Sunday, April 28, 2013

At the Western Eye Hospital

I have had four lots of dilating drops, the first at 5pm in Specsavers. I'm seeing a fleck like a tealeaf in the corner of my eye. The optician couldn't see what was causing it and so she sent me off with a letter to Eye Casualty, Western Eye Hospital, Marylebone Road. I have been waiting since then. It is now about 9pm.

While I was waiting, not having brought a headset to listen to music on my mobile, I had to find a way to fill the time. I searched for lit mags readable on the phone. By chance, the latest Five Dials pinged into my inbox and I read a few of the poems. They ranged from the prolix and banal to haywire randomness, which had as little appeal. Eventually I decided I'd try and write something. Bear in mind that I was waiting for about five hours. I tried to work the scene before me into the lines. I ended up with a sonnet, a wonky sestina and three limericks.

Now the doctor rapidly pops more eyedrops into my eyes and on second thoughts chucks in another two lots for good measure. So I go back out and wait another half hour till I must look like a shark with completely dilated eyes. When I'm called back into the dimly-lit room, he does some rapid searching of my eyes with a bright light from different angles. He can't find the problem. The toolkit changes. Now I'm getting some anaesthetic drops instilled in my right eye. My right cheek goes a bit numb.

The doctor explains that I'm to have a thing called a "three mirror contact lens" fitted. He warns me more than once that it will feel a bit unpleasant. It will enable him to see "beyond the horizon" of my eye, or something like that. When he pushes it in, it's like being the receiving end of a power supply cable being pressed into my brain. A man a few inches from my face is pushing something into my eye that feels like a plug. As he does this, he tells me to open my eyes wide and to look at his ear. I am pleased to look at his ear in this near dark room. I fear that looking at his ear is my only tenuous link to the ordinary world.

He says, "Keep your eyes open wide". I say, "It's hard to know if my eye is opening." "Don't worry. You're doing very well." "I'm glad one of us knows what he's doing." Then he says, "Sit back for me." So I sit back with my right eye closed and streaming wet. "I've never had a contact lens in before," I say. He gets a quick smile and says, "It's not in yet, it fell out." The same thing happens again on the second attempt.

"Third time lucky, as they say," he says. With a lot of pushing, in which I call on reserves of bravery I never had to start with, he gets it in. With the three mirror lens in I feel like Kent in King Lear, after he's put his eye out. I can hardly see with my right eye, only odd kaleidoscopic flashes. When he scans it with a searchlight, he says to look left, right, up, up left, etc. Around my eye I can see a map of tiny capillaries in lightened salmon red, like an impossibly complex river delta viewed from space. That's where they end. Those are the ends that will be the end of me, I guess.

The doctor's hand movements are rapid and expert. He's playing on me like a virtuoso. He has found the posterior vitreous detachment that corresponds exactly to the tea leaf I'm reading my fortune in from the corner of my right eye. He explains that it's in the position exactly opposite, because of the way our vision works. "Can I open my eye now?" He says it's not what they were worrying about. "Oh, great." That's a relief.

It's this other thing where your vitreous is shrinking and it's torn a bit of pigment off the back of your retina. "Oh." But it's okay, it's a part of ageing. It mostly happens to people in their sixties or over but it's not uncommon in the forties and fifties. From the age of 43, the eyes start to deteriorate. Oh, that's okay then. In about one percent it can become serious. Oh, hmm. Occasionally instead of detaching a speck, it can peel away a larger patch from the back of the retina. So if I start seeing showers of floaters or flashing lights, I must come back straight away. It's a long wait but they can complete the tests really quickly.

"You're doing a great job here." I'm a bit in love, as always when I am in the hands of a medical professional. "So busy though," I say. "Yes." Chit chat and goodbye. If doctors and dentists did what they do in any other context, they'd be considered monsters. As it is they're called angels. Between angels and monsters, we make our way.

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