Tag Archives: fear

Edible eyes and appointment anxiety

A few weeks ago, my sister announced that she would be holding her ‘Twinkles at Twilight’ event this year on the eve of my next check-up appointment at Moorfields Eye Hospital.  “It’ll take your mind off your appointment”, she told me, optimistically.  For those readers who don’t know what Twinkles at Twilight is all about, you may like to read, ‘Twinkles at Twilight, dread at dawn‘, but basically it’s an afternoon of tea, cake and games to raise money for Moorfields Eye Charity and Marie Curie.  ‘Twinkles’ relates to a twinkle in the eye, and ‘twilight’ refers to the time at which Marie Curie nurses begin their shifts to provide night-time palliative care for patients in their own homes.  Give us a few years and I’m pretty sure that Twinkles at Twilight will become as much a part of the charity calendar as Children in Need or Comic Relief.  Maybe.

So, following my sister’s announcement that Twinkles would be held on 19 November, I donned my apron* and cracked on with the serious business of baking appropriately themed goodies and cramming them into my freezer.  Much to my delight, I’d discovered packets of edible eyes in my local Sainsbury’s, so I made an array of chocolate muffins and macaroons, decorated with cherry noses and edible eyes.  I made so many macaroons that I actually ran out of edible eyes (there are only 50 in a packet), and had to resort to raisins instead.  That was okay though – the raisin versions just looked as if they’d been sitting in an eye clinic for a while after having dilation drops put in.  I also baked carrot cake (good eye food…?) and chocolate brownies decorated with twinkly stars.  My sister’s creations included fairy cakes with little faces made of chocolate buttons and edible eyes, and giant marshmallows on sticks with cherry noses and rice paper sunglasses.  Other offerings included a beautiful selection of shortbread star biscuits, and miniature star-shaped scones baked by the Duke of Edinburgh students who volunteer at my sister’s workplace.  The process of jamming and creaming the latter naturally led to the inevitable hotly debated question regarding the correct pronunciation of ‘scone’.

A plate of macaroons with edible eyes or raisins as eyes and cherry noses.

Macaroons

Fairy lights were borrowed from various willing lenders and strewn across furniture and curtain poles; sparkly stars were stuck artistically on door frames and mirrors; and the games table was set up.  As last year, we had a tombola (50p a ticket), ‘guess the number of stars in the jar’ (biscuit-shaped stars, that is), and ‘guess where the shooting star is in the night sky’ (each £1 a go).  The games went down a storm and raised a substantial amount of dosh, as well as keeping children entertained and parents probably wishing they’d just popped to the local supermarket and bought that box of chocolates instead of allowing their offspring to have “just one more go!”

A picture of rooftops and a night sky with a crescent moon.

Find the shooting star in the sky!

We realised afterwards that we STILL didn’t have any eye related games this year, so if you have  any suggestions, please let me know in the comments below and we might use them for next year’s fundraising efforts!  Despite this small oversight (pun intended), the evening was a resounding success and thanks to people’s incredible generosity we raised over £400 for Moorfields Eye Charity and Marie Curie.  Thank you very much to everyone who came, baked, helped out, donated, and of course scoffed cake (the best bit, obviously!).

The cake-baking and event organising did help to take my mind off my impending hospital appointment, but as the dreaded day dawned, I awoke to the familiar ‘bang bang bang’ of what I suspect was a tension headache hammering away.  Usually I get these the day after my appointment.  This time, I got one the day before, on the day itself, and on the day afterwards.  “Great”, I muttered to myself, whilst knocking back the drugs** and wondering how I was going to remain alert enough to be able to process any potential bad news if the appointment didn’t go well.  Fortunately, the headache had faded by the time we got into London, which was just as well as we were then faced with signal failures on the tube and had to dash up to the street and flag down a taxi in order to make it to the hospital on time.

The clinic was busier than usual.  There was a huge queue just to sign in, and the receptionist had that stressed look of one who can’t actually see the end of the queue (and not because of dodgy eyesight).  We’d already been waiting for a couple of hours when another patient sat down next to me and sighed, “It’s a long wait, isn’t it?”  I asked her how long she’d been waiting, to which she replied with another sigh, “Almost an hour!”“Ah, that’s not too bad”, I replied, adding, “At least we still have the NHS… at the moment, anyway!”  She agreed, and settled back in her chair as my sister and I exchanged glances and agreed via sibling telepathy that she was clearly a newbie as you never, EVER have an eye appointment which takes less than two hours.

Eventually, I was called through to see the consultant, whereupon I gritted my teeth and crossed my fingers as I put my chin on the contraption and tried to remember to breathe as I followed the usual instructions for each eye in turn: “Look straight ahead… look up… look up and right… look right… look down and right… look down… look down and left… look left… look up and left…”  Then it was all repeated when ‘the Prof’ came to have a look.  To my delight, he said that everything looked much the same as previously and agreed with my view that it was better not to rock the boat by having further surgery as things were still stable and I was coping.  Of course, they’ve warned me that if I start to get side effects as a result of the oil (e.g. high pressure), surgery may become inevitable, but I really do hope that things will remain stable for a long, looooong time.  Or at least until they’ve figured out a magic solution of how to cure PVR and make the ruddy retina stick…

* I don’t actually have an apron, but I probably should invest in one, as I’d make less mess when baking.  Or at least the mess could then be wiped on the apron instead.

** Ibuprofen of course.  What did you think I meant?!

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The persistent presence of pernicious Mr Pip

Mr Pip is on the prowl again.  While most of us are bemoaning the end of summer after reluctantly switching the heating on and setting the clocks back, Mr Pip looks on gloatingly as he points a skinny well-manicured finger and curls his thin lips in a satisfied smirk.  He seems to enjoy these dark, damp, chilly mornings, and takes delight in taunting me through the thick duvet just after the alarm clock has announced that it’s time to move, informing me gleefully: “It’s cold, and dark, and miserable outside.”  When I fling back the duvet in his face and pad, shivering, across the room to peep through the curtains, I see that he’s quite right.  It is cold and dark, and it makes me feel miserable.  I suspect that Mr Pip crosses the paths of a fair few people at this time of year, so you may well be familiar with him already.  If not, you might like to read ‘The unwelcome visitations of Mr Pip‘, which provides a full description of this most unpleasant fellow.  I’d strongly advise you to cross the street and avoid him if you spy him approaching.

Mr Pip is irritatingly omniscient, so as well as being aware of my dislike of the short, cold days and the challenge of driving in the dark at this time of year, he also knows fully well that appeals season – my favourite time at work – is now over and I’m suffering with a bad case of Appeals Withdrawal Syndrome.  Symptoms of this include: a reluctance to go to work, more frequent purchase of lottery tickets, increased frustration when the lottery people don’t select the correct numbers (i.e. mine), excessive yawning, and an almost overwhelming desire to hurl a stapler at my office buddy when she persists in talking to herself all day when I’m trying to concentrate.

Naturally, Mr Pip is also aware of the fact that I have a check-up appointment at Moorfields the week after next.  “They might find something wrong and want to operate again”, he constantly whispers into my ear, spitting slightly as he does so.  “Maybe they’ll whip you straight into surgery again”, he continues gleefully, “Or perhaps they’ll tell you that they need to remove your eye altogether!”  He claps his hands in delight and prods my forehead with his skinny fingers until he sees me reaching for the paracetamol, whereupon he announces, “A-ha!  A headache!  It must be your eye pressure increasing!  That’ll mean they’ll want to take your oil out.  They’ll take it out; they’ll take it out; they’ll take it out and throw it away, and then your retina will detach again!”, he sings, mockingly.  He dances around me, tapping his shiny black shoes on the floor in an irritating rhythm which causes an answering drum to beat loudly in my head.  Each time I summon up the energy to try and swipe him away, he simply dodges and laughs again as if he’s having the time of his life.

Sometimes it’s not even possible to escape Mr Pip when I go to sleep.  I’m convinced that he has the ability to shrink himself down until he’s the size of a Borrower, whereupon he creeps through my ear and into my brain where he settles down and narrates bedtime stories to me from inside my head.  Stories about being late to hospital appointments; stories about writing down the wrong information from the consultant in my little eye book; stories about being trapped in some kind of dark underground world filled with dangers;  being chased; unable to see some horrendous threatening presence looming, coming closer and closer, faster and faster, until it’s right THERE!  And then I wake with a huge jump, heart pounding, and raise my head to stare at the dim rectangle of light coming in through the curtains as I open first one eye and then the other to check that I can still see.

As is usually the case, there’s no point in applying logic to the problem of Mr Pip or attempting to argue with him.  Pleasant distraction seems to be the only thing that really works in banishing him for a while.  Fortunately, I’m reading rather a good book at the moment and retreating into a fictional world is always an effective method of escapism.  There are also cakes which need baking, in preparation for an imminent fundraising event for Moorfields Eye Charity and Marie Curie.  Despite Mr Pip’s constant whining voice telling me that it’s cold and damp and grey outside, at weekends I layer up and go out for walks, defiantly pointing out to him that the air is still fresh, there’s much beauty to be found in nature, and it’s good to make the most of these short hours of daylight.  This causes Mr Pip to sulk, and he hunches his skinny shoulders and scuffs his shiny shoes along the ground as he drags himself away like a moody teenager.  Perhaps I should treat him as such and, next time he starts whining in my ear, tell him in that particular parental tone favoured by parents who also happen to be teachers, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.”  Yeah, pipsqueak!

 

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.