Monthly Archives: December 2015

Road hogs and road rage

I don’t generally use swear words very much, being of the opinion that over-use of bad language simply dilutes the effect, thus rendering it rather pointless.  However, since my eye issues I have found it increasingly necessary to resort to expletives when out on the roads.  The main triggers at the moment are issues related to driving in the dark.  As it’s currently dark in the UK soon after 4pm, driving in darkness is not something which can be easily avoided, although I do minimise it as much as possible and only do short local journeys in the dark these days.  Even so, it’s a challenge.  Cars with misaligned headlights, cars with headlights at full beam hurtling towards me on dark roads with no streetlights, and the misguided flashing of headlights as a gesture of thanks when I let a car through, or even when obediently waiting behind an obstruction on my side of the road as directed by the Highway Code.  This kind of road hog type behaviour is typically greeted from behind the wheel of my little Yaris by exasperated growls and occasionally pained squeals of “Put your *bleep bleep* lights down!”, “Get your *bleep bleep* headlights sorted out!”, and “Thank you very *bleep bleep* much, you *bleeping* idiot!”  I’ve learned, in certain situations, to adjust my focus to the side of the road or slightly beyond the oncoming car in order to minimise the dazzling assault on my eyes, but unfortunately this isn’t always possible.

In contrast, the main difficulty of driving in daylight is a very bright sun, particularly when it’s low in the sky.  I tend to drive wearing my GIANT dark glasses in daylight, regardless of how sunny it is, because it just makes things far more comfortable for my eyes and also means that I’m less conscious of the floaters in my ‘good’ eye, which can be extremely distracting at times.

Of course, a few people have expressed surprise that I’m still able to drive, and at one point I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would be allowed to continue.  After my first two lots of surgery, my consultant at that time happily told me that I didn’t need to inform DVLA of my eye problems because my left eye was okay, and it’s legal to drive in this country with just one eye.  Me being me, I double-checked DVLA’s website, which stated that if a person had undergone surgery in one eye, no action was necessary; but if they’d had surgery in both eyes, DVLA should be informed.  I’d had cryotherapy in my left eye to mend two retinal tears but I assumed this wasn’t classed as ‘surgery’ and I was therefore okay.  I did, however, inform my car insurance company at that point, and was met with a pleasingly indifferent response.

Upon questioning my surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital about the DVLA issue after surgery number three, I was advised to inform them but told that I was fine to continue driving.  When I  checked the DVLA website again, I spotted that their wording had changed, and now advised people that they must declare it if they’d had ‘retinal treatment’ in both eyes, but it wasn’t necessary if ‘retinal treatment’ had been undergone in only one eye.  Damnit.  I duly completed the necessary form on the DVLA website and posted it off, and then waited for a good couple of months whilst continuing to drive in the meantime.  Eventually, a letter bearing a DVLA stamp dropped through my letterbox and I opened it to read a terse communication ordering me to select one of the DVLA approved opticians and ring to make an appointment by a certain deadline; warning me that if I did not do so, I would be in danger of having my driving licence revoked and a fine issued.  The general tone of the missive was akin to the Associate Dean’s warning letters which we issue to students who don’t attend lectures or submit any coursework, and I could almost feel the steam rising from my ears as I read through it a second time.  To add insult to injury, the closest DVLA approved opticians to my house was Dover, which is a good 40 minutes’ drive away.  Hmm… so DVLA wanted me to attend a sight test to determine whether or not I was medically fit to drive, but in order to do so they appeared to be quite happy for me to drive 40 minutes there, and 40 minutes home again.  Genius!

Nevertheless, I duly booked the test and went along.  My irritation was not helped when the optometrist conducting my test began by asking me whether I knew what my diagnosis was.  I bit back a caustic response, and answered shortly, “Yes”, to which he enquired what the diagnosis was.  “Retinal detachment”, I replied, sighing internally.  “Is that in one eye or both eyes?”, he asked.  I stared at him in disbelief, wondering whether I should ask to see his qualifications, and then explained slowly as one would to someone who is incredibly stupid that it was my right eye, and I doubted very much whether I would have been able to drive at all if my left eye was in the same state as my right eye.  This point was underlined rather effectively when he covered my left eye and asked me to read the letters on the chart, whereupon I informed him that I couldn’t even see the chart.  He rattled through the rest of the sight test, and looked slightly taken aback when I asked him what figures he had noted for my visual acuity.  “I’m not allowed to tell you that – the data has to be sent straight off to DVLA and then they’ll contact you about whether or not you can continue driving.”  Now, as my boss pointed out later when I was telling him this story through gritted teeth, they actually had no right to withold my own data from me, but at the time I was so frustrated by the whole thing that I simply treated him to my very best glare (the one which has on occasion caused small children to cry) and told him that I already knew what my visual acuity was in both eyes but I wanted to make sure he’d got it correct.

I stomped out of the opticians, drove the 40 minutes home (pah!) and consoled myself with strong tea and a large quantity of chocolate biscuits.  I then waited another couple of months for the results from DVLA.  Happily, they agreed with the surgeon at Moorfields who had said that I could continue driving.  During the months of waiting, I’d been contemplating writing a strongly worded letter to DLVA about their less than satisfactory procedures, but upon receiving this news I decided that my energy was probably better spent in blowing a giant raspberry at them and focussing on the business of getting on with driving.  Now if any drivers reading this could please just stop flashing their headlights as a way of thanking other drivers, check that headlights are properly aligned, and dip headlights in good time on dark country lanes, that would be grand… 🙂

 

Where’s a magic carpet when you need one?

It was a big day… my first NHS appointment with the surgeon who was going to fix my eyes properly, at Moorfields Eye Hospital.  That was what I’d been telling myself, anyway.  My sister and I set off on the 9am train with plenty of time to spare.  A few minutes into the journey, the train stopped at a station and the ominous announcement was made that due to a fatality further down the line, we would remain there for at least the next hour.  Although we felt saddened at the realisation that some poor person had lost their life, I also knew that I simply *had* to make this appointment as my nerves just couldn’t stand having to postpone it.  “It’s okay – we just need to find another train going into London”, I assured my sister confidently.  It didn’t take us long to realise that there were no other trains going into London from that station, and there were none in the vicinity either.  We headed down to the front of the train to have a word with the guard and the driver, who advised us to get a taxi to the hospital, obtain a receipt, and get a refund via a complaints form.  There was another lady there who also needed to get into London for an appointment and the suggestion was made that we split the cost of the taxi and claim the money back later.  This all seemed very sensible, so off we went to hail a taxi at the front of the station.

There was a queue.  It was a looooooooong queue, and there were no taxis in sight.  But never mind – hurrah for smart ‘phones!  I quickly got online to search for taxi firms and in the  meantime my sister rang the taxi driver who had driven me back from surgery number 4 in the hopes that he might be in the area.  He wasn’t, but he gave us an alternative number and we were told that a taxi would be with us within fifteen minutes.  Excellent!  Then followed a discussion about where we would actually go to in London, as our taxi companion needed to be in Westminster, for… wait for it… a spa appointment.  Unfortunately, I’m no longer able to roll my eyes effectively, but my sister told me afterwards that my tone of voice said it all.  Anyway, the taxi arrived and we quickly piled in and set off.  A calculation on the AA route planner informed us that the drive should take us about an hour, in which case I wouldn’t actually be too late at all.  I’d already rung the consultant’s medical secretary to explain the situation and, as always, she’d been very helpful.  I actually now think of her as the admin angel of Moorfields because no matter what query I contact her with, she magically obtains a sensible and satisfactory answer very quickly with the minimum of fuss.

We made it to the outskirts of London and dropped off spa day lady before speeding on into the city.  Speeding on for a few minutes anyway.  And then we stopped.  And inched forwards a little bit.  And stopped again.  And inched.  And stopped.  And inched.  And stopped.  It was hugely irritating.  Probably almost as irritating as reading multiple staccato sentences starting with ‘And’.  Unfortunately, the compulsion to check my watch and sigh heavily every few seconds did not result in wings sprouting from the sides of the taxi and it launching itself into the skies.  I briefly wondered if it would be faster to get out and run, but rapidly dismissed that idea as I realised that my non-existent sense of direction would probably result in us getting completely lost.  Then we’d be lost and late.   Anyway, we made it eventually at just over an hour late, gulped slightly at the extortionate taxi bill, and then rushed into the clinic praying that they wouldn’t say I was too late to be seen.

Fortunately, I was told to take a seat and I’d be called soon.  We were just beginning to think that perhaps I’d been forgotten after all, when a cheerful nurse called me through for the eye check and dilation drops.  Back in the waiting area, we waited and waited, very conscious of the fact that the clinic was due to finish by 1pm and the minutes were rapidly ticking away.  We saw one of the doctors, who came out of the consulting area carrying a huge pile of patient files, and deduced that he’d finished his shift in the clinic.  A few minutes later my sister spotted my consultant walking purposefully the same way clutching three files.  She turned to me in dismay and said, “He’s going out carrying files with him – that’s not a good sign is it?”  I was just about to wail, “Oh nooooo” or words to that effect, when we heard a voice behind us: “Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten you!”  It was the consultant coming back.  We’re not quite sure whether he had overheard us or just seen my sister’s panic-stricken face, but less that a minute later he called me in.

I entered the room to find not just the consultant, but the very patient surgeon who had performed my last lot of emergency surgery as well.  After the usual drill (“look up, look down, look up and right, look to the right, look down and right, look left…” etc), I was given the good news that there was no change and my eyes were still stable.  He then asked me how I felt about more surgery.  Not one to generally mince my words, I answered, “Scared”.  He then reiterated the plan he’d discussed back in October, that it would be two more operations: one to take the oil out, remove the abnormal blood vessels and area of detachment, and then put the oil back in; followed by a further operation to take the oil out at some point in the future if all went according to plan.  I was quite possibly looking like one about to be led to the gallows by this stage, particularly as I was fully expecting him to book me in for the next lot of surgery in January, but I took a deep breath and explained that regardless of how scared I am, I will always do what they advise is clinically best.  He then dropped a bit of a bombshell, saying that he was quite happy to continue to monitor things for the next few months and suggested returning for another check up in February.  I questioned him about the potential complications I’d been told about previously regarding the abnormal blood vessels and area of detachment, but he assured me that as things were currently stable there was no immediate rush for surgery.  Wehey!  I could hardly believe what I was hearing!  It felt as if I’d been given a gift of time to make the most of life for a bit longer without having to face more grim surgery straight away.  After a few more questions and reassurances, the appointment came to an end and I almost skipped out of the hospital feeling the need to do the clicky heels jump as I went.

RD Tics

Since dealing with retinal detachment, I appear to have picked up a number of behavioural quirks and odd habits.  I’m able to laugh at some of them at times, but at other times I feel as if I’m going everso slightly mad.  Here are just a few of them, together with explanations in the hopes that people will understand that there is a reason behind my sometimes strange behaviour…

  • The checking visual field tic
    This is when I sit in a certain place and shut one eye then look up, down, left and right with the other eye, to ensure that I haven’t lost any more peripheral vision before proceeding to do the same thing with the other eye.  My office buddy at work has now got used to this, and simply asks in a matter-of-fact manner whenever she catches me doing it, ‘Is everything okay?’
  • The “Oh my God, I’ve just seen a new floater” tic
    This takes the form of jumping in extreme alarm at any black object which happens to suddenly catch my eye.  It can be anything from a fly, a spider, a swooping blackbird, or, as happened recently, my black umbrella cover floating gently to the floor.  The jump, gasp, and sometimes shriek is generally followed by a couple of seconds of intense staring as i realise that the said fly / spider / blackbird / umbrella cover REALLY isn’t a new floater after all, and gradually my heart rate returns to normal.
  • The staring in the mirror tic
    Probably mistaken for deluded vanity when in public toilets, this is actually a compulsion to check my eye for redness, swelling, gunk, possible signs that the oil may have leaked through to the front of my eye, or just generally checking how dilated the pupil of my surgery eye is that day.
  • The sudden staring off into the distance mid-conversation tic
    I’m told that this can be quite off-putting.  Well, trust me, it’s even more off-putting for me as I do this when I think I’ve ‘seen’ something which causes my heart to pound and teeth to clench in fear.  Whatever it is that I think I’ve seen, it usually causes me to stand and stare in terrified concentration for a few minutes until I’m able to figure out a logical explanation for it.
  • The “Does my eye look alright?” tic
    This usually occurs in places where there’s no access to a mirror, and simply demonstrates the need for reassurance that yes, my eye does look relatively normal and there’s nothing immediate to worry about from the outside of it, at least.

So, for anyone reading this who is fortunate enough to have healthy peepers, please bear with us RD people and try to understand that, much as we would love to, we can’t escape from our waffy vision.  I’m afraid I don’t know what the answer is in dealing with it all, but if anyone has any useful suggestions then please let me know…