Strong and stable?

I was feeling about as strong and stable as a certain indecisive woman’s preposterous policies when my sister and I set off in the grey drizzle for my appointment at Moorfields Eye Hospital on Monday morning.  My last appointment hadn’t gone as I’d hoped, and I was convinced that they’d be booking me in for my much-feared sixth lot of surgery this time.  With an eye full of oil and rising intraocular pressure, it seemed that the only way was up (baby!) in terms of the latter.*  I’d spent the previous week or so in a state of mounting anxiety, and things weren’t helped by a run of stonking headaches, increasing queasiness and belly ache as the dreaded day loomed closer.  Just in case I was in any doubt about my state of inner turmoil, my subconscious saw fit to remind me of it in the form of nightmares on the rare occasions that I managed a bit of decent shut-eye.  I dreamed of being trapped in my house as the sea roared and raged ever closer, flooding my garden in giant waves and seeping into my place of sanctuary.  I should add at this point that the sea is about a mile away from my house, so this was a most unlikely scenario.  However, it felt so real that once I’d woken and calmed my thudding heart, I peered through the bedroom curtains to check the windows for salty spray.  Drumming home the point, the following night I had a terrifying dream in which I couldn’t see properly out of my good eye.  Each time I tried to blink the floaters away and focus on something, it appeared as a blurry mess of confusion – just the same as the vision in my bad eye.

Things weren’t improved on appointment morning, when we missed the train we were aiming for and, upon arrival at Moorfields, discovered that the grumpy receptionist was on duty in the clinic.  (Well, it was a Monday morning to be fair, so she had every right to be grumpy.)  Lucy somewhat gleefully pointed out that it was All My Fault that we’d missed the first train, as I hadn’t been as punctual as her in getting myself ready.  I protested that the reason for this was that I’d been trying to force my breakfast of peanut butter on toast into my churning stomach (much to the dog’s benefit and subsequent surprised delight).  My taught nerves required me to pay an urgent visit to the facilities before we descended to the clinic, so Lucy went ahead to book me in.  The grumpy receptionist lived up to her name when she stared at Lucy in disdain and demanded, “But where is she?”.  Fortunately, I appeared shortly after this and she waved me through without further interrogation.

We settled down for the usual long wait but were taken by surprise when the nurse called me through within the space of a few minutes.  Visual acuity was as expected, and then came the pressure check, which I’d pretty much been worrying about ever since my last appointment back in January.  I held my breath.  Then I reminded myself to breathe, in case holding it affected the pressure.  I opened my eyes wide and stared straight ahead as the nurse advanced with the pressure monitor and I waited for it to flick against the surface of my eye.  As always, she took a few readings in each eye and then stood back and declared, “21 in the right and 20 in the left.”.  “Ooooh, it’s gone down again!  That’s good, isn’t it?!”, I exclaimed.  She agreed, and proceeded with the dilation drops.  I smiled through the stinging and watering as I felt myself relax ever so slightly.

We headed out to waiting area number 2 and settled in again – it’s always best to expect a long wait and this time we weren’t disappointed.  I dampened my sandpaper mouth and we ate bananas, discussed politics, and played ‘I Spy’ as my pupils dilated and my vision blurred.  Each time a doctor appeared carrying a particularly bulky file, I braced myself in expectation, as we waited… and waited… and then waited some more.  After a while I gave up on watching out for thick files and eventually I was called through by a doctor I’d never seen before.  I already knew that my consultant – ‘the Prof’ – was away that day, as we’d spotted it noted on the whiteboard as we’d entered the clinic.  This did nothing to calm my screaming nerves.  We later discovered that he was away at a conference, so I like to think that he was sharing ground-breaking research about a cure for PVR.

The doctor I saw was extremely patient, giving both eyes a thorough examination before checking my right eye over a second time.  Much to my delight, he was very receptive to questions, which we naturally took full advantage of and obtained answers to even more than the nine on my pre-prepared list.  My shoulders slackened slightly as he told me that everything looked the same: the area of detachment beyond the laser line hadn’t progressed any further, the abnormal blood vessels were the same, and the oil wasn’t causing any problems at that point.  He emphasised that I must return to A&E if anything changed, adding that I would know in my gut if I experienced anything which needed to be checked out.  He then went on to pronounce that word which is far more meaningful when coming from the lips of a retinal surgeon: ‘STABLE’.  As my eye was stable (aaaah… bliss!), he didn’t see the need to rush into further surgery and therefore asked me to return for another check in six months.  Resisting the urge to kiss him, as I suspected this would be frowned upon, I thanked him warmly instead and headed out to make my next appointment with the grumpy receptionist.

The grumpy receptionist took the full force of my delight and relief, as I gleefully told her that I didn’t have to return for six whole months and added that I felt as if I’d been given a wonderful present.  She smiled, and I observed in a most uncharacteristically chatty manner that we usually saw her in my previous clinic rather than ‘the Prof’s’ clinic.  We were treated to another smile as she explained that someone was off sick, and then she ominously remarked that she’d seen my name on the list that morning.  Considering the huge numbers of patients she must see, and knowing that in my own job I only tend to remember the names of people who are either very nice or incredibly annoying, I briefly wondered which category I fell into.  However, after further chatting as she made my next appointment, she smiled again before bidding us goodbye.  We skipped out into the London streets, where we discovered that the grey drizzle had given way to weak sunshine.

Word that I was in celebratory mood had clearly spread, for as we piled onto the tube and sat down, two men clutching saxophones (soprano and alto) climbed aboard along with another guy who turned out to be the singer as they broke into a jazzy version of ‘Hit the road, Jack’.  Ignoring the stony-faced feigned oblivion of most of our fellow passengers, Lucy and I grinned at each other and bopped along in delight, receiving a nod and thumbs-up from the singer in return.  We continued to celebrate my good news by treating ourselves to posh sarnies from M&S (good eye food ones, obviously).  I demolished my share with gusto as we journeyed back on the train; my appetite having made a welcome return.

*You may like to check this out if you’re wondering what on earth I’m talking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hOMvs_1UFCk

CBT in hindsight

After my pretty dire and incredibly unhelpful experience of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), which I related in my last blog post, CBT for RD… WAPOS!, I reached the logical conclusion that what I’d been subjected to probably wasn’t actually kosher CBT at all.  That confusing mix of very basic common sense, preposterous suggestions, and u-turns which Theresa May would be proud of was so ridiculous that I wondered why I hadn’t smelt a rat previously.  I concluded that the counsellor had been so bad, it was highly likely she wasn’t even properly qualified.  Out of a sense of somewhat morbid curiosity, I decided to do a spot of research in an effort to find evidence which supported my conclusions.

First of all, I turned to my friend Google.  I thumped in the counsellor’s name, and sat back with the expectation of being informed that there were no results available.  Instead, Google informed me that she had a variety of degrees in Psychology, including a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from a very reputable university.  I checked a few different sites and found the information to be consistent.  I was baffled.  How could a person with this level of education and specialism in various areas of psychology have given me such farcical advice?  Plus, if she was intelligent enough to have completed a doctorate, why had she not realised that I would have already attempted all the obvious solutions for myself, before seeking help?  I was perplexed.  Perhaps she thought I was stupid.  Or… perhaps this meant that CBT was aimed at people who were unable to think for themselves, I mused.

In order to test out these theories, I rang an old friend who works as a CBT practitioner for the NHS.  She asked me to explain what the counsellor had discussed with me and the various theories she’d explained to me during our sessions.  I obliged, and – much to my surprise – my friend punctuated my recital with verbal nods of approval: “Yep, yep – that’s right – that’s classic CBT.”  She seemed unsurprised that I hadn’t got on with it, suggesting that I had already been biased against it before I started, and hinting that my tendency to overthink things meant that I wasn’t a good candidate for CBT.  This didn’t really help matters as it simply led me back to my earlier assessment of it.  During this conversation, I also received the distinct impression that people for whom CBT doesn’t work are generally regarded in the trade as ‘awkward’, and having only themselves to blame for either being predisposed against it or for not engaging with the process sufficiently.

After this, I decided to just crack on with things as best I could and rely on the methods of support I’d built up for myself.  I didn’t even think about the whole sorry saga again until a recent conversation with another friend who practices CBT alongside other forms of therapy.  Interestingly, she likened CBT to putting a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.  She told me that it simply isn’t effective as a long-term solution as it’s far too simplistic and doesn’t deal with whatever the crux of the problem might be.  She said that the over-simplification of CBT is compounded by the fact that, generally, only six one-hour sessions are offered to patients and obviously this isn’t sufficient to deal with what are often long-term, ingrained, and highly complex issues.  When I told her of how the counsellor I saw first praised me for having lots of coping mechanisms in place and then thoroughly confused me by telling me that I had too many different coping mechanisms, she was horrified.  She said a good counsellor should never try to take away someone’s coping mechanisms.

In hindsight, if I’d known all this beforehand, I wouldn’t have ventured down the CBT route as it certainly made things worse.  Part of me wonders if I was just unfortunate in being matched with such an unbelievably useless counsellor.  I do think the experience could have been vastly improved if she’d demonstrated even a hint of understanding and/or empathy regarding even just the basics of eye problems.  With this in mind, I’m curious to hear how one of my eye buddies gets on with a course of counselling offered by the RNIB.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it will be far more useful and effective.  In retrospect, I should have put a stop to my CBT sessions about half way through, by which point it was obvious that it was exacerbating my difficulties.  But, like a deluded idiot clinging on to the rubble of a poisoned relationship, I just kept going in the hopes that things would improve.  I also wonder, looking back, whether there was anything she could have really done to help me anyway.  If she was genuine in her comments early on that I already had a lot of support mechanisms in place, perhaps she should have simply told me at that stage that she couldn’t improve on what I was already doing to help myself.  Fortunately, I’m usually fairly resilient and after a few weeks of feeling low and fuming about the whole thing, I picked myself up and ploughed on as best I could.  But it did make me worry for people who perhaps aren’t able to do this.  I can see how such a cack-handed approach to mental health could quite easily have the effect of pushing over the cliff someone who was already teetering dangerously close to the edge.

Note: Since publishing CBT for RD… WAPOS!, two friends who are CBT therapists have contacted me about it.  One said that what I experienced definitely wasn’t CBT, and the other said that it was proper CBT but could have been more sensitively applied.  These are both intelligent people whose opinions I value, so now I really am baffled!  However, if there’s one useful thing I’ve learned from the experience, it’s this: for anyone embarking on CBT or any form of counselling, a) don’t assume that the counsellor necessarily knows best, and b) don’t be afraid to question them or to stop the sessions if they’re making things worse.

CBT for RD… WAPOS!

The emotional impact of retinal detachment is an issue which is frequently discussed in my online RD support group.  Recently it came up again, and there was some discussion of the role of various forms of counselling in helping people to deal with the anxiety and depression which are often associated with visual impairment.  It got me thinking about my own experience of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) with regard to this, so I thought I’d scribble a few things down…

It was the Occupational Health woman at my workplace who referred me for eight sessions of CBT with a local provider.  This was back in September 2015, not long after my return to work following surgery number five to fix the detachment which occurred less than two weeks after my surgery to remove the oil.  Needless to say, I wasn’t in a great place.  Feeling distraught and depressed after my hopes had been crushed by the fifth detachment, I was riddled with anxiety about my vision and my future.  I was grieving for the sight I’d lost and insomnia was my constant nightly companion.  Furthermore, there was talk of yet more imminent surgery, which I was quite frankly terrified of.  Knowing that CBT had a reputation for being very effective in treating anxiety, I leapt at the opportunity when it was suggested to me by the Occupational Health woman.  In retrospect, I should have known better.  After all, this was the woman who had – the first time I met her back in July 2014 after my first detachment – brusquely demanded to know why I was worried as I’d had the surgery and therefore of course my retina wouldn’t detach again.  But I digress…

Off I went to my first CBT session, feeling nervous but hopeful.  As I had expected, the counsellor asked me to talk through the events which had brought me there and explain what I hoped to gain from the sessions.  I said that I’d like to reduce my anxiety, particularly regarding my almost obsessive need to constantly check my visual field for potential symptoms, and also that I’d like to improve my sleeping.  It became apparent within the first few minutes that she had no idea about eye issues (unless you count the ability to apply thick gloopy mascara), but she assured me that she would definitely be able to help me and so I left that first appointment feeling optimistic.

The next couple of appointments included an explanation of the function of worry, helpful and unhelpful thought patterns, and discussion of what she termed ‘catastrophising’.  ‘Catastrophising’ was the word she used to describe my fear of further sight loss and ultimate fear of complete blindness.  She made it sound as if this was an illogical fear with no foundation, and that I was being over-dramatic in entertaining it.  I explained that retinal detachment leads to sight loss if not successfully treated and that as I already had significantly impaired vision in my right eye due to multiple detachments and surgeries, and I’d had two large tears in my left retina, this had caused me to be fearful for both eyes.  Her pat responses delivered in artificially soothing tones together with familiar over-use of my first name made it obvious to me that she just didn’t get it.

At the next appointment we moved on to coping mechanisms, as she enquired what I did to try and reduce my anxiety.  I listed talking to certain people about my worries, chatting to my eye buddies via the online support group, and writing my blog.  I explained that I had attempted meditation/mindfulness techniques using an online app and I also told her about my ‘eye book’.  This is the little notebook I take with me to all my hospital appointments, in which to record the information.  If I’m worried about a specific issue between appointments, I often refer back to this book for confirmation or reassurance.   She voiced approval of the fact that I already had a lot of coping strategies in place, and I left that appointment with a lighter step, feeling that perhaps I wasn’t doing so badly after all.

Soon after this came a discussion of insomnia and what I could do in order to try and improve my sleep (or lack of).  She asked me if I’d tried a warm milky drink before bed, or tried reading or listening to music.  Instead of saying what I was actually thinking, which was: “Do you really think I’d be sitting in front of you now if I hadn’t already tried all that?!”, I nodded, with a certain weariness which couldn’t be attributed to lack of sleep, and added to the list of things I’d tried: burning lavendar oil, lavendar pillow spray, eating a banana or cherries before bed, meditation/breathing exercises, a warm bath…  She appeared entirely ignorant of the soporific effects of lavendar, bananas, and cherries, and went on to suggest a few of her own alternatives which I might try.  It was December by this point, so naturally she thought that if I couldn’t sleep, I might find it helpful to get up and put up my Christmas decorations.  When I told her that I don’t tend to decorate my house for Christmas, she faltered slightly but went on to suggest that I could do something else instead, like the washing-up or a bit of cleaning.  (Clearly she had never been to my almost freakily immaculate house.)  “I do all that before I go to bed”, I told her, doing my best to maintain a polite tone.  However, she was on a roll, and went on to ask me if I had any pets that I could get up and feed in the night.  Again, I crushed the voice screaming in my head, “You Have Got To Be Kidding Me?!”, followed by the more reasonable observation that if I had pets and their feeding timetable was dictated by my insomnia, they would probably be dead pets by that point, due to morbid obesity.  Instead, I just stared at her and told her politely that I didn’t have any pets.  My face must have betrayed me somewhat, as she laughingly observed that I was looking at her as if I thought she was mad.  “How very astute of you.”, noted my inner voice, icily.

About two thirds of the way through our sessions, she wanted details of all the various visual checks I do.  I obliged, and she proceeded to draw up an action plan whereby I could only complete the various checks a certain number of times a day.  I tried to explain that this simply wasn’t practical – if I think I see something different or worrying, I can’t ‘unsee’ it and I will obviously check it.  A certain amount of checking is helpful for reassurance, but this kind of thing can’t be set down in a prescriptive fashion.  She didn’t seem to understand, and told me that although it might be difficult at first, it was important to give it a go.  So off I went with my piece of paper, feeling immensely frustrated and depressed by her lack of understanding.  Over the next few days I became so wound up by what I was and wasn’t supposed to check and how many times a day that I made the decision that it had to stop.  I hauled my cross-cutting paper shredder out from the cupboard under the stairs, plugged it in, popped the piece of paper into the slot at the top and watched with satisfaction as it was greedily devoured by the sharp metallic teeth.

When my next session came around, I simply explained again what I’d told her before as to why I felt that her approach was fundamentally flawed.  To give her credit, she seemed to take this on board, saying that we would need to find another method and that (horror of horrors), our sessions could possibly be extended if we needed more time to work on things.  She then changed tack completely and announced that she thought I had too many support mechanisms in place and was confusing myself by flitting between them.  Instead, she advised, I should concentrate on just a couple.  I told her that I wasn’t in the least bit confused and that different mechanisms were appropriate for different issues.  I gave her a few examples but by this point it was glaring obvious that she, like me, had pretty much disengaged with the whole sorry process.  I almost skipped out of my final session, my sense of relief that it was over matched only by my frustration and anger that not only had the whole experience been incredibly unhelpful and a shocking waste of time, it had actually made matters worse in terms of increasing my anxiety.  I’ll leave it to the reader to deduce what the last five letters in the subject title of this post stand for…

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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

Eye to Eye 2017: celebrating our supporters!

In taking part in Eye to Eye 2017 and sharing the stories of my fellow team members, the RD Ramblers, it occurred to me that there are actually many more stories hiding behind the scenes in the shape of our numerous supporters who have so kindly sponsored us in our fundraising efforts.  I’m thinking of the people who supported my sister and I last year as well as those who have sponsored our team this year.  The whole purpose of our blister-inducing fourteen mile trek across London was to raise money for Moorfields Eye Charity, and of course we couldn’t have done this without people’s help.  So this blog post is a celebration of the kindness and generosity of all our supporters.  🙂

Having observed the full horror of my painful days of posturing misery following various surgeries, certain people who are close to me probably had more inclination to give than others.  I think perhaps my mum, sister, aunt and uncle hoped that by raising as much money as possible, a magical cure might be found, and hence they’ve all been extremely generous in both their monetary and their moral support.  Certain friends have also been very generous, including old university friends, people I’ve met more recently, and a couple of school friends whom I haven’t seen since I was about 17 years old!  (We’ll gloss over how long that actually is – I feel old enough already as a result of the amount of time spent sitting in eye clinics where most patients appear to be well past retirement age.)  Of course, generosity doesn’t necessarily bear any relation to the amount of money donated.  I’ve been particularly touched by donations from people whom I know aren’t particularly flush, and it’s always the case that the amount itself doesn’t mean as much as the gesture of support in making the donation.  However, having said that, we are trying to raise as much as possible!

With this in mind, I was hugely grateful to my South Korean friend for a rather large donation which came completely out of the blue.  In fact, I had to ask her whether she’d added an extra zero by mistake.  This is someone whom I met back in 2001, during the longest ever train journey from Canterbury to London (never mind Chaucer and his travelling tales).  If I mention the fatal words ‘rail replacement bus service’, my UK readers will know exactly what I’m talking about here and groan accordingly.  In the middle of a busload of grumbling passengers, she tapped me on the shoulder to enquire if she was on the bus going to London.  I nodded cautiously, not liking to betray my distrust of the British public transport system to someone who was clearly a visitor to the country.  We fell into conversation and when it transpired that she was studying for an MA at the art college in Canterbury, we spent the rest of the journey in animated discussion of Morandi and whether his paintings surpassed his etchings.  Upon arrival in London, we swapped ‘phone numbers and promises of meeting up and tasting Korean food at some point in the future, and both went on our way.  Perhaps surprisingly, we have kept in touch – albeit sporadically – right up until the past couple of years when she moved from South Korea to China.  When, after months of silence, I received an email notification of her donation to our JustGiving page which including a message telling me that she was shortly moving to another country, it was like a double blessing.

We’ve had donations from other people which have been equally surprising and touching.  The two people whom we met and walked with during Eye to Eye 2016 made a generous donation, as they’d planned to join us this year but unfortunately were unable to.  A few people have donated whom I’ve never actually met and only ‘know’ online.  This category of supporters comprises mainly my eye buddies, who have an obvious reason for supporting our cause, but nevertheless it’s still hugely appreciated.  My Dutch eye buddy had problems with our JustGiving page last year but she refused to give up and her determined efforts paid off (literally!) in the end when she was able to make her donation.  This year, seven of my eye buddies very kindly donated – five from the UK and two from the US!

When Lucy and I signed up again for Eye to Eye, after taking part last year, we thought that we were unlikely to raise as much money.  I’m very aware that everyone has specific charities they prefer to support, as well as the fact that we all get bombarded by requests to support various charities and sadly we can’t all give to every worthy cause.  We felt that we couldn’t keep asking for sponsorship.  However, many people encouraged us to go ahead with it, pointing out that people aren’t compelled to give, but those who are aware of the importance of Moorfields’ work and the fact that it has such a personal significance for me would probably be happy to support us again.  We’re very lucky that many people have done just that, and I’d like to say a HUGE thank you to all of you ‘double supporters’ out there.  And thank you so much to everyone else who’s donated as well!  I think Lucy just about summed it up when she said in her Eye to Eye 2017 story, I could never do a job in fundraising as I feel guilty asking people to sponsor us to go for a walk as I feel I should be offering something back.  Whenever we have a new donation on our JustGiving page it does wonders for my mental health (and I think Emma’s too) as we get that feeling of “wow, people are supporting us and they don’t expect anything back, they’re doing it because they care”. So thank you!”  🙂

 

Eye to Eye 2017: walking in the rain

Team RD Ramblers at the finish line, King's College.

Made it to the finish line, at King’s College!

Things weren’t exactly going according to plan.  It should have been the final stint of training for our 14-mile walk, followed by a rest period just beforehand.  Instead, just over two weeks before the big day, a white van belonging to a well known delivery company crunched down the  entire side of my newly serviced and MOTed little Yaris.  By the following morning, the slight snuffle and sore throat which had been annoying me for the past couple of days had developed into full-blown (wo)man ‘flu and upon attempting to speak, I discovered that I couldn’t.  I spent the next few days downing honey and lemon, munching ibuprofen, and wondering how the hell I was going to walk 14 miles through the streets of London as it was such a struggle just making it from the bed to the kettle.

On the Monday of Eye to Eye week, my aunt (team member Susan) went down with a nasty bug and took to her bed – an extremely rare occurrence.  On the Wednesday, Lucy broke the news that her big toe nail, which had only just grown back after turning black and falling off after Eye to Eye 2016, had started to crumble away when she’d somewhat foolishly attempted to trim it, leaving her with an extremely sore toe.  On the Thursday, team member Nickie emailed me to say that she’d been ill all week but was hoping to be fit for action on Sunday.  On the Friday, I received the news that my 99 year old great aunt was in hospital after breaking her hip and fracturing her pelvis in a fall.  (Upon visiting her, we found her in good spirits and doing well, fortunately.)  On the Saturday, my mobile crashed and died, taking with it my fellow team members’ contact numbers.  After five RD surgeries, I’m well aware of the fact that bad luck doesn’t always come in threes, but this was taking the biscuit.  I’ve also just realised that this blog post is starting to sound like a Craig David song, and i wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

Anyway… after all that, you’d hope that the big day itself would at least have dawned bright and sunny, wouldn’t you?  But no.  The sky was painted with colours from Hammershoi’s palette, which didn’t bode well for our hopes of remaining dry.  Lucy and I peered at each other through bleary, sleep-deprived eyes as we donned our Moorfields Eye Charity t-shirts and packed our rucksacks.  I’d been wide awake since 3:20am and felt as if I’d already walked at least seven miles.  We were two team members down, as unfortunately my aunt Susan wasn’t well enough to make it, and therefore Bryn the Welsh Sheepdog had to forgo his London adventure in the big sniffy.  However, we followed that very British advice, tediously repeated on tea towels and cheap mugs in gift shops up and down the country, as we set off to Brookwood station.  There we met team member Alex, who was full of beans and raring to go.  Upon arrival at Waterloo, we had a short wait for team members Nickie and Cindy the Labradoodle, who had missed their first train, but when they joined us I realised that all would be well as Cindy clearly had enough energy for all four of us.  I also reckoned that I could probably hitch a lift on her back, if I really started to flag.

We made it to Moorfields, where we were issued with maps, tracking numbers, and instructions.   There were a few moments of panic as Lucy and I briefly lost our other team members due to the fact that we’d had to split up as dogs (other than guide dogs) aren’t permitted in the hospital, but then we found them… and we were off!  The orange arrows, placed on lamp posts and railings along the route, seemed easier to spot than the previous year, which was fortunate for those of us who are somewhat geographically challenged.  Ironically, considering the subject of our fundraising, the maps had been printed in an A5 booklet rather than the A4 of the previous year and just appeared as a big blurry mess to me, although I was able to read the larger text setting out the directions.

We plodded through the streets and then down along Regent’s Canal, at which point it started to drizzle.  We continued past London Zoo and by the time we reached Lord’s Cricket Ground, the drizzle had become more persistent and we were feeling rather soggy.  We made it to Abbey Road, where we gawped at the hoards of tourists holding up the traffic as they posed on the pedestrian crossing and then happily found our own free crossing just around the corner where it was much easier to take a picture.  We squelched on, resisting the temptation to hijack a narrow boat as we passed through Little Venice.

Upon making it to the half-way checkpoint (hurrah!) with its array of goodies, Lucy proceeded to choose a selection of jelly sweets before realising that the rest of us were munching on bananas and she possibly wasn’t setting the best example as the nutritionist of the group.  However, she did share out the jelly sweets, and they definitely infused us with a sudden burst of much-needed energy.  Next was the welcome greenery of Hyde Park, which Cindy made the most of as she partook of the facilities.

We plodded on past the Science and Natural History Museums and the Victoria and Albert Museum, keeping a look-out for a dry, dog-friendly place to eat our sarnies.  After a while, we spotted the perfect solution: an empty bus shelter.  We piled in for a rest and re-fuel, briefly considering whether it would be cheating if we actually caught the bus, before trekking on once more… past Harrods and into Hyde Park again.  Next, it was Constitution Hill and Buckingham Palace.  Cindy wanted to nip through the back gate and see if the corgis could join us for the last leg, but it didn’t look as if they were home.  By this point, it had miraculously stopped drizzling – hurrah!  It was probably just as well, as we were beginning to struggle.  We headed through Trafalgar Square and along what felt like endless grey streets, until finally the London Eye came into view – wehey!  We quickened our pace along the riverside and then slowed and groaned when we spotted the huge mountain of steps we were required to scale to reach the bridge.  Despite our screaming muscles, we made it to the top and then back down the other side, past the London Eye, under Waterloo Bridge, and on to King’s College where we were greeted with cheers at the finish line, followed by tea and cake.

We were all utterly exhausted, but thoroughly chuffed that we’d made it and had managed to raise so much money for Moorfields Eye Charity.  We had a lot of fun along the way, despite the rain, and it was good to chat to new people and hear about why they were taking part.  We’re all incredibly grateful to everyone who’s been kind enough to sponsor us, and would like to say a huge THANK YOU!  Amazingly, we’ve made it past our ultimate target of £100 per mile, having raised over £1,400 to date.  Stand by for our final total!  And for anyone who didn’t donate… it’s not too late!  You can still do so, at: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rd-ramblers.  😀

Cindy, with her Eye to Eye medal!

Cindy, with her Eye to Eye medal!