Harry Turner's Episodes of Personal History
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The Other Eye

31 December 1980

Last time I wrote I must have been full of my first operation and expectation of having a cataract op in the New Year. In the event it was delayed until the start of May. And I probably nattered about taking an Open University course on modern art (a substitute for painting!) when I had vision restored to cope with it...

The preparatory op, a cryopexy, proved satisfactory, although not intended to produce any immediate benefit so far as vision was concerned, but my position on the waiting list took longer to rise to the top than anticipated. I faced increasing problems with the continuing deterioration of sight – reading slowed to a snail's pace since print seemed to get fainter and fainter.

Visits to the library became a torture – both to see titles on the shelves and to read the texts at the level of illumination provided – and I eventually found it only possible to read at home, where I could place an anglepoise lamp directly on to the page. TV viewing became hard work rather than pleasure. I gave up going to art exhibitions as I couldn't cope with gallery light levels. Going out on dark winter nights became such an obstacle course that I just stayed at home most of the time. Life, you will gather, began to seem grey, grim and depressing.

When I signed on for the OU course, it was in the belief that the cataract op on one eye would be over before the course started. Being forced to make a start before the operation proved a personal challenge: I was determined to prove to myself I could cope and, indeed, the work focussed all my energies to that end. I found myself so busy I didn't have time to get broody. So in the event, signing on for that course proved to be the best thing I could have done to boost my morale in the circumstances.

Everyone was co-operative. I acquired a lot of study material in advance so that I was able to get off to a good start despite my restricted opportunities for study. It was difficult to write notes; often I had to let my pen 'go through the motions' and hope the result proved readable (occasionally it wasn't). To get over the difficulties in scanning notes on an A4 page, I devised a card index system to cope with notes and references as I progressed: the cards were just the right size, compact and within my field of clear vision.

Of course, it helped studying a subject that was already familiar and for which I already had a fairly extensive library of reference books. For the essays that had to be submitted, I relied on my electric typewriter – most of the time it spelled out things as I intended and handled things in a neater way than was possible with my now decidedly wayward handwriting.

All in all, the course was a great help in preserving my interest in things visual: with the advent of spring, sunshine and late light evenings, things seemed more tolerable. But it was a relief when I was eventually summoned to the Hospital.

Monday 11 May 1981
To Stepping Hill for the cryopexy on my left eye. A sunny day: I take along a copy of Gunter Grass's Cat & Mouse to read.

Tuesday 12 May 1981

Morning operation – local anaesthetic again – took a tablet and dozed awhile before going into the theatre. It was hard on the back, lying on the trolley just waiting! The local was three injections round eye: each one rather painful but just as it seemed to become unbearable, the sensation eased off. The anaesthetist told me to swear if things got too much, but by that time the need had passed.

After the injections she put a pad over my eye and said she would have to apply pressure to "spread" the anaesthetic. Which she did! It felt like my eyeball would be permanently compacted – I began to see light blue points of light, a regular grid in the darkness. Again, just as the effect touched intolerability, she desisted, announcing that I'd he ready for the theatre in about twenty minutes. I felt as if I'd already had the operation...

Wheeled into the theatre, transferred to the operating table, looking up at the light fittings, while people bustled around... head cradled and hooded... a nurse holds my hand reassuringly.., we make small talk. I comment on the lack of music and got round to asking if it was provided for the doctors or patients; she laughs and says for both really, and while I can have music, it'll have to be Vivaldi. Vivaldi it was, and it was a delightful distraction during the procedings...

Then my face was covered by several layers of fabric leaving my eye exposed, and the lights came on with painful intensity. Mercifully heads, hands, apparatus, who-knows-what kept blocking it off. While my eye was frozen, technically, I couldn't feel anything, but there was an awareness, a feeling of manipulation, that sense of an increasing approach to the limit of toleration.., there seemed no end to the waiting, and then Mr Gupta said he was nearly finished, that it would soon be over.

I'd lost track of time, but the music tape was still playing when the lights dimmed, hood and cradle removed from my head, and I was returned to the back-breaking trolley, then on the way back to the ward. All over.., but my eye hammered somewhat under the pad.

They were serving a meal when I was put back in bed, but I had no enthusiasm for food, I just wanted to lie there and doze...

Then drinks and another meal trolley – fortunately I'd ordered sandwiches, which presented no problems in handling. I really felt hungry after missing two meals, and tucked into an extra corned beef sandwich that was going spare – heaven! It was quite a contrast to my first operation with a general anaesthetic, when I was out for 24 hours after the op. That way I had really no idea of what the op involved (perhaps as well, first time?). But after this session, memory says it was more of an ordeal than the actual cataract op; I hope, now it's all over, that's an end. It was worth having a local, and a speedy recovery. I took some tablets for a racketing headache, but otherwise don't feel too bad as I settle down for the night, after reading most of the evening.

Friday 15 May 1981
Out of hospital.

Wednesday 21 October 1981
Saw Dr. Mather and got sick note for month.

Monday 26 October 1981
To Stepping Hill for second cataract operation.

Tuesday 27 October 1981
Had cataract operation on left eye.

Friday 30 October 1981
Out of hospital again. Drops: BETNESOL N cyclopentolate 1%.

26 - 30 October 1981 : To Stepping Hill for second cataract operation

14 December 1981

Thanks for the get-well card: I don't suppose a "cornea" set of jokes has been committed to paper for quite some time...

Everything seems to have progressed well since I had a preliminary check-up on the eye a week or so ago. It was still quite an effort to prise my eye open then, but after a week indoors, away from irritations and infections, I can now open it at will. Though if I do open it, someone inevitably flicks in some drops. The problem has been to find effective distractions from a sore eye-ball and the prickle of newly-growing eye lashes on one side, and a sympathetically weeping eye on the other. But things are settling down at long last.

After viewing the world for so long with one beady eye, it's going to take time to get both eyes working together again. I go to see the specialist again next Friday; hopefully I'll be able to be tested for new specs. So, in a few weeks time SUPERSPECS may be haunting you... watch out.

January 1982

Settling down to binocular vision. With the new glasses there are occasional problems in coping with stereoscopic images: when I get tired and.relax the effort to fuse the images from both eyes – like when watching late-night TV – I find things drift and I get double vision, as each eye operates independently. It requires a conscious effort to drag them back together again, and persistence until it happens like it used to, without conscious effort.

There are slight problems estimating traffic speeds: vehicles that seem a safe distance away hurtle close sooner than expected. I play safe and stick to crossings! Concentrating on making progress forward, it is disconcerting when you are overtaken by pedestrians approaching unseen from your restricted side vision. And difficult to make conversation with a person walking at your side who moves outside your area of vision – if they fall back you can find yourself talking to thin air...


15th October, 1991 – Memory of [first] eye operation at Stepping Hill

Reading matter: Lessing's Shikasta. A Tamil orderly came to check on my last occasion in hospital. "You won't believe this," I told him, "but it was in 1945, in Bangalore ..."

Loss of side vision:

When crossing at road junctions, there's the problem of having to turn my head to check behind, check in front, check to left and a quick turn to ensure the first behind check is still valid. Then forward... By this time, I feel giddy and step off the pavement hoping that any unseen motorist will spot you and act accordingly.

I followed the example of fellow crossers at first; until I learned the hard way that impulsive crossers can be dangerous models! Thereafter, I looked for a little old lady to escort me across. Or trusted lights, though motorists in a hurry are still a hazard. ■

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