One Thursday morning, I noticed a strange artefact in my eyesight; whenever I moved my eyes, I’d get a faint flash just below the centre of my vision. When it hadn’t cleared after a couple of hours, and I was out in the town anyway, I wandered around to my Opticians to see if I could make an appointment to get it checked out. The sign on the door said “Closed for stock-taking, back tomorrow”.
Friday morning, and I phone at 9am, “The Optician isn’t here yet, we’ll call you back to arrange an appointment”. 9:05am the phone rang, “Can you come in straight away?” “Ok,” I said.
A few eye drops, then back to the waiting room for 40 minutes while my pupils dilated, while trying to read the only newspaper available – the Express. What a dreadful rag; I was almost pleased when my vision became so blurred I had to put it aside.
Back in the consulting room, and after a slit-lamp examination the Optician told me she needed to refer me to the hospital eye clinic, as there’s something strange going on with my retina but she doesn’t really know what it is. I ask what they will do differently at the clinic and she tells me that they have the necessary tools to actually remove my eye so they can get a better look. I must have turned a little green, as she smiled and said “Well, they probably won’t take it all the way out, just lever it forward a bit.” I asked her to stop telling me what they might do, because if she told me any more I might be too scared to go to the appointment.
Phone rang in the early afternoon. The appointment was for today (Saturday), at 10:30am. Hmm, can’t be all that serious then.
10:30am this morning found my wife and me at the eye clinic (DW very kindly drove me there, as I thought I might be unable to drive after whatever the procedure might be). The Consultant, a Mr Lamassios, seemed a really nice guy, put me at my ease, sat me down. Quick vision test, then more eye drops. He tells me these are an anaesthetic, not the pupil dilator I was expecting.
“Uh, oh,” I thought.
“Is this the bit where you take my eye out?” says I.
“My optician told me she was sending me here because you have the tools to take my out out so you can get a better look inside.”
He laughed like a drain. “No, I only take eyes out when I’m not going to put them back in.”
Ok, so I’ve been April-fooled, I think. Hey, ho.
“Well, excuse me,” I said, “But I want to be seen by someone who knows how to put them back.”
More laughter, which is always a good thing. And it turns out the anaesthetic is so they can use an instrument to measure the pressure inside the eyeball. It contacts the front of the eye, so they don’t want you flinching. Fair enough.
Next more drops – these are the pupil dilators, and after a 20 minute wait it’s back to the slit lamp. Look up; hold that; up to the left; hold that; all the way to the left; … first the one eye then the other. Then more anaesthetic, he clags a lens directly onto one eye, and again more with the slit-lamp, brighter light this time. All the while I am fascinated by being able to see the network of blood vessels on my retina, I presume reflected back from the front of my eye.
I am reminded of that scene from Bladerunner. No, not the famous eyeball-squeezing scene when Deckard has to fight Roy Batty. The other one, at the beginning, where whats-his-name is testing Leon with the machine to see if he is a replicant. “You are in the desert, and you see a tortoise,” – “What’s a tortoise?” – “You know what a turtle is?” – “Uh, huh” – “Same thing.” Having a slit-lamp exam is rather like that, except it doesn’t normally end with you shooting the Consultant in the chest.
Anyway, it turns out I have a minor tear on my retina. It’s not anything he wants to do anything about immediately, and I’m to go back in three weeks to make sure it’s not got any worse. In the meantime, I’m to look out for [list of symptoms] and if any occur I should phone for an emergency appointment The emergency clinic is open three evenings a week. Hmm. “Please arrange to have an emergency within the following hours …”
The worst part of the whole experience, though, wasn’t anything that happened in the clinic. It was the drive home. We’ve had pretty overcast skies for the last several weeks, today was the first really sunny day for quite a while, and it happens when my pupils are artificially dilated. Even with sunglasses it was pretty uncomfortable. Obvously there really *is* a God, and he hates me.