My favourite part of today was exploring the fascinating Seeing and Perceiving Hub. Here I’ve written about my own experience of losing vision. Moorfields Eye Hospital – thank you, I’m eternally grateful.
I bang my head on an ancient wall in a town in Devon, walking home in the dark from a cookery class. A week later, I go to the optician. It’s just my regular sight test.
Puffs of air onto my eyeball make me flinch. I lean my chin into the grey plastic of the eye test machine. Donna gives me a hand held clicker. I keep my eyes on the red dot and click away at the flashing lights.
Hmm, says Donna. Let’s repeat that. I sigh. I sit. I redo. It’s tempting to push the clicker randomly. In fact, it’s really hard not to, once I have that idea in my head. I don’t.
Donna takes me back into the other room, the one with the squeaky leather chair and the little glass lenses in their clacking metal frames that slot in and out of their box and in and out of the space-age, heavyweight glasses. On my nose, off my nose. She tucks hair behind my ear. Click clack.
Better here – she turns the little lens around – or here?
One? Or two?
This way? Or this way?
There’s the fear of not getting it right. Of my eyes tricking me into something I shouldn’t say.
Okay. Let’s try the other eye. Click clack. What can you see?
I look and I look. I keep looking up there, in the top right hand corner of my eye, but there’s nothing there. Not even a grey fog or a blackness – just nothing.
You can’t see up there can you? Hmm. I thought so.
At Moorfields Eye Hospital they operate pretty quickly. Detached retina, they say. They give me a scleral buckle. I imagine a fat lady in a beige trench coat, the belt pulled tight to give her a waist. The surgeons squeeze her in.
I’m under general anaesthetic. I don’t feel a thing. Afterwards they say: Oh – there’s a little flap of eyeball we need to reattach. Won’t take five minutes.
Have you read A Clockwork Orange? I think of it when my eyelids are clamped open and a laser sears the flesh of my eye. I can’t feel it, but I see it and my eyeball flinches.
The next day I go on a date wearing a pirate’s eye patch. I carry a parrot on my shoulder. And straight back to work. I’m super lucky. My sight is perfect.
Ten years later, my baby son shoves the feet of a plastic polar bear into my temple.
This time, in a regional hospital, they try to laser the retinal tear. My body remembers from last time – The Clockwork Orange effect. My eye is lasered and cryogenically frozen.
I lie stock still, bounded by nurses, gripping their hands so tightly and feeling the sweat of the surgeon beading above me. Over-run by waves of panic, rivers of tears puddling on the bed.
The fix only lasts two months and then the retina pops itself free of its buckle and bonds. The fat lady is undone, her trench coat slips to the floor. I see nothing but an orange glow where my brain remembers the light should be.
This time, at Moorfields, a Sunday morning. In the waiting room on plastic chairs, eyes fuzzed with drops, pupils dilated to match the man opposite, who’s been up all night and had a punch to the head.
If you don’t give me a general I’ll scream!
Ah, good. Thanks very much. They fix my eye, matching all the little bits back together again. A miracle.
I stay at my mum’s for two weeks, face down to keep the jelly bubble in place.
I have a doll’s eye view of home, from inside the phone. My children like to carry me about the house, putting me in funny places and asking me what it’s like. I am tiny – high up on a shelf, looking down at my family through the orange windows of a cardboard cut out house.
I sit next to the plastic cow and look through the door of the toy farm. I am hidden under blankets, muffled behind cushions.
What have you done with Mummy this time? asks my husband. Please go find her.
When I tell my son I’m coming home tomorrow, he stares at the little image on the screen and says:
But you’re already here. I don’t understand. He thinks this is it. I’m forever mini-Mummy, travelling around in his pocket. Picking them up from nursery my heart might burst.
I can see, but everything’s skew-whiff. Slightly off. My depth of perception wrong. I knock into things. Words swim. The ophthalmologist says my sight is good, but my brain needs to catch up, to forge new neural pathways. To connect up. It’s the strangest sensation.
Two months on and my vision is fine. My brain has done its thing. Well done brain! I marvel at the human body, at the doctors’ skill.
I stay away from plastic polar bears.
Abi Siri Andersen