After three months with double vision, I was finally discharged from my hospital outpatient visits yesterday. My sight is now functional again, and should be completely restored within weeks. Combining that with getting my first Covid vaccine two weeks ago, I would like to thank the health service staff for their wonderful work in these unprecedented times.
I woke up one Sunday three months ago seeing two of everything. I didn’t have blurred vision. I just saw two very clear images of everything, competing for attention side by side. I rang Jane, who insisted that I immediately contact the D-Doc after hours service. They were equally insistent that I go immediately to Beaumont A&E for a brain scan in case I had a stroke or a tumour, which were possible causes of sudden onset double vision.
Jane gave me a lift to the hospital, during which I saw oncoming cars driving straight towards us until they merged into a single image as they drove past us. The A&E at Beaumont was carefully divided into single waiting units separated by perspex sheets, after which Abdullah tested my vision and blood before my brain scan. Everyone was very efficient, juggling several patients at once while remaining calm, professional, and empathetic in a stressful environment.
Thankfully my brain scan showed no signs of a stroke or tumour, so they referred me to the Mater Eye Emergency Department, where Anne and Emmy did more tests. They concluded that I had sixth cranial nerve palsy, which is a weakness of one of the nerves that tells my eye muscles in what direction to point my eyes. Emmy said it was probably related to my diabetes, and from past experience it might resolve by itself within three months. She attached a prism to my glasses to refract the images to seem closer together.
And so began my surreal adventures in double-vision-land. It was much worse outside than inside the house, so I was lucky that it happened during the pandemic. I knew my way around the house anyway, so my main problem was choosing which of the two kettles to pick up and which of the two cups to pour the two streams of boiling water into. I also got headaches if I spent too much time looking at the two televisions, so I mostly restricted myself to watching the last few minutes of Leeds matches and enjoying them score twice as many goals as they did.
Being outside was more disorientating, as the images moved further apart in the distance, and also changed position while I was walking. I tripped over a pavement early on, which made me more cautious. It was easier as it got dark, when there was less visual stimulus, which was handy as I was doing my shopping late anyway to avoid crowds because of the pandemic. Picking items from stacked shelves added another layer of comedy, as I gradually realised how much my vision was dependent on my brain rather than on what was in front of me.
My days started by navigating the two sets of stairs, checking how far apart the two toilet bowls and two showers were, and feeding my three cats who had become six cats. But the changes were so gradual that they were in effect imperceptible. I was therefore delighted with my next visit to the Mater hospital six weeks ago, where Shiela did more tests and concluded that my sight had improved by about a third. Again all of the hospital staff were efficient and friendly.
Shiela changed the prism on my glasses for a weaker one, and my confidence soared. She then asked me to stay in the waiting room while she saw her next patient, to test how well my eyes coped with the new weaker prism. It was a disaster. The first thing I saw was a woman in very strong double vision. I was relieved when I realised that I was looking at two blonde women in similar grey tops sitting beside each other.
I began to notice some very strange things. When I looked at the magnified bathroom mirror while carefully shaving, I could see two images of myself in the reflection of each eye. I wish I could have captured that image as a piece of artwork. As the weeks went on I went for a few walks with Jane in the local park. It was still disorientating but definitely getting better. I could now function effectively within the house even with the double vision, as I had adjusted to knowing what was where despite the apparent evidence of my eyes.
To pile on the challenges, my computer then died, although I was already spending less time at it (this is only my second blog post since early February). My world was gradually shrinking with the loss of my social life because of the pandemic, my sight because of the nerve palsy, and my computer because of course that would happen. But I was grateful to have only these minor problems compared to what many people were suffering. Also, it was an excuse to get a new iMac, which is always a bonus adrenaline hit.
I had another great experience with the health service when I got my first Covid vaccine two weeks ago. I registered on a Tuesday, got my notification on the Saturday, and got my vaccine on the next Monday. It was a strange sensation queuing outside the Helix at DCU with hundreds of people who were all about the same age as me. Fortunately because of the masks we couldn’t compare how well we each had aged. Again, the staff were efficient and friendly, and I was lucky to have no after effects from the vaccine.
Yesterday I made my final visit to the Mater Eye Department, where Shiela and Doctor Delaney discharged me after a long three months. My vision is now effectively functional, with only a small level of double vision when looking at one angle, which they are confident will resolve itself. They also did a test for diabetic retinopathy, which was clear. Thank you again to everyone in the health service, particularly Abdullah in Beaumont, Anne, Emmy, Shiela, and Doctor Delaney in the Mater, and everyone involved in the Covid vaccine rollout.
Thank you also to Jane, who helped me through every stage of this surreal adventure. I have a new-found appreciation of basic simplicity, and a new-found respect for the complexity of the human brain. I can now prepare for the fabled new normal with regard to the pandemic, my eyesight, and my new computer, though I will be careful with the amount of time I spend at the computer for the next few weeks at least.