Well! Of course things had to be complicated. I began a migraine on the Tuesday which was still going very strong on the Friday of the operation.
I have discovered one very good thing about bad migraines. You feel so dreadful and wish death would provide a blessed relief, so that you cannot worry about anything else. I never had any twinges of worry that week about the op. my only concern was that I would be well enough to have the procedure.
And then of course, on the Thursday, it began to snow. And snow. And snow. 18 inches of snow. By Friday we had got to the stage of working out which farms had Landrovers and could take us into the hospital. And then we rang to see if the surgeon had been able to get in. He had, by dint of walking for five miles: the staff said “If you can come in, we can do the operation”.
At lunchtime a neighbour with a landrover took us in, me all bundled up against the cold wearing sunglasses because of the migraine and chewing on anti-sickness tablets so I would not be throwing up during the op . Complete with overnight bag in case we could not get home again afterwards. The only other vehicles on the road were tractors and snowplows: our driver was not used to driving in snow having been brought up in the Channel Islands but she took it slowly in as high a gear as possible and we got there, passing stranded cars and buses on the way. Bless her, she then stayed the whole time so that she could try to get us home at the end.
I was so impressed!! No wonder that this unit is internationally renowned. The reception area was dim and quiet and comfortable and so clean: there was an overall impression of quiet, calm efficiency which was very reassuring. After a short wait I was taken with husband to a private room with bathroom which had been washed down with soap and water, including the furniture, because of my allergies. There was a notice on the door restricting access to all except for a designated nurse, the surgeon, us and the aneasthetist. Our nurse had similar allergies to mine where disinfectant and hand wash are concerned and had to carry her own special supplies in her smock. That was a very thoughtful choice of staff it seemed to me. Outside there was a large area for patients and family while recovering from operations, where people were lying or sitting with cups of tea. For an hour and a half I had loads of different drops put into my eye every fifteen minutes or so, and had to undress and put on surgical gowns. Richard, the surgeon, came in, crouched down beside my chair and said he had been awake in the night worrying in case there was anything he had overlooked in the procedure which could possibly impact on my allergies. I was both impressed with his commitment and moved with his honesty and caring. Then a very burly male nurse called Damien (thoughts of the Omen) came to lead me to the operating Theatre.
Damien suggested I get on a trolly to go into the Theatre but the anaesthetist came out and said not to bother with that, just to walk in and hop on the bed. So I did.
Previously I had spent some time compiling a Playlist on my MP3 player of music so wonderful that it could lift me out of the moment. I had been playing it the whole time I was waiting, and walked into the room clutching it to my beating heart. You probably all know the scenario which greeted me: a room full of staff all in scrubs, small, narrow bed, huge lights and massive binocular equipment over the operating area.
Up I hopped, and asked for some blankets as by now I was really cold with nerves and the headache. Damien packed me in, put my head in the sculpted mould, fixed me in place with wedges down my sides and began to look for a vein. I explained which ones he could use and which he could not, and for the first time in my life, I was listened to. (The anaesthetist was there in case I got into trouble with my allergies and wanted a line in so that he could act fast if necessary). The surgeon got ready and chatted in a very friendly manner: he asked what was on the MP3 player because if it was Guns n Roses would I please turn it up for him to hear too.
So far so very good, and kind and friendly. But the next part was bad and please do not read on if you might be bothered by such things. I hasten to add that these were my personal experiences and may have no bearing whatsoever on any procedures anyone else may have. Also bear in mind that I cannot have normal anaesthetics: there is only one dental, local anaesthetic that can be used on me. So I am an oddity from the off.
The time had come for administration of the local anaesthetic. All the websites I had researched in the USA mentioned sedatives, being ‘put in the Twilight zone’ and /or being knocked out for a couple of minutes only, just while the ‘local’ was put in. None of the British hospital websites mentioned this, and indeed it is not the custom over here. There is nothing to help with this. The surgeon was quite candid. “This is the worst thing I am going to do to you today and will make your toes curl, so hang onto Damien’s hand for all you are worth”. It was ghastly. He put a clamp over my eye to keep it still and open and began. He explained that he was making a channel around the eye to get to the back, near the optic nerve, to insert a cannula for the anaesthetic to disperse down. You know the dental injections which go between your jaws right along the back of your mouth and seem to go on for ages. Well it was reminiscent of that, except you could feel it going around and behind your eye, pushing and pushing, and hurting. It probably only lasted for a minute or two but it felt like hours and poor Damien’s fingers, I feared they would be crushed.
We then waited for it to work while they washed the area down, put a cloth over the rest of my head and gave me oxygen to breathe under the covers. I had a blood pressure cuff on one arm which went up and down every five minutes and a heart monitor bleeping away. The surgeon, Richard, asked for that to be turned down, and I agreed saying it was not matching the beat of the music I was listening to, so that would be great! One of the other surgeons wondered why my heart was not changing to match the beat!! Once my eye muscles could no longer move they began to operate.
The nurse at the pre-op appointment had said that people could sometimes see a light or a kaleidescope of patterns during the op. Not me. Oh no. Perhaps it was because I had to have a dental anaesthetic rather than one of the usual ones they use for this procedure, but I could see the instruments in my eye, and could see the vitreous gell being sucked out. And although it did not hurt, the pressure on the eyeball as they put the instruments in was horrid. Frankly, if I could have been knocked out I would have preferred it. From time to time I became very panicky and wanted to jump up, throw everything off and just run out. I turned up the music, which was a lifeline. I counted the blood pressure cuff movements to work out how long to go, I tried every kind of mental displacement activity I could think of just to avoid the panic. At one point Richard said that he was just going to give me some more anaesthetic because he notice me twitching a bit! Once the gell was out he said that now was the trickiest part of the op. and please not to move a muscle for ten minutes while he peeled off the membrane. Most of that was OK but then he had to snip it off where it met the edge of the retina and that HURT. He said “Grit your teeth for a bit now and hold onto Damien”. It seemed to go on forever. First one side and then the other. In retrospect I wonder whether Damien was there for me, or to hold me down if I tried to object:(
Then, mercifully, it was over. Frankly I am not sure how much more I could have coped with. The atmosphere in the room relaxed, dressings and drops were put in place and I was helped up and out to general smiles all round. Richard said it had gone really, really well with no problems or complications and congratulated me on being really still throughout. I tottered back to our room, refused the cup of tea and biscuits and got dressed. All I wanted was to get out of there and go home.
I felt dazed, and as if I was a battered refugee from a war zone. It had been SO invasive and I felt really bruised and pummelled and actually rather shocked. But everyone had been so kind and so lovely that I felt I should not be feeling as I did. It had only taken an hour and poor husband looked very shaken. I think he had been really worrying the whole time that things were going OK. My first words were, “If you ever need this doing, ask for a general anaesthetic”. It really had felt ghastly and taken all my endurance and will power.
Somehow, one cannot get away from one’s eyes: a similar procedure on a toe for example might be painful but a little more removed. Eyes are so intimate, and every instinct is to run from anything coming towards them.
We were given instructions by our lovely nurse, and a bag of three kinds of drops to put in four times a day for a month, with instructions to come back first thing the next morning to see the surgeon again, and we were driven home by our neighbour through the quiet streets, once again passing stranded vehicles.
The migraine was still pounding away, and of course it was in the eye that had been operated on. Optimistically I had assumed that once the local anaesthetic was in place I would have relief from the migraine for a while: interestingly, it had no effect whatsoever on the migraine pain.
But still, it was over, done and dusted. No more waiting and worrying. And I had been in the hands of kind, talented staff who could hardly have been more caring.
And I would willingly go through much worse to keep my eyesight.