Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
young eye doctor, having examined my right eye, tells me that he is
just going to ask for a second opinion. The senior surgeon arrives.
"Put your chin here." he says, gesturing at the apparatus
in front of me. He sits down opposite me in order to examine the eye.
"Look at my ear please." I do as I'm told. The commands
follow in quick succession:"Look down. Now look left. Left and
up. Up. Right. Right and down. Okay. Sit back now."
matter-of-factly he tells me. "The retina is detched. We'll
operate tomorrow. "
in shock. I'm still dealing with the aftermath of the retina in my
left eye, which detached two and a half years ago, necessitating
three subsequent procedures, and much post-operative care. Now my
right eye, the 'good' one, has detached too. "Will the operation
be in London again? " I ask him with sinking heart. He shakes
his head. "No. Here." he replies."No general
anaesthetic?" I ask. "No. A local one." he says.
then. What time?" I ask. He tells me to be at the operating
heatre at 8.00am. My op is the first up. "We have to save your
sight." are his last words. I've been down this road before and
know something of what may be involved.
stand outside the hospital in the rain. I hardly slept the night
before. This is the point at which, if I'd still smoked, I might have
lit up. Instead I phone home. You could say that to have one retina
detach itself is unfortunate, two seems like sheer carelessness. It's
bad luck at any rate. My predicament although unusual, is not
completely unheard-of I know three men of similar age to myself to
whom double detachment has happened. Only a few decades ago many of
the procedures for dealing with the condition didn't exist. Fifty
years ago, the success rate for retinal re-attachment was less than
40 percent. Some people simply lost their sight.
at this juncture I feel apprehensive, I also feel somewhat relieved.
They've caught this one earlier than the last one. And I'm in good
hands. I feel lucky. I have just attended a first rate eye clinic and
been seen by a well-respected surgeon. From time of diagnosis to time
of surgery, is twenty hours. Pretty impressive. Let no one say that
I'm having less than first class service. Actually, that's the thing
about the NHS. People may moan about queues, waiting lists and
what-have-you. But when you are really, really in trouble, then
nearly always their net will catch you before you fall. It remains a
kind of miracle. The fact that the NHS is never far from the top of
the political agenda, no matter who happens to be in government,
means that the fact is acknowledged. This does not mean, however, as
I am later reminded by a health professional, that the cracks in its
structure are not appearing.
night before my operation, I remember reading that the great baroque
composers, Bach and Handel both suffered unsuccessful eye-surgery
when they were about my age. Bach died of a stroke shortly aftewards.
Handel survived a few years longer. Medical science has come a long
way in the past three centuries. Eye surgery, which I've now
experienced on four occasions, is by no means a picnic. But nor is
it quite as fearsome or as painful as you might think. It's the
aftercare which is the difficult bit. Last week, for instance,
having been discharged two hours after surgery, I was instructed to
spend the rest of that day and night sitting, head on pillow looking
directly down, or else lying on my stomach face-down with my head
resting on my arms. This procedure is referred to as 'posturing'. For
six days folloing this first positioning, I was instructed instead to
lie down, right cheek on my pillow, day and night in order to help
keep the re-attached retina in place. There were breaks For 15
minutes of each hour, I was permitted to walk gently around, and fit
in any necessary light tasks which I could do within the time allowed
: shaving, making a cup of tea etc. No cycling and no heavy lifting
either. In addition, for a few weeks following surgery, there's a
daunting regime of eyedrops to be administered up to four times
daily. There are antibiotic eyedrops, drops to help form good scar
tissue, drops to keep the pupil dilated in order to facilitate
healing and finally, drops to keep the ocular pressure at an
acceptable level. These drops often have long names, which you may
dilgently attempt to learn so that you can remind other medics which
ones you're taking. Later you'll find that they call these same drops
by a completely different name.
learned to say, "Dexamethasone" for instance. Quite
impressive so I thought. The surgeon, however, always calls it
"Maxidex."a name which appears nowhere on the box which
contains it. Such mysteries apart, however, the follow-up regime is
as important as the operation which precedes it, as the nurses remind
you. The nurses in NHS Opthalmology departments, incidentally, are
especially kindly and helpful. They know they are dealing with
nervous, sometimes fearful people, many of whom may be of an age when
eye ailments are more common. In this country we are very lucky that
such departments exist. They deserve to be cherished amd protected.