The Friday before the clocks went back, my boss caught me just as I was about to leg it for freedom and announced, “We need to talk about your hours.” “Do we?” I asked, my heart sinking as I remembered the last lot of discussions about my hours in conjunction with Occupational Health which had been both extremely unhelpful and incredibly stressful. “The clocks go back at the weekend”, my boss informed me. I suppressed the urge to snap that I was fully aware of this fact as I’d spent the past few weeks dreading the prospect of driving home in the dark with tired and aching eyes after a full day spent staring at the ruddy computer screen. However, he seemed to realise this as he suggested, “Why don’t you just come in at 8 and leave at 4?” So that was that – the decision was made.
Getting up an hour earlier has been no problem for me due to my insomniac tendencies. Travelling to work earlier has brought the bonus of less traffic, no queues getting onto campus, and unlimited choice in selecting a parking space (a rare treat indeed). Similarly, leaving earlier has meant no queues getting off campus, less traffic on the way home and, most importantly of all, not having to summon up extra amounts of energy from depleted supplies in straining my weary eyes in the dark. The concentration required for night-driving is so intense that frequently at the end of a journey I will physically have to force my shoulders down to their correct position below my ears and massage my forehead in an effort to relieve some of the tightness before reaching for my soothing eye drops.
Night-driving has been far more difficult since my eye problems began, and I know that this is an issue which many of my eye buddies share. I will now only drive short distances in the dark and I minimise night-driving wherever possible. The night vision in my right eye is considerably reduced. Obviously this is partly a result of the damage to my retina caused by all the detachments, as well as the silicone oil in it which causes everything to appear very blurred – a bit like when you open your eyes underwater. My three retinectomies and 360 degree laser surgery also means that I’ve lost a fair amount of peripheral vision, which makes things more difficult anyway but this problem is amplified in the dark. The retina contains two types of photoreceptors – rods and cones. The rod cells are concentrated at the outer edges of the retina and are used in peripheral vision as well as being almost entirely responsible for night vision. (In case you’re wondering, the cones are most densely packed in the centre of the retina and these are responsible for our central vision and colour vision.) As the lower outer edge of my retina has been physically trimmed away and the rest of the edge has been rendered useless due to the 360 degree laser surgery, I’m guessing that this is the reason for my appalling night vision in that eye. To get a very rough idea of what my vision is like in the dark, have a look at the final photo in my blog post, ‘Do you see what I see?’. Bear in mind that this represents my vision on a relatively well-lit road. If I close my ‘good’ eye on an unlit road, I can barely make out the car directly in front of me – it just becomes a blurry smudge along with everything else. (Note: I only indulge in this particular visual experiment when my car is stationary!)
It’s not so bad driving on well-lit roads as apart from the added bonus of more light, this also means less likelihood of drivers cruising along with their headlights on full-beam. Narrow, winding, unlit country lanes are a different story, as around each bend lurks the danger of a vehicle hurtling towards me with its headlights dazzling my remaining vision. Such encounters are usually greeted by me with an explosion of expletives (depending, of course, on whether or not I have any passengers in the car at the time). Other irritations include cars with misaligned headlights, tailgaters, those horrible extra-bright dazzling headlights, bicycles with no lights, pedestrians walking along the road wearing dark clothes, and the well-intentioned but somewhat painful flash of the headlights meant as a gesture of thanks but received by myself like a slap in the face.
The Highway Code actually states, “Only flash your headlights to let other road users know that you are there. Do not flash your headlights to convey any other message or intimidate other road users.” Unfortunately, most drivers ignore this rule. Many’s the time I’ve stopped behind a parked car on my side of the road to let an oncoming stream of traffic pass, muttering to myself, “Please don’t flash your lights, please don’t flash your lights, don’t flash, don’t flash, aaagh, you ******!” in response to the inevitable. I don’t flash my lights to say thank you to other drivers, although I must admit that I have been guilty of this in the past. Instead, I just raise a hand, somehow hoping that the other driver will know that I’ve thanked them, secure in the knowledge that if that driver has had multiple surgeries for retinal detachments, they’ll be silently thanking me in return.
Of course, despite all this, I’m hugely thankful that the vision in my left eye is still good enough to allow me to drive. If I had to give up driving, I’d have to move house as the public transport where I live is both appalling and ridiculously expensive. So I’ll continue to motor on sensibly, whilst muttering and swearing at all the road hogs out there and looking forward to 21 December, after which date the hours of daylight will very slowly but surely start to increase once more.
Note: If any sciencey people out there could possibly let me know whether I’m correct in my assumption about the rods and night vision, it would be much appreciated.