sightbyte cont

2 Nov

So that was the beginning, that Sunday morning, preparing to sing and later to walk to Butterfly Creek. But I never got there. After Mass I met another friend – we were going for a walk at Butterfly Creek. It’s weird I said. I can only see half of that seagull. We were emerging from the underground car park near the library and the seagull was perched on a post in Frank Kitts Park. I covered my left eye, and sure enough the seagull’s body disappeared into the grey space on the right side of my right eye. I explained about the blinking and the blurring on the way to church, and the way that lamp posts and walls looked drunk.

            He said it was less weird than serious; that someone needed to look at my eye. We drove to White Cross near the Basin Reserve which was full of families and old Women’s Weeklies which usually I like to read. The television was screaming and through my grey mist I saw an Irishman called Niall – Niall of the Nine Hostages he’d told me once, with his newly-arrived-from-Argentina girlfriend. Niall mourned the lack of rigorous intellectual discourse since he’d come from Dublin. His girlfriend, dark and hunched,  rocked slightly and was silent.

            Eventually a harassed looking woman with fluffy brown hair, huge spectacles and red Mary Jane shoes called out my name.

            She said she didn’t know much about eyes as we stood head to head while she peered into mine with one of those slender metal torches. She tilted my head back and held it gently. She smelt of soap and I suddenly felt like a child and wanted my mother. It was the way she touched me. She put the torch in her pocket and sighed. She said she knew enough to know that something wasn’t right, that I needed to see someone else; that there was bound to be ophthalmology registrar on duty.         

I hadn’t been to an Accident and Emergency department for years. It was huge and I became fixated on the word Triage because I’d never seen it before. The ophthalmology registrar was young, tired and about to go home.




We crowded into a cubicle with a curtain and he sat me behind his table, looked through his ophthalmoscope and shone more light into my eye. I saw a web of red veins spread like the sea in front of my eye.

He said it was no wonder I couldn’t see and told me I had a retinal tear. He explained that the back cavity of the inner eye is filled with a clear jelly called vitreous which deteriorates and becomes liquid with age, and that the movement of this liquid vitreous can cause it to pull on the retina. This is called a posterior vitreous detachment and often occurs to people who were fifty or older, especially myopes. He said I was only a moderate myopic as if I should be glad – it was only a moderate retinal tear.

It was hard to concentrate. I kept thinking that this discussion was about someone else.  I was grateful to have my friend beside me – he asked questions I couldn’t have thought of: was it serious? Yes it was. Why was it serious? The tired young registrar wiped his own spectacles and said it was considered very serious because the vitreous liquid might break though the tear and form a pool under the retina which would separate it from the wall of the eye and cause a Rhegmatogenous Retinal Detachment.

He said it was a bit like old wall paper coming away from a wall and asked if I lived in an old house.

My friend said in fact he lived in an old house although with painted rather than papered walls, but it was a good analogy and didn’t I think so?

So you see, serious said the registrar and if we don’t paste it back, there’ll be a loss of vision in the eye. And we can’t do it here – got to go upstairs.

I was grateful for his use of the passive in that last sentence – as if it were still not my eye he was referring to, and also for sparing me the fearsome monosyllable blind.

He asked when it happened as he led my friend and me along corridors and overpasses which looked down on people having coffee or out to scrubby hills and whether there were any sudden flashes of light. He was a friendly registrar, explaining cheerfully that the hospital was a building site and that Sunday was a good day to have a retinal tear repair because the Ophthalmology Department was closed,

I said there were no flashes of light, just lazy tadpoles.







Floaters he said. You get them at your age. You should think of them as uninvited guests. You can’t do much about them. They’re like visual tinnitus and if you worry about them they get worse.

My friend asked what exactly he was going to do with my eye and the young ophthalmologist said he would spot-weld my retina back against the wall with a laser.

            I sat at another table before a kind of medieval torture instrument for the face – I was to rest my chin on a ledge, my forehead against a bar and stare at the ceiling while he put a anaesthetic into my eye. After that I was to keep perfectly still and stare at the ceiling. The registrar put on a pair of protective glasses and gave another to my friend in case sparks flew.

He said I might smell something odd – a bit like burning, but that I wasn’t to worry although the noise would a bit off-putting.

            The noise was exactly the same noise as a stapler crushing into paper and it seemed to go on forever. I can’t remember the pain – there probably wasn’t much – but it was an out of body experience. I stared at something blurred high up and was aware of rather than saw, small quick sparks at the rim of my vision – a tiny volcano sparking inside me, and smelt something like a match being struck.

But there was a problem. He could only repair part of the tear. Even though I counted about twenty laser strikes, my retinal wall-paper still flapped and this meant I had to come back the next day and see the consultant who could do a different procedure.

I said I’d come back after teaching.

He stared at me. I thought I’d explained it was serious he said. No teaching. You’ve got to be here first thing, see? He put a gauze pad over my eye. It might weep a bit he added.

I didn’t see of course. I wanted to go home and get ready to teach. I wanted to worry about all the usual things I worry about before starting something new, mostly based on exposure and being revealed at last. I wondered if being at the hospital wasn’t a mistake – that I’d get up from this tiny table, apologise for the time I’d wasted, get out of this Kafkaesque place and be back in my room in Kelburn. Surely this afternoon, this slippage of sight was simply my imagination.

By now it was six o’clock. 


4 Responses to “sightbyte cont”

  1. barb austin January 20, 2013 at 3:33 am #

    This is part of a book? Should be…

  2. sightbyte March 18, 2015 at 1:42 am #

    Thank you Eve! But I wonder what happened to the images! They were there once…

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Steph Matuku

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