Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Big Operation

I returned yesterday from my 2 days sojourn in horrible Manchester. No complaints about the treatment though. The 'suite'; (not called wards anymore apparently) was pleasant enough and the staff efficient and helpful. The 'wonderful Miss Fenerty' (as Val calls her) who is the senior consultant and the woman who conducted the operation with her team came to see me before the ordeal and answered my odd remaining questions. We then discussed planting our potatoes. I've done mine; she's still not got hers in.

Twenty minutes later, I was clad in my gown and whisked down to the anaesthetic room. This was where panic bubbles up to the surface and I had to resist a strong urge to do a runner. I didn't, of course. But this was the culmination point of all my endless nervous re-runs of how horrible it would be. They were all very kind, reassuring and professional as they plugged me in to various sensors and stuck a needle in a vein. Then, ever so slowly, the room began to spin and I muttered something about feeling drunk before passing out.

Some time later, I returned to the world of consciousness. The operation had taken 2 hours, Miss Fenerty later told me. Soon, I was back in my room,shared with another man who was in a state of near panic, this being his first ever eye operation. I think I was able to reassure him a little beforehe was whisked off for his operation. Certainly, he came back later much happier that it was all over. It was nowhere near as bad as he'd thought itwould be. As for me, my principal discomfort was my back aching after enforced lying for several hours. Assisted by Val, who had braved trams and getting lost in the big city to come and be with me, I moved to a chair and was soon pacing the corridors, much to the amusement of one of the black nurses who laughed with delight every time Val and I paced past, arm in arm, as if promenading on the deck of a ship. The jolly nurse said she wished she had a camera.

A little later, Miss Fenerty came to see how I was and Val was able to meet her 'wonder' at last. She said the operation had gone well though she'd had difficulty finding a suitable site for the plate and tube because of all theprevious failed operation sites. She'd had to patch up some leaky bits of thin tissue from these at the same time as locating the drainage plate (called a Baerveldt plate, pictured). Then she had patched that all over with donor sclera. This is slightly weird, knowing about and being able to see this piece of sclera (the white of the eye) which came from someone who died and had generously agreed to donate their eyes so that others like me might retain their sight. I shall never know who this was but I feel thankful for this ultimate gift. I shall, in a few months, probably receive a donor cornea too, once the glaucoma trauma is all healed and working properly.

I spent a second night in hospital so that Miss F and her team could examine me before discharge. All seemed to be well and in due course, I got a massive bag of drops and pills which I have to take at, depending on what they are, 1,2 3,4,5 and 6 times per day. I also have to swallow 15 steroid tablets. I think this is to suppress any immune reaction to the donor tissue which could theoretically be rejected, and helps keep inflammation minimal.

The eye is not a pretty sight at present but I can see out of it in a blurry fashion. Val nobly braved the scary city traffic and came in to collect me and it was with relief that we were soon speeding from a grey, rainy Manchester into a mostly sunny Wales. It was so nice that we went to Bodnant Gardens and had a brisk walk amongst the camelias and daffodils and a welcome cup of decent coffee in the National Trust cafe.

Coming home was wonderful. It was mild, still and sunny and all the birds were singing for spring is in the air. Snowdon looked wonderful in its cover of snow which fell last week.

I have to return for regular checks, starting on 4 April but I shall be ableto do this alone and go by the much more relaxing train. Today, I have been semi-back-to-normal, helping Val with veg packing (she did the bending; Idid the bagging) and assembling all the bags when Jill came with her contribution. I've also sown all my tomatoes - in heat. So, even though dosed up - literally - to the eyeballs with drugs, I feel fine. I'm being very careful as you'd expect. Obviously I don't want to jeopardise in anyway this 'last chance' operation and I won't. I won't know how successful it's been for another 4 weeks or so because the drainage device is designed to come into proper operation when a securing stitch dissolves away. And if the drainage isn't sufficient, then Miss F can tweak the device in a very small operation so that more fluid drains through the tube to be dispersed under the conjunctival membrane and thus absorbed into the blood stream.

It is, I think you'll agree, incredible what can be done with malfunctioning eyes. The eye is obviously tougher than you'd think and able to take a lot of damage. My eye is certainly an old hand at being cut up! And I think that's enough of this gruesome stuff. Meanwhile, full marks to the wonderful National Health Service. People love to grumble about it, but it works pretty well under often difficult conditions. And thanks to Miss Fenerty and her excellent team.