the same time, ‘I still can’t believe he did that!’  No, nor can I… but at least I can joke about it now, I suppose.

‘Get Norm’

So, after the last 2 major eye operations, 6 bottles of eye drops, 11 hours spent in emergency eye clinics, 35 days signed off sick, 220 hours of posturing, and an uncountable number of expletives uttered, ‘Operation Getting Back To Normality’, or ‘Get Norm’ as this now frustratingly familiar routine was christened by a friend, is now well underway.  This has included the following milestones:

  1. Summoning up the courage to get back on the roads driving BY MYSELF.
  2. Saying goodbye to the dog.
  3. Saying goodbye to my mum.
  4. Making it back down to my little house in Kent.
  5. Saying goodbye to my sister.
  6. Becoming accustomed to the silence of being at home alone once more.
  7. Starting back at work.

Weheeeeey, I’ve started back at work!  That’s definitely a sign of getting back to normality, isn’t it?  However, this last milestone has been something of a struggle to achieve.  The GP originally wanted to sign me off for a month.  ‘A month?!  I’m sure I don’t need a month!’, I exclaimed, staring at her aghast through my good eye.  (My bad eye was still alarmingly red and half shut at that stage.)  I managed to talk her down to a week, and then had the embarrassment of having to go back to her and admit that she was probably right as I was still getting ridiculously exhausted doing even basic tasks.  As well as the GP, I had to make it past Occupational Health in order to get back to work.  My first meeting with the Occ Health lady, back in June 2014 after my first detachment, wasn’t the best of experiences.  I approached her with trepidation; my sickness record had been pretty much unblemished until that point.  I was nervous about getting back to work, I still had the remnants of the gas bubble bobbing around distractingly in my eye, and I was absolutely terrified about the possibility of another detachment.  She told me I had issues with anxiety and launched into an oppressive ‘pull yourself together’ style talk, informing me that of course my retina wouldn’t detach again.  Well.  You find me an RD patient who hasn’t at some point had ‘issues with anxiety’ and I’ll give you £100.  I left that first appointment red-faced, teary-eyed and fuming, and had to walk around the block before I was in a fit state to return to the office.  I spent the next hour or so carefully honing all the caustic responses I wished I’d been quick enough to think of at the time.  After another period of sick leave following my second detachment, I marched purposefully into my next appointment fully prepared for a verbal showdown, but that time she was almost disappointingly nice.  My retina has now detached five times, and she eyes me with increasing caution when I go in for my appointments, as if approaching a dangerous dog.  Thankfully she is far more sympathetic now and even talked me through some very useful information when I queried where I stand with my employer after a friend alarmed me somewhat by telling me that I was lucky to still have a job as many companies would have dismissed me by this time.  Clearly I need to add to the list of unhelpful things to say, at:

Upon making it past Occ Health (phew!), I turned up to my office the following morning and was thoroughly woken up by the bright overhead lights.  After switching them off, the first thing I did was to sit at my desk facing the wall and stare straight ahead of me to see if I was still able to see the top shelf of files on the wall above.  (See: if you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about here.)  Yay – I could actually see most of the files!  But I couldn’t see the ceiling, or the door to one side or the noticeboard to the other side.  Pants.  That’ll be because of the peripheral vision lost as a result of all the laser surgery.  Next, I spent a while fighting with my monitor to adjust the brightness controls so that the screen was more bearable to look at.  After that, we had a rather entertaining episode involving a ladder, certain work colleagues who shall remain nameless, and one of the offendingly bright bulbs in the ceiling light.  Unfortunately the experiment didn’t work and it’s still too bright, but it was worth a try.

Amazingly, my colleagues actually seemed genuinely pleased to see me.  I thought they must be as sick of all my eye issues as I am by now.  If they are, they’ve certainly hidden it well; sending me get well cards and audio CDs after every operation, and an incredibly thoughtful home-made scrapbook style ‘Feel Good Book’ after my latest and most nightmarish lot of surgery.  This is the kind of book which easily makes it onto the list of ‘ten things to save in a house fire’.  Their support has certainly helped a huge amount and made things much easier on the ‘Get Norm’ front in terms of the daunting back to work milestone.