Category Archives: Visual Explanations

Visual fields

Living with peripheral vision loss can be a tad embarrassing at times.  It’s caused me to let out a loud girly squeal whilst using the photocopier at work, when the Dean (no less) suddenly appeared on my bad side, seemingly out of nowhere, and boomed “Good morning!” at me.  It’s resulted in me leaping a foot in the air and bashing my knuckles on the hand-dryer in the loo at work, when a student materialised out of thin air at the hand-dryer alongside me.  It’s caused me to berate my good friend when she spotted me in the distance one day and ran to catch up with me, grabbing my right arm as she did so and thereby scaring the living daylights out of me.  I frequently jump violently and then swear with equal violence under my breath when a cyclist whizzes past me as I walk along the paths on campus.  After stumbling over students’ bags in the entrance to my workplace on several occasions, I now walk round and use a different door if I need to enter or exit at the time a lecture is due to start or finish.  Last but not least, I’ve acquired some interesting bruises on my right shoulder due to various minor mishaps.

The loss of peripheral vision in my right eye is due to the 360 degree laser surgery which was done in an attempt to stop the retina from re-detaching and to try and save my central vision.  I suspect the three retinectomies (where part of the retina which won’t lie flat is physically cut away) probably haven’t helped matters, either.  Of course, unless people have actually experienced loss of peripheral vision themselves, it’s difficult to expect them to fully understand.  I thought perhaps a visual interpretation might help, and therefore sought the assistance of my personal patient photographer, who happily doubled up as a person with properly working peepers.  (It’s such a shame that the ‘h’ in ‘photographer’ messes up the alliteration there; however, I digress…)  Our highly scientific peripheral vision experiments when looking at the fields just down the road from my house, followed by extensive jiggery pokery with photo-editing software, led to the following results…

The picture below shows the complete field of vision of a person with properly working peepers, with both eyes open:

Fields

The visual field of someone with ‘normal’ vision.

The following picture shows the field of vision of both a person with properly working peepers and myself, when our right eyes are closed (so looking only through the left eye):

fov-res-w

Visual field of left eye.

The next picture shows the field of vision of a person with properly working peepers, whose left eye is closed (so looking through the right eye only):

fov-les-w-a

Visual field of right eye of someone with ‘normal’ vision.

The final picture (below) shows the field of vision in my right eye, with my left eye closed:

fov-les-w-e

Visual field of my right (RD) eye.

If you compare the last two pictures, you can get some idea of how much peripheral vision I’ve lost in my right eye.  If you look at these pictures in conjunction with the images in my earlier blog post, Do you see what I see?, this gives the most accurate representation possible of my waffy vision as it is at the current time.  So with that in mind, if you could kindly avoid sneaking up on me on my right-hand side, that’d be just grand…

Note: Grateful thanks to the patient photographer for producing these images for me and putting up with extensive peripheral vision analysis in the process.

 

 

 

 

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Blind baking

During a conversation with my sister one day, when we were mulling over how to persuade a few more people to part with their hard-earned cash and donate to our fundraising efforts for Moorfields Eye Charity (https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rd-ramblers), I suggested the idea of making a cup of tea whilst blindfolded and taking a photo of the results to put on Facebook.  I wanted to somehow get people to think about the fact that even the simplest and most mundane of everyday tasks could potentially be extremely difficult for someone who is blind or visually impaired.  I thought it would be great to make it a challenge and get other people to join in and post photos of their efforts in return.  My suggestion was met with a gasp of horror from Lucy, and the disapproving exclamation of, “Errr – health and safety!  You could end up pouring boiling water over your hand!”.  I was slightly crestfallen but had to admit that she did have a point.  Anyway, she must have felt a bit bad about pouring cold water over my idea as a few weeks later she came up with a far better one herself: blind baking.  Obviously, I’m not talking about pastry cases here.  Along with assistance from her talented filmmaker and kitchen guide, Ginny, she proceeded to prepare a cake whilst keeping her eyes tightly closed (she promised she didn’t peek!) and making a fair amount of mess in the process.  The film of their efforts can be watched here, and you can read Lucy’s comments on her experiment below.

I can’t really compare this experience of baking a cake with my eyes closed to that of being blind, but it was an interesting experience!

I had put all the ingredients ready first, so could remember roughly where I had put them, but I had to feel for the different shapes and sizes of packaging.  The main difficulty here was that I was conscious of avoiding knocking anything over whilst feeling for the right packet.

I chose a yohurt pot recipe because all the ingredients are measured in the yoghurt pot or cup, so it’s really easy (with your eyes open!).  I normally hold the cup over the bowl, but found that with my eyes closed I needed two hands to do the actual measuring – one to hold the packet of whatever I was tipping into the cup and another to feel for when I’d reached the top of the cup.

Having managed to get the ingredients in the bowl and mix it to something I hoped resembled cake mix, I realised a mistake: I hadn’t got the cake tin out ready.  I had decided that a cake tin was more practical than cupcakes, but had forgotten to put it ready.  As we ran out of video space by the end, we finished there and I opened my eyes to get the cake tin, grease it and fill with the cake mixture.  However, had I carried on with my eyes shut, I would have had trouble finding the right sized tin in my very full cake tin cupboard.  I think to cope with practicalities of being blind or partially sighted, you must have to really minimise your whole home in order to be able to find things by touch.

So, I managed to prepare a cake with my eyes closed, relying a lot on guidance from Ginny, who was filming, and familiarity of my kitchen.  It was a very thought-provoking experience and the main thing which stayed with me was that the process of preparing the cake was do-able, but the thing I would really miss would be seeing the end product.  Our running commentary gives an idea of what it was like, and I don’t think I made that much mess really, did I?!?!

Huge thanks go to Lucy and Ginny for doing this, and for allowing me to share the video.  If you’d like to give it a go yourself (note: it’s not compulsory to keep your eyes shut whilst doing so), the recipe is as follows:

Using the same size cup or pot of yoghurt, add the following and mix together:
1 cup yoghurt
1 cup oil
1 cup egg (1 egg = 1/2 of a standard cup measure)
1 cup caster sugar
3 cups self-raising flour
Add flavouring of  your choice, for example:
1 cup dried fruit
1 tsp mixed spice
Mix together and pour into greased loaf tin.  Bake at 180 degrees for 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. (Note: the video shows the recipe being made with a standard 1/3 cup measure.  A larger cup mix will take longer to bake.)

Lucy's 'does exactly what it says on the tin' picture of her yoghurt pot loaf cake

Lucy’s ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’ picture of her yoghurt pot loaf cake

 

Oil on canvas

“Your son told me you’re a painter, so I suppose -”
“I used to be.  Not any more.  Now I put oil on canvas.  But anyone can do that.”

Charlotte Gray’ by Sebastian Faulks

Unlike Monsieur Levade in Charlotte Gray, I hadn’t even been putting oil on canvas since surgery number five, back in May 2015.  I thought about painting a lot, and sometimes saw things I wanted to paint; but when it came down to actually setting up my easel and getting my brushes out, I procrastinated.  My eminently practical arty work colleague tried to encourage me by suggesting, “Maybe you just need to find a new way of painting?”.  She told me stories of various art classes she’d attended where the participants were encouraged to engage in wild and wacky behaviour like creating a painting using only red paint; or drawing a circle on the canvas first, which then had to be incorporated into the painting; or (horror of horrors) do life drawings spending only ten minutes on each pose.  I’ve always been a bit of a stickler for detail and accuracy in my paintings, being criticised in my university studio sessions for spending too long measuring things out, and so I listened to these ideas with a mixture of awe and discomfort.

Considering that one of the first thoughts which went through my head after retinal detachment number one was, “Oh my God, what if I can’t paint again?!”, it seems a bit weird that I’ve spent over a year without having painted a single thing.  Then again, I guess it also provides a pretty good indicator of the extent to which my eye problems have affected my confidence in certain aspects of my life.  My reluctance to lift my brushes hasn’t always been quite this bad.  There wasn’t any time to even attempt getting back to painting between surgeries one and two.  However, a few months after surgery number two, I determinedly had the usual fight with my easel (it’s a bit tricky getting it set up) and, amidst much swearing, I produced ‘Silicone Oil Tinted Rose’ (see below).  At  50 x 51cm, this was larger than I usually tend to paint as I thought that this might make it easier.  It didn’t.  ‘Silicone Oil Tinted Rose’ narrowly missed being stabbed with my palette knife in sheer frustration on more than a handful of occasions.  However, I was reasonably satisfied with the final result and it now hangs safely out of reach on my sister’s dining room wall.

'Silicone Oil Tinted Rose'

‘Silicone Oil Tinted Rose’

My next bash at picking up my paintbrushes occurred in April 2015, after surgery number three, and was an attempt to illustrate how the vision in my right eye had changed.  I set up exactly the same still life as I’d painted a few years previously, and attempted to reproduce it using only my RD eye.  When I say using ‘only’ my RD eye, I quickly realised that I couldn’t entirely pull this off.  For starters, when holding the paintbrush at arm’s length to measure the bottles, I found that I couldn’t actually see the end of the brush, let alone where to place it in order to measure the bottles.  Obviously, I had to use my ‘good’ eye in mixing the colours, but I mixed them to try to match what I could see out of my RD eye.  So it was all a bit experimental, but I felt that the end result (below) was a fairly accurate representation of my vision at that time.

Bottles paintings comparison - a visual experiment

Bottles paintings comparison – a visual experiment

I did a couple more bottle paintings after this one, and then came surgeries four and five, followed by the long artistic drought.  My arty work colleague once again offered words of encouragement: “Why don’t you just put some paint on canvas?  It doesn’t matter what you paint, but just mix some colours and see what happens.”  I thought about this for far longer than was necessary.  (“Procrastination is the thief of time”, I heard my Grandad telling me in my head, and pictured him shaking his own whilst raising a shaggy eyebrow and jokingly telling me in a growly voice to “just get on with it!”.)  I dug out a canvas and divided it up into 6cm squares.  This wasn’t done in reference to my much mourned for 6/6 ‘normal’ vision, but in retrospect the number seems somewhat symbolic.  I’ve always been primarily a still life painter, so I decided to select various objects around the house and mix two colours for each object.  One would be as I saw the colour through my ‘good’ eye; the other would be as I saw the same colour through my RD eye.  I then painted each colour on the canvas in a square, side by side.  With each pair of squares, the one on the left shows the colour as I see it through my left (‘good’) eye, and the one on the right shows exactly the same colour as I see it through my right (RD) eye.

I painted the colours of all kinds of everyday objects: the spines of folders and books on the shelves in front of me; the yellow of the toolbox in which I keep my paints; the blue bottle of bleach in the bathroom and its red top; the warm earthy hue of a jar of cinnamon from the kitchen; the bright orange of a drinks coaster given me by a friend; the pale blue of my glasses case…  It felt good just to mix paints again and put the results on canvas (even though I discovered that I had to close my RD eye in order to be able to paint in a straight line).  I realised that I’d missed the smell of oil paint and white spirit wafting through the house, and even managed to laugh rather than swear when I made the familiar mistake of dipping my elbow into my palette and smearing oil paint up my arm.  I was surprised at some of the results of my visual experiment – I had thought that colours containing red were more distorted through my RD eye, but this isn’t actually the case.  There doesn’t seem to be any pattern, other than that colours seen through my RD eye generally appear far less saturated.  Some colours look fairly similar through each eye, but others are dramatically different.  Although I’m sure no-one will want to hang my latest painting on their wall, I’m oddly pleased with it.  It represents not only my current colour vision, but also the jumping of an emotional hurdle in getting back to painting and refusing to be beaten by my ruddy retina.  Now for the difficult question of the next painting… any suggestions, anyone?

'Eye Chart'

‘Eye Chart’

Note:  If I ever appear in danger of another painting drought, would someone please remind me that it took ALMOST AN HOUR to unscrew all the welded-on lids of my tubes of oil paint.  To do this, I had to hold them under a hot tap and then use a rubber glove to prise them undone.  This exercise is not conducive to artistic endeavour.

‘Do you see what I see?’…

…Well, if you’re blessed with reasonably healthy peepers in good working order, dear Reader, the answer is – fortunately for you – a resounding ‘No!’.  During my ongoing RD journey, I have on many occasions attempted to describe to people the often weird and frequently frustrating way it’s affected my view of the world but it’s incredibly difficult to explain and, in all fairness, probably equally difficult for the good-sighted person to comprehend.  However, with the help of an extremely patient photographer who was happy to listen to my explanations and engage in extensive jiggery-pokery with photo-editing software, I now have some visual examples which go some way to describing what it’s like looking at the world through my eyes.

Picture one: retinal detachment

detachment

This shows what my vision was like when I had my first detachment, back in April 2014.  It started with a couple of tiny black floaters which came and went, and a small cloud of very pale floaters up in the top right corner of my vision which I could only see if I looked up to the bright sky.  Next, I experienced a kind of visual ‘pulling’ at the left side of my eye.  Within hours, a solid black curtain began to spread slowly across my vision until I could only see a small amount at the far right-hand side.  I now know that the much-dreaded ‘curtain’ must be treated as a medical emergency, as surgery is required as soon as possible in order to have more chance of saving vision.

Picture two: looking through silicone oil

oil

This gives some idea of what it’s like looking through the silicone oil in my eye at the current time.  Everything is very blurred, to the extent that I can’t make out any detail in people’s faces or read text unless it’s GIANT TEXT (obviously a lot bigger than that – I’m talking the size you get on the side of a bus, for example).  Colours appear far less saturated, and straight lines are no longer straight but have little wiggles in them (this was something which unfortunately couldn’t be demonstrated in the picture).

Picture three: looking up, through silicone oil

oil-looking-up

This demonstrates what it’s like to look up through the silicone oil, which I try not to do because lots of little black floaters start to come down and freak me out.  I see the line of the oil, which hovers and moves around depending on the angle I’m looking at and the position my head is in.  If I lie on my side and look up, I can see it at the top-right of my eye.  When we look at something, the image projected onto the retina is inverted and reversed; this is sent to the brain via the optic nerve and the brain then ‘flips’ everything around.  In effect, it’s like looking in a mirror whilst standing on your head.  So, because of this, and because the oil floats in the eye (a bit like a bubble in a spirit level), I think that what I’m seeing here is actually the bottom of the oil bubble.  I’m not quite sure why I see the black floaters or exactly what they are – bits of debris or tiny bits of oil which have escaped from the main bubble, perhaps?  If anyone knows, please enlighten me!

Picture four: looking through silicone oil when outside on a cold day

cold

I have no idea why this happens, but when it’s very cold and I’m outside, the vision in my RD eye gradually becomes cloudy until it’s as if I’m looking through thick fog.  Once I go back inside, the foggy vision gradually clears as I start to warm up.  I once asked one of my surgeons about why this happens, and he seemed rather intrigued but unfortunately wasn’t able to explain it.  My sister observed that cooking oil becomes cloudy due to changes in temperature, to which he looked highly amused and pointed out that he’d injected silicone oil into my eye, not cooking oil! 😮

Picture five: night vision through silicone oil

night

People often think that because I find bright light extremely difficult to deal with I must be absolutely fine in the dark, but unfortunately this isn’t the case.  Everything is still very blurry, and because I can’t see any detail using my right eye, the darkness just exacerbates this so that I can’t see very much at all.  Difficulties with depth perception are also worse in the dark.

Of course, some of the weird things I see just can’t be described adequately using still images.  One example of this is what my eye buddies have described as ‘the lava lamp effect’.  This is when a small bright white orb of light suddenly appears and scoots around part of the perimiter of my eye before disappearing again.  Sometimes, it breaks up into several smaller orbs of light which fling themselves in different directions before disappearing.  This can happen at any time and occurs multiple times a day, as well as during the night.  It can be extremely distracting, although I have kind of got used to it now.  I’ve never been given a definitive explanation as to what causes it but have been told that it’s probably traction on the retina.  Another odd effect is a shaft of light which seems to beam down into my eye when I catch the light from a certain angle.  It mainly seems to be overhead lights which are the culprit.  As well as all this, there’s the constant flickering which occurs whenever I move from a bright room into a darker one and is the source of much paranoia at times.  Finally, the floaters in my left eye have remained rather appropriately elusive, despite several attempts to capture an impression of them in a photo, so this might be a project for another day…

Note: Huge thanks to the patient photographer, for producing these images for me, in a radical departure from the far more aesthetically pleasing subject matter of landscapes and flower photography.  🙂