Thursday, 17 March 2016

Quite an interesting experience

I was woken by the alarm on my phone at a quarter to six and knew The day had finally arrived. It had taken months of trips to the opticians, the ophthalmic department in our local hospital and a bunch of letters to get this far.  For some time my optician had told me that I had cataracts forming in both eyes and sometime soon I would need something done about them. Whilst I know the procedure is straightforward and routine nowadays, I was still a little anxious.

I have always suffered from poor eyesight which remained undiscovered until the age of fourteen when I did not recognise my mother when she came to visit the headmaster to find out why my school work was so bad. The reason it was so bad was that I could not read the blackboard and so never really knew what was going on half the time. In those days, at my school, you did not draw attention to yourself deliberately and so, not knowing what was needed of me during most lessons, I just drifted and got a reputation for being stupid and lazy. In fact I am not particularly stupid and since leaving school have got to grips with many subjects that would have totally baffled my old teachers. Nowadays I would have been classed as having learning difficulties and I do have learning difficulties. I find the calculus behind Quantum Electro Dynamics very hard to follow and I have made very little progress in that field. However, I have made some progress in Einsteinian physics, so it is not all bad.
Anyway I digress, back to my eyes.
I was not exactly looking forward to yesterday having suffered badly in hospitals in the past.  Knowing it is going to be a walk in the park was purely academic, so trying to convince my subconscious mind that this time they will not leave me in pain for eighteen very long hours, or nearly kill me with an overdose of aesthetic, was not easy. I tried not to worry and it was in the end a walk in the park and over and done with relatively quickly, arriving at 7:30 and leaving at 11:15 with about twenty minutes actually in the operating theatre.
I was prepped by a talkative nurse who seemed to be frustrated by various minor problems she was coping with. All very familiar grumbling, like being back at work. I then had to wait in the waiting room and TBH (The Better Half) stopped with me for the next hour and a half until I was called in again for a quick eye test and a felt tip pen cross was written over the eye to be operated on. I was then taken through an area of the hospital which was only accessed by what in MOD terms would be an escorted pass. In an even smaller waiting room were four other people with Xs over one eye. It was like being in some exclusive little club and soon we were chatting and speculating on who was next in line. Three more people arrived after me and then the first man was taken away to be processed. Part of the early preparation was to have a small piece of lint or gauze placed in the eye under one eyelid, which was removed just before going into the operating rooms. You then had to have some blue overshoes of the kind you see in crime dramas, when the police enter a crime scene, and a hair cover. Other than that, there was no need to wear one of those embarrassing hospital gowns that invariably do not have all the tie cords still in place so that they gape open exposing your naked backside as you walk to your treatment room. Once kitted out in blue overshoes and hair net, I was told to lie on a gurney and the anaesthetist set to work. More drops and then a brace to hold the eyelids open, since my blink reflex was too strong for their liking. This put me in mind of the latter scenes in the film A Clockwork Orange, where the anti-hero is being indoctrinated by repeated films and his eyes are held open in much the same way, so that he must keep watching. The anaesthetist’s team were very nice and had an excellent bedside manner, showing real concern for me and making sure I was comfortable. They talked me through each procedure and then wheeled me into the theatre where the surgeon took over. She was, I was told, very experienced, having been doing this operation for about twenty-five years. She was very efficient and was teaching a junior surgeon whilst working on my eye. They discussed what was taking place in terms I could not always follow, since they were talking about bits of the eye I had never heard of. In contrast to the anaesthetists, the surgeon after telling me to tuck my chin in a few degrees more than I could actually manage never spoke to me again. Whilst the electrodes had been stuck onto my wrists and a heart monitor clipped to my finger, I was given a large rubber frog to hold during the operation. I told that if I needed to sneeze or move for any reason I was to squeak the rubber frog. I am not sure why simply saying I need to sneeze would not have been as effective, but there I was clutching a frog and trying to remain as still as possible whilst someone poked things into my, by now, quite numb eye. In order to see what she was doing, the surgeon had a very bright light shining into my eye and all I could see was a blaze of white light. This kept changing as various parts of the process took place and I experienced a number of different patterns. It was all quite psychedelic, if rather monochromatic like something out of a 70s disco. Soon it was complete and a transparent plastic eye patch was taped onto my face and I was allowed to sit up and be seated in a wheelchair.
I was then wheeled out of the theatre by the smallest of the nurses present. Something I felt was rather unfair, since there were several in the room, much heftier and stronger looking than her. She had a some difficulty getting my great weight through the swing doors, so I offered to get off and walk, something I was quite capable of, but she would not let me and struggled me back into the small waiting room where I was left to be fetched by another nurse. TBH meanwhile had been reading a newspaper and drinking coffee downstairs in the cafĂ©. The nurse had her mobile number and was surprised to find TBH still on the premises. It was expected that the ‘responsible adult’ that was to deliver you home would have to be called back since it was a long wait. In fact it would have been a very long wait if she had gone home, because as we left, we could see that the car parks were all full and cars and busses were queueing right down the road outside and onto the dual carriageway.

Cars queeuing on the dual carriageway
Our new hospital was hailed by the local council as a wonderful scheme when it was built a few years ago. It would specialise in day surgery as much as possible, thereby needing fewer beds. It was placed out of town close to the M4 motorway and on a bus route so that it could be easily accessed by public transport. Because, in the eyes of the planners, most people would get there by bus, the car parking space was kept to a minimum. Up until that time, our town had had three NHS hospitals and a private hospital, where all the BUPA members could go. The Princess Margaret hospital was actually larger than our new one and there was a Military hospital not too far away that was almost as large. When the number one son got appendicitis, he was admitted to the military hospital because neither of the other two were able to take him. That was over twenty five years ago and since then three major developments of over six thousand houses have been built and new building is going on all the time. For some unexpected reason, our single new hospital cannot cope. Unexpected, that is, to the short sighted planners. They have since added several new wards and extended the carpark, but the problem is still with us since all these changes to the hospital are going ahead slower than the town is expanding. The net result is that if TBH had gone home, then I would have been waiting for hours and TBH would have been sitting in a traffic jam for a similar amount of time. So she stayed put, at least she could read a paper and drink coffee.

So finally I was out with an eyepatch and a goody bag with eye drops and instructions on what to do for the next two weeks whilst my eye adapts to its new clear plastic lens and recovers from having things make holes in it. Today I am walking around with my glass on. Not glasses, glass singular because I am using a pair of spectacles with the left lens taken out. My left eye has been corrected and it is no longer short sighted. I will have a lot difficulty with this, since all my adult life I have only to remove my glasses to get good close up vision, something very useful when dealing with miniature electronic components, which I have done for most of my working life. Now I will have to wear reading glasses for close vison and I am not entirely sure I like this idea, it will take some getting used to.

Still, definitely an interesting experience and a lot better than my previous visits to hospitals.

1 comment:

  1. So interesting to read your story, Pete. My experience over here was somewhat different. I felt like I was on an assembly line..with us all lined up together in our gowns, on gurneys, and taken into surgery one at a time. They must have done the surgery on over 50 people that day, and I was the last one of the day...was there for a good few hours. Plus, the end result was not the same. I have worn glasses since I was 10, and I knew that, one way or the other, I would still have to wear glasses after the surgery. I was so used, in latter years, to taking my glasses off to read, that I opted to have my near sight corrected, rather than distance sight. I still wear glasses, but take them off for reading. That way, I don't have to pull out my glasses in the supermarket to read the fine print on a jar of pickles. A lot of people don't know that they can choose that option, and the Dr was surprised when I did. But I have never regretted it. So glad your surgery went the way you tell the story!