Back in August 2020 (seems a very very long time ago now, doesn’t it?!) I had a bit of a fright. Well, ok, I admit it – a major panic. I can panic for England, if not the UK, or even Europe, given half a chance, and this was it.

There I was sitting quietly in my arm chair one Saturday afternoon basking in the sunshine coming through the open patio doors, reading a book (actually I-pad) and drinking a mug of coffee – birds chirruping, bees buzzing, all’s well with the world – when I lifted the mug with my right hand to take a sip and the print on the page went ‘all funny’ – it curved in towards the rim of the mug. Eh? Took the mug away and it all went straight again. Oh. Went to take another sip and the words bent in to the mug rim again. Very peculiar. So I wandered out into the garden to survey my domain while drinking my coffee instead of reading my book, spotted a weed, and another, and a bit of dead-heading that needed doing and so the afternoon vanished and my sight seemed fine. It was just physics I decided – a trick of the light plus reading with an I-pad while drinking from a big mug.

But. There had to be a ‘but’ didn’t there? Sunday morning I’m slumped over the breakfast table, newspaper open in front of me, mug of coffee to hand. And . . . you know what’s coming . . . lift the mug and the print on the newspaper promptly curves round the mug rim. Bother. That is not supposed to happen and it can’t be physics anymore, therefore it must be biology. So, being a good little scientist, I experiment. Cover my left eye and look at the newspaper – everything’s fine. Cover my right eye . . . oh heck. Someone has pulled the middle of the page through the table into a funnel and all the print is trying to squeeze down it. It’s the only way I can think of to describe the weirdness of it. Next I looked around the room and out of various windows while covering this eye and then that. Right eye open, everything is fine; left eye open and, oh dear, something has taken a bite out of the telegraph pole, and the door frame, and the window frame, and the pergola posts and . . . Its Sunday!

Monday morning 9 o’clock I phone the last optician I went to only a few months earlier for a sight test. It was a new (to our town) optician – one of the big franchise ones – however, I hadn’t been impressed and had vowed not to go back. But – they had the latest sight test results. I spoke to a ditsy girl on reception and explained my symptoms – remember this is 2020 and we are in semi-lockdown and opticians are ‘urgent emergency appointments only’. She said it didn’t sound too urgent according to the person she had spoken to and she could offer me an appointment in November. Even I knew this was nowhere near soon enough. So I phoned the independent (and expensive) optician. A far more clued up person answered the phone, sounded suitably alarmed and promised to ring me back in 10 minutes. Fifteen panic-stricken, nail-biting, minutes later she phoned – they couldn’t fit me in, but I needed to be seen that day so they had rung round all the local(ish) opticians and if I could get myself to one twenty miles away they could see me at the end of the day, oh and by the way, don’t drive, as you need drops. Aagh. Who can I persuade to give me a lift? Who do I know who will be mad enough, who isn’t shielding, who isn’t ill, to drive me on a 40 mile round trip and hang around while I get seen? The ex-husband is who!

So, long story short, saw the optician Monday evening, who faxed the results through to the eye hospital, who phoned me Tuesday afternoon with an appointment on Thursday morning at 9. “And, by the way, don’t drive as you will need drops, and the appointment will last about three hours.” Eek. Further panic. I need a driver. Again. And the eye hospital is even further away – it will mean leaving home by 8. Cue a further grovelling phone call to ex-husband – who agrees to chauffeur me. Phew.

And the diagnosis? A macular hole. Good news is that it is operable. Sooner it is done, the better the outcome though. I am promised an appointment ‘soon’ with the surgical consultant. Three weeks later my sight is considerably worse and I have heard nothing. I phone the hospital in case things have got lost. But, no, they haven’t, the hospital is very busy with a new Covid wave and they can’t book my appointment yet. Oh. Bother.

At which point daughter phones to ask how things are progressing. They’re not I tell her. Hmm, leave it with me she says. Two days later she phones again. It seems one of her school friends is married to an eye surgeon (but not a macular specialist) who now worked at the eye hospital I had been to. He had had a sneak peek at my notes and rang daughter back to say if I wanted to save my sight I would need to go private as there was no way they would be able to see me within the six month window as Covid was tearing through the region. He gave her the name of the surgeon I needed to contact. Knowing me, daughter contacted him instead, booked a consultation and then rang me to tell me she was coming up next week to take me there. And that she was paying!

(If you want to see what the symptoms look like – the ‘weirdness’ of the print – then I found this on the surgeon’s website. I couldn’t find any other pictures of it.)

After that things moved quickly and I had the operation at the beginning of that November. I was scared witless having, of course, searched online and read all about macular hole surgery and as I am very squeamish about eyes – to the extent that I haven’t even been able to wear contact lenses – the thought of an operation on my eye was horrifying. To put it mildly. However the surgeon was very reassuring and I was able to opt to be tranquilised for the op (phew) – I actually remember nothing about it, only waking up in the recovery room. I was in and out in the day too – although I had had to get the hospital by 7 in the morning and it’s over an hour’s drive away. And once more my long-suffering ex-husband was the chauffeur as my daughter (who had promised to be) was having to isolate. Hey ho. I had to wear an eye patch at night and try not to sleep on my back for a couple of weeks, and keep my head facing down as much as possible, which was fine. The gas bubble they put in your eye to hold things in place while it heals was really weird as once it started to dissolve as you could see it (even with your eye shut) bobbing about. It was a while before I felt capable of driving.

Of course the side effect of this operation is that you develop a cataract. And sure enough . . . ! So I have now had that done too. I wouldn’t say I was getting blasé about eye operations though, not by a long way! It has taken me a while to get used to my ‘new’ eyes but I am getting there. I was cheered to read in New Scientist just before Christmas that people who have had cataract operations are less likely to develop dementia. Quite why this is they haven’t quite decided but there has to be an upside to all this!

I wish to report too that my sight is way, way better now; it has probably taken nearly a year to get to where it is – things are still distorted with my left eye but not badly, I can read large print with just that eye and small(ish) print with both eyes. Even better is that I can see to thread a needle (big eye!) again.

Since I had this fright I have come across several others who have also had the same thing. It is very scary when you first notice it, we all agree, but if you can get seen as soon as possible the outcome is promising.

PS if you have macular problems (hole or other) you might find the Macular Society website useful.

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