Category Archives: Driving

Headlight horror

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. 🙂

Road hogs and road rage

I don’t generally use swear words very much, being of the opinion that over-use of bad language simply dilutes the effect, thus rendering it rather pointless.  However, since my eye issues I have found it increasingly necessary to resort to expletives when out on the roads.  The main triggers at the moment are issues related to driving in the dark.  As it’s currently dark in the UK soon after 4pm, driving in darkness is not something which can be easily avoided, although I do minimise it as much as possible and only do short local journeys in the dark these days.  Even so, it’s a challenge.  Cars with misaligned headlights, cars with headlights at full beam hurtling towards me on dark roads with no streetlights, and the misguided flashing of headlights as a gesture of thanks when I let a car through, or even when obediently waiting behind an obstruction on my side of the road as directed by the Highway Code.  This kind of road hog type behaviour is typically greeted from behind the wheel of my little Yaris by exasperated growls and occasionally pained squeals of “Put your *bleep bleep* lights down!”, “Get your *bleep bleep* headlights sorted out!”, and “Thank you very *bleep bleep* much, you *bleeping* idiot!”  I’ve learned, in certain situations, to adjust my focus to the side of the road or slightly beyond the oncoming car in order to minimise the dazzling assault on my eyes, but unfortunately this isn’t always possible.

In contrast, the main difficulty of driving in daylight is a very bright sun, particularly when it’s low in the sky.  I tend to drive wearing my GIANT dark glasses in daylight, regardless of how sunny it is, because it just makes things far more comfortable for my eyes and also means that I’m less conscious of the floaters in my ‘good’ eye, which can be extremely distracting at times.

Of course, a few people have expressed surprise that I’m still able to drive, and at one point I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would be allowed to continue.  After my first two lots of surgery, my consultant at that time happily told me that I didn’t need to inform DVLA of my eye problems because my left eye was okay, and it’s legal to drive in this country with just one eye.  Me being me, I double-checked DVLA’s website, which stated that if a person had undergone surgery in one eye, no action was necessary; but if they’d had surgery in both eyes, DVLA should be informed.  I’d had cryotherapy in my left eye to mend two retinal tears but I assumed this wasn’t classed as ‘surgery’ and I was therefore okay.  I did, however, inform my car insurance company at that point, and was met with a pleasingly indifferent response.

Upon questioning my surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital about the DVLA issue after surgery number three, I was advised to inform them but told that I was fine to continue driving.  When I  checked the DVLA website again, I spotted that their wording had changed, and now advised people that they must declare it if they’d had ‘retinal treatment’ in both eyes, but it wasn’t necessary if ‘retinal treatment’ had been undergone in only one eye.  Damnit.  I duly completed the necessary form on the DVLA website and posted it off, and then waited for a good couple of months whilst continuing to drive in the meantime.  Eventually, a letter bearing a DVLA stamp dropped through my letterbox and I opened it to read a terse communication ordering me to select one of the DVLA approved opticians and ring to make an appointment by a certain deadline; warning me that if I did not do so, I would be in danger of having my driving licence revoked and a fine issued.  The general tone of the missive was akin to the Associate Dean’s warning letters which we issue to students who don’t attend lectures or submit any coursework, and I could almost feel the steam rising from my ears as I read through it a second time.  To add insult to injury, the closest DVLA approved opticians to my house was Dover, which is a good 40 minutes’ drive away.  Hmm… so DVLA wanted me to attend a sight test to determine whether or not I was medically fit to drive, but in order to do so they appeared to be quite happy for me to drive 40 minutes there, and 40 minutes home again.  Genius!

Nevertheless, I duly booked the test and went along.  My irritation was not helped when the optometrist conducting my test began by asking me whether I knew what my diagnosis was.  I bit back a caustic response, and answered shortly, “Yes”, to which he enquired what the diagnosis was.  “Retinal detachment”, I replied, sighing internally.  “Is that in one eye or both eyes?”, he asked.  I stared at him in disbelief, wondering whether I should ask to see his qualifications, and then explained slowly as one would to someone who is incredibly stupid that it was my right eye, and I doubted very much whether I would have been able to drive at all if my left eye was in the same state as my right eye.  This point was underlined rather effectively when he covered my left eye and asked me to read the letters on the chart, whereupon I informed him that I couldn’t even see the chart.  He rattled through the rest of the sight test, and looked slightly taken aback when I asked him what figures he had noted for my visual acuity.  “I’m not allowed to tell you that – the data has to be sent straight off to DVLA and then they’ll contact you about whether or not you can continue driving.”  Now, as my boss pointed out later when I was telling him this story through gritted teeth, they actually had no right to withold my own data from me, but at the time I was so frustrated by the whole thing that I simply treated him to my very best glare (the one which has on occasion caused small children to cry) and told him that I already knew what my visual acuity was in both eyes but I wanted to make sure he’d got it correct.

I stomped out of the opticians, drove the 40 minutes home (pah!) and consoled myself with strong tea and a large quantity of chocolate biscuits.  I then waited another couple of months for the results from DVLA.  Happily, they agreed with the surgeon at Moorfields who had said that I could continue driving.  During the months of waiting, I’d been contemplating writing a strongly worded letter to DLVA about their less than satisfactory procedures, but upon receiving this news I decided that my energy was probably better spent in blowing a giant raspberry at them and focussing on the business of getting on with driving.  Now if any drivers reading this could please just stop flashing their headlights as a way of thanking other drivers, check that headlights are properly aligned, and dip headlights in good time on dark country lanes, that would be grand… 🙂