Category Archives: Random Ramblings

Don’t pretend to be a stupid person!

If you read my last blog post, ‘Hunt the optometrist: round 4‘, you’ll know that I went for my ‘normal’ eye test a couple of weeks ago.  I use the word ‘normal’ loosely, as sadly my pesky peepers will never again fit into that longed-for category.  So fearful was I that the optometrist might find something wrong that I booked the very first eye test appointment of the day, just to ensure that I had time to hot-foot it up to Moorfields on the train if necessary.  But I digress…

The reason I’m writing today’s blog post is not to talk about my own eye test, but yours, dear reader.  Yes… yours!  When did you last have an eye test?  Normally (there’s that word again), people are advised to have one every two years.  That includes children, in case you’re wondering.  In fact, it’s particularly important for children to get their eyes tested regularly, as they may not be aware of what ‘normal’ (aaarrggh!) vision should look like, and any visual problems are likely to affect their educational development.  It can be tricky keeping up at school with waffy vision.  A standard eye test will take approximately 30 minutes every couple of years – that’s really not much of a commitment to make in order to look after your vision, is it?  If you’re in the UK, you can even find vouchers for free eye tests – just Google ‘free eye test vouchers’.

Since my eye problems began, I’ve been keen to nag harass threaten encourage people to realise the importance of taking care of their eyes by going for regular eye tests.  Of course, the main reason for my concern is that if more people do this, any problems are likely to be picked up far more quickly and hence there won’t be even more people clogging up the already packed hospital eye clinics.  This will be a huge plus for myself and my long-suffering eye buddies.  But apart from that, here are a few more reasons why regular eye tests are so important:

  • Some eye conditions don’t have any obvious symptoms and can progress very gradually – for example glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts.  An eye test can pick up early signs of sight-threatening conditions such as these, so that they can be treated swiftly, allowing a better chance of a successful resolution.
  • Other health conditions – for example diabetes – can be detected as a result of an eye test.  Again, once diagnosed, people can get treatment more quickly.
  • Often people don’t realise that they need glasses or contact lenses because changes in eyesight can occur very gradually and people just assume that as they get older their eyesight will get worse.  By having an eye test and sorting out any problems, people can improve their vision and therefore their quality of life.  Why peer and squint if you don’t have to?!
  • With the above in mind, it’s particularly important for people who drive to get their eyesight checked regularly, to ensure that they meet the requirements for driving.
  • Eyes are the second most complex organ in the human body, after the brain, and you only get one pair.  Treat them with respect.
  • Finally, a frightening statistic from the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness: 80% of blind people in the world are avoidably so.  Don’t find yourself contributing towards that statistic!

Faced with all that, why on earth do people not just ruddy well go and get their eyes tested regularly?  I’m not entirely sure, but I think the main reasons are: misplaced confidence (i.e. “My eyesight is great; I don’t need an eye test!”); fear of having to wear glasses as it’s often associated with getting older; or just plain laziness.  Regarding the first reason – if that’s the case, then go and get it checked and then you can gloat freely about having perfect eyesight.  Concerning the second reason – your vision is far more important than your vanity: get a grip.  As for the third reason – pffft, I have no time for laziness!

It frustrates me when people appear to be so blase about their sight, and when family or friends treat their eyes so casually I actually find myself getting genuinely upset about it.  It’s a tricky one, because of course I don’t want to hassle people, and there’s only so much I can do on the encouragement front.  I thought I’d cracked it with a certain person a few weeks ago by casually presenting her with a voucher for a free eye test, which I’d been given.  This is someone who confessed to me some time ago that she hadn’t had an eye test since she was a child and when faced with my dropped jaw, she’d insisted that her sight was excellent and therefore she didn’t need a test.  I was even more dismayed the other day when I mentioned the voucher and she replied that she might not use it after all!  Horses and water sprang to mind and it was clear that there wasn’t much point in reitterating all the benefits of having regular eye tests.  Instead, I stifled a frustrated groan, sighed a huge internal sigh of disappointment, and pointed out only half-jokily, “But you’re an intelligent person!  Don’t pretend to be a stupid person – get an eye test!”  I’m not sure whether she will, but I did ask her to pass the voucher on to someone else if she doesn’t intend using it herself.

I shall end this post with a plea directly to you, dear reader.  Yes… YOU!  Now, clearly you’re pretty intelligent, wouldn’t you agree?  Have you had an eye test in the past couple of years?  If not, please go and get it sorted.  Don’t pretend to be a stupid person.

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Tooth hurty!

One of my friends has an extensive repertoire of eye-rollingly bad jokes – most of them obtained from ‘The Ha Ha Bonk Book’.  That’s a children’s joke book, in case you’re wondering.  Whenever she receives the reply, “Two thirty” to her casual enquiry, “What’s the time?”, she’ll take delight in responding, “You’d better go to the dentist’s then!”.

And that is exactly what I did a couple of weeks ago, after waking up at 3am with stonking toothache, radiating from the area of a wisdom tooth which periodically flares up a bit.  This time, however, it was more than just a bit as it kept me awake for the rest of the night.  When I arose with the dawn I stomped to the bathroom and peered, blearily-eyed, into the mirror with my mouth opened wide, using a torch to illuminate the angry red mass adjacent to my tonsils.  After a few minutes of angling, peering, and yelping, I decided it would be prudent to stop in case I managed to smash the mirror with the end of the rather long torch and so sentence myself to seven years of bad luck.  I breakfasted on lukewarm tea, slurped through the opposite side of my mouth from the offending tooth, tiny bites of soft banana, and a couple of ibuprofen, and then headed off to the dentist’s.  I felt particularly disgruntled by this turn of events as it was the last day of my week of annual leave (which I’d hoped would work miracles on the relaxation front, leading to a renewed and revitalised me), and my birthday was in two days time.  No sweet treats or birthday cake for me, then… 😦

I reluctantly lay back in the dentist’s chair, fearing for my oil-filled RD eye as well as my aching wisdom tooth as I obeyed the dreaded instruction to “open wide” with an internal sigh whilst gripping the edge of the chair.  “Oh dear, yes, I can see exactly what the problem is!”, exclaimed the dentist, which did nothing to calm my frayed nerves as I proceeded to visualise my tooth hanging by a bloody thread with a puscular mass of green gunk welling up from deep inside the gum.  Fortunately, it wasn’t actually that bad: I just had a severely inflammed gum.  “It often happens when you get a bit of food stuck and if you’re a bit low and tired it can cause everything to flare up”, the dentist explained, leading me to wail, “But I’ve only just had a holiday!”.  He was all set to prescribe antibiotics as a precaution in case it got worse over the weekend, but then retreated to ‘The Drugs Bible’ when I told him that I’d had multiple retinal detachments and would need to be sure they were safe for me to take.  I was vaguely aware of recent research which had found a link between certain antibiotics and RD, and so I wasn’t prepared to take any chances.  After deliberating, he decided he didn’t want to give me antibiotics until I’d checked with Moorfields as to which ones would be okay.  When he noted that it would be good to get an updated medical history from me for the records I reacted with surprise, explaining that I’d done that at my annual check-up appointment just a couple of months previously.  “Oh!”, he said, in equal surprise, peering at the computer screen.  “All it says here is, ‘seeing doctor about her eyes'”.  Genius.

Instead of antibiotics, he gave the offending tooth a good clean-out (ouch) and advised continuing with ibuprofen and salt water mouthwashes.  When I got home, I rang the Moorfields advice line about the antibiotics query, whereupon I was put through to their pharmacy.  First, I was told that I’d need to check with my consultant; then I was told that the Canadian study which found a link between certain antibiotics and RD was flawed; and finally I was told that the antibiotics the dentist had suggested would be fine and the important thing was to take whatever was the best for my tooth.  All of this advice was given by the same person and did nothing to ease my niggling doubts on the issue.  I’ll be seeing my consultant in November and so will ask about antibiotics then, but unless I definitely need to take them, I don’t  really want to bother him in the meantime.  I’m pretty sure that the Canadian study led to warnings being included on the boxes of certain antibiotics, which suggests that there is a cause for concern regarding these specific ones.  And as for taking whatever was the best thing for the tooth… surely the whole picture needs to be considered?!  I mean, a decent medical professional wouldn’t just hand out aspirin to treat the heart condition of a haemophiliac, would they?  Okay, I admit that I know next to nothing about haemophilia or heart conditions, but you take my point.

Anyway… fortunately, after dosing up on ibuprofen and swilling my mouth out with the contents of the North Sea, the toothache gradually retreated and the gum seems to have returned to its normal size.  I’m still treating it cautiously and am hoping that it won’t flare up again… or at least not until after my next Moorfields appointment in November anyway.

Note:  The group of antibiotics which have been linked to RD are Fluoroquinolones.

Note 2:  ‘The Ha Ha Bonk Book’ is by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, and comes highly recommended by my hilarious friend.  If anyone can explain the joke concerning Tarzan, Jane, and colour-blindness on page 16, please do let me know.  This has been something which has puzzled my friend since the tender age of 7 and she’s now reached the ripe old age of 40 but so far, nobody has been able to explain it.

Eye-opening facts about our peepers

I’ve learnt a heck of a lot about eyes in the past three years.  The only problem is, as with many things, the more I learn the more I realise there is to learn.  But anyway, I thought it would be fun to compile a little list of some of the more fascinating facts about our eyes…

  • Only one sixth of the human eyeball is exposed.
  • The human eye weighs approximately just under an ounce (28 grams).
  • Our eyes are composed of more than two million working parts.
  • Eyes are the second most complex organ in the human body, after the brain.
  • Our eyes actually project an image onto our retina which is upside down and inverted, and our brain then flips the image.  George Stratton, an American psychologist, conducted an experiment whereby he wore an adapted lens which meant that everything he saw appeared to be inverted and upside down.  After a few days, his brain adapted and he began to see things the right way up once more.
  • The active ingredient of dilation drops is atropine, derived from Deadly Nightshade.  I told my sister this just before one of my eye appointments, and she looked at me with such horror that I felt it necessary to check with the consultant that it’s okay to keep having my eyes dilated.  Fortunately, he said it’s fine…
  • Approximately 50% of the brain is used for seeing and vision.
  • 80% of our memories are determined by what we see.
  • According to research by RNIB, 44% of UK adults said they feared losing their sight more than any long-term health condition, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, and having to use a wheelchair.
  • People generally read text on screen 25 times more slowly than on paper.
  • On average, we blink around 28,000 times per day, and 15-20 times per minute, unless staring at a computer screen, in which case we don’t blink enough.  Now you’re making a conscious effort to blink more as you read this, aren’t you?  🙂
  • 20/20 (or 6/6) vision isn’t ‘perfect vision’ as is often assumed – it’s just normal vision.  However, in my book, there isn’t anything ‘just’ about normal vision…
  • People who were born with sight but later went blind can still see in their dreams, whereas people who were born blind don’t see images in their dreams.  (I feel I need to check this with someone who’s been blind from birth…)
  • Forget 50 shades… the human eye can distinguish 500 shades of grey.
  • Mascacra wands cause the most cosmetics-related eye injuries.  (Maybe that’s why I cringe whenever I see someone applying eye makeup.)
  • One eyelash has an approximate lifespan of five months.
  • The word ‘pupil’ is derived from the Latin ‘pupillus/pupilla’, meaning a little child or doll, as a description of the tiny reflection of your own image which you see when looking into someone’s eye.
  • Don’t share the above facts with someone who suffers from ommatophobia (fear of eyes).  I haven’t yet found a word which means ‘fear of retinal detachment’, but I know a lot of people who have this, so perhaps we should invent one?  Suggestions via the comments below, please!  😉

Reduced vision; increased insight

An entirely rational fear of going blind probably isn’t something which most people in their late thirties and early forties even give a passing thought to.  However, after multiple retinal detachments, it’s now pretty much top of my greatest fears list.  I fear more for my ‘good’ left eye than I do for my bad right eye, because I rely on it for everything.  If my left eye was in the same state as my right, I wouldn’t be able to drive, I wouldn’t be able to see people’s faces properly, I wouldn’t be able to read, or do my job, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy beautiful colours, or watch the birds in my garden, or admire art exhibitions, or go geocaching… the list is endless.  Sometimes I get very gloomy and depressed thinking about all the things I wouldn’t be able to do, and other times I just try not to focus on it (pun intended).

However, my sight problems have also made me think a lot more about how I might do certain things if the worst ever does happen to my ‘good’ eye, and it’s also made me wonder how people who are blind or severely visually impaired manage with certain tasks.  A while ago, I explored one aspect of this in terms of how visually impaired (VI) people cope with cooking.  You can read about this in my posts Dinner in the dark and Blind baking.  The latter also contains a YouTube video of my sister attempting to bake a cake with her eyes closed: I defy anyone to watch it and manage not to laugh, although hopefully it will also make people think.

As a result of all this wondering about how people cope, and internal torture as I contemplate my own visual future, I seem to have developed an increased awareness of VI people when they cross my path as I go about my daily life.  A few times now I’ve seen a guy with a white cane on campus at the university where I work, walking purposefully along, swiping his cane from side to side in front of him.  One day, he was walking along a very narrow, uneven path, flanked on one side by a bank down to the road and on the other side by a somewhat unruly hedge.  I wanted to stop him and ask him how he managed it; whether it was difficult using the cane and how he copes on the rest of campus.  I often notice things on campus and mutter to myself, “That would be a nightmare for a severely visually impaired person!”  Of course, I didn’t stop him.  Mainly because a lesser fear of mine is that of talking to people I don’t know.

Instead, I went home and listened to a podcast about how severely VI or blind people navigate.  I learned that they rely on sound a good deal, and that some tap their cane along the ground and  listen to the sound coming back to help them orient themselves  and get around.  I learned that weather conditions can have a huge impact on navigation.  Apparently snow is the worst, because of course it covers paths making it very easy to rapidly become completely lost.  One person said that she hates the rain because it dampens down sounds and makes it much more difficult to hear things properly.  She said that she can’t wear a hood as that blocks out even more sound, and she can’t use an umbrella as it’s too difficult to navigate with a cane or a guide dog in one hand and an umbrella in the other.  So as well as the annoyance of the rain making navigation more difficult, she also inevitably gets soaked.

Some time after listening to all this, I was standing waiting in the railway station one day when I spotted an older man with a white cane making his way through the door.  He walked past me and then stopped, fished his wallet out of his pocket, and proceeded to hold several bank cards very close to his face and scrutinise them carefully.  This took a few minutes, but he must have found the one he needed, as he put the other one back in his wallet and moved to return it to his pocket.  As he juggled wallet, card, and cane, he then dropped the card.  Immediately, he knelt down and began running his hands across the floor, searching for it.  Just imagine for a few minutes, having to run your hands over a filthy station floor in order to locate an object you’ve dropped, without knowing what they may come into contact with as you do so.  I quickly moved to find it for him, but then realised that he probably wouldn’t a) be able to see me properly, and b) realise that I was trying to help him.  So I said (which seemed a bit of a weird thing to say), “Do you want me to pick it up for you?”  “Yes please!”, he answered with relief in his voice, adding apologetically, “Sorry”.  I wanted to say, “No, no – don’t be sorry!”, and ask him how much he was able to see, and what was wrong with his eyes, and how he managed on the train… but I didn’t.  Instead I just said, “Don’t worry”, as I retrieved his bank card from where it had fallen almost underneath one of his feet, and placed it in his hand.  “Thank you”, he said, before moving off slowly to the ticket office.

Afterward, I wondered how long it would have taken him to find his card if I hadn’t picked it up for him, or whether anyone else would have helped him.  There were a few people around, but they all seemed busy with ticket machines / children / timetables and didn’t appear to notice.  Public places present so many more difficulties and variables than the home environment, and it seems just sheer common sense that people would surely help if they’re fortunate enough to have decent vision and see someone else struggling.

I’m voting for the NHS

I’ve never felt so utterly let down and helpless in relation to my own health as I did on Wednesday 27 May 2015 when, after a dash to Moorfields Eye Hospital at the crack of dawn, I was diagnosed with my fifth retinal detachment.  After several hours of waiting and various examinations, I was advised to go home as they wouldn’t be able to operate that day.  As any RD patient will know, retinal detachment is a medical emergency, leading to loss of sight if not treated swiftly.  In cases where the macula has detached, a delay in surgery of up to one week won’t really affect the final visual outcome, but if the macula is still attached, surgery within 24 hours is strongly recommended.*

At the point of this diagnosis, my macula was still on.  The reason Moorfields couldn’t fit me in for surgery that day was that they’d had a number of other patients in that morning with retinal detachments.  As I’d already had multiple detachments, the prognosis for a good visual outcome in my case was poor, and I was told that I wasn’t a clinical priority.  To say that I was upset by this was a massive understatement.  “But I’m in hospital… you’re supposed to help me, not send me home!  It isn’t even just any old hospital – this is the world-renowned Moorfields Eye Hospital!”, screamed the voice inside my head, in disbelief and dismay.  But there was nothing to be done.  When I asked one of the doctors if it was worth waiting in case they were able to operate that day after all, he advised me to go home and wait for a ‘phone call.

I trudged back to the station along with my sister, with a heavy heart and failing eyesight as the detachment continued its relentless progression.  My sister was furious, and fumed about the unfairness of them sending me away.  Although hugely upset, I pointed out that there was little which the hospital could do.  If they didn’t have the resources to cope with the number of patients, it was only logical that they’d prioritise cases which had the best chance of a good outcome.  I didn’t blame the hospital, but understanding the situation did nothing to diminish its terror.  I spent the rest of that day, and the night, and most of the following day gradually losing more vision in my eye and feeling absolutely petrified that my macula would detach again.  Eventually, I received the long-awaited ‘phone call from Moorfields in the early afternoon of the following day.  I was told to go in immediately, but warned that they still may not be in a position to operate that day.  Fortunately, I eventually went into surgery that evening, and it was around 9pm when I emerged from the operating theatre.

It’s bad enough having to cope with the trauma and ongoing anxiety of RD, without having the additional worry that the hospital may not have the resources to be able to help when needed.  Clearly, this goes for any serious health issue.  If something grim happens, we want to be able to rest assured that at least we’ll receive the best treatment available and will be well cared for.  But how can we expect this to happen if the NHS isn’t cared for itself?  In January, the British Red Cross warned that the NHS was facing a ‘humanitarian crisis’ as hospitals and ambulance services struggled to keep up with increased demand.  There were horrific newspaper articles describing patients on hospital trolleys piled up in corridors, as well as chronic bed shortages and staffing problems.  There were shocking reports of deaths which occurred partly as a result of these issues.  It’s common knowledge that there are serious problems in the NHS and unfortunately many people have first-hand knowledge of this, to a greater or lesser extent.

Yet, despite the fact that demands on the NHS are increasing, it appears that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition and the current Conservative government have put less money into it than it has received in the past.  Have a read of this BBC article, which states that the average annual rise of money going into the NHS since it was created in 1948 has been just over 4%.  During the Labour government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, it was almost 7%.  Now, numbers aren’t my strong point so bear with me here and please correct me if I’m wrong, but if you have a look at the chart under paragraph 6 of the above article, it looks as if the average annual increase in government spending on health from 2009/10 to 2014/15 was only just over 1%.  Note the points made beneath the chart:

As you can see the period since 2010 has seen the tightest financial settlements. What is more, the spending squeeze is continuing during this Parliament at almost exactly the same rate, even with England’s extra £8bn going in.

Ministers in England are right to say they are increasing funding – it’s been frozen in Wales and Scotland – but it’s just that it doesn’t compare favourably with what the NHS has traditionally got.

Indeed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies believes over the 10 years to 2020, the NHS budget across the UK will not have increased enough to keep pace with the ageing and growing population.

Not only has the Conservatives’ lack of sufficient funding for the NHS had a hugely detrimental effect, they also appear to be pretty much kicking the NHS into the ground with many of their other policies.  We had the junior doctors’ strikes as a result of dangerous contracts being enforced upon them; we currently have the risk of EU workers (including doctors and nurses) relocating because the Tory government won’t guarantee their rights following the referendum result; the 1% pay cap for NHS staff is resulting in nurses resorting to food banks and creating a recruitment and retention crisis; and the abolition of NHS bursaries has led to a 23% drop in applications by students in England to nursing and midwifery courses at British universities.  The Tories really do seem to be a tad short-sighted when it comes to planning for the future, don’t they?  I’d recommend that they all go and get themselves checked out at the nearest decent eye clinic, but then that would just clog up the clinics even more than they are already…

As well as doing a considerable amount of highly depressing background reading on this matter, I decided to check out the opinion of friends and people I know who actually work for the NHS and who therefore have inside knowledge of the situation.  I think it speaks volumes that I haven’t yet found anyone who thinks that it would be a good idea to vote Conservative in the General Election on 8 June.  Several of the people I know who work for the NHS are already actively and urgently encouraging people not to vote Conservative if they care for the NHS.  One friend responded to my quick ‘poll’ question of, ‘Do you think it’s a good or a bad idea to vote Conservative with the NHS in mind?’ with the comment:

I think it’s a bad idea to vote Conservative full stop, but yes, a Tory win will be bad for the NHS because they are privatising by stealth and setting us up to fail so that they can sell it off.

She ended this comment with a red, frowny, ANGRY face.  This is someone who always seems relaxed and chilled-out, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her raise her voice.  Someone else who works for the NHS and responded to my poll told me that she doesn’t know anyone at her workplace who would vote Conservative.

There are numerous additional reason as to why I won’t be voting Conservative on 8 June but – for me – the NHS is the most important one.  From everything I’ve read and people I’ve spoken to, it seems very clear that in order to vote for the NHS I need to vote for the party most likely to keep the Tories out, and so that is exactly what I shall be doing.

*I’m sure this was previously stated in the NICE guidelines concerning retinal detachment but, upon checking, I found that they appear to have been amended… hmmm.

 

Christmas lights and wire cutters

I spotted the first sign of impending irritation on Sunday 27 November, as i was heading out for a chilly weekend walk.  A very long ladder set up against the side of one of the houses opposite me, with a man at the top, carefully tacking something along the edge of the roof.  At first glance it looked innocent enough, but I knew exactly what he was doing.  I briefly contemplated the idea of kicking the ladder out from underneath him or grabbing my neighbour’s garden hose with its handy power-spray and dousing him with freezing water.  I suspected that, although bringing a moment of personal satisfaction, such behaviour in this season of goodwill would probably be frowned upon by the majority of people.  So instead I simply snorted the same kind of snort expressing disbelief mixed with resigned annoyance which I’d used when I spotted a towering display of deep-filled mince pies in Sainsbury’s way back in September.  I mean, whatever happened to the twelve days of Christmas?  When did it become four and a half months of Christmas, for goodness sake?!  I have an annual competition with one of my friends as to which of us first hears the utterance, “Christmas is just around the corner!”.  I believe the record so far is late October.

However, I digress.  The point is that Sunday 27th November marked the start of the determined march of the Christmas lights of torture.  By nightfall that evening, it became dazzlingly clear that a number of residents along my road had joined in.  Okay, so maybe ‘torture’ is putting it a bit strongly, but they’re certainly hugely irritating.  I’m not the only one to find them so either.  Earlier today, a member of the online retinal detachment support group I belong to posted the following question: “Is anyone else  with RD completely annoyed by Christmas lights?  I used to love looking at Christmas lights and now they are just one blurry distraction.  :-(”  Another member of the group commented that for the first two or three years after her surgery in 2007, she was unable to look at Christmas lights for very long.  She went on to relate: I remember my family all going to pick out an ornament at a local Santa shop later that year and when I walked in (50+ trees lit up and decorated), I got dizzy and had to leave. I wasn’t close to 20/20 yet, both eyes were different rx and I had double vision, so each tree having 1000 lights on them was overload! I was pretty upset, as it was a tradition to go to that store and I felt like it was all over.

Just as any bright lights can be a challenge for many RD patients to deal with (fluorescent lights and those other horribly bright lights in supermarkets or some workplaces; car headlights, sunlight, bright computer screens… the list goes on and on), it’s just the same with Christmas lights.  I’m sure they’re brighter than they ever used to be, and the flashing ones are particularly irritating.  I genuinely think that the blue flashing ones are downright dangerous, as on several occasions whilst driving I’ve pulled over, thinking an ambulance was approaching, only to discover that it was just a resident with extremely bad taste who had decorated their house with hundreds of blue flashing fairy lights.  Therein lies another issue – taste.  What happened to the ‘less is more’ philosophy?!  Even before my RD issues, I was of the opinion that while sparing decorations of (non-flashing) white lights could actually be quite inviting and attractive; any more than this rapidly achieved the opposite effect of cheap ‘Santa’s grotto’.  Ironic really, as it must cost some people a small fortune in additional electricity each year.

The house just across the road from me now has bright blue lights lining the edge of the roof, a huge star beneath the eaves which flashes first blue then white, a giant multi-coloured flashing ‘Merry Christmas’ set high on the wall, a scribble of bright blue lights above the porch, and tiny red lights decorating a small tree beside the front door.  As if this isn’t enough, on some evenings one of the first floor windows lights up in slow flashes of red and green, as if some kind of psychedelic disco is in progress within.  When I’m driving down the road, I have to keep my eyes firmly focused on the opposite side, or it plays havoc with my vision.  Each time I drive past, I find myself wishing I’d indulged my original idea involving the ladder or the garden hose while I had the chance.  However, I have a cunning plan which involves wire cutters at dusk.  Just don’t let on that it was me who plunged my entire street back into respectable dimly-lit gloom on this chilly December evening.  I think I might go and polish off that bag of humbugs now…

Dietary dilemmas

After a member of the Retinal Detachment support group on Facebook gave us all the heads up that the question of whether certain foods or nutritional supplements could improve eyesight was going to be explored on the BBC2 programme ‘Trust me, I’m a Doctor’, I decided I’d better dust off the TV and  tune in.  As the haunted fish tank is something which no longer features in my life, I completely forgot.  But – hurrah for iPlayer – I managed to catch up with it a couple of weeks later.

The programme mentioned the three carotenoids which are important for eye health: lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin.  These are pigments found in plants, which protect our eyes from damaging blue or UV light.  Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, brightly coloured peppers, sweetcorn, broccoli, and a number of other fruits and vegetables (check out ‘Good Eye Food’ for a more complete list).  Meso-zeaxanthin can’t be found in plants but it’s believed that it’s made in our bodies from lutein.

The programme went on to refer to recent research undertaken by Professor John Nolan at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland, which suggests that increasing the levels of these three carotenoids in our diets can improve our eyesight.  The programme makers put this to the test by conducting an experiment in which ten volunteers drank a green smoothie every day for five weeks.  The recipe had been designed so that it contained high levels of lutein and zeaxanthin, in order to find out whether it was possible to improve the eyesight of the volunteers through diet.  The presenter, Michael Moseley (by the way, he really *did* qualify as a doctor… I checked), also took part in the experiment, but he took supplements containing lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin every day for twelve weeks.  Now, I’m not even going to start discussing the results because these experiments are clearly flawed.  The sample size of ten volunteers for an experiment such as this is miniscule.  Not only that, but the viewer was given no information about the other variables or whether they had even been considered.  For example: were the volunteers all of the same age; did they have any medical conditions; what was their eyesight like to start with; what was the rest of their diet like… etc.  The timespan of five weeks also seems extremely short.  Not only that, but the programme didn’t compare like for like.  Results of ten volunteers over five weeks were directly compared to results of one (!) volunteer over twelve weeks.  Making the claim, “Research suggests that it’s cheaper and more effective to take supplements” based on these experiments is dodgy to say the least.

Upon reading a couple of articles associated with the programme, I discovered that the Waterford Institute of Technology had carried out a year-long study of approximately 100 volunteers who all took the same supplements.  “I don’t get it!”, I complained to my sister, in annoyance.  “Why have they done this pseudo-scientific experiment when an actual proper researcher has carried out the work to obtain far more convincing data?  Why didn’t they just discuss the real research?”  “It’s telly, isn’t it?”, observed my sister with the wisdom of one who’s watched a fair amount of trash over the years.  “They’ve just dumbed it all down to reach a wider audience.”

As I was a little frustrated by all this TV malarkey, I went off to look up some information about the research undertaken by the Waterford Institute of Technology.  I learned that Professor Nolan is Principal Investigator of the Macular Pigment Research Group, the mission of which is to “study the role of nutrition for optimising visual function and prevention of blindness, cognitive function and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease”.  In conducting trials for their research, they recruited volunteers with normal eyesight and volunteers who had been diagnosed with early-stage age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in one eye.  Their website specifically states that people with diabetes or who have had laser eye surgery were not suitable.

After further reading around the subject, I was still no closer to an answer as to whether or not supplements containing lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin would help me, as an RD patient.  So, I turned to my eye buddies, posting a question on the RD support group site asking whether anyone had specifically been recommended to take nutritional supplements by their ophthalmologist.  Unusually, there was a fairly resounding silence.  Only one person said that she had been recommended a supplement containing lutein by an ophthalmologist.  Someone else said that her retinal surgeon had told her that lutein may be helpful but that it couldn’t be known for certain.  Another person made the sensible comment that even supplements can be harmful so it’s best to seek medical advice to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks.  So I guess that’s one more question for the ophthalmologist at my next appointment…