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… 🙂