Yesterday I went to the eye clinic again.
This was a sixth-month-on review of my visual rehabilitation following a stroke.
I spent a long time in the clinic and as always was wonderfully impressed by the service, and the atmosphere of professionalism, kindness, interest and sensitivity. I met one old friend and made two new ones.
The verdict: doing very well indeed and I feel myself this is the case. I’ve been really lucky and know that. But my visit made me take stock of my progress.
The stroke only affected my vision, but meant I lost the right-hand side of my sight in both eyes – “right homonymous hemianopsia”. Every person with this condition is different in their own way, but here are some typical issues. If vision is gone on one side you’ll most likely have problems with one or more of the following.
1. Navigation – sounds like ships or satnavs but in terms of visual impairment it just means whether you can find your way around safely inside and outside the home.
2. Reading. When half of vision is gone then the normal eye movements involved in reading don’t work as before. If the loss is on the right then in western languages you are always reading into a blind area. If loss is on the left you have to hunt about for the beginning of the next line. Some people become unable to read and can only recover the skill with the aid of therapy.
3. Finding things – I think there should be a word for this. Imagine “where did I put spectacles down?” and looking round for them. I don’t mean hunting round the house, just knowing you put them down on the worktop a moment ago, so where are they now? Everyone experiences this at times but if you are hemianopic it’s regular: you can just scan and scan and scan and still not see the specs. Then Boom! There they are, right under your nose.
4. Similar to 3: not seeing things, but ones you weren’t looking for, but forgot about. Such as the kettle of boiling water you knock over.
5. Psychological problems. Losing a lot of ones vision suddenly, and losing part of one’s independence – because if you are hemiamopic you usually cannot drive anymore – are big blows. Many people experience depression and it’s very understandable.
Rehabilitation can come from recovery or from learning ways to work round problems, and I’ve experienced both.
1. I recovered a bit of vision at the extreme right-hand side: the “temporal crescent”. There’s a big blind area before I get that far east, but being able to see something out in the wings stops me colliding with street lights and so on.
2. I’ve learned to read more or less as before but by different methods. All my eye movements – the “saccades” – are unconventional. I didn’t adapt consciously and it doesn’t result from therapy: it was just natural. At first I could read only poorly and with difficulty and relied on my computer to speak text aloud, but then gradually I found I could read somehow. I can remember the first time I looked at a newspaper and was surprised to find I could read it again.
3. No improvement at all here, except I’ve learned not to panic if I can’t see my phone for example. Still takes me time to spot it though.
4. I didn’t have too much problem here. Someone in the pub got beer all over them once, when I didn’t see a glass, but this was an isolated incident.
5. Perhaps this is where I was luckiest. I always imagined that if I had a serious health issue – and a stroke is one – I would be completely demoralized. I might be by some conditions, I don’t know. But I wasn’t by the stroke.
I’m not sure why, but think because it was a bit like being a child again. I had to find a new road and just explored.
Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.