Sean Moncrieff: I felt useless, frustrated and guilty after my operation

There’s nothing worse than being neurotic and then being proven to be right

I had a detached retina. It was at the top of my eye, which apparently made it the worst sort. Photograph: Getty Images

I had a detached retina. It was at the top of my eye, which apparently made it the worst sort. Photograph: Getty Images

 

As I may have mentioned 18 or 19 times before, I had cataract surgery a couple of months ago; and just as that was completed, I was able to register for the vaccine. So, to give the whole thing a narrative completeness, the day after I got my second jab (Moderna. Yes, I know), I made my final visit to the Cataract Guy.

This hadn’t been on the original schedule. We’d already had the final appointment where Cataract Guy had declared himself happy with my recovery. It was just that in the subsequent weeks, I’d noticed a large spot on the vision of my right eye. It was probably nothing. I was probably being neurotic.

There’s nothing worse than being neurotic and then being proven to be right.

I had a detached retina. It was at the top of my eye, which apparently made it the worst sort. Cataract Guy went into a complex analogy involving wallpaper and bulges. And while he never explicitly said there was an imminent threat to my eyesight, he didn’t have to. He told me I had to go to see Retina Guy, and I had to go right now.

Ominously, he intoned Good Luck.

Slight argument

Because such examinations involve vision-obscuring eye drops, I couldn’t drive: so, what had been a slightly-annoying taxi job for Herself suddenly became an ambulance run into the city centre. She had to re-arrange her work schedule as she drove. We had a conversation/slight argument where she bombarded me with questions I couldn’t answer. I had peeling eye wallpaper and it was serious. That was all I had managed to take in.

Retina Guy didn’t say there was a threat to my eyesight either. Instead, he asked me when I had last eaten and announced his intention to operate that afternoon. As is standard in these situations, he set about explaining what the procedure involved, but I stopped him when he got to the word “Jelly”. Just put me to sleep and fix it.

Thankfully, he respected this, but did go to some pains to address an issue that had nothing to do with me eye: you’re in shock, he told me. You will be in shock for the next few days. You’ll need to acknowledge that. Just before the operation he visited me again and repeated the advice. He patted me on the arm. It was the arm that I had got my jab in the day before so it hurt, but I did appreciate the gesture.

While at the time I thought I was being all James Bond about it, he was correct. Afterwards, I felt frail and anxious. The post-operative regime required me to spend days with my head bent forward. I couldn’t drive or bend over or lift anything. I couldn’t see out of my right eye because they had pumped gas into it. (Which causes hilariously poor depth perception).

Housework

I felt useless, frustrated and guilty – because now Herself had to do everything. I couldn’t do any housework. I couldn’t dress Daughter Number Four or read her bedtime stories. Herself didn’t complain, but the strain and the worry were obvious.

Yet our story is a relatively mild one. Within a month or so, my eyesight should, hopefully, come back to normal. Every day, people have to deal with far more serious conditions, life-limiting and life-threatening; and while the focus is understandably on the condition itself, the psychological toll it takes on the person and their family can get overlooked. The lives of those doing the caring are also limited, yet they may feel they don’t have the right to complain.

Even the most humdrum tasks can become bent with the strain. When Herself delivered me to the second hospital, she couldn’t come in because of Covid. I got out of the car, and just as I was about the cross the road, she accidently reversed into me. Appropriately, I was in her blind spot.