Wednesday, 18 December 2013

"Eye, eye! What's been happening here, then?"

[Just when I thought life in the South Atlantic archipelago of the Falkland Islands was settling down to some productive times during the tourist season, I am struck down by a fairly serious condition.....Read on, but be warned, it is not for the squeamish.....And I'll apologose now for the lack of penguins.  Hopefully, normal service will be resumed in January.]

As  mentioned in my last post ("Technical Hitch"), I've reached the limit of photos on this blog.  I may well start another one somewhere else, eg Wordpress, but in the meantime, I am putting some photos on Picasa web albums (also part of the Google empire), and trying to link to them from here...
Spot the tree-hugger.  Taken in the UK....
(Just as an aside, does anyone have any idea what proportion of the world's electricity is used to power the servers holding the gazillions of rather uninteresting photos online?  I don't know, but I feel sure it is a frightening amount.)

Apart from the technical hitch, I also had a human one - my retinas were slowly separating from my eyeballs.

I knew I had a higher than normal risk of developing this problem, due to my age, and myopia.  In short, my eyes had long been distorted to compensate for short-sightedness..  shaped more like rugby balls, rather than footballs.  (Or more like footballs than soccer balls, for any American readers....).  Oval, rather than round.
Not Falklands' fruit....
So, ever so gradually, the retina stretches, and then tears, and separates from the eye, resulting in loss of sight.  The trick is to catch it in time and repair it.  Unfortunately, there is no eye clinic on the Falklands, but there is a good hospital, which has visiting specialists.....

I knew something was wrong when a small bubble appeared in my vision, like a water bubble in a snorkel mask.  I also knew an optomerist was that day completing a biannual visit to the hospital in Stanley, so left a message for her that my eyes were getting worse.  (I had been seen by her previously, and been told to come back if the eyes got worse.).

Later that day, I was phoned while on the bridge of a trawler!  Luckily the trawler was tied up in the harbour, and not at sea.  (I'll explain why I was on the trawler at a later date.)  I rapidly reported to the hospital;  was peered at by a couple of doctors, and the optician, and told to pack a bag, and be on the flight to the UK the following morning!

Some photos of my eyes and recuperation.....

At six o'clock the next morning, I was picked up by the Penguin Travel minibus to take me down the bumpy "road" to the airport at Mount Pleasant - 35 miles away, and blowing a houlie.  Luckily for me, another passenger was the optomerist!  What could we chat about?

However, after checking-in and sitting around the departure lounge for a couple of hours, it was announced that it was too windy for the plane to take off, and the terminal was being closed for 16 hours.  "Come back at midnight!"  was the rather curt message from the military man who was in charge.  (It's a military garrison!).

A quick call to Penguin Travel and the hard-working driver was contacted and told to return to the airport to retrieve his passengers.  At 11pm that night, we had another attempt to travel - this time successful.

At least the plane was less than half full so I was able to stretch out and keep my head down - apparently, the recommended thing to do.

Ascension Island, near the Equator,  was where we refuelled, and took on more passengers.  Not the best place to wait for 2 hours, wearing clothes suitable for an English winter or Falklands summer.  Hot, or what?

Arriving at RAF Brize Norton around midnight on Saturday, I was about first through passport control ("Excuse me, I'm a medical evacuee!"), only to find my pre-booked taxi was nowhere to be seen.  It eventually turned up, and then we set off to a cheap, but open, hotel near the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, where I was to be examined later that same morning.

After a few hours sleep, I took a taxi to the Oxford Eye Clinic, where I was examined and then had my left eye operated on.  Much to my surprise, I was only given a local anaesthetic, and so was very aware of everything that was going on, and able to chat to the surgeon during the hour-long procedure.

Leaving the theatre on a trolley, with a large patch over my left eye, I soon discovered that the patch prevented me putting my glasses back on and so my "good" right eye was not much use to me.  I eventually worked out a way of holding my glasses to my eyes, and waited for the taxi to take me back to the hotel.

And so, the first of many uncomfortable nights, spent sleeping face down.....

Luckily, my brother arrived at the hospital the next day to pick me up after I'd had the bandage removed.  He and his wife lived in a small, rural, village in Buckinghamshire, about an hour's drive from Oxford, and were invaluable in my recuperation.  I couldn't have asked for more.

And so I passed the next couple of weeks, lying face down, listening to the radio, and putting 5 different drops in my eye, 4 times a day.  Things were slowly improving when I returned for a checkup, and some minute  tears (rhymes with 'pears') were found on my other retina.  I was offered another operation, but this time, "just" the less-intrusive laser treatment.

Perhaps it was less-intrusive, but still not something I'd recommend for a fun afternoon.  Imagine a very bright light held about a millimetre from your eye and flashing intermittently for about 30 minutes (and you can't close your eyes.....!).    But again, I was wide awake and able to ask for some more anaesthetic... :-)!

So now even more eye drops and ointments, but at least I could sleep on my back or side, which was a great relief.  And I could listen to the Ashes series in Australia (Cricket)......

After about a week of the quiet life, I decided to get some exercise in the nearby woods.  My brother even had some Nordic Walking poles, which I could borrow, and which helped stabilise a somewhat shaky gait.

The woodland is a lovely quiet area, and I was able to explore further each day, and regain a little fitness.   I was also encouraged by the many kind messages on Facebook, Twitter and so on, and also by regular Skype calls to my wife back in the Falklands.  Even 10 years ago, this sort of instant and global communications was the stuff of science fiction.  I know there are disadvantages to social media, but I can't imagine the genie being put back in the bottle.

Talking of magic bottles, my eye drops are running low, and my appointment with the consultant is imminent.  My wife managed to find a very long flight to the UK, and has joined me just before Christmas.

So, things are definitely looking better than they were a couple of weeks ago.  I'm not completely out of the woods yet, but there certainly is light at the end of the tunnel, (if anyone likes mixed metaphors!  :-0).

Thank you for reading this, and for your kind and supportive messages.   I hope you have a peaceful Christmas or Festive Season or Cool Yule or whatever you call this time of year in your neck of the woods.   And hope you have a Healthy 2014.


Peace and Health to all