After weeks of pestering our friends, family, and work colleagues to sponsor us in our grand challenge of walking 14 miles from Moorfields Eye Hospital to the London Eye on a very circuitous route, in order to raise money for Moorfields Eye Charity, the big day finally dawned. Due to South Western Trains’ audacity in planning engineering work on the day of Eye to Eye, my sister and I had to catch a very early train to ensure we were at the hospital for our start time. On the three previous occasions of catching a horribly early train up to Moorfields, two were for planned eye surgery and the third was for an emergency appointment which led to my fifth lot of eye surgery. I therefore spent the first hour of the day feeling slightly sick. “You’re-not-going-for-surgery-you’re-not-going-for-surgery-you’re-not-going-for-surgery-you’re-NOT!”, I silently repeated to myself.
My taut nerves only began to slacken somewhat when, upon arriving at Brookwood station, we noticed someone sporting an Eye to Eye t-shirt getting out of a car opposite. “Look!”, exclaimed my sister in the most energetic tone of voice I’ve ever heard from her at such an early hour. We’d no sooner clambered out of the car when our fellow Moorfields supporter was making a beeline for us, asking if she could join us as she was on her own. “Yes, yes, of course!”, we agreed with alacrity. We settled down on the train for the extended journey due to engineering works (grrrr!) and the time passed rapidly as we exchanged stories. She had undergone squint surgery in 2008 and had suffered retinal detachments in both eyes, but Moorfields had worked their magic and she had finally been discharged in March last year. She had taken part in the Eye to Eye walk in 2015 and had signed up again this year as a way of saying thank you to them for saving her sight.
Upon arrival at the hospital, we were issued with maps, tracking numbers, and much-needed caffeinated beverages. After half an hour or so spent peering at the map and chomping at the bit, we were set on our way along with a large group of other walkers, whom we rapidly lost within the first few minutes. Orange arrows were strategically placed on lamp posts and railings along the route, providing much-needed reassurance for those of us with absolutely no sense of direction and a distinct lack of map-reading skills. After a confusing few minutes spent fighting our way through crowds of people in Camden Food Market, we came across a very friendly couple who lived in London. “We must follow them – they’re local!”, I instructed my sister, after the trauma of getting slightly lost in the market. Fortunately, there was no problem with this as we got talking and continued as a group of five for the rest of the way.
As we chatted, I learnt that one of our new walking buddies had suffered a retinal detachment in December. He saw some flashing lights each time he moved his eyes and thought it would be nothing but went to Moorfields just to get it checked out. He was disgnosed with a detachment and by the next morning (a Sunday!), he was undergoing surgery. Fortunately the operation was a success, but it was clear how much of a shock the whole experience had been for both of them, and how grateful they were to Moorfields staff for their calmness and expertise throughout the whole ordeal.
We strolled past London Zoo, admired the boats in Little Venice, and continued plodding along the canal, only pausing briefly to explain our mission to a few people who stopped us to enquire with puzzled faces, “What’s Eye to Eye?”, or, on another occasion, “Excuse me, which eye are you walking from and to?”. Eventually, we made it to the half-way point, where we were ticked off the list and rewarded with apples and jelly sweets. (Other treats were available.) Our walking buddies fround a wall where we were able to sit for a few minutes and take the weight off our feet. The organisers at the half-way stop helpfully told us that we could find toilets either in Burger King just down the road, or in Hyde Park a few minutes further on. Those of us who had already glugged down a fair amount of water went for the first option. This was possibly not the best move, as the number of flights of stairs we had to climb in order to reach the toilets meant that the comfort of relieving our bladders was offset by the discomfort of increased aching in our thighs. We reckoned that the extra steps probably added up to another half a mile and briefly considered texting all the people who had sponsored us by the mile in a bid to increase our fundraising totals.
We continued through a section of Hyde Park, past the Victoria and Albert Museum, Harrods, and then back into Hyde Park where we treated ourselves to a sit down on a vacant bench as we refuelled. After being overtaken by the team of Nordic walkers in their Eye to Eye t-shirts as we sat in the dappled sunshine munching our sarnies and admiring the Spring bulbs, we thought we’d better get a jiffy on and so off we set once more. We paused briefly at Buckingham Palace to see if the Queen was at home and then trudged on towards Trafalgar Square. Once there, we were met by the chaotic scene of a St Patrick’s Day celebration in full swing. We skirted around the hoards of people, dodged various green hats, and breathed a sigh of relief as we made it to the relative sanctuary of the streets beyond.
At this point we aquired a sixth member of our little walking group, in the form of an optometrist from Maidstone, who told me that she wanted to take part in Eye to Eye after having referred patients up to Moorfields for treatment. This was the first time she had visited the hospital and so she was interested to have a look around. We traipsed on through the streets, and all became very excited when we caught a glimpse of our final desination – the London Eye! The excitement turned to wry dismay as we obediently followed the orange arrows, which directed us in a huge de-tour away from the London Eye and, crucially, away from the tea and cake which awaited us at the finishing line! We ploughed on determinedly, spurred on by texts sent from a couple of people who had made it to the finish and informed us that red velvet cake was available. We trudged past Big Ben and onwards to Lambeth Bridge, where there was an extended discussion about what exactly the song, ‘doing the Lambeth walk’ was all about and whether or not we should be walking in this manner across the bridge. (Clearly, we were getting tired by this point.) A few more steps and we made it to the Lambeth Pier, onto the Eye to Eye boat, and claimed our reward of tea and cake along with medals and certificates. Yay – we’d done it! 🙂
Now, I don’t want to sound cheesy but the real reward was not the tea and cake, but the satisfaction of raising such a fantastic amount of money for a cause which is very close to my heart as a result of my ongoing RD journey. My sister and I couldn’t have done this without the generosity of all the people who have sponsored us, and we’re incredibly grateful to everyone who’s been kind enough to do so. The fact that taking part in Eye to Eye was such a huge amount of fun was just the cherry on top of the cake (the metaphorical cake, that is). I hadn’t expected to enjoy the whole day as thoroughly as I did, and it was great to put a few faces to names as well as meet new people and hear their stories.
If you didn’t sponsor us but would like to donate, it’s not too late! Please go to: http://www.justgiving.com/emseyes. 🙂