Working in a university means that I’ve heard an awful lot about ‘graduate attributes’ lately. ‘Graduate attributes’ appears to be the latest buzz phrase in the
plot to try and convince students that they’re not wasting their money and graduating with a mountain of debt in vain worthy aim of higher education institutions to not only provide students with a good solid education in their chosen field, but also to make them responsible, respectable and, above all, employable citizens. Basically, ‘graduate attributes’ appears to be a marketing strategy to boost student recruitment and improve league table results set of qualities and skills which students are encouraged to develop during their time at university. These vary from one institution to another, but typical examples include the following: confidence, digital literacy, adaptability, integrity, effective communication skills… the list goes on and on. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if tuition fees are actually trebled soon, if students continue to graduate with such impressively long lists of transferrable skills.
But I digress. Hearing so much about ‘graduate attributes’ got me thinking about what the typical attributes of a seasoned retinal detachment patient might be. So I set up a working party, a focus group, and a couple of committees and then came up with the following list:
Waiting in hospitals for appointments; waiting for our eyes to dilate; posturing for hours and hours with our heads stuffed into pillows, bones digging into mattresses, and muscles aching; waiting for gas bubbles to disperse; waiting and hoping that our retinas have successfully reattached… It’s clear from all this that it’s pretty much impossible to be an impatient RD patient.
Those hours, days, weeks, and sometimes even months of painful posturing which we force ourselves through because we know it’s the one positive thing we can actually do to try and get the sodding retina to stick demonstrates our gritty determination in the face of physical and mental torture.
This one is particularly appropriate for those of us who have had to endure multiple detachments and surgeries. Our vision changes dramatically from blindness, to light perception, to weird wobbly shapes and crooked edges, to underwater fuzziness. After each detachment and each surgery we have to accustom ourselves to further visual changes, but we get up again (once we’re given the all-clear to stop posturing) and we just keep ploughing on… In fact, the lyrics of this song’s chorus seem particularly appropriate: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LODkVkpaVQA. If you’re an RD patient, join me right now in having a listen and singing along to the chorus REALLY loudly. 🙂
Okay, now I get this is supposed to be a list of positive attributes, but I like to take a realistic approach. Clearly the same can’t be said of ‘graduate attributes’ as neither ‘getting drunk on cheap beer in the student union’ nor ‘leaving half-eaten plates of mouldy food around in a shared house’ seems to feature on any of the lists I’ve read so far. But anyway – unfortunately, anxiety certainly seems to be extremely common in RD patients. Eyesight is precious. It’s the sense which people fear losing above all others. It’s therefore perfectly understandable that we often feel anxious about the very real risk of further sight loss.
- A sense of perspective
As mentioned above, RD is grim and life-changing. Eye surgery is frightening, and its after-effects of often overwhelming anxiety can be utterly exhausting at times. However, I have found that this has led to a useful sense of perspective when faced with other unpleasant / dull / tedious / scary things I have to do. I simply ask myself the question: “Is it as bad as eye surgery?”. The answer, so far, has always been a resounding, “No”. So then I just crack on and do whatever it is that I have to do.
- Awareness of true friends
They say you find out who your true friends are when you’re going through a hard time, and I can confirm this to be absolutely true. It can be hugely upsetting and disappointing to discover that someone you’ve known for years and believed was an old friend is actually not a true friend; however with number 5 in mind, I’ve learnt that it’s better not to waste time on such people. Instead, it’s far more helpful to focus on the genuine people in our lives and enjoy spending time with them.
- Extended swearing vocabulary
When your retina detaches again, and again, and again, and AGAIN (okay, you get the picture), a short, sharp explosion of expletives can prove to be extremely satisfying in releasing pent up frustration. It turns out that there’s a wide variety of adjectives with which to describe a retina which won’t remain attached, apart from ‘sodding’.
So that’s my list of RD patient attributes. If you can think of anything else which you believe should be on that list, just let me know in the comments below! Writing this post has made me realise that I’ve learnt some far more valuable lessons from dealing with RD than I did during my three years as a student. Never mind my 2.1 in Art and English; I just wish I could graduate from my RD experience with 6/6 vision…