Every December I go for a free eye test. It’s free because a family member has Glaucoma. This test would cost your average, glaucoma-history-free Joe £55. Every day the papers, which I go out of my way not to read, but sometimes can’t help glancing at in the Supermarket……..I’m not the only one here. Some people, it would appear, prefer to read the whole thing before exiting the store; leaving The Mail or The Sun behind, in a significant state of disrepair for those who actually take the trouble to buy the things. It’s noticeable that The Times and The Guardian remain in pristine condition. Anyway, my occasional glances at the front pages always reveal hysterical moanings about the state of the NHS, or the crap British weather, or what a generally CRAPPY country this jewel set in a silver sea actually is. I’m begging to differ.
Because last Tuesday’s eye test was an example of everything that is right about this useless Island. I was in there over an hour and didn’t pay a thing (well not counting new specs (more of which later) and a high tech scan.)
Every year I’m tested by somebody different and this year I got a young lad (at my age anyone under the age of 30 looks impossibly young for whatever job they’re doing) who’d just qualified, was new to the practice and was a credit to the UK education system – yep, I’m definitely middle-aged, no going back now.
This lovely new Optometrist – Optometrist is the proper term for someone who carries out an eye examination, and not Optician as I had thought. Opticians fit eyeglass lenses and frames and are not qualified to carry out tests; I didn’t know this until I rapidly researched the world of Optometry thinking what a brilliant job it could have been for any one of the sons (considering my eye tester fell into their age range); until a quick search of Entry Requirements revealed grades AAA at ‘A’ level, mostly ALL in those peskily difficult Science subjects. Who knew staring into people’s eyeballs everyday was right up there with being a Doctor, and other suitably impressive occupations favoured by sons’ mothers?
Inwardly bemoaning the fact that I’d missed out on pointing the sons in this spectacle based direction, my test began with the impossibly young Optometrist asking me, in a lilting Irish accent………..I’ll pause here to mention that over the Xmas period I’d lost my reading specs in The Case of The Missing Spectacles, one to rival that of Sherlock and The Abominable Bride. Talking of which (which I did here) – here is a video Son No.2 made a few YouTube’ing moons ago, the beginning of which bears a remarkable resemblance to that bit when the abominable bride starts screaming ‘YOU’ and then begins shooting loads of innocent Victorian men (minus bananas) running hell for leather down the street. Play that bit on iPlayer and see what you think:
The reading specs had disappeared from the face of this Earth; well from a lounge in a house up in Yorkshire and, despite the turning over of every cushion, and the moving of every piece of moveable furniture, and lots of crawling about on the floor, the specs remained mysteriously hidden. So I’d gone to the optician’s, as soon as I got back home, and he’d picked out the cheapest frames possible, to almost match the cost of the 8 year old missing frames, and then spent roughly 20 minutes going on and on and on (rather like I currently am) about a retinal scanning machine the practice had purchased a year ago, for £50,000.
This sum seemed to astonish him and he was intent on conveying this astonishment to yours truly. ‘£50,000!’, he kept repeating. ‘We’re the only practice in the area who’s forked out that kind of money on the care of their patients, and most of those ungrateful eejits won’t even let us use the thing on their precious eyes, and sometimes accuse us of getting money from the Government via this scanner; like Doctors get paid for dishing out Statins etc. Where they get that idea from is anybody’s guess’, he practically bellowed into my non- accusatory face, whilst I tried to feign some sort of interest in his optical babblings.
Anyways, he convinced me to give the retinal scan a go at a cost of £35, which he was at pains to point out was flippin’ fantastic value for money, considering the scanner had cost £50,000!! And, moreover, this scan was capable of photographing not just the back of my eyes but behind them too, getting to the nerve fibre level, showing if the fibres entering my eyes from my brain were looking like normal brain fibres and not weird ones. I nervously mentioned the fact that I wasn’t much interested in my brain nerve fibre thingies, being a person who thought that our inside bits were on the inside for a reason and that nothing good could ever come of boldly going where no-one had gone before (unless you were Captain Kirk that is.) ‘Do you want to bury your head in the sand, possibly missing some nightmarish eye disease?’ was his pro-retinal scan reply, to which I had no suitable answer, so he booked the scan in with my normal eye test, booking me in with the Irish lad, saying ‘he’s really good he is, patients love him – got the Irish blarney.’
Back to the lad with the blarney. How was my general health etc, he asked. I told him I’d had roughly 15 Acephalgic/Ocular Migraines over the past year. Suitably impressed by my use of technical Ophthalmic terms (Dr Google) he decided I was ‘very switched on’, asking what I did for a living only to find that cleaning the loos and taking out the rubbish was the most taxing requirement of my daily life – and that I most definitely wasn’t a medical-type genius.
He’d only ever had one ‘silent’ migraine (the other name for what I get) in his entire life. He was much impressed by the thought of ‘his entire life’, as an example of the passing of time when, from my vantage point, his ‘entire life’ was a tiny blip on the lifespan radar. One had been scary enough, he said; fifteen seemed like an awful lot to put up with and, if they happened when I was driving, then I ought to take medication in case I crashed the car. It’s never happened when I’ve been driving luckily, so I passed on the scary medication.
Acephalgic migraine is a scary thing indeed. It’s a brain thing and nothing to do with the eyes, but the symptoms happen in the eye. I can be typing on here when suddenly I become aware that I can’t see the middle letter in a word. That there is a tiny blind spot in my vision. Looking away I see a small, sparkling, shiny patch in my vision which slowly enlarges before widening into a C shape, covering the eye and causing a larger blind spot. The C shape undulates like a snake and glows red, purple, white and orange ending in the very corner of the eye before disappearing. This process lasts 30 minutes. It’s very scary and, no matter how many times you experience it (and the worst time to experience it is when it wakes you in the middle of the night) you think that maybe there’ll be one time it doesn’t resolve and you’ll be left blind – even though the sparkly thing is actually happening in the brain. In classic migraine this disturbance is followed by a splitting headache but I just get the ‘scintillating scotoma’ – the fancy word for visual aura – and no headache. Here’s a very basic depiction of it, showing the blind spot just beginning, in case any strangers come my blog’s way having experienced anything similar, and wish to commiserate via the comments section.
Yet again, back to the test. Because of the weird migraine thing and a large ‘floater’ in my left eye, the young Optometrist decided he wanted to administer drops to my left eye, to open the pupil before starting the eye test, to get a clearer view of the inside of my eyeball, just to double check everything. ‘It may sting a little’, he said, after the drop went in, which was an understatement. When I could get the eye open again, after the stinging permanently closed it, he asked me to read out the chart line I was most comfortable with, which turned out to be the bottom line – the one below 20/20 vision. Feeling very smug (even though good vision is hardly under my control), I then went on to read further lines on the chart which, in 99.999 % of people, should start to become unreadable (according to the child-like Optometrist, who I was warming to more and more.)
The routine bit of the test finished I was guided out of the room and towards the Glaucoma field test – a test I hate with a passion. One eye is covered with an eye patch, which means everything looks very ‘blotchy’ and not very clear at all. I rest my chin on a ‘chin rest’ and forehead on a ‘forehead rest’, stare at an orange light in the centre of a white hollowed out ball and click a hand held clicker thing every time I see dots of light appearing around the orange light. In my case the computer detected that I was seeing the bright lights far too easily and was having none of it so, just because it could, it made the lights that did appear practically invisible (unless you were a bird of prey) sending me into a panic for the 2 minutes the test ran for, in case I’d failed it. After 4 minutes of this eye-related purgatory I was guided to the Retinal Scanner where I yet again rested the chin and the forehead and stared at a bright red cross with green wiggly lines passing through it. Blink once, the young lad instructed, then don’t blink at all for the count of three. Several images were taken of each eye. ‘Do you want me to take you through the images or just say everything’s ok’, he said. I went with everything’s ok, which it was. I was then guided to a machine that takes photographs of your eyeballs by flashing an incredibly bright, white light directly into each eye, at close-up range, rendering you temporarily blind in the process. Not done yet, we returned to the examination room where yet another bright light was shoved into each eye and I had to swivel each eyeball from left to right and up and down.
Then I went home with a prescription for new reading glasses, feeling absolutely knackered and with blurry vision which lasted the rest of the day, due to the eye drops, but also feeling very impressed with your average UK Optometrist’s dedication to my eye health.
(As an example of my ability to turn a molehill into a mountain. When relating the traumatic events of the eye test to Son No. 3, he merely said: ‘Yeah, I had that retinal scan thing too when I went and the photo thing.’ Something he’d barely mentioned at the time, when he’d gone for an eye test, because he couldn’t see the lecture board when he sits at the back of the hall – now fixed by glasses which are only used to look at said board.)