I remember a radio program from a few years back about creativity in the elderly. The narrator said something which I thought quite uplifting, in its way: he said the arts gave us reassurance that the human race is not ignoble after all. On the second day I met two noble institutions, which also reassured me that the human race can be noble after all.
The first was the National Health Service (I’ll come to the second in another post). We often hear stories of the National Health Service failing patients but I have nothing but praise for the way they dealt with me. I was astonished how kindly and promptly I was dealt with throughout the day. My own doctor was not at work that day, so I was seen by a new doctor who has just started working with the practice, however her patient manner, friendliness, good humour and sheer professionalism simply bowled me over.
Oh, I forgot about my friend, the landlord of the local pub – you remember he kindly offered to take me to the doctor’s, but I can’t imagine he realised how long it would all take and neither did I. I was with the doctor for two or three times longer than I had expected because she examined me so thoroughly. She said, I am not an eye doctor so I’ll refer you to a specialist, and she arranged for me to see a specialist two hours later. My poor friend was waiting at the car and when I explained I had to go to the emergency eye clinic he was shocked but bless him, he agreed to take me on to the specialist as well.
When we got to the hospital it was like a giant industrial complex or a small town, so that after we entered the hospital grounds we were driving for more than five minutes before we came to reception. At reception I went up to the desk and asked where the emergency eye clinic was. A volunteer very kindly stepped forward, she was a nurse from the hospital who now spends one day a week helping patients find their way to where they need to be. So we set off, turning left and turning right, and turning left again. We went up in a lift or perhaps it was down and through more corridors and after a long while we came to a clinic. My guide said let’s just make sure this is the right place, so we went in and asked. No, no the emergency eye, so off we go again. We had to go down in the lift again, not to where we were before but to an even lower level, and into more corridors.
When we reached the right clinic they were expecting me. They had an elaborate system of triage to preprocess all the patients in various ways before actually being seen, and there was only one specialist on duty (the other doctors were on an education day) so I was expecting huge delays, but everything went smoothly. I was processed through the triage and put into a different waiting room remarkably promptly and soon out came the specialist. I went in, the specialist did some more work and it didn’t take long before she was finished. She sat down and said, it’s always a shock, but the tests show that you have lost peripheral vision on the right side of both eyes and we call this – here she gave a medical term, two long words which I have of course forgotten that I think both began with H. There is nothing wrong with your eyes themselves so it must be caused by a vascular event and although it may recover, that seems unlikely. You should prepare yourself to live with a certain level of irreversible loss of sight, which will change your life in many ways; for one thing you will not be able to read. You will need to make the best use of the sight that remains.
I’d already realised at home that I had gone from being a very fluent reader to someone who had great difficulty with text – literally overnight. I’ve worked for many years as a teacher and dealt with many partially sighted and blind people needing assistive technology. I thought that now it would be my turn to find out what it’s like to be a consumer of that technology.