As the day of my annual ‘normal’ eye examination loomed, I decided to continue my quest to find a decent optometrist in Canterbury. Now, before going any further here, let me explain that I’m talking about what most people refer to as an optician, for a standard eye test. However, if we want to be accurate about things (and, trust me, I usually do), an optician is actually the person who makes and fits glasses and contact lenses. An optometrist carries out eye tests, prescribes corrective lenses, and is qualified to diagnose certain eye abnormalities and diseases and prescribe medication for them or refer for further treatment. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specialises in eyes and is qualified to practice medicine and surgery.
After my first retinal detachment, I stopped going to the high street optometrists I’d been visiting for years, because I realised that they hadn’t given me the correct information about floaters. (See ‘How it all began‘ if you’re wondering what they told me and why it was wrong.) If they’d given me the correct advice, it’s possible that things may have been very different for me. I then began using another popular high street optometrist, until I was informed one day upon going in for a quick eye pressure check, as I’d been doing sporadically for the past year or so, that they could no longer do this. In my attempts to discover the reason for their abrupt policy change, I became involved in several heated discussions in which they told me that a) the hospital should be doing the pressure checks and was just ‘fobbing off’ their work; and b) as my eyes had so many problems, I might sue them if they got the pressure readings wrong. Needless to say, my blood was boiling by this point and I vowed never to darken their door again. In contrast to their customary advertising campaign, I think this behaviour demonstrates precisely why people shouldn’t go to this particular optometrists.
On my next visit to an optometrist, I plumped for an independent one (as detailed in ‘Post appointment panic‘). Apart from the fact that he reminded me of John Major and had a sense of humour (or lack, thereof) to match, this grey-faced chap put me off by trying to tell me that it was possible to see enough of the retina to check it properly without using dilation drops. I know that this simply isn’t true – not when checking for tears, anyway.
So it was after extensive research that I set off early on Saturday morning to another carefully selected independent optometrist,
to put them through their paces for my eye test. It started well, as I was greeted by a smiling receptionist and then a polite fellow who bore no resemblance to any politician I can think of. He began the appointment by asking cheerfully, “So, is everything okay with your eyes then?” I shifted uncomfortably in the chair as I responded almost guiltily, “Err… no, not exactly. I’ve had multiple retinal detachments in my right eye, and I’ve got PVR. I’ve got silicone oil in there at the moment.” He looked slightly taken aback at this, and went on to ask about my left eye. “It had two retinal tears which were fixed with cryotherapy and I have a cataract and lots of floaters”, I told him. He shook his head in sympathy and told me how unlucky I was to have so many problems in both eyes, before asking with a slightly incredulous undertone, “Is there anything else?” I completely forgot to tell him about the lattice degeneration, although that came up later, and the abnormal blood vessels, and just replied that I hoped that was enough for now, at which he nodded in agreement.
He carried on with the usual business of the eye test, and when we reached the pressure check, we had an interesting discussion about high pressure. Much to my delight, he told me that he’d be happy to check my eye pressure if necessary, between my appointments at Moorfields. He even told me that he’d be happy to dilate my eyes and check for tears if I wanted him to, at which point I almost toppled off the chair in shock. Previous optometrists have been all but backing away from me by this point! This one told me that he loves dilating because it allows the opportunity to get a proper look at the back of the eye, which he finds really interesting! He did, however, also say that it was only necessary for him to dilate if there were symptoms suggestive of a retinal tear or detachment: i.e. showers of floaters, flashing lights, or the much-feared ‘curtain’.
He went on to do a spot of digital retinal photography and was happy to show me the images and explain various things. It was somewhat depressing to see the image of my right retina, which bore certain similarities to a teenager’s bedroom, but at least the left one looked far more clean and tidy. He also checked for dry eye. As he asked me to look up while he put the drops in, I asked what they would do. “They’ll make all your problems disappear”, he joked, with an air of mystery. I imagined my future – bright and colourful, with 6/6 vision and no more worries – and told him that he’d be my hero forever if the drops did that. He clearly decided that his pants wouldn’t look very professional worn over his trousers, as when I’d blinked the drops away, my view of the world was just the same. Or, almost the same… for I finally seemed to have found a decent local optometrist. Perhaps he’ll work on those magic drops ready for my next visit…