Following last Monday’s check-up appointment with my original consultant at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, the patient’s copy of his letter to my GP dropped through my letterbox on the Saturday morning. “Cor, that was quick!”, I thought to myself as I opened it and started reading. I only managed to reach the third line before exploding, “WHAT?!”, upon reading that upon examination, the visual acuity in my left eye had been “6/12, with spectacle correction”. My left eye is my ‘good’ eye and throughout this whole nightmare, since my right retina originally detached and tears were found in my left retina in April 2014, the visual acuity in my left eye has been 6/5. So the hospital letter was saying that it was suddenly 70% worse than usual. Bearing in mind that I rely on my left eye for everything and that the minimum eyesight requirement for driving is a visual acuity of at least 6/12, I was more than a little panicked.
I finished reading the letter before folding it up and putting it back in its envelope. I immediately got it out again and re-read it in case the figures had changed. They hadn’t. The calm part of my brain was quietly telling me that obviously it was a mistake; I hadn’t noticed any difference in my vision; and the best thing to do would be to drop an email to the medical secretary querying it. This same calm part of my brain remembered asking the nurse who carried out the visual acuity test, “Am i still 6/60 in the right and 6/5 in the left?” and her confirming that this was correct. The rest of my brain, however, was screaming, “SH*********, I need to get it checked!”.
Without further ado, I rang an optician’s in Canterbury where I’d previously been for pressure checks, and asked if I could call in for a visual acuity test. “A what?”, responded a confused voice on the other end of the line. “You. Have. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.”, spat the frustrated part of my brain, “YOU WORK IN AN OPTICIAN’S AND YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT VISUAL ACUITY IS?!” I calmly took a deep breath and explained, “Visual acuity – it’s the part of the eye test where the patient reads the letters on the Snellen chart”… [“Hang on”, interjected the calm part of my brain, “If he doesn’t know what visual acuity is, he’s hardly going to know what the Snellen chart is, is he?!”]… “I mean, the eye chart”, I continued.* “Ah”, he answered, still sounding slightly bemused. “Let me just go and find someone to ask if we can do that.” My patience was beginning to wear thin by this time so I suggested through clenched teeth, “Would it be better if I just make an appointment for a full eye test?” “Oh yes!”, he said with relief, obviously feeling back in control of the situation. However, there weren’t any available appointments until the end of the following week. “Have a nice day!”, he breezed cheerily as he said goodbye. I choked back a growl in return and proceeded to try my luck with another optician. This time I went straight for the full sight test option. They had a free appointment in 45 minutes time. “I’ll take it!”, I exclaimed, blurting out my details before dashing to the car and promptly getting stuck behind the slowest driver imaginable. “Some people just shouldn’t be on the roads!”, I muttered in irritation, well aware of the irony of the situation.
Despite the best efforts of the slowest driver in the world, I made it to the optician’s with four minutes to spare. Dot on time, the optometrist appeared: a very short man with a grey, expressionless face which reminded me of John Major. My initial impression wasn’t helped by his apparent lack of a sense of humour, as my jokey comment that I was there for an expensive visual acuity test was met with pursed thin lips and an unamused sniff. We reached the all-important test, and I went through my usual pained efforts to read the top three letters on the chart with my right eye, flicking my gaze from side to side as I tried to sneak up on the blurred shapes and discern them using the parts of my retina which are less damaged. We then switched to my left eye and I immediately focussed on the clearest line towards the bottom of the chart, reading out the letters confidently before attempting to make out the two lines below. Sheer panic and determination must have improved my vision as the final result for my left eye was 6/4 (wow!) and the usual depressing 6/60 for the right. “That’s okay then”, I sighed with relief, “The hospital must have made a mistake in the letter.” “What did the hospital say it was?”, enquired the grey-faced optometrist. “6/12!”, I answered indignantly, my voice rising a couple of octaves. “Yes, that’s quite a substantial difference.”, he agreed, the most animated he’d been in the entire duration of my time there. I paid the bill and, as I drove home, contemplated sending the receipt to the hospital along with a strongly-worded letter about the importance of a) recording the correct test results and b) proof-reading medical letters.
*Note: For the benefit of Specsavers employees and anyone else who may not know what visual acuity is, it’s the method of determining how clearly someone is able to see with their central vision. The Snellen chart (i.e. the eye chart with the letters of varying sizes on it, which the patient is asked to read during an eye test) is used in order to test this. The results of the visual acuity test will consist of two numbers for each eye. 6/6 (or 20/20 when measured in feet) refers to ‘normal vision’ and means that if the patient is sitting at a distance of 6 metres away from the chart, he/she is able to correctly identify letters that a ‘normal’ sighted person should see at 6 metres. 6/60 means that the patient could only see at 6 metres what a ‘normal’ sighted person would be able to see at 60 metres.