It’s relatively easy to avoid banned activities whilst posturing, despite the fact that posturing itself isn’t easy at all (see https://rdramblings.wordpress.com/2015/06/28/pondering-posturing/ if you’re wondering why not). But at least when posturing, there isn’t any opportunity to engage in the sort of activity which may cause problems for the retina. Immediately after surgery, the hospital generally gives advice as to what should be avoided at all costs: don’t lift, don’t bend, don’t get your eye wet, don’t look up, don’t lie on your back, don’t lie on a certain side (depending on the location of the detachment), don’t drive, etc. After surgery number 4 I was even told, “Try not to move your eyes around too much.” Of course, I pretty much followed this advice automatically as I quickly learnt that each time I moved my eyes I’d feel a sharp stab from the stitches.
As the healing process progresses, the issue of what not to do can become a little more hazy. The hospital gives advice about when certain things can be resumed – for example driving, but even that isn’t entirely black and white as I now find that driving in the dark is particularly difficult, and driving for long periods of time can be extremely tiring. Upon asking about the thorny issue of lifting things, a nurse once advised me not to lift any more than one full bag of shopping. I guessed she didn’t mean a bag filled with tins. Later, a surgeon told me casually, “Oh, I don’t think lifting makes any difference.” I wasn’t too keen on his use of the word ‘think’, which to me implied that there was room for doubt. I was particularly dubious after reading stories on the RD support group page from people who had got carried away with lifting whilst gardening and found that it caused the shadow of their detachment to reappear. I reached the conclusion that it’s better to be safe than sorry and hence I’m now very careful with what I lift. For about two months after I returned home following my last lot of surgery, I wouldn’t even lift the hoover upstairs. Those people who are aware of my slight obsession for cleanliness will know how much this frustrated me. The first time I resumed lawnmowing, I was so nervous about carrying the lawnmower through from the back of the house to the front (I live in a terrace with no rear access) that I paused after every few steps to rest for a few seconds, leaving little piles of cut grass in my wake.
When the first lot of silicone oil was inserted into my eye, back in June 2014, I was instructed sternly, “Don’t lie on your back.” This is for several reasons. Firstly, the oil acts in the same way as the gas bubble and ‘floats’ in the eye (imagine a spirit level – it’s the same principle). If I were to lie on my back, the oil would push against the front of my eye instead of pushing against the retina at the back of the eye and holding it in position. It’s therefore vital to maintain the correct position as healing takes place, which is the whole point of posturing. Secondly, if the oil is pushing against the front of the eye it increases the possibility of it leaking past the lens and into the front part of the eye which can cause further problems, including scarring of the cornea. During my next few follow-up appointments I made a point of asking hopefully, “Can I sleep on my back now?”, but this was always answered decisively in the negative by my no-nonsense surgeon, whose melodic Irish accent belied his stern, staccato response of “No”. After a few months I plucked up the courage to ask, “Will I ever be able ot sleep on my back while I have oil in my eye?”, and was told by a somewhat more laid-back surgeon that it would be better if I didn’t. I’ve kind of got used to it now. A couple of people have asked in disbelief, “But how do you know you’re not turning over in your sleep and lying on your back?” Trust me – after almost two years of this lark, I know! The one time I did wake up in the middle of the night and found myself lying on my back, I flipped over faster than if someone had shoved a red hot poker through the mattress and into my spine, and then lay awake worrying for the remainder of the night.
Happily, it’s much easier to avoid certain other activities which I’ve been advised to refrain from partaking in, and I don’t miss rugby, boxing, or bungee jumping in the slightest. A final piece of advice, uttered with the utmost seriousness by one surgeon, always rings in my ears: “Don’t get a head trauma.” Obviously, I’m doing my very best to follow this instruction, particularly when I remember the unfortunate time at junior school many years ago when I managed to crack my head open. It made rather a mess and completely ruined my favourite moss-green cardigan.