Thursday, 23 September 2010

What do you see?

After my last post, I had comments on twitter saying that I was insulting people whose eyesight really was failing as I can obviously manage to do clinical skills with no problem, and that if I couldn't I'd be a danger to my patients. I was a little hurt by these comments, because until you've experienced what it's like to have sight like mine, it's difficult to appreciate the challenges I face with it.

I manage to do clinical skills fine because I adapt as I learn the new skills and find a way to do them that works for me. As a child I learned to hold a pencil different to other children because I couldn't coordinate the pencil well enough to write the "normal" way. My handwriting was still dreadful but it worked for me. If you learn a new skill, you don't necessarily do it exactly the way it was taught - you make adaptations that work for you, and that applies to everyone, whether you have difficulties with sight, hearing, understanding, mobility, etc or not. Most of what I described in my last post are things I don't actually think about from day to day any more, because they're completely normal for me. It's just when I move house and change environments, particularly to somewhere I don't know, that I have to think and adapt what I do. I've recently moved to live on campus and I've already learned that I need to adapt to the new surroundings. Already today I've burned myself on the grill twice because it's high up on the wall and the grill tray comes out at an angle that's difficult for me to see. I've walked into walls because the corridors are narrower than I'm used to at home. It's frustrating, but in another week or so there won't be those problems any more because I'll have adapted and they'll become normal adaptations which require little or no thought.

A perfect example of problems in new situations was whilst out with a friend today. We were in one of those gadget type shops with lots of electronic toys that run around and fly etc. One of the shop assistants was flying a miniature helicopter. It was black with a blue light on it but because of the speed it was moving and the colour and size it was, I just didn't see it and nearly walked into it head on. A toy like that can do a surprising amount of damage to a person's face, it will at least sting for an hour or so if the blades catch you - trust me on that one! I didn't see it mainly because it was on my left hand side. If I'd have been somewhere I'd known to take extra care, I'd have been looking left more often by swapping control of my eyes and forcing my brain to use my left eye - just like I do when I'm driving. Small adaptations that just make me and other people safer.

Essentially what I'm saying is, I don't claim to be anything i'm not. I just make do with what I have. I'm grateful for the sight I do have and want to protect and preserve that for as long as possible. I'm not trying to make out things are worse than they are, I'm not trying to get pity or sympathy. I don't want that. I just want a little understanding, because outwardly, i just look like a clumsy twit. I look "normal". I conform to society. If you look at a photograph of me, you can't tell there's anything wrong. You might pick up that I have a squint (I hate that word by the way. I squint when I look at the sun. So does everyone! It doesn't mean my eye looks like it does - that's amblyopia if you want to call it something medical, or a lazy eye if you don't). I don't make a big thing of it. I don't like drawing attention to it - people comment on it enough as it is without me pointing it out! But if people ask why I do something differently then I explain. Just because outwardly everything seems fine, doesn't mean that I'm not struggling.

So, my question to you, what do you see when you look at me? Do you see a girl who is quite frankly struggling, or do you see the outwardly bubbly "normal" person, or do you see a moany whingey whiney person? Yeah I complain about it from time to time, but wouldn't you? I'm only human after all.

Thursday, 2 September 2010


Anyone who knows me, will know that my eyesight is, quite frankly, horrific. I've worn glasses since I was 3 and had a patch that failed to correct a squint for two years when I was 4. I have poor spatial awareness and depth perception. I can see about 10centimetres (4 inches) from my face without my glasses. At the moment there are very limited options for contact lenses for me so I can't wear them currently because my prescription is so high. I cried the first time I wore contact lenses because I'd never seen myself in a mirror without glasses before.

Simple things are difficult for me because of my eyesight, so I'm going to attempt to describe an average day at university in order to explain just how difficult things are, because it's things people take for granted that I struggle with from day to day.

So, I wake up. First thing I have to do is find my glasses. Mostly this involves a lot of groping around. There's no point turning on the light yet because it won't help me see the glasses. Once I've found them (it usually takes about 10 minutes) the lights go on and I get up for a shower.

Showering is, well, fun. I have to make sure that my shampoo bottle is a different colour from my conditioner bottle and different again from my shower gel. I also have to have brightly coloured razors so that I can find them all. If my shampoo and conditioner look similar then I have no idea which is which until I pour them out. Glasses steam up in the shower so I can't see anything even if I do keep them on.

Once I'm showered I then get the fun of putting make up on. I have to have a mirror really close so I can see to do my eye makeup and then wait for it to dry before my glasses go back on. Putting in earrings I've learned to do by feel now so that's no issue. By this point I've usually fallen over or spilled something at least once. I'm permanently bruised from stupid accidents. Getting dressed means I don't wear anything with fiddly straps or buttons because I can't see to do them properly and my coordination isn't good enough to do them up based on feel alone.

Breakfast is again interesting. If I have cereal, it's a given that I will spill the milk. If I have toast, I'll struggle to get it out the toaster, cos where the toast is and where my brain thinks it is and thinks my hand is in relation to it are two very different things. Coffee is needed at this time in the morning and I'll miss the cup putting sugar in and spill it en route back to my room.

I pack my bag with my laptop, a textbook, notepad, highlighters, a ruler and pens and head off to lectures. When I get to the lecture theatre, I hold on to the railings/chairs as I walk downstairs cos I fall over a lot as I fail to judge how steep/deep stairs are. Once I'm settled in my seat (near the front so I can see the lecturer clearly), I fire up the laptop and download the powerpoint for the lecture. If I don't, I can't read it on the projector. At this point I usually have to enlarge the text and change the colours to make it easier to read. I follow through the lecture, making notes by hand, then immediately type them up afterwards - my handwriting is so bad because of my sight that if I don't type it up then I have no idea what it says a few hours later.

Lunch is the same as breakfast and I knock stuff over, fall over and spill things. Occasionally I miss my own mouth with food or drink which makes a right mess.

If I have a placement then things are even harder because a lot of the clinical skills we use I have to shut my eyes and use feel or shut one eye or the other to adjust for my sight and make sure I know exactly where my hands are.

Dinner is just as difficult as lunch and breakfast. I usually try and run before dinner, but if it's even just drizzling I generally don't because rain on my glasses means I really can't see.

If I'm doing group work then I type everything up with a coloured background so I can see the text better, then convert it back before I send it to the group. I have to edit all of the group's work so I can read it properly on screen usually as people aren't considerate when I tell them that I can't read certain things, and I can't afford to print off 30 odd pages of work a week.

These are just a few of the things I struggle with. If I told you all of them then we'd be here forever. The point in me telling you this is because I've been offered Phakic Intraocular Lens Implantation Sugery. Paid for privately by my dad. I want to leap at the chance but the risk of me losing my sight is high. Laser surgery isn't an option so this is my chance at as close to 20:20 vision as I'm ever going to get. But I'm petrified. I lose my sight, my career is over. Question is, do I take the risk?