Category Archives: Life goes on

RD holidays: first guests

After my ramblings on the idea of setting up some kind of holiday exchange programme together with my eye buddies in my post RD holidays, I was amazed and delighted at how swiftly my first guests contacted me to book themselves in for a seaside break.  My mum had decided to head to Cornwall with my aunt and her family for a week, leaving my sister to dog-sit.  Naturally, my sister and the dogs didn’t see why they had to miss out on all the fun, so they motored down to their very own little holiday cottage on the Kent coast… otherwise known as my gaff.

Now, I know what you’re thinking… “But that doesn’t count – they’re not eye buddies!”.  Ah, but that’s where you’re wrong!  Okay, maybe not entirely wrong, as fortunately my sister’s peepers are practically perfect.  However, much to our distress, poor Gillespie (aka Gill) had to have one of his eyes removed back in August 2016, due to keratitis.  (Have a read of Canine eye removal for the full story.)  Unbelievably and horrifyingly, Gill’s brother, Dizzy (aka Diz) developed the same condition earlier this year, leading to an extremely anxious few weeks, as it seemed increasingly likely that he too would have to undergo surgery to have his eye removed.  Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea; an extremely painful condition which can progress rapidly and lead to sight loss if not treated urgently.  Keratitis can also affect humans.  Amazingly, the eye drops slowly worked for Diz and he didn’t require surgery, much to our huge relief.  However, he’s still on several eye drops and there will always be the possibility of the condition flaring up again.  So, you see, although they haven’t experienced RD, they are most definitely my eye buddies too!

Diz, having his eye drops put in.

Eye drops time!

As such, they were delighted at the opportunity of a relaxing, eye friendly holiday.  After enthusiastically exploring the garden and fertilising the courgettes (the dogs, that is, not my sister), we set off for a walk along the sea front, where we had to discourage Gill from fertilising a couple’s stripey windbreaker along the way.  As the dogs are rather elderly now, they have the additional problem of arthritic joints as well as dodgy eyes, so they can’t cope with much more than a few minutes walk in one go.  It’s actually more accurately described as ‘a sniff’ rather than ‘a walk’, to be honest.  So after half an hour or so they were quite happy to head home and sprawl out on the sofa for a well-earned rest, until they magically awoke on the very dot of 6pm and proceeded to clamour for their dinner.  It has to be said, they were rather demanding house guests where food was concerned.  And that was pretty much the pattern of the whole long weekend: sniff, wander, eat, sleep, repeat.

A walk along the sea front, past the beach huts.

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside!

It certainly made a nice change to have a spot of canine company for the weekend… as well as sisterly company, of course.  The only downside was that on the Tuesday evening when I returned home from work to a silent house, I opened my front door to the particularly pungent smell of DOG.  It was probably stronger due to the fact that we’d all been drenched in salty sea spray the previous day during our seaside sniff.  The whiff of wet dog is one that is hard to ignore.  However, it was a small price to pay for a fun weekend, and nothing which couldn’t be cured by a few squirts of Fabreeze and windows thrown wide open.   So, if any of my other eye buddies fancy booking themselves in for an RD holiday, just let me know…

Gill, asleep on the sofa.

Snooze time

Note: Fertilising the courgettes and sniffing around the garden is not obligatory.

Note 2: Please pack deodorant.

The dentist’s ceiling

Nobody likes going to the dentist’s; it’s just one of those things in life that we have to grit our teeth and get on with [pun intended].  As with many day to day things which are taken for granted by most people, it’s also something which a lot of RD patients tend to worry about.  “Will the vibrations of the dental instruments affect my retina?”; “Will it be okay to lie back in the dentist’s chair?”; “What if I need treatment – will it be safe to have a filling?” .  I consider myself fairly fortunate on the dental front, unless you count the six extractions to make space in an overcrowded mouth (a clear design fault there!) and the dreaded ‘train tracks’ of my teenage years, which pushed me to the very fringes of ‘the out crowd’ at school.  As I’ve got older, a recurrent fear of my annual trips to the dentist has been, “Oh no – this time I might actually need a FILLING!”   However, one positive of RD and multiple eye surgeries is that in comparison with that horror, a visit to the dentist’s is a piece of cake.  (Cake with reduced sugar content, obviously.)  Also, as I pointed out to a friend, if I ever do need false teeth, at least they’re capable of doing the job required.  Unlike a prosthetic eye, which would function merely to preserve outward appearance.

After my first two RD surgeries, the time between my dental check-ups had stretched to well over a year, but I eventually plucked up the courage to make an appointment.  Upon being asked the customary question: “Has anything changed in your medical history since your last appointment?”, I explained that I’d had some eye surgery for retinal detachments.  “Oh well, I’ll try not to poke you in the eye then”, he said breezily, completely oblivious to my icy glare as he rattled his instruments of torture dental equipment on the little tray by his side.

I haven’t mentioned the eye surgery since that first time, although after surgery number five I did check with the ophthalmologist that it would be okay to go to the dentists, and he said it would be fine.  I still get nervous about going though, and often put off making the appointment.  This year’s reluctant visit took place a few weeks ago.  After scrupulously brushing my teeth in the loos after work (I assumed that the sign declaring, “This sink is for hand washing only; please do not put paint down the sink” for the benefit of the Architecture students didn’t apply to toothpaste), I headed off to the dreaded dentist’s.

As I’m not supposed to lie on my back because of the silicone oil in my eye, I always wait until the last possible moment before lying back in the chair.  If he doesn’t start the examination immediately, I raise my head again until he’s ready.  I shut my eyes against the glare of the huge overhead lamp as he counts and prods and pokes at my teeth.  Obviously, I understand the need for the bright overhead lamp, but something which never fails to astound me is the large flat screen television mounted on the ceiling.  So when I cautiously half-open my ‘good’ eye to peer out at various points and see what he’s doing, I have to avoid the glare of both the overhead lamp and the huge bright television screen.  “Do any of his patients actually watch the television whilst undergoing dental treatment?”, I wonder each time I visit.  Is it there as a method of distraction?  Or because he stacks up so much spare cash from his extortionate charges that it seemed a good thing to splash out on?  I really have no idea, but if anyone does actually watch a spot of telly whilst undergoing their scale and polish, do let me know as I’m rather intrigued!

Fortunately, one good thing about my dentist is that he’s incredibly quick.  So without too much ado, I was able to sit upright again and allow the slight queasy dizziness to subside along with the floaters in my eye which had been stirred up by the oil sloshing around as a result of lying back.  All was fine, although as the receptionist informed me of the amount owing for the ten-minute appointment, I opened wide without being asked to, and had to swiftly catch my chin before it hit the desk.

Note: For a far more interesting story about eyes and teeth, check out the following: http://www.itv.com/news/utv/2017-06-22/glimpse-of-hope-after-rare-tooth-in-eye-surgery/

 

RD Holidays

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…

And the prize goes to…

It’s prizes season again.  You might be forgiven for thinking that this is a good thing.  After all, prizes are generally considered to be positive things, to be greeted with squeals of excitement and delight whilst perhaps clapping hands together or indulging in a little skip.  Rather like surprises, in fact.  I wonder if that’s why the word ‘surprise’ includes ‘prize’ in it?  Well… sort of, anyway.  But enough of this etymological digression – interesting though it is – and back to the matter in hand.

In this case, the fact that it’s prizes season again fills my heart more with dread than joy.  I should probably explain at this point that it’s student prizes that I’m talking about here.  Part of my job involves the annual calculation of exam results to figure out which students are the lucky winners of certain prizes.  Apparently, the fact that they’re studying at what the TEF considers to be a ‘golden’ university [pauses to stifle a snort] isn’t enough, and we need to award them prizes as well.  Although to be fair, the prizes have been awarded for long before the TEF was even thought about.  Anyway… this particular job involves me spending hours running lists of data, linking it up with other lists of data, and then staring at row after row and column after column of Excel spreadsheets in order to work out in an extremely long-drawn-out and sometimes quite literally painful fashion, which students should be awarded which prizes.

I don’t know whether any of my eye buddies find the same, but for me Excel is visually pretty horrible to work with for extended periods of time.  All those lines and columns are an effort to focus on, and spending long periods of time scrolling back and forth through rows and columns of data make my eyes ache.  I’m getting through about three times the amount of eye drops I usually use in a day at the office, and my eyes still ache more than usual by the time I get home in the evening.  If it wasn’t so intense over such a short period of time, it probably wouldn’t be as bad.  But because this work has to be completed relatively quickly due to various deadlines, I pretty much have to just crack on with it.  As a result, I find that Excel in large doses is even worse than Dreamweaver, a program which I find quite appalling in terms of accessibility.  Even before my eye issues, I found the size of the font on the menus and files within Dreamweaver difficult to read.  These days, it’s horrendous, and I simply can’t use it for long periods of time.  Of course, there’s always the magnifier, but that’s not particularly user-friendly either, especially when trying to move between files fairly quickly in order to get stuff done.  Maybe I should start thinking about those ideas for a new job again, which I explored in New vision, new job…?

Of course, what makes prizes season worse is the fact that back in June 2014, just two weeks after I’d returned to work after my long period of sick leave following my first retinal detachment, I was starting to work on prizes again when my retina detached for the second time, leading to a mad dash back to the hospital.  So now, prizes are associated in my head with a particularly grim period of my life.  Unfortunately, being aware of this and understanding that it is merely an association does nothing to block out all the unpleasant memories.

However, I managed to plough through the dreaded task of poxy prizes last year and will hopefully manage to do so again this year, amidst much swearing, gnashing of teeth, and pausing to administer eye drops.  The final year prizes are almost done now, so it’s just first years to go once the results are published.  And as to who the prize is going to… well, quite frankly, I think it should go to me once all of this is done and dusted.  I might just award myself a £50 book voucher.  Or perhaps bake a celebratory cake instead…

Note to self: Must remember to stock up on eye drops in prizes season.  And lottery tickets.  Lots of lottery tickets.

Second note to self: Even prizes are better than more eye surgery.

Rats and opera glasses

It was on a sunny Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago that I spotted the little blighter myself.  His huge hairy brown backside swayed gently from side to side as he sauntered brazenly down my garden path in the broad daylight; his tail trailing casually along behind him.  He didn’t even bother to take cover in the shrubbery.  “Great”, I muttered to myself as I sighed in resignation and proceeded to fire up the laptop and google ‘pest control, Canterbury City Council’.  My irritation increased as the web page informed me that the council no longer offered a pest control service, and advised me to search under several accredited bodies for a reputable private service instead.

I should probably explain at this point that rats have been recurrent unwelcome visitors to my garden throughout the ten years that I’ve lived in my little house.  When I say ‘recurrent’, it could be worse – the last time my neighbours and I had to call out pest control was about 2012.  However, about a year before that we had a most unpleasant episode when they burrowed down (the rats that is, not pest control) and got into my neighbour’s cavity walls and up into his loft.  That frantic sound of scrabbling in the walls is not one which is easily forgotten, and my skin still crawls at the memory.  So clearly we don’t want that to happen again.

After spotting The Intruder (it seems appropriate to use capitalisation here), I became ever so slightly obsessed with staring out of the window whilst clutching a hefty baseball bat, ready to rush out and whack it over the head the second it had the audacity to appear.  Okay, so maybe the bit about the baseball bat isn’t strictly true, but the first part certainly is.  I’d already undertaken a meticulous examination of my garden and spotted the exact place where I suspected it was making its unwelcome and illegal entrance.  (Maybe I should build a wall there, and get the other rats to pay for it…)  In the absence of Rat Cam, I had to rely on my own dodgy vision to track the blighter’s movements.

A couple of days later, early in the morning, I spotted a suspicious looking brown shape loitering in the middle of my lawn.  As it was so early, I wasn’t wearing my specs.  I therefore grabbed the closest instrument of magnification I could lay my hands on, which just happened to be a pair of antique opera glasses.  I raised them to my eyes with trembling hands and baited breath and spotted… the blurry shape of a blackbird, pecking about in the lawn.  I exhaled, and then set about trying to sharpen up the image seen through the opera glasses.

I figured that the glasses must have been at the optimum setting for my eyes pre-retinal detachment.  I closed my good eye and looked through them using just my bad eye.  The image was very blurry, but surprisingly I managed to improve it by turning the little dial to the right as far as it would go.  Obviously it was still blurred as I was looking through my waffy RD eye which has silicone oil in it; but it was better than I expected and certainly better than when I just have my specs on.  I then closed my bad eye and tried looking through my good eye without adjusting the settings.  It was horrendous!  In order to get it back into focus, I had to turn the dial almost all the way to the left.  I then closed my good eye and opened my bad eye again, but was back to a blurry mess once more.  I tried to adjust the opera glasses so that I could get a decent overall image whilst looking with both eyes, but it was impossible.

At this point, I had to stop as the experiment was beginning to make me feel a little dizzy and queasy.  However, it gave me a greater understanding of why the optometrist had said that my vision in each eye is so unbalanced that it’s impossible to fully correct it with glasses.  It also made me wonder whether this unbalanced vision, coupled with the fact that I’m still apparently right-eye dominant despite the vision in my right eye being extremely poor, is the reason for my frequent headaches, which are sometimes accompanied by a slight feeling of nausea.

Anyway, I’m hoping that Rat Man (aka pest control) will be able to do his stuff and dispatch The Intruder swiftly, in the same manner that Hamlet disposed of Polonius.  At the cost of two full-price return train tickets to Moorfields, the service certainly isn’t cheap, but I guess that’s to be expected when hiring a hit man…

Looking out on the garden through a pair of opera glasses.

Rat-hunting through the opera glasses

Paintings for sale!

“What can I do to help my eyes?”, has been a recurring and increasingly desperate question put to various surgeons during my hospital appointments over the past couple of years.  To my dismay, I’ve always been told that there’s nothing that I can actually do, although there are certain things which are certainly best avoided (have a read of “Don’t get a head trauma”, if you’re wondering what).  However, one positive thing I am able to do is to fundraise for Moorfields Eye Charity, and this is the main reason I’ll be taking part in Eye to Eye again, in March 2017.  Although this isn’t helping my eyes directly, there’s a possibility that the results of research undertaken by Moorfields may benefit me in the future.  And if it doesn’t, at least I know that it will be helping other people suffering with sight-threatening conditions.  With this in mind, it seems like a good idea to have  a bash at selling some of my paintings and donating the proceeds to Moorfields Eye Charity.

Although I’ve sold a reasonable number of paintings in the past, I haven’t ventured down this route for many years.  Two of the little galleries which took my work have now unfortunately closed down, and the third has expanded into an enterprise which no longer has space for the likes of me, exhibiting work for sale at jaw-dropping prices by well established, proper artists who are actually able to make a living out of putting oil on canvas.  Selling work through galleries probably wouldn’t be the best method of raising money for charity anyway, as usually they insist that paintings are framed first (which can be pretty expensive), and they commonly take between 20% and 30% commission.  Having said that, nothing quite beats the confidence-boost of being contacted by a gallery with the news that a complete stranger has parted with their hard-earned cash in return for one of my paintings.

But I digress.  The point is that I now have quite a collection of paintings propped up against the walls of my spare room, which I’d be happy to part with in order to raise money for a cause which is very important to me.  I’m not going to start putting price tags on them as I was always hugely embarrassed at that aspect of selling my work and asked the galleries to price them for me.  A painting is only worth what someone is prepared to pay for it at the end of the day.  They’re all oil on canvas, and  if you hover over each image, you should be able to read the titles and dimensions.  If you’re interested in any of them, please drop me a message or an email, or just comment on this blog post.  Feel free to share, if you think others may be interested.  There are no prizes for correctly guessing which were painted before my retinal detachments and which were painted afterwards… 😉

Note: An explanation of ‘Eye Chart’ can be found in the blog post, Oil on canvas.

 

 

Christmas kindness and a criminal confession

I have a shocking admission to make.  It may be advisable for readers of a more delicate constitution to ensure that smelling salts are on standby, or at least a cup of hot sweet tea.  My confession is this: despite being an ardent admirer of nineteenth century English literature, I’ve never been able to get along with Charles Dickens.  I know… I know… [puts head in hands and sighs in shame].  In fact, my crime is heightened by the fact that I’ve never even been able to make it past the first few chapters of a Dickens novel.  Lord knows, I’ve tried.  I’ve attempted ‘Hard Times’, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’, and many more besides, but all have been cast aside with a frustrated sigh.

During my student days, studying a module in Victorian literature, the two lectures on Dickens were my only absences during the entire three years of my degree.  When gently asked by my English tutor if all was well, as she’d noticed my unusual absence, it probably wasn’t a great idea to admit that I detested Charles Dickens and that as I had no intention of writing an essay on him for either coursework or examination, I had felt that my time had been better spent in studying other authors.  She stared at me in consternation for a few moments but happily didn’t hold it against me.  I won’t go into the reasons for my dislike of the grandfather of Victorian literature as, after all, this is supposed to be a blog about retinal detachment, not literary criticism (although you might be forgiven for querying this if you read my blog post, ‘More than this…?’).  Bear with me, dear Reader, for I will get to the point eventually.  So said Polonius too, I seem to recall…

A few months ago I stumbled across the quote, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”  Much to my amazement, it was attributed to none other than a Mr Charles Dickens.  “Oooo”, I thought, “I really like that concept!”  Personally, having been forced to deal with a life-changing eye condition on a daily basis, along with the constant worry of what the future may hold, I’ve found it very easy at times to become frustrated, low, and end up feeling generally useless in the world.  I suspect that this is probably true of many people dealing with a long-term serious health condition, regardless of what it is.  Additionally, as one prone to unwelcome visitations from Mr Pip, this sense of uselessness can, at times, be very much heightened.  Hence, I found Dickens’ quote to be hugely encouraging because basically it points out that there’s pretty much always something which can be done to make life a little brighter for someone else.  Even in the grimness of posturing there are potentially interesting conversations and ‘phone calls to be had, or dogs to encourage upstairs (have a read of Pondering Posturing, if you’re wondering what I’m going on about here).  I decided that I would make a conscious effort to remember this in my moments of gloom and acquired a simple framed print of the quote which now hangs on my wall as a reminder of this resolution.

When I came across a ‘kindness advent calendar’, the purpose of which was to encourage people to carry out a small act of kindness each day during advent, I rather liked the idea, and entered into the challenge with gusto.  Topically, being somewhat Scrooge-like about the whole ridiculous over-commercialised materialistic nonsense of Christmas, I regarded the kindness advent calendar as something of an antidote to these negative aspects of the festive season.  I’ve gone off-piste with the challenges and pretty much done my own thing, although I have used some of the suggested ideas as well.  My alternatives have included: donating books to charity, writing a funny poem to my sister (fortunately, she did laugh), baking shortbread to cheer up a colleague, posting a bottle of lavender pillow mist to a fellow insomniac, and many more besides.  I’ve found it quite satisfying – and occasionally challenging – to think of different things to do, and it has certainly offset the sometimes crippling feelings of uselessness.  Interestingly, the person who came up with the idea suffers from ME / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  In her blog, ‘make today happy’, she talks about incorporating acts of kindness into her daily life as a mechanism for aiding her recovery journey.  I think Charles Dickens would have approved.  Incidentally, after a fair amount of hunting around, I discovered that Dickens’ quote appears to come from his last completed novel, ‘Our Mutual Friend’ (someone please correct me if I’m wrong here).  I may need to locate a copy and have a last-ditch attempt at redeeming myself as a true fan of nineteenth century English literature…