School’s out for summer! Well almost, anyway; I’ve seen all those hideous ‘thank you teacher’ gifts in the supermarket, waiting to be snapped up in preparation for their relocation to the depths of barely used cupboards while their proud new owners gorge on chocolates and celebrate the start of a glorious long run of freedom. As for the University… our long summer vacation is already in full swing, for the students at least. Less so for the staff, particularly as we’re now in the depths of appeals season. However, the long vacation certainly makes parking a lot easier, as well as navigating on foot across campus without having to dodge the crowds or guess where people with their eyes firmly fixed on their ‘phones are about to step next. “Look around you at the beautiful scenery!”, I want to yell at them. “See the majestic trees; admire the rolling green slopes leading down to the cathedral in the distance; giggle at the rabbits as they defy Registry regulations and graze on the grass!”
Naturally, at this time of year there’s always much excited talk of holidays, purchasing of sun cream (don’t forget your sun specs), intensive research on Trip Advisor, packing of bulging cases, and… holiday pictures on Facebook. A few days ago, one of my eye buddies in the RD support group commented:
“Meh. I’m not usually an envious person but I’m really struggling with seeing so many holiday posts on my FB. I can’t get away on holiday this year; surgery, recovery, no money then back to work in Sept teaching. Feeling sorry for myself 😦 Would love to be carefree with no eye sight worries. It’s shit!”
I could appreciate where she was coming from. I also thought she was remarkably restrained in her expletive use. My last holiday was back in 2012 – a few days in Cornwall at my aunt and uncle’s house. After a particularly grim year in 2013 due to two close family bereavements, in 2014 I resolved to make the most of the good things in life and get out and enjoy myself. So I booked a short city break to Berlin in April with one friend and a few days in St Petersburg (somewhere I’d wanted to visit for years) with another friend in August. On the afternoon that I arrived in Berlin, I began losing vision. I was diagnosed with a macula-off retinal detachment in hospital there in the early hours of the following morning, and as dawn broke I was on an emergency flight back to the UK for surgery. When attempting to claim money back through my travel insurance a few weeks later, I had to explain through gritted teeth that no, I hadn’t enjoyed the benefits of the hotel for the first night as I’d been stuck in the hospital and then travelling back to the airport! The trip to St Petersburg had to be cancelled due to surgery number two, after my second detachment. My sense of disappointment paled into insignificance beside my misery and fear in my grim situation of retinal re-detachment horror, as well as guilt that my friend had to forgo an exciting trip to Russia. (Fortunately, she was very understanding about this.)
Since then, holidays have been pretty much off the radar for me (apart from those pictures on Facebook, of course). It probably hasn’t helped that a lot of people (including myself initially) assumed that the flight to Berlin must have caused my detachment. Doctors have assured me that it didn’t, but of course the association lingers. Many of my eye buddies also worry about flying and when it’s safe to fly again following surgery. We all know that flying is forbidden when there is gas in the eye. This is because the lower air pressure in the cabin of the ‘plane would cause the gas bubble to expand, causing a rise in intraocular pressure which would result in extreme pain and sight loss. It is safe to fly with silicone oil in the eye, and I know that a few of my eye buddies have bourne this out, albeit very nervously in most cases. Despite this, I’m doubtful that I will ever fly again. Although I feel sad about this as I used to love flying and exploring places in different countries, I’m resigned to it at the moment. I know that the stress and fear of anything going wrong with my eyes would far outweigh any pleasure gained from a trip abroad. But I feel far more upset that RD has in effect stolen my peace of mind and ability to enjoy certain things. I think it’s all part of mourning for our pre-RD lives, which I touched on in the blog post Crying over lost sight. Personally, I find that it doesn’t help when people – with the best will in the world – encourage me to book a holiday in an effort to overcome this fear. I’m sure that at some point I will be able to go on holiday again, but it will definitely be in this country and to somewhere which has easy access to Moorfields Eye Hospital, in case of emergencies.
Whilst chatting about all this on the RD support group, it was clear that many of my eye buddies share exactly the same fears. One of them joked that if any of us decided to take a trip up to Aberdeen and experienced problems with our eyes, we’d be in very capable hands with his retinal surgeon there. “Eureka!”, I thought to myself in excitement… Of course, we just need to set up some kind of RD holidays exchange system, whereby we can go and stay with another eye buddy! That way, there would obviously already be a ‘getting to the hospital in case of emergency’ plan in place. It would also bring other benefits: understanding and empathy from a fellow eye buddy; no weird glances when doing visual checks; no irritating comments about ‘thinking positive and it’ll all be fine’, plentiful supplies of painkillers and eye drops on hand; knowledge that certain activities are off-limits; the opportunity to enjoy eating ‘good eye food’ together… In the UK, I have eye buddies in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, London, Surrey, Cheshire, and Lincolnshire; and I’m based in Kent. Now who wouldn’t want to enjoy a holiday in the garden of England, for starters?! Abroad, I have eye buddies in the Netherlands and the US. Maybe the whole world isn’t my oyster, but there are certainly a few pearls in that list…