… So said Hamlet in response to Polonius’s irritating query, “What do you read, my lord?”, but of course in true Hamlet style, there are multiple meanings beneath his ostensibly simplistic reply. I find it quite interesting when I think about the different ways in which the experience of retinal detachment has affected the way I think about and use certain words. On the one hand, there’s a whole new language of retinal detachment (or RD) in relation to becoming accustomed to certain medical terms. For example: ‘macular-off’ means that the macular has detached as well (it’s pretty much as bad as it can get if you have a macular-off detachment, or ‘mac-off’ as it’s often referred to. In case you’re wondering – yep, mine was ‘mac-off’.); ‘PVR’ is proliferative vitreoretinopathy, or what I think of as ‘bad scar tissue’; ‘cryotherapy’ is freezing treatment to essentially weld the retina back together; a ‘vitrectomy’ is the removal of the vitreous fluid or whatever has been put in to replace it, e.g. silicone oil; a ‘retinectomy’ is the procedure of cutting away part of the retina which won’t lie flat… I could go on and on…
On the other hand, many day-to-day words are used to describe certain aspects of RD and in using them in this way, a certain level of double-meaning is created and they aquire a film of either positivity or negativity. For example, my fellow eye buddies will understand the feeling of dread conjured up immediately as soon as I mention ‘the curtain’, because that’s the word generally used to describe a detachment as it’s like a black curtain being slowly drawn across your vision. Similarly, I can no longer hear or read the word ‘detached’ in general conversation without feeling slightly sick, for obvious reasons, so if you live in a detached house just keep that piece of information to yourself if you don’t mind. Another classic is ‘bubble’, after having to deal with a long-acting gas bubble after my first surgery and a short-acting bubble after my fourth. I’m somewhat frustrated that this will mar my enjoyment of the first appearance of the three witches next time I attend a performance of ‘Macbeth’. Another word which now carries negative connotations by the truckload is ‘posture’. Now let’s get this clear… I know I often sit with my shoulders hunched slightly forwards (a bad habit of tall people), but DON’T TELL ME I HAVE BAD POSTURE! It brings to mind the hours and hours of lying face-down or on my side for days on end, which isn’t something I generally like to think about. Reminding me simply to put my shoulders back, as my boss frequently does, is far more acceptable language to use.
On the positive side, I find there’s nothing more amazingly fantastically stupendously brilliant than being told that my retina is ‘flat’ or ‘attached’ or, along similar lines, my eye being described as ‘quiet’. So these words have become associated with that glorious weightless feeling of relief when I want to skip out of the hospital and do one of those ridiculous little clicky-heels jumps in the air as I go. [Note: it is inadvisable to indulge in this behaviour with dilated eyes.]
Since dealing with retinal detachment I’ve consciously forced myself stop using certain phrases I previously used without really thinking about them, such as ‘blimey’, which I was in the habit of using as an exclamation rather frequently. I realised just *how* frequently when I decided I had to stop saying it. As my Grandad used to point out to me, this actually means, ‘God blind me’. Well clearly I had to lose this from my vocabulary immediately! Another everyday classic is the casual, ‘See you later’, which I do still say but occasionally I feel a pang of anxiety when I think to myself, ‘But *will* I actually see you later?’. I suppose a substitute would be ‘Catch you later’, or maybe ‘Talk to you later’.
Similarly, these days I’m very aware of the amount of times I say, ‘I see’, when I actually mean, ‘I understand’. Along the same lines, it’s quite scary how frequently people joke about being blind when they can’t find something, or laughingly quip, ‘it’s like the blind leading the blind’ when in a situation where two people don’t have a clue what they’re actually doing. I’m sure I used to do it myself, but these days it tends to make me wince slightly. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have asked me what my next hospital appointment is for and explained, ‘it’s a check-up’, at which point they gleefully respond, ‘Ah, they’re keeping an eye on it, are they?’, clearly impressed by their quick-witted pun, which unfortunately I’ve heard about fifty times before. I tend to just chuckle politely whilst inwardly rolling my eyes. Recently, a friend caused amusement when the subject of my blog came up, by describing it as ‘a good insight’ into what I’m going through, befure realising the irony of using the word ‘insight’. I’ll do my best not to analyse people’s choice of language too much though… after all, I don’t want to start going mad, like Hamlet did. Hmmm… or was it really madness, after all? 😉