Note: Appropriate musical accompaniment to this post can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a01QQZyl-_I
Normal eye pressure (or intraocular pressure, often referred to as IOP) ranges between 12 and 22. Throughout my eye dramas I’ve had a few issues with high pressure, mainly because oil in the eye can cause high pressure as can the steroid eye drops prescribed following surgery to treat the inflammation and redness. In the couple of weeks following each of the first couple of operations to insert silicone oil, the pressure has increased to 30. The first time it happened, this was treated by switching me to a lower dose of steroid drop which did the trick, and the second time I was prescribed drops to bring the pressure down in addition to the steroid drops. So, after my third lot of oil was inserted, I was expecting the pressure to go up again. The morning after the surgery, the eye pad was taken off and the surgeon checked my pressure in the usual way. ‘What is it?’, I asked. ‘Six’, he replied. ‘Six?!’, I repeated in consternation. ‘It’s never been that low before – why is it only six?’ Apparently this was because of the surgery and nothing to worry about as my eye was ‘well formed and not collapsed’. I stared at him again, with mounting horror. So low pressure could make my eye collapse. Great. Just another minor thing to worry about then. He did nothing to reassure me by telling me that he’d be worried if the pressure was five. ‘FIVE?!’, I almost shouted. ‘But five is only one lower than six!’ He remained unperturbed by my rising panic and explained that he’d be more worried if the pressure was too high as that would mean having to remove the oil, and the steroid drops would probably make the pressure increase anyway. ‘So you’re not worried then?’, I asked him. ‘No’, he replied firmly. Well, that was that then. It didn’t stop me from staring at my eye in the mirror regularly for the next few days, for signs of imminent collapse.
He was right when he told me not to worry. At my next appointment a week and a half later, the pressure was 22. I breathed a sigh of relief, only to realise the following day that this meant my pressure was going up fairly quickly. A quick call to the hospital, and I was advised to get it checked at the opticians and ring back for advice if it started getting up towards 30 as happened previously. I know a pressure of 30 isn’t actually that bad. It was once described to me as being ‘like driving at 40mph in a 30mph zone’. I’ve also been told that the retina prefers a slightly higher pressure. But after talking to my eye buddy who had horrendous issues with high pressure to the point where the agonising pain made him physically sick and it took weeks to resolve and settle, I’m anxious not to let things get to that point.
The last time I went into the opticians just to get my eye pressure checked, I rang first to explain and was told to just call in at any time. So in I went and explained to the receptionist that I was there for a pressure check. He looked blankly at me as I’d spoken to him in Russian, and didn’t even seem to realise that there was such a thing as eye pressure. A Janet and John style explanation and a few minutes later I’d had the pressure check done by a cheerful lady who told me she’d need to get the results checked by an optician to see if they were okay. She didn’t seem to believe me when I told her there was no need for that as I knew what the normal limits were and that she could just let me know the figures.
Anyway… this latest pressure check at the opticians was decidedly easier. The puffs of air were administered, figures recorded, and then crunch time. ‘What are they?’, I asked. She peered at me over her posh designer frames and enquired suspiciously, ‘What are they usually?’ I suppressed a sigh and the urge to snatch the piece of paper from her hand so that I could read the figures and instead explained that they vary considerably as I’ve now had five retinal detachments. ‘Five?’, she gasped, mirroring my reaction to the retinal surgeon a couple of weeks ago. I nodded, and she obviously took pity on me as she gave me the pressure readings without further ado: 28. Darn it. I called Moorfields back and they told me to go to my local eye clinic to get the high pressure checked and treated, and this was how I came to be back seeing my original consultant at the Royal Surrey County Hospital a few days later. Quite frankly, I was surprised he didn’t turn tail and flee when he saw me sitting in the waiting room yet again. Instead he was quite interested to hear what Moorfields had done, and upon hearing that I’d had my previous two operations under local anaesthetic, his eyebrows shot up as he praised, ‘That’s very brave of you, Emma!’. ‘I know!’, I agreed with alacrity, abandoning any attempt at modesty in my continued amazement at having got through not just one but two rounds of eye surgery under local.
He cracked on with the business of checking my eye pressures. This involves putting numbing drops in (ouch, they sting a bit), followed by more drops which makes everything suddenly turn yellow (this can be a bit bizarre sometimes), and then the part where I have to rest my chin on the contraption and stare straight ahead, eyes wide open, watching the tiny blue glowing disc travelling towards me and knowing that it will come to rest on my cornea so I really need to keep my eyes open. One ophthalmologist told me once in answer to my question, ‘Yes, it does touch your eye, but I don’t usually tell patients that because it makes them freak out and blink alot.’ Unsurprisingly, the pressure was up. So my drops were adjusted and I was told to go back in two weeks. I’m not even going to start talking about the complicated logistics of getting from Kent back to Surrey. It’s only complicated because I don’t feel safe enough to drive long distances at the moment, but this does make things tricky. Two weeks later, and my pressure was down to 14. Yay! But because of continued inflammation I was told to continue with the drops and return for another check in a week’s time. Arrrgh! But hearing the words ‘stable’ and ‘flat retina’ is enough to enable me to keep going for now…