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Eyeball to eyeball (with tooth-sucking….)

January 6, 2010

Writers are not ‘normal’. All of us to a greater or lesser degree have a streak of psychopathy which makes every vicissitude of human experience – including our own – potential writing fodder….

Now read on….

Tooth-sucking – ie slow inhalation of air through lower teeth (or, even worse, dentures) – is a very bad sign.

Plumbers do it. Electricians do it. Computer geeks do it. Builders are especially prone to it. When accompanied by head-shaking and eyebrow knitting, it is a particularly bad sign, usually meaning you are going to pay – lots – in money, time, inconvenience and often all three.

Here I am, sitting in a stout black steel chair fronted by all sorts of high-tech equipment, a range of which has just been addressing itself in great detail to my eyes for the last half hour or so. The kind and painstaking ophthalmologist is now consulting with the tall, grey-bearded, grave consultant. They are talking ophthalmo-speak to one another. I begin to feel very tense, apprehensive. It sounds like tooth-sucking. Oh dear.

“Yes, I’m afraid you have glaucoma in your left eye. If we start treating it now, you will probably retain your sight well into old age.”

“Oh well,” I think, “at least my right eye is ok.”

As if reading my mind, the consultant goes on: “But this condition is bilateral. It is likely to affect your right eye too, eventually.” “How long is eventually?” I wonder, feeling like a small rodent trapped in a corner by a big man wielding a broom with his back to the exit door.

On to discussion of treatment options. Drops, for starters, to reduce the pressure in my left eye, at present higher than it is in the right.

[questions I forgot to ask, (i) : how does this relate to my overall blood pressure, on the low side of normal?]

One type of drop, a form of beta-blocker, will “lower your heart rate, limiting your exercise capacity….” No thanks to that one, unless I get desperate and nothing else works. Rushing about everywhere on foot is my main transport mode, and I rely on that with a little light hill-walking from time to time to keep me fit.

Option two, which I decide to try for starters, has a distinctly surreal dimension. Apparently it will turn my affected eye pink [questions I forgot to ask, (ii) : for how long? For ever?] and cause my eyelashes on the bad eye to grow longer and thicker.

“So I’ll go around looking like a cross between Dracula and an aging fashion model?”
“No,” says the grave but quietly smiling one, patiently, already realising he has a drama queen on his hands from now until his well-earned retirement.“ When we have stabilised the left eye, you can even up the eyelash balance by rubbing a little of the drops on to the right eye’s lashes.”

At this point I am visualising going around in a large brown paper bag with eyehole slits.

Shortly after my arrival at the brown bag interim solution, the session is over. Having asked various questions, I have not been my usual forensic self in eliciting answers. Being told you are slowly advancing towards blindness, sooner or later depending on treatment, does not sharpen the mental faculties.

[questions I forgot to ask, (iii): Just exactly how bad is this, NOW?]

I sit for some time with my husband, waiting for some photographs to be taken of the back of my eyeballs – partly for research purposes.  I come from a family psychological matrix where one’s default position in any crisis is the worst option, always. Guide dogs and white sticks feature prominently in our conversation – or rather, my monologue.

Then we walk home, having had three hours of NHS Scotland’s time, state of the art expertise, professionalism and kindness. All for free. It is a beautiful, mild autumn day, the streets rusty with fallen leaves. The verb “to see” and the noun “vision” have just taken on a new significance.

It would be totally dishonest to pretend that behind the – I hope! – lightly ironic, witty tone of this article I am not rather upset both in the short and the prospective long-term, by the implications of being diagnosed with glaucoma.

Insouciance would not be normal. But writers are not ‘normal’. All of us to a greater or lesser degree have a streak of psychopathy which makes every vicissitude of human experience – including our own – potential writing fodder. In the midst of my entirely appropriate angst is arising a tingle of anticipation: a new seam to be mined – and shared – has just been opened. Should I set up a new blog? What could I call it? “To the White Stick”, perhaps? Or – this is a bit more dignified, don’t you think? – “The Glaucoma Diaries.” I could have a sub-theme called “More bits fall off ” for my popular “Just let me get old, ok?” column…….mmmm…….

Watch this space!

( ps one of my friends, when told the news, shrugged his shoulders, remarking: “Oh, well, c’est la fucking vie, innit?” I don’t think there’s an answer to that, yet….but give me time, give me time!)

Anne W

Anne Whitaker has written in one context or another all her life, having had many articles and essays published in recent years in contexts as diverse as The Mountain Astrologer (USA) Kindred Spirit (UK) and Scotland’s Sunday Herald. Based in Glasgow in Scotland, she is now focusing on writing, and on running her popular website for writers and readers : “Writing from the Twelfth House.”

Her first book “Jupiter meets Uranus” was published in April 2009 by the American Federation of  Astrologers. It is a research study of the Jupiter/Uranus conjunction of  1997, set in its mythological and historical context. She is currently  seeking a publisher for her second book : “Wisps from the dazzling darkness – a sceptic’s take on paranormal experience” . For further information and reviews, click on BOOKS on the Home Page of her website – –  and follow links. Contact email: contact.anne.w

  1. January 6, 2010 1:18 am

    There are other treatments. Surgery. Medical cannabis. Probably depends on the severity. Definitely post the pictures!

  2. January 6, 2010 12:07 pm

    Thanks for this. Currently I’m just using the drops and getting on with life – not to mention incubating a new blog!! Apart from one slightly blurry eye I can see fine. Anne W

  3. January 7, 2010 12:39 pm

    Anne, as you know, we share this challenge–and many of the same reactions to it! (And agreement that all writers are drama queens, LOL!) My pressure in my R. eye would not respond to drops/lower after a couple of years of trying every type in the pharmacy. Ultimately, I had the surgery and it was highly successful! My intraocular pressure is “just right” according to my whiz-bang glaucoma specialist, a woman who recognized that my surgical success had 100% to do with my positive attitude, including how I handled some complications. My other eye still has higher than normal IOP, but there has been no damage to the visual field and only mild in the “surgery eye.” Now that I have a physical fix to drain the IO fluid, there is unlikely to be additional damage, my doctor says.

    As for the fear of the white cane, I send up a prayer it won’t be me every time I encounter a blind person. Although each case is unique, changes are very gradual and from what I understand, in most cases, we’ll be long gone before full blindness sets in. Knowing I like to have a plan for dealing with the worst case scenario, the universe sent me a new Facebook friend who is 95% blind, an astrologer, and spirited beyond measure. She uses voice recognition software and has figured out her life in spite of it. She’s a gift and a blessing!

    Finally, in the inimitable words of actress Bette Davis, “Aging is not for wimps.” My litany of body parts wearing is becoming the length of my arm. All I can do is laugh and whip up more spirit. If we ever have white canes, I say we start a scrappy club called Raising Cane!

  4. January 7, 2010 3:18 pm

    Hi Joyce

    thanks so much for this honest, informative and encouraging response. Re the Bette Davis quote, I think the comment you may have come across before in my ‘sardonic sayings’ file bears repeating: ‘Anyone over the age of 50 who is not in pain with something or other, is dead….’

    Yours still kicking


  5. January 9, 2010 8:15 am

    Luckily life compensates with a syndrome which helps cope with such things Anne. First symptoms can be present from forty but is generally full blown by fifty………. DGAF (Don’t Give A F***) syndrome is identified, (along with the aches and pains of age) by a distinctly ironic but sharp sense of humour, an outrageous attitude to most things, forgetfulness – this applies to words, things etc, a new sense of freedom and a lack of concern over all those small things that used to worry you, like if your shoes and bag match……… or remembering……..

    Love the article – keep up the good work – speak soooooon


  6. January 15, 2010 9:55 am

    Thanks Carole. DGAF syndrome – how could anyone survive without it??!!!

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