Okay, okay… I know that’s not actually how the saying goes. And (horror of horrors) it doesn’t even rhyme! But ask anyone who’s experienced a retinal detachment, and I’m pretty sure that most will tell you that a violent sneeze or coughing fit causes them a certain amount of anxiety. So, following my euphoric exit from Moorfields when I managed to restrain myself from kissing two surgeons and a receptionist and practically skipped along the green line to Old Street tube station (taking the necessary care due to dilated eyes, naturally) whilst busily planning exciting things to do in the next six months, I was more than a little hacked off when I went down with a cold three days later. It was the sort of cold that was likely to be described in a medical letter as ‘a nasty ‘flu-like virus’. Or even, ‘a gentleman’s cold’. I’m reliably informed that research has been undertaken which proves that men do actually suffer more than women with colds. (Hmmm, yes, I’d like to examine this research more closely too.)
Anyway… it was the mother of all colds. I was knackered; I ached; my throat hurt to the extent that I couldn’t even force down a chocolate biscuit (serious, indeed); and then came the sneezes and the snots, followed by the hacking cough. Each time I sneezed, coughed, or blew my nose a little more violently than usual I’d close my eyes and then re-open them cautiously, praying that my retinas were still intact. I know I’m not alone in this fear, as my eye buddies have expressed similar worries about sneezing and coughing. I remember reading the comments of one poor chap who went down with a cold not long after his vitrectomy surgery and thinking “Yiiiiikes!”.
I wonder why we’re so nervous about coughing, / sneezing / blowing our noses, following a retinal detachment, though? I’ve never actually been advised not to do any of the above – apart from during surgery itself, and even then I was told, “Just tell me if you need to cough or think you’re going to sneeze.” Before surgery number four, I frantically blew my nose whilst lying on the bed in pre-op, hoping that I then wouldn’t feel the need to do so during the operation itself. During surgery number five, at one point I had to admit to the surgeon that I felt as if I was going to cough. Fortunately, his reply was reassuring: “Now would be a good time to cough.” So I did. Very, very gently.
I remember reading in my post-op paperwork from one of my first surgeries the instruction, “Don’t try to hold in a sneeze”, so perhaps it is okay. I considered googling, ‘is it okay to cough or sneeze following a retinal detachment’, but Dr Google isn’t actually a medical professional and results of such enquiries should be treated with caution. Perhaps I’ll ask an ophthalmologist next time I speak to one – just for future reference. In the meantime, I’ll continue my attempts to cough, sneeze, and blow my snout in a delicate and ladylike fashion, whilst simultaneously swearing like a trooper under my breath.