The trouble with eyes…(part 1)

I’ve not blogged for a while, due to a number of reasons. So I thought this would be a good one to come back to, as it may help people in similar situations.

A few weeks ago, I noticed my right eye was a bit blurry. I also noticed ‘floaters’ (little invisible objects floating by) which were becoming more intense, and every so often I’d see a little flash of light in the corner of my eye. Most worryingly, I also noticed I’d developed a blind spot in the right hand side of my eye, like a curtain had been pulled over.

To be honest, I put it down to insomnia and stress. I’ve had a whole heap of personal troubles to work through over the past 6 months, and I thought this was just the natural reaction, and a few nights sleep would do me good. But it seemed to be getting progressively worse, so I booked my first ever eye test at Specsavers.

Yes, my first ever eye test. I’m not proud of this, but it’s something I’ve never felt the need to have. My eyes have never been a problem, so I didn’t think there was much point. Anyway, all seemed fine – my eyes were scanned and photographed, and little puffs of air were squirted into my eye to check that the pressure was ok. I read the letters off the chart and all seemed perfectly normal.

Then I told the optician about the ‘blind spot’ I’d developed. His face fell, and he immediately told me that he’d examine my eye using the special machine they had. Let me tell you, there aren’t many phrases likely to cause you to break into a panic attack like an optician saying “Oh” while he’s doing this.

“This is very serious, and you need to go to hospital immediately. You have a detached retina, it requires surgery as soon as possible, and if you don’t have this surgery, there’s a very real danger you will lose your sight”.

So, with those words ringing in my ears, I made my way to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, which has a walk-in emergency eye clinic. I wasn’t waiting for too long, and after speaking to several nurses and doctors (all of who were absolutely fantastic), the diagnosis of a detached retina was confirmed.


So what causes a detached retina?

All sorts of things – usually it’s a sports injury, or it happens when someone bangs their head. This wasn’t the case with me, and it turns out I was just one of the unlucky ones – about 1 in 15,000 people develop a tear in the retina which causes detachment. The former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is probably the most famous person to have suffered a detached retina due to a rugby injury when he was a child, which resulted in the loss of sight in his left eye.

What is it exactly, and why is it so serious?

The way a nurse explained it to me made the most sense: think of the retina as the wallpaper at the back of your eye. The lens in your eye sends images to the retina, which beams those images to the brain. If a tear ever develops on the retina, then it can start to peel away, like a corner of wallpaper peeling away. If it’s not treated, it will continue to peel off, and eventually come away completely. There’s still vision when it detaches, but that’s what the ‘blind spot’ was. If it was left, the blind spot would become bigger and bigger, until the vision in the eye disappears.

How can it be fixed?

I was booked in for an operation the next day. I was to have a vitrecomy – if you’re slightly squeamish about eyes, you may want to skip this. Under local anaesthetic, the surgeon makes a couple of pinpoint incisions into your eyeball. Then the vitereous gel in the back of the eyeball is scraped away, and a small bubble of gas is injected into your eye to push the retina back in place. Then, over the next few weeks, that bubble holds the retina while it reattaches itself to the back of the eye. In the weeks after the operation, the patient has to sit in a particular posture recommended by the surgeon in order for the bubble to stay in the right place.

eye clinic web page size

So, the next day, I arrived at the Hallamshire again. It was a pretty long day – although I wasn’t due to have the operation until the afternoon, I had to be at the hospital in the morning to have the pre-op checks done. There was a lot of scans, several lots of eye drops administred, and a lot of form filling to be done. Eventually, I was sent over to the Day Care Centre where the operation would take place.

More waiting around (by this time, my pupils were so dilated due to the eye drops that I couldn’t even read a book while I was waiting!), and I was called into surgery at 1.30. Then there were more questions, more talk about the possible side-effects of the vitrectomy (one of which is that I’ll probably have to have cataract surgery later in the year).

After changing into the fetching hospital gown you have to wear in theatre, I was taken through to the operation at around 4pm. I won’t lie, I was pretty terrified. I’ve never had an operation before, and the whole idea of someone messing around with my eyes makes me feel a bit squeamish. Yet the whole team who performed the operation did a brilliant job at putting me at my ease.

Firstly, eye drops were administered again, and  a cloth was placed over my face, which had a hole for the right eye. As the drops began to take effect, my sight slowly became darker and my eye began to feel numb. Eventually it all became a bit of a blur, and although I could feel some pressure in my eye while it was being worked on, it was totally pain-free, and I ended up talking to the surgeon while he was performing the operation.

The whole process took about 45 minutes, and then I was wheeled through to the room next door and asked to lie on my front with my head face down for the next hour. My ‘posturing’ for the next few weeks was to sit upright with my head up, and when I went to bed, I had to lie on my right hand side. This would keep the bubble in place.

Around 6pm, I eventually left the hospital with a collection of eye drops, and instructions to return at around 9am the next morning.

To be continued….

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