Monthly Archives: August 2016

More than this..?

Since my eye issues began, I’ve had to restrict a few activities due to visual discomfort of one form or another, or just basically not being able to see well enough.  For example, painting, watching television, driving long distances, driving in the dark, swimming, attending parties where there are likely to be flashing lights (it’s true that every cloud does have a silver lining), and… reading.  I used to read all the time.  I’d read whilst eating my breakfast (a somewhat dangerous occupation when needing to get to work on time), I’d read over a cup of tea upon arriving home from work in the evening, and I’d read in bed before going to sleep at night.  I’d easily make it through at least one novel per week.  This had always been usual practice for me, and I’m probably the only person who’s actually got into trouble at school for reading a book instead of joining in with games.

However, after multiple eye surgeries, reading became something which was no longer a pleasure.  I can no longer read with my right eye and I’m incredibly aware of the numerous floaters in my left eye, which dart mockingly from side to side as I move my eyes across the page.  Add to that the fact that my eyes ache a lot of the time and I have to ‘save them’ for my job, which involves a fair amount of reading and screen work, and it’s probably understandable that I pretty much gave up reading for enjoyment.  Of course, I still do small amounts, mainly in the form of the odd very slim volume, bits of poetry, and articles.  However, there’s only a certain number of articles about Brexit and ophthalmology research papers which can be consumed before intellectual indigestion sets in and a soothing dose of fiction becomes urgently required.

So, when one of my work colleagues suggested setting up a book group, I didn’t think too much about the logistics of it before replying enthusiastically, “I’m in!”.  We each selected a book, put the suggestions in a hat and pulled out one title for each month.  August’s choice was ‘More Than This’ by Patrick Ness.  There wasn’t an audio version, so I ordered a secondhand copy from Amazon.  It arrived a few days later.  It’s just as well I know not to judge a book by its cover, as it was a visual nightmare: black, with lots of white grid lines across it (a little bit like a macular degeneration chart gone horribly wrong), making the words difficult to focus on.  I was discouraged by its thickness and further dismayed by the relatively small font size, realising too late that I should have opted for the kindle version.  Upon reading the synopsis on the back, I was even more disheartened.  It reminded me of ‘The Lovely Bones’, which I read many years ago and detested with a passion.  I flipped the book onto its front to hide the visually disturbing white lines, pushed it into a corner of the kitchen worktop, and ignored it.

It wasn’t until a fortnight later and a particularly bad night of insomnia, that I espied it when I stomped downstairs to make a cuppa.  Sighing resignedly, I decided I may as well give it a go and stomped back up to bed in a disgruntled fashion, cuppa in hand and book tucked under arm.  A couple of hours later, I’d read about half of it.  I use the word ‘read’ loosely, for it wasn’t necessary to  read each sentence with close attention; skim-reading was sufficient.  After several more reading sessions a week or so later, I was done.  My delight at having made it through a reasonably thick novel was only slightly marred by the reading matter itself.

The first part of the book appears to focus on teenage emotional angst, with the narrative flitting between past and present after the main protagonist, Seth Wearing, drowns himself and wakes up, covered in bandages, in a strange new world.  It morphs, jarringly, into a sci-fi dystopian novel for the next part, with undertones of ‘The Matrix’, and from there meanders into a confused maze of repetition, littered with predictable ‘twists’ along the way.  Cue the highly unbelievable Tomasz and his heroic attempts to charge to the rescue of his friends, Seth and Regine again, and again, and again.  Then there was the Driver, an indestructible machine with some level of human consciousness; supposedly a figure of terror but one which caused me to metaphorically roll my eyes due to the predictability of his frequent appearances and repetitive actions.  Each time I read about the van’s engine starting up again (again being the operative word in this book), I almost wanted to top it up with fuel and shout to the Driver, “The accelerator’s the one on the right!”, in the hopes that it would speed the whole thing up.  Sadly, the narration merely stuttered, choked a few times, and then died, leaving me feeling somewhat baffled.  I had persisted reading, despite the overly simplistic language, lack of narrative structure, and unimaginative plot, because I kept telling myself, “Surely there has to be something more than this?!”  There wasn’t.  Upon reading the last few pages, I was reminded of the final lines of TS Eliot’s poem, ‘The Hollow Men’:

“This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”


Canine eye removal

When my mum’s dog – my faithful posturing companion – started to develop a bit of a waffy eye one Friday in July, it didn’t create too much concern.  Both Gillespie and his brother Dizzy (I know, I know – my sister and I tried to dissuade our mum from making these name choices but she was having none of it) have always been prone to developing eye infections as a result of pollen or grass seeds and usually a course of eye drops clears it up fairly quickly.  So after a ‘phone call to the vet’s, it was established that Gill should simply be given the usual eye drops.  By the Sunday evening, my sister reported to me on the ‘phone that matters had worsened to the extent that his eye seemed to be covered by some kind of film and he clearly wasn’t at all happy.

Gill - posturing buddy

Gill, lying down by the side of the bed as I postured.

First thing on the Monday morning, Gill was taken to the place pet owners refer to in hushed tones, often only by its initial letter.  The vet (shhhhh!) diagnosed him with an ulcer on his cornea, which apparently could have been due to a number of potential causes including age, genetics, trauma, or a combination of all three.  He was also diagnosed with keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea.  This is a condition which can also affect humans.  It’s very painful and as it can progress rapidly and lead to loss of sight, it requires urgent treatment.  Gill was prescribed antibiotic eye drops and the vet instructed that he must be kept quiet indoors and return for a further appointment that evening to see how he was.  A makeshift dog hospital was created at my sister’s flat and all instructions were followed to the letter before she and my mum returned the patient to the vet’s that evening.  The decision was made to see how he did overnight and return first thing the following morning for further assessment.  My sister had already broken the grim news to me that if the drops didn’t work, he would have to have his eye removed – something which I could hardly bear to think about.  However, we took the fact that the vet was happy to see how he did overnight as a positive sign that things were improving.

Unfortunately, this glimmer of hope didn’t last long.  Shortly after their early morning trek to the vet’s the next day, my sister sent me a text to say that they’d had to leave poor Gill there for the operation.  Any surgery under general anaesthetic brings risks, but with a dog of Gill’s age (he’s twelve years old now), these risks are far greater.  So a few stressful hours of attempting to work whilst lacking any concentration whatsoever were spent, as we waited for a call from the vet.  Finally, I received the news that Gill had made it through the operation, which thankfully had all gone well.  He returned to the makeshift dog hospital later that afternoon, where he spent the next week being closely monitored and gently dissuaded each time he attempted to scratch his eye.

I visited that weekend, en-route to my own eye appointment at Moorfields.  My sister had already told me that in the area where his eye once was, it looked as if someone had been practising sewing.  So I approached with trepidation, choking  down the desire to wail.  Gill appeared to have no qualms as to how he’d be received in his newly disfigured state, as he bounded over in a slightly arthritic manner, tail wagging as usual, with just the odd unbalanced wobble, and attempted to climb onto my lap.  I inspected his stitches with dismay, but was heartened by the fact that he seemed almost back to his old self again.

Somewhat unbelievably,  we’d already experienced a case of canine eye removal a couple of years earlier.  My aunt and uncle’s dog, Wallace, had suffered from glaucoma for about six months before it worsened to the extent that he had to have his eye removed.  Although equally upsetting, it was less of a shock as he’d had the issues for a while before it became necessary to remove his eye.  The whole family has become used to ‘one-eyed Wally’, as my cousin affectionately calls him, and fortunately he’s adapted remarkably well.  He only has difficulty catching sticks and spotting people approaching from his blind side.  It should also be noted that ‘Wally’ is a shockingly inaccurate nickname as he’s actually the most intelligent dog I’ve ever met.

Hopefully, Gill will adapt just as well as Wallace.  He certainly seems happy enough, and his behaviour has gone some way to reassure me in the concern I voiced to my sister, “But what if he’s traumatised by having his eye removed and he can’t tell us?”  “I don’t think he is”, she replied, pointing out that he’s enjoying his food and likes being made a fuss of, and gets excited at the prospect of walks, just as he always has done.  When he went to have his stitches taken out a couple of weeks ago, the vet was very pleased with his recovery and said he’d done remarkably well.  The one thing which keeps nagging in the back of my mind is: what did the vet do with his optic nerve when he took the eye out?  When I asked my mum about this, she replied airily, “I expect they just fastened it off.”  “Fastened it off?!  Fastened it off?!”, I screeched in my head… “It’s not as if it’s a piece of electrical wiring – this is the nerve which carries information from the back of the eye into the brain!”  Maybe it’s a question for an ophthalmologist next time I speak to one.  Then again… perhaps it’s just better not to know…

Gill, a few days after the op

Gill, a few days after the op


Coughs and sneezes spread fear of retinal re-detachments

Okay, okay… I know that’s not actually how the saying goes.  And (horror of horrors) it doesn’t even rhyme!  But ask anyone who’s experienced a retinal detachment, and I’m pretty sure that most will tell you that a violent sneeze or coughing fit causes them a certain amount of anxiety.  So, following my euphoric exit from Moorfields when I managed to restrain myself from kissing two surgeons and a receptionist and practically skipped along the green line to Old Street tube station (taking the necessary care due to dilated eyes, naturally) whilst busily planning exciting things to do in the next six months, I was more than a little hacked off when I went down with a cold three days later.  It was the sort of cold that was likely to be described in a medical letter as ‘a nasty ‘flu-like virus’.  Or even, ‘a gentleman’s cold’.  I’m reliably informed that research has been undertaken which proves that men do actually suffer more than women with colds.  (Hmmm, yes, I’d like to examine this research more closely too.)

Anyway… it was the mother of all colds.  I was knackered; I ached; my throat hurt to the extent that I couldn’t even force down a chocolate biscuit (serious, indeed); and then came the sneezes and the snots, followed by the hacking cough.  Each time I sneezed, coughed, or blew my nose a little more violently than usual I’d close my eyes and then re-open them cautiously, praying that my retinas were still intact.  I know I’m not alone in this fear, as my eye buddies have expressed similar worries about sneezing and coughing.  I remember reading the comments of one poor chap who went down with a cold not long after his vitrectomy surgery and thinking “Yiiiiikes!”.

I wonder why we’re so nervous about coughing, / sneezing / blowing our noses, following a retinal detachment, though?  I’ve never actually been advised not to do any of the above – apart from during surgery itself, and even then I was told, “Just tell me if you need to cough or think you’re going to sneeze.”   Before surgery number four, I frantically blew my nose whilst lying on the bed in pre-op, hoping that I then wouldn’t feel the need to do so during the operation itself.  During surgery number five, at one point I had to admit to the surgeon that I felt as if I was going to cough.  Fortunately, his reply was reassuring: “Now would be a good time to cough.”  So I did.  Very, very gently.

I remember reading in my post-op paperwork from one of my first surgeries the instruction, “Don’t try to hold in a sneeze”, so perhaps it is okay.  I considered googling, ‘is it okay to cough or sneeze following a retinal detachment’, but Dr Google isn’t actually a medical professional and results of such enquiries should be treated with caution.  Perhaps I’ll ask an ophthalmologist next time I speak to one – just for future reference.  In the meantime, I’ll continue my attempts to cough, sneeze, and blow my snout in a delicate and ladylike fashion, whilst simultaneously swearing like a trooper under my breath.