By the morning of my eye operation I was so excited by the prospect of being able to see again I practically skipped into the hospital. No – that’s not true. But I was desperate to be able to function again as a seeing person, absolutely desperate. If they had told me the surgeon was ill and his dog was going to be operating instead I would have agreed gladly.
And I couldn’t skip into the hospital because a) it was bitterly cold and icy underfoot so not safe for skipping and b) we parked outside the wrong part of the hospital and had to power walk for over 20 minutes to get to the right part, arriving breathless and freezing.
Apart from the initial funny of the nurses trying to stop me going in, convinced I was confused and in the wrong department, it was all very straightforward. I had already had a few experiences of what it’s like when you have an “early onset” condition. Medical staff are confused by your being there at all and the other patients regard you with a deep suspicion as you are clearly not like them and therefore “faking” in some way.
High-backed chairs were arranged around a room the size of a large sitting room, each with a lower backed chair next to it for your companion. I was probably the youngest person in the room by 30 years (not counting the medical staff) and the majority of people sat in silence, a few chatted a little to each other. We soon realised it was something of a conveyor belt as a nurse came in to check your details, do your basic health checks and talk you through the procedure. Then I had a brief chat with the surgeon and then we waited. And waited. And waited. After 3 hours of watching people go out to theatre and come back I realised that I was going to be the final person to be seen. Three albums on the iPod later and many conversations with the MN, it was finally my turn.
I walked into the anaesthesia room. I was so full of excitement and anticipation. But I think it was in there that reality hit and the wheels of excitement came off a bit. You know that thing where they say “you’ll feel a little scratch”? They lie. You feel a needle being inserted into the back of your hand. You start to feel anxious and a bit dopey and a bit sick. Then they started putting special drops into my eye. They had to use a lot of drops because it wasn’t working properly. Apparently I have “enlarged tear ducts” (well, they have had a lot of practice) so the anaesthesia for my eye kept going down my throat and into my stomach. They tried a double dose but in the end had to settle on a double dose x 2. It really wasn’t that great.
Then they wheel you through to surgery and by now I was in that state where you think you’re normal, but in fact you’re high as a kite. I’m not going to tell you about the hour I spent in surgery because so far anyone I’ve told begs me to stop, I’m making them feel ill. All I will say is that having two surgeons in the back of your eye while you’re awake is not great. I had to dig very deep to get through it, as did they.
In the week leading up to the operation almost everyone told me about someone they knew (or their auntie knew, or someone in their road knew) who had gone through a similar operation and how “it was just nothing” and “they could see brilliantly afterwards”.
This is my message to all of them and to you, in case you’re ever tempted to give similar advice.
It really, really wasn’t nothing. It was an hour long operation inside your eye while you’re awake. It was pretty bloody awful and immediately afterwards I could see nothing. I was ill for the rest of the day and everyone who doesn’t get on with anaesthesia and so throws up mightily after their operation will know the total misery I’m talking about. Plus I could see less than I could before I had the op.
Four days after the operation my sight started to clear and today (8 days after) is the first day that I’ve felt pretty much normal. I have a regime of meds and eye drops to follow for the next few weeks and I have an eye guard (in a particularly flattering shade of NHS plastic) to wear to reduce the risk of getting anything in my eye. I’m very aware that I now have a permanent implant in my eye and that seems plain weird. I am the bionic woman, only a size 16.
I will see the surgeon again on 10 February and we’ll set the date for my next operation. I think the next one will be more stressful, because now I know what I’m in for. However, there’s a very strong chance that by the start of summer I will be seeing clearly, out of both eyes, for the first time in years and I could have many more years of sight before I need more operations. I am so lucky. Only a few years ago this operation didn’t even exist and now I can have hours of painstaking, skilled eye surgery to give me back my sight for free.
And for that, NHS, I will be eternally grateful.