Ophthalmology – a game of snakes and ladders


 Doctor – my eyes!

I have cataracts. A big one in my right eye and the beginnings of one in my left eye.

It wasn’t a complete surprise; the ophthalmologist told me that they were developing a year ago and things have been getting increasingly fuzzy ever since.

Shopping in brightly lit supermarkets has become challenging. I get dazzled and dizzy halfway through the shopping trip. Hub has taken to running around the aisles like an updated supermarket sweep contestant – where is Dale Winton when you need him? Hub does this in an effort to get the shopping in the trolley before I have to lurch to the safety of the wooden benches placed for that purpose by the tills.

Our shopping bills have decreased remarkably – and Hub is keeping very trim – good exercise for all the paintballing.

This year’s eye screening confirmed the worst and the charming (and very young) ophthalmologist softened the blow of my eye referral with his dulcet Irish tones.

He reassured me that the whole thing would be done under a local anaesthetic in day surgery at the hospital.

I went public about my cataracts on FaceAche and was reassured by the number of people who had survived the operation and surfaced with better eyesight. The survivors included my own very brave Big Sis who knows more about hospitals than I’ve had Chinese takeaways.

The hospital appointment came through just after the New Year. The letter wasn’t very informative – just the vague warning that the appointment could last anywhere between 30 minutes to three hours. The letterhead confirmed that the Ophthalmology department was in the hospital but didn’t give a clue as to where.

Hub and I turned up early – as is my habit – my Dad always maintained that if you were anything less than 15 minutes early for an appointment – you were late. On this occasion it was just as well as the smiling volunteer from the Friends of the Hospital sent us in completely the wrong direction and we ended up in Endoscopy.

Redirected to the correct department, we were still on time for our 0830 hours appointment. I joined a queue of twelve people; some of us grasping our hospital letters, others looking bewildered. The receptionist was not a happy lady; I think she had forgotten any lessons learned on the customer care course and her worst growl was reserved for those who forgot to bring their letters.

As I stood in the queue, two nurses passed me and one of them said,”They’d better not wind me up today, I’m in the mood to tear someone’s head off.”

Well that’s not in the customer care manual either.

When it was my turn at the window, I smiled brightly and said ‘Good Morning’ as I passed my letter  under the narrow window gap. The phone rang at that moment and any retort she may have made was eaten up by her grumpy reply ‘Yes’ and a monosyllabic conversation with the poor unfortunate on the other end.

She found my file and told me to wait in the waiting room next door.

It was a large waiting room with a very nice flat screen TV. The sound was turned down however and the subtitles turned off. As there were notices advertising hearing aids as well as aids for the visually impaired, I’m not sure for whose benefit the TV was turned on.

It was a busy waiting room with staff trotting around in all directions, looking important and carrying clipboards.  When my name was called I followed the nurse and left Hub in charge of bags, coats and his Sudoku book. The nurse asked me to sit on a chair behind a pillar about three yards away from where Hub was sitting.

I sat and waited.

Ten minutes later she ushered me into a room with ‘Visual Acuity’ on the door. It also had a sliding sign that said ‘Free/Engaged’ on it.

I went through the usual eyesight tests and did my best not to guess at the letters. My concentration was interrupted five times by other staff opening the door and popping their heads in to see if the room was engaged or not.

I think they must have had some visual acuity issues themselves where the sign on the door was concerned. Either that or they didn’t do guessing.

When I had finished reading the letters, the nurse told me that I would need to do some field tests and that I could go and sit back behind the pillar. I asked if my husband could come too and she went off to fetch him.

We sat behind the pillar, Hub and I, with all our necessities and stared at the door marked ‘Field Tests’. It also had a ‘Free/Engaged’ sign on the door. A young blonde lady in a very tight-fitting black dress and stompy heels came in and out of the room several times, clutching her clipboard and looking stressed.  She passed us each  time but didn’t make eye contact.

After ten minutes of this (the optimum waiting time) she stomped out to the main waiting room and called my name. I got to my feet and responded. “Here”. She looked at me as if I was deliberately in the wrong place and checked my date of birth.

We went into the ‘Field Test’ room and she sat me down in front of one of those machines where you rest your chin and press a button when you see a light. she took my specs away and made a big thing of cleaning them before she checked the prescription.

The young lady – blessed with an unfortunately nasal Liverpool whine – gave me the instructions as if I was a half wit and set the machine going. My clicking was disturbed by people coming in and out of the room and banging the door loudly. By the time we got onto testing my left eye, I had sussed out the pattern of lights (random – oh yeah!) and did my best to ignore the unwelcome visitors.

I was tetchy by now and decided that enough was enough. I asked the young lady why there were so many interruptions and that as the patient I found it rather rude and disrespectful to have people banging about in the room whilst I was doing a test.

Nobody knocked on the door either.

To her credit, she went off in search of the complaints book and wrote down my objections. She then pointed out that the complaints book wouldn’t be seen by anyone else in the department as they didn’t look in it.

I sighed.

She took me outside to my Hub.

Then she sighed and stomped back into the room, banging the door extra loudly.

We waited another ten minutes and I heard my name being called in the main waiting room again. I responded and was met with a very grumpy lady who appeared to be deeply offended to find me where I had been left instead of in front of the silent TV.

I followed her down the dingy corridor and she motioned toward the only vacant chair. I had no idea why I was there but reasoned that the words ‘Consultant’ and ‘Free/Engaged’ might be a clue. The wait was fifteen minutes this time – Hub was still up by the pillar at the other end of the corridor whilst my fellow patients and I tried not to listen to the very audible consultation being carried out on the other side of the door.

The consultant was okay. I liked him and it wasn’t his fault that the walls and doors were so thin. He had a good old look at my eyes and confirmed all that my charming Irish ophthalmologist had diagnosed. He also told me that he needed some up to date retinal pictures and that I would go there next and come back to him when the pictures had been taken.

I sat outside and after a while, I heard my name called in the main waiting room again. Hub heard and sent the lady wot does the photos down the corridor,; she seemed surprised to see me there.

We went on a route march to the other side of the department. My walking stick and I were not fast enough for the photo lady, who deposited me in a very chilly conservatory. Hub had my coat and was now sitting outside the consultant’s room having a conversation with a nice student bloke who was also waiting.

I was in that conservatory for half an hour. I thought about making the journey back to Hub, collecting him and my coat but reasoned that Sod’s Law meant my name would be called as soon as I sallied forth down the dingy corridor.

I met a nice lady who had been referred to our hospital rather than her own, and as a consequence her notes had not been sent over.  she had to sit and wait until the next regular courier arrived.  She was desperate for a cup of decent coffee but her husband could only find lukewarm tea because he didn’t know the way back to the Costa shop at the entrance.

He also needed a fag and somewhere to smoke it.

My photos were taken eventually and I was returned to Hub and my coat. The photo lady was called Claire and apart from the consultant, she was the only person who actually looked me in the eyes and gave me their name.

My consultant grumbled about the slowness  of the hospital software but eventually loaded my photos.  He gave me some good news about eye pressure and complete lack of glaucoma. He also said that my cataracts were a sign of old age and had nothing to do with mean old diabetes. Good news for the diabetes nurse – not good news for me with another birthday looming.

I was given the choice of hanging on for half an hour and doing my pre-operative assessment or coming back another day and doing it. Hub was due in work that afternoon but what the hell, we’d been there three and a half hours so far – what was another half an hour?

He got permission to come in late and we were taken round to the cave where the pre-operative nurses live.

The assessment took another hour and a half.

It was extremely comprehensive and it made my blood pressure shoot up – white coat syndrome or over-exposure to hospitals – who knows.

So there is an eighteen week waiting list and once they’ve done the old right eye, the old left eye will go back on the waiting list.

Hub and I were both starving when we finally escaped. The game of snakes and ladders was over and we dashed off to Maccy D’s for sustenance. A strawberry milkshake can soothe most of my ills.

In the meantime, my achy breaky legs limit my computer time and my fluffy cataract eyes insist on BIG letters when I type – which also gives me a headache.

Filling in my online tax return will be fun – if they get around to sending me my unique tax reference number – otherwise it’s a £100 fine and I haven’t even earned any money yet due to the legs and the eyes.

By comparison, the MRI scan I had a week later was easy peasy lemon squeezy. I did lying still  in a small box for 40 minutes and worked my way through Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ album in my head while the machine whizzed and clicked around me.

Medical explorations – fun, fun, fun.