Category Archives: Life goes on

“Always look on the bright side of life”…

… but not too bright, for those of us with eye issues!  Musical accompaniment to this blog post can be found at: and is, of course, provided by the motley Monty Python crew.  Naturally, being British (although in the current political climate I hesitate to admit that), I’m no stranger to the concept of using humour – often of the black variety – to cope with difficult circumstances.  It was often the best method of defusing situations with my Gran, when she was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease.  Of course, occasionally this approach can backfire, as I discovered the time I informed her, with a perfectly straight face, that Winston Churchill was the prime minister and she believed me.  Fortunately, she quickly overcame her confusion and readily forgave me when my mum explained, with a glare in my direction, “No he’s not – don’t worry, it’s just Emma being silly again.”  (The addition of ‘again’ implies that I’m often silly, which obviously I vigorously refute.)

Anyway… looking on the bright side in the manner of Monty Python has helped me in my ongoing RD journey, and I know it’s helped many of my eye buddies too.  So I thought it might be fun to share some of my favourite examples of the importance of humour in getting through the horrendous RD journey…

Plan B
After my third lot of surgery, in January 2015, one of my friends posted a cartoon-type picture of herself offering me a tray with a couple of eyes rolling around on it, with the caption: “Even with every confidence in Emma’s recent surgery, Debbie put forward a fantastic plan B.”  Luckily, even in my groggy post-op posturing state, this did make me chuckle.  However, I must point out that I’ve had two more surgeries since then and my friend still hasn’t come up with the promised goods.  (Tut!)
A cartoon-type picture of my friend offering me a tray with a couple of eyes rolling around on it, with the caption: "Even with every confidence in Emma's recent surgery, Debbie put forward a fantastic plan B.".

Eye-related gifts
One of my eye buddies once caused great hilarity in the Facebook support group I belong to by posting a picture of a Christmas present he’d just received from his mum: a framed copy of a Snellen chart (the eye chart used to test visual acuity).  It’s just as well no-one’s ever done that for me, or I’d have it hung in a well-lit area with a chair placed precisely six metres away to enable me to test myself daily!
Speaking of this particular eye buddy, you can find another example of his humour in my post, Pre-appointment paranoia.

PVR ?  Nooooooooooo!
When sharing humorous eye-related incidents on the Facebook  RD support group, one of my eye buddies related a story which made me gasp in horror before giggling slightly hysterically.  It’s best told in his own words:  “The funniest thing that happened to me, as you may remember, following my RD surgery was when I visited my optician in a worried way at one point following a sudden onset of a shower of new floaters in the RD eye – it occurred about three months after my op. “OK, could you read these three letters on the eye chart please?” he says…..I look up at the eye chart with my good eye covered and immediately read the letters “P V R”. I quickly look away with a kind of groan and say “No….I don’t even want to THINK about that!”. He laughs, slightly embarrassed, and says “Well at least I can see that you’re managing to see the letters all right”. (He knows I’m reasonably knowledgeable about eye problems). Exam turns out to be totally clear with no problems found.”

Eye jokes
Then, of course, there are the eye jokes…
Q: “What’s the scariest thing to read in braille?”
A: “Do not touch.”

“Whilst cooking today, I accidentally rubbed some herbs in my eyes.  I’m now parsley-sighted.”  [G r o a n !]

Or this one – a picture of a patient sitting in front of a Snellen chart and holding binoculars up to his eyes, as the white-coated doctor barks, “No cheating!”.  (Don’t we all just wish we had a pair of binoculars at times, when squinting and scrunching our eyes up to try and decipher the letters on that chart?!)
A patient sitting in front of a Snellen chart and holding binoculars up to his eyes, as the white-coated doctor barks, "No cheating!".

Blind driving
The only thing which has ever made me actually laugh out loud when specifically discussing eye issues and driving is this little gem, posted by one of my eye buddies:  It’s a short video clip which could accurately be captioned, ‘driving with a long cane’.

Then there are the little puns which come up in day-to-day life… for example:
A couple of years ago, over a Boxing Day game of Scrabble, my sister surveyed her tiles and casually remarked, “I don’t want to make you jealous, but I have three ‘i’s!”
During a recent chat with an eye buddy, I observed that he seemed to be a bit hyperactive.  “It’s called humour”, he shot back, “I used to have some in my eye!”.

‘Blind’ man predicaments
Finally, another one which made me gasp is a spoof video of a ‘blind’ man getting into all sorts of predicaments whilst walking with his long cane, available at: This one was sent to me by the VIP* I met up with a couple of weeks ago.  (*Very Important Person, that’s right!)  It’s not so much the man himself, but the reactions to him by passers-by which are so entertaining to watch!

If you have any eye-related jokes or humorous incidents, please do give us all more to laugh about by sharing them in the comments below… 🙂


Sod* the Tories

I had a check-up appointment at Moorfields booked for Monday 4 June.  You will note, dear Reader, my use of the past tense in that sentence.  For, late on Wednesday afternoon I received a voicemail from Moorfields telling me that my appointment had been cancelled due to not enough doctors and too many patients.  Upon receiving this news, I let out a massive internal howl of, “Noooooooooooooooooo!”, before indulging in a short fit of wailing once I reached the safety of home.  I then promptly regretted this, as it just made my eyes ache more.

As my eye buddies know all too well, my reaction to this news is about far more than a cancelled appointment.  I approach my check-ups at Moorfields in fear and dread.  The build-up starts a good couple of weeks beforehand each time, as my anxiety builds and insomnia becomes my nightly companion.  “What will they say?”, I wonder to myself.  “Will the detached part of my retina have progressed any further?  Will the 360 degree laser line be holding firm?  What of the abnormal blood-vessels – will they have worsened?  Will my eye pressures be satisfactory?  Will my cornea still be healthy, with the oil in?  And my good eye… will it be okay?  Or will it – heaven forbid – have  developed more tears?  Will the lattice degeneration be any worse?  Will they want – or need – to perform yet more surgery, or will I gain another reprieve?  How will I cope if more surgery is necessary?”  All these questions, and more, clamour in my ears like a huge orchestra tuning up for a performance.

Along with all the questions, I increase my ever-so-slightly-obsessive visual checking as the appointment looms ominously on the horizon.  I wrote about this a while ago, in ‘Pre-appointment paranoia‘.  The stress builds and builds until usually it reaches a crescendo during the appointment itself, at the point at which the consultant has finished the examination, scribbled the notes down, and sat back to tell me the results and allow me to ask as many questions as I can cram in.  Depending on the news, the crescendo is either one of glorious, melodic harmonies, or a clashing of cymbals and change in tempo as the key abruptly switches to minor.  This cancellation of my appointment is equivalent to the entire orchestra standing up and dropping their instruments onto the concrete floor with a collective crash; leaving a solitary violinist, oblivious in the corner, plucking forlornly at a broken string.

I don’t even have a new appointment date to focus on yet.  Although I rang Moorfields straight back, there was nobody available.  I rang the following day during my lunch break at work and spent most of it listening to a calm, automated voice informing me that I was “number one in the queue”.  I think they’d actually all gone to lunch and left the telephone queueing system switched on.  After about 35 minutes of this, I gave up and sought solace in my cheese and cucumber sandwiches.  I eventually got through after work, and was told that a new appointment wasn’t available yet as they had to slot everyone back in.

As with my only other previously cancelled appointment (have a read of, ‘Q: What’s more stressful than an impending eye appointment?‘), I don’t blame Moorfields for this.  Like me, anyone in the UK who has to attend eye clinics on a regular basis will be able to see clearly (even through the foggy haze of the dilation drops) how busy they are.  The clinics are always packed with patients, the consultants and doctors often have that look which means they know just how many patients are waiting and they’re wondering how on earth they’re going to get through them all in time.  The nurses hurry back and forth, and the receptionists have a slightly frazzled air about them, not helped by the occasional impatient patient asking if they’re going to have to wait much longer [pause while I tut and metaphorically roll my eyes].

So… if us eye patients with our dodgy vision can see so clearly that the NHS needs more resources to cope with demand, my question is: why can’t the government?  It needs no avid follower of the news to tell us that the NHS is in crisis.  Why isn’t the government doing anything about it?  Why is the government privatising it by stealth?  The NHS will reach its 70th birthday this July.  In today’s world, 70 is far from decrepit.  (My mum will be very glad to read that.)  There is much useful life to be lived beyond the age of 70, but many people may just need a little more care and attention.  However, the government doesn’t seem able to see this, and I can’t help but observe that this lack of vision appears to stem from idiocy rather than from myopia.  It strikes me that the government views the NHS as a particularly cantankerous decrepit pensioner, whom it just wants to shove into a grubby care home out of sight as quickly as possible.  I genuinely fear for the future of the NHS.  Further discussion on that is probably best left for another post.  But in the meantime, what should we do?  I might take out my frustrations by writing to my MP and including a free eye test voucher for Specsavers…

*Obviously I had a considerably stronger adjective in mind, but being a family-friendly blog and all that…

Near-miss head trauma

I blame my next-door neighbour.  His house has been abandoned for approximately the past two years, which is great in terms of noise levels (i.e. there is none), but not so good in that the fences need repairing, the garden’s an overgrown haven for rats (which have – much to my horror – on several occasions made their way into the cavity walls and up into the loft), and the trees are steadily advancing into my garden like Birnam Woods coming to Dunsinane.  My absent neighbour keeps saying he’s going to come and sort it all out, but quite frankly he’s told me this so frequently that I don’t believe him any more.  And so it came to pass that I decided to take matters into my own hands…

One tree branch was stretching right across the middle of my garden, blocking the sunlight to my carefully sown good eye food in my raised veggie bed.  I’d been eyeing it up for a while, and knowing that I was legally within my rights to chop back any branches overhanging my side, I decided to take the bull by the horns (or more accurately: the branch by the saw).  So I clambered up onto a sturdy up-turned plant pot to reach the branch, which was about half an arm’s length above my head.  I then peeked up without tipping my head back to far and making the scary black floaters appear, positioned my trusty garden saw on the branch, then lowered my head and steadily began to saw, whilst holding onto the fence with my other hand, for balance.  I sawed, and sawed, and occasionally glanced up to peer at my progress.  Then I put my head back down and sawed some more, until eventually the saw started getting stuck.  I then had the genius (?) idea of sawing from the other side of the branch, so that the two cuts would meet up in the middle.  So once again, I looked up, positioned the saw, looked down again, and sawed for dear life.

This went on for hours*, by which point my arm was aching and I was getting hot and somewhat frustrated.  I waggled the branch, but it moved not one inch.  After sawing manically for a few more minutes, I gave up.  “Pah!”, I told the branch in irritation, “Sod you then!”.  As I stomped down off the plant pot and dropped the saw, there was an almighty crash which sounded like Zeus having a paddy on Mount Olympus.  I instinctively shot up my hand and fortunately managed to catch the end of the branch as it crashed down, and lowered it gently to the ground.  It covered the entire bottom end of my garden, and crushed my little beetroot seedlings in my raised veggie bed.  I stood back and surveyed the damage, wondering how the branch had managed to appear so much smaller when it was attached to the tree.  I then felt slightly queasy at the thought of what might have happened if I hadn’t lost patience and stepped down from the plant pot when I did.  It probably hadn’t been a very sensible thing to attempt on my own, particularly in view of the advice of one of my surgeons: “Don’t get a head trauma”I’m sure he would not be amused if he knew that I’d almost managed to get a heavy branch to crash on top of me.

As penance for my folly, I was then forced to chop up the branch into pieces small enough to carry through the house (I live in a terrace, with no rear access) and place in the garden waste bin.  This process took approximately an hour, filled the bin to overflowing, and left a trail of bits of branches and leaves through my house.  So then I had to clear that up, too.

Annoyingly, my herculean efforts have only created a small chink of extra light through the mass of foliage sprouting from my neighbour’s garden.  So… if any of my readers happens to be a tree surgeon and would be willing to help me out, please give me a shout.  Or, if you know of any tidy squatters who are handy in the garden and don’t make too much noise, please let me know as there’s a property they may be interested in…

* It felt like hours, but it was actually only minutes.

Branch on grass in front of shed, with a pile of smaller branches by the side.

Dismantling the branch of destruction.

Thoughts on the fourth anniversary of my first retinal detachment

For the past few years, I’ve tended to feel a bit low at this time of year.  I remember what I felt like back in early April 2014 when I was preparing to go on a short break to Berlin with an old uni friend; excited at the prospect of my first proper holiday in years.  Then I re-live how it all went wrong and our mad dash to the eye hospital in Berlin, where I was diagnosed with a macula-off retinal detachment in my right eye on 14 April 2014 at 23:39 (the time is even printed in the hospital paperwork).  You can read the full story in ‘How it all began, if you’re interested.

I remember the two tiny black floaters in my eye which had only very occasionally been bouncing across my vision for the past few days.  I remember the almost imperceptible cloud of translucent fly-like floaters up in the top right corner of my vision, which I’d only noticed when I looked up at the bright sky.  I remember the feeling of uneasiness at the airport when I became aware of a sort of visual tugging effect coming from the left side of my eye.  I remember trying to read the information in the Checkpoint Charlie museum in Berlin with increasing difficulty before finally realising that I was starting to lose my sight from the left hand side.  I remember the black curtain which all too quickly began to creep across my vision.

I remember all these things and I curse myself.  I curse myself for putting those floaters down to stress and insomnia.  I curse myself for not going to the opticians to get checked out before I went on holiday.  I curse myself for getting on that ‘plane when I had the uncomfortable feeling that something wasn’t quite right with my eyes.  I curse myself for being SO UTTERLY STUPID and not getting those symptoms checked IMMEDIATELY, regardless of any inconvenience at the time.  I curse myself for telling myself not to be such a hypochondriac and for convincing myself that it would all be fine.

For of course, it wasn’t fine.  And, five surgeries later, with an eyeful of silicone oil, severely impaired vision in my right eye and ongoing battles with anxiety, it will never be fine again.  Even if Moorfields do eventually manage the seemingly impossible task of getting the oil out and persuading my damn retina to stick, my vision in that eye will never improve.  And so, with the benefit of hindsight and an Everest-like learning curve in ophthalmology, I curse myself because I can’t help but wonder if all this could have been avoided if I’d gone to get my eyes checked as soon as I first noticed those two tiny black floaters.  But “therein madness lies”, as King Lear wisely noted in the very midst of his insanity; and “what’s done cannot be undone”, as Lady Macbeth sensibly pointed out during one of her crazy sleepwalking escapades.  I appear to be developing a theme of madness here… and, indeed, dwelling on those ‘what ifs’ and berating myself for my past folly in the clear light of my current knowledge does sometimes make me feel as if “I’m going slightly mad”.  In case you’re wondering, that’s not another Shakespearean reference; it’s a song by Queen.  I might go and have a listen to it now, to cheer myself up.  You can listen along with me if you like, at:

Farewell to Gill

We had to have our faithful dog put down three weeks ago.  I say ‘our’, but Gillespie (or Gill, for short) was actually my mum’s dog.  However, you know how these things go… he was a member of the family.  He’d been doing remarkably well really – at almost fourteen years old he’d had most of his teeth and one eye removed (have a read of Canine eye removal if you’d like to know more about this particularly grim event which, for me, was far too close to home).  He’d also coped with a slipped disc and had a touch of arthritis and doggy dementia, but he still greeted us with enthusiasm, scoffed his food with gusto, and frequently legged it up and down the garden as if he was still a puppy.  He was always delighted to go for walks, particularly if they involved a spot of geocaching along the way.  Gill was the ultimate geohound, you see.  Sniffing out tupperware was a speciality of his, along with sitting and waiting patiently for the last corner of my toast in the mornings (shhhhh, don’t tell my mum!).

However, we knew things weren’t good when he started going off his food.  His appetite seemed to wax and wane, and we did occasionally wonder whether he was milking it a bit in order to get titbits of chicken and beef  and even a bit of liver which my sister held her nose and cooked up especially to tempt him with.  He developed a liking for shreddies and it wasn’t unusual for me to receive a text from my mum which stated proudly, “Gill’s eaten 24 shreddies this afternoon! :-)”  Sometimes, once he’d eaten a few shreddies, he’d go on to eat other things, leading on to texts such as, “Gill likes my lentil soup!” and, “Gill’s had 3 good saucers of chicken and half a sausage!”.  I should probably add here that the vet had said to keep trying to tempt him with whatever he would eat (within reason, obviously).  However, after a while his appetite plummeted to new depths and a blood test revealed that his kidneys were failing.  I won’t focus on the last few horrible days, but putting him to sleep was the kindest thing which could be done for him.

Anyone who has pets will know how grim it is to lose them.  Sometimes I wonder whether it’s worth it.  But then I remember all the good things about having them.  Gill was my canine eye buddy.  He always seemed to know when something was wrong, and after my first surgery he would lie with his head on the arm of the chair as he watched me anxiously.  He was my posturing companion, when we disobeyed house rules while my mum was away and allowed the dogs upstairs and into the bedroom.  He didn’t really quite get the knack of posturing, but he was a huge comfort as he lay down by the side of the bed, and he was also quite happy for me to practice learning German on him (  Dogs are great, because they somehow know when something isn’t right and they come and sit next to you or lean against you without saying anything stupid like humans so often do.  Gill did that sort of thing a lot.  He brought us much happiness and hilarious entertainment at times, but now we have to get used to a Gill-shaped hole in our lives.  Considering he was a relatively small dog, that hole is remarkably huge… 😥

Gill, lying on the floor in happier times

Gill, lying on the floor in happier times

Seeing in the new year with a BANG

No, I’m not referring to the fireworks.  As a retinal detachment patient prone to leaping out of my skin with fear at the slightest flash, fireworks aren’t exactly one of my favourite things.  I was tucked up in bed by about 10:30pm on New Year’s Eve with a hot water bottle, a good book, and a comforting mug of Tick Tock tea.  I was even safely asleep well before midnight and pleased (and somewhat amazed) to report that I didn’t hear a single firework.

So, having enjoyed a rare restful and fairly solid night’s sleep, I leapt out of bed early the next morning to greet the new year and Get Things Done, before the imminent dreaded return to work, which I was desperately trying not to think about.  In this state of mind, it seemed like a cracking idea to clean out the giant cupboard under the stairs and get rid of some of the accumulated junk which is always so easy to ignore whilst conveniently out of sight.  Out with the old, and all that!  The cupboard was swiftly emptied and out came the hoover, car cleaning equipment, a large collection of paintings, art folders, old tins of paint, pieces of wood for making canvases, dog blankets, my mum’s smelly old trainers* which she wears when she comes down to give me gardening lessons**, toolbox, stacks of newspapers… okay, you get the idea.

During the process of emptying this cavernous cupboard, it was necessary for me to get on my hands and knees and crawl underneath a very deep shelf set inside it, in order to reach the boxes right at the back.  It was in manouvering backwards and forwards in this manner that I managed to whack the top of my forehead against the edge of the shelf.  Surprisingly, in view of my fear of getting a head trauma (have a read of Don’t get a head trauma, if you’re wondering what I’m talking about here), I didn’t immediately go into hyper panic.  Rather, I was just intensely annoyed with myself for managing to do something so unutterably stupid.

“You stupid idiot!”, I berated myself as I checked for blood (there was none) and bumps (I wasn’t sure whether there was one or whether it was just a natural lump in my head).  I shut my eyes and opened them again, did my visual field checks, cupped my hands over my open eyes to check for flashes, and wondered whether Moorfields would be open on New Year’s Day.  I reflected on the irony of the fact that only a few hours earlier, I’d been congratulating myself for getting through the whole of 2017 without having to undergo further eye surgery!  I took a few deep breaths, and reminded myself that several of my eye buddies had in the past posted panicked comments on the RD support group site after receiving blows to the head, but they’d been okay.  One had even managed to get a rather nasty looking black eye, but her retina had miraculously remained intact.

“That’s enough!”, I instructed myself sternly after about the fiftieth eye check.  I purposefully ignored the uncharacteristically chaotic bomb site of my living room and went to make a giant mug of comforting tea.  (Pause for an aside to my non-UK readers: tea always makes everything better.  Well, this is what we tell ourselves, anyway.)  After drinking the tea and eating a large quantity of leftover Christmas biscuits (good for shock, you know), I did my visual checks again.  Fortunately, everything seemed to be okay.  Or as okay as it has been for the past few months, anyway.  I very carefully put everything back in the cupboard and made a New Year’s resolution: there will be no more bangs on the head due to my own stupid fault in 2018…

*They’re not really smelly, but I bet she gasps in horror when she reads that bit.
**I usually ignore the lessons and continue with my very own special brand of gardening.  This includes the simple principle: hack it back if it starts looking too messy, regardless of the time of year.

Hunt the optometrist: round 4

As the day of my annual ‘normal’ eye examination loomed, I decided to continue my quest to find a decent optometrist in Canterbury.  Now, before going any further here, let me explain that I’m talking about what most people refer to as an optician, for a standard eye test.  However, if we want to be accurate about things (and, trust me, I usually do), an optician is actually the person who makes and fits glasses and contact lenses.  An optometrist carries out eye tests, prescribes corrective lenses, and is qualified to diagnose certain eye abnormalities and diseases and prescribe medication for them or refer for further treatment.  An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specialises in eyes and is qualified to practice medicine and surgery.

After my first retinal detachment, I stopped going to the high street optometrists I’d been visiting for years, because I realised that they hadn’t given me the correct information about floaters.  (See ‘How it all began‘ if you’re wondering what they told me and why it was wrong.)  If they’d given me the correct advice, it’s possible that things may have been very different for me.  I then began using another popular high street optometrist, until I was informed one day upon going in for a quick eye pressure check, as I’d been doing sporadically for the past year or so, that they could no longer do this.  In my attempts to discover the reason for their abrupt policy change, I became involved in several heated discussions in which they told me that a) the hospital should be doing the pressure checks and was just ‘fobbing off’ their work; and b) as my eyes had so many problems, I might sue them if they got the pressure readings wrong.  Needless to say, my blood was boiling by this point and I vowed never to darken their door again.  In contrast to their customary advertising campaign, I think this behaviour demonstrates precisely why people shouldn’t go to this particular optometrists.

On my next visit to an optometrist, I plumped for an independent one (as detailed in ‘Post appointment panic‘).  Apart from the fact that he reminded me of John Major and had a sense of humour (or lack, thereof) to match, this grey-faced chap put me off by trying to tell me that it was possible to see enough of the retina to check it properly without using dilation drops.  I know that this simply isn’t true – not when checking for tears, anyway.

So it was after extensive research that I set off early on Saturday morning to another carefully selected independent optometrist, to put them through their paces for my eye test.  It started well, as I was greeted by a smiling receptionist and then a polite fellow who bore no resemblance to any politician I can think of.  He began the appointment by asking cheerfully, “So, is everything okay with your eyes then?”  I shifted uncomfortably in the chair as I responded almost guiltily, “Err… no, not exactly.  I’ve had multiple retinal detachments in my right eye, and I’ve got PVR.  I’ve got silicone oil in there at the moment.”  He looked slightly taken aback at this, and went on to ask about my left eye.  “It had two retinal tears which were fixed with cryotherapy and I have a cataract and lots of floaters”, I told him.  He shook his head in sympathy and told me how unlucky I was to have so many problems in both eyes, before asking with a slightly incredulous undertone, “Is there anything else?”  I completely forgot to tell him about the lattice degeneration, although that came up later, and the abnormal blood vessels, and just replied that I hoped that was enough for now, at which he nodded in agreement.

He carried on with the usual business of the eye test, and when we reached the pressure check, we had an interesting discussion about high pressure.  Much to my delight, he told me that he’d be happy to check my eye pressure if necessary, between my appointments at Moorfields.  He even told me that he’d be happy to dilate my eyes and check for tears if I wanted him to, at which point I almost toppled off the chair in shock.  Previous optometrists have been all but backing away from me by this point!  This one told me that he loves dilating because it allows the opportunity to get a proper look at the back of the eye, which he finds really interesting!  He did, however, also say that it was only necessary for him to dilate if there were symptoms suggestive of a retinal tear or detachment: i.e. showers of floaters, flashing lights, or the much-feared ‘curtain’.

He went on to do a spot of digital retinal photography and was happy to show me the images and explain various things.  It was somewhat depressing to see the image of my right retina, which bore certain similarities to a teenager’s bedroom,  but at least the left one looked far more clean and tidy.  He also checked for dry eye.  As he asked me to look up while he put the drops in, I asked what they would do.  “They’ll make all your problems disappear”, he joked, with an air of mystery.  I imagined my future – bright and colourful, with 6/6 vision and no more worries – and told him that he’d be my hero forever if the drops did that.  He clearly decided that his pants wouldn’t look very professional worn over his trousers, as when I’d blinked the drops away, my view of the world was just the same.  Or, almost the same… for I finally seemed to have found a decent local optometrist.  Perhaps he’ll work on those magic drops ready for my next visit…