Where had I got to …. Oh yes, I was a 17 year old, blind in my right eye, and aware that there was a risk that I could lose my sight in my left eye, but this didn’t stop me from living a normal active life … for the most part!
Learning to drive was very important to me as a 17 year old, as it is for most 17 year olds. Despite the problems I had with my right eye, I had always thought that my eyesight in my left eye was quite good, a bit short sighted, but with my glasses (which I had started wearing aged 14) not too bad. However, I had started to come to the conclusion that my eyesight was not that good in my left eye when it was night time. I began to question my night sight following an incident on the way home from an athletics training session at Hull with my friend and training partner JW, following an athletics training session.
JW drove a purple Chevette, a bit of an old banger, but he had only passed his driving test a few weeks previously and he wasn’t too fussy about what he drove. I had my provisional licence, as being blind in one eye wasn’t a bar to getting a provisional licence, but I hadn’t used it much. My concern was that deep down I had a suspicion that my eyesight was just a little bit worse than the required level. On this one night, JW asked me if I wanted to have a go at driving his car. As I said yes, we drove on to Carnaby industrial estate near Bridlington and he turned down a road that went behind the back of the factories, so perfect for a learner to practice on. At the end of the road, JW turned the car round and we swopped seats. I pulled off smoothly on the first time of asking and moved down the road. After what only seemed like a second or two, JW said “you know there’s a bend up ahead don’t you?” “Yep” I said as, almost instantaneously, the car mounted the curb and continued on to the grass verge as JW screamed and grabbed the steering wheel. Several expletives later we swopped seats and decided that it was probably best if I didn’t try to drive again at night time. The problem was that I simply was not able to pick out the edge of the road in the car’s headlights.
After that incident I started to notice a few other signs that all was not right. On nights out, I was rubbish at trying to hail down taxis, as I was unable to see the light on the top of the taxi. I put it down to the glare from the headlights and, as I struggled from glare during the day, I wasn’t particularly concerned. In dark pubs and night clubs I would trip over steps, bar stools, in fact anything that was slightly out of the ordinary. Such incidents were easily passed off as the odd beer too many, but it was more difficult to explain how I sometimes confused a yellow pool ball for the white cue ball. Admittedly, the light at the rugby club wasn’t exactly perfect, but it wasn’t bad enough to make me make such a basic mistake. Yes I had some colour blindness – I had often confused greens and browns – but as far as I’m aware a confusion between white and yellow isn’t that common.
On the way home from town one night with my friend JK, the heavens opened and a torrential downpour ensued. The rain was so heavy that I took my glasses off because I couldn’t see anything with them on. We set off running home as fast as we could, looking forward to getting in out of the rain. The run home passed without incident until we entered the home straight, otherwise known as Windsor Crescent. I kicked in the after burners and left JK in my wake, literally. I ran up the left hand path, running on the edge of the road to avoid the deepest puddles which were gathering against the low lying garden walls, the path sloping slightly towards these walls. As I sped along, focusing on my mum’s house half way up the road, I noticed the bright red post box looming large. I started to drift towards the left hand side of the path, stepping into the reservoir of water, in order to avoid the post box.
I would have undoubtedly missed the post box, but I didn’t make it that far due to crashing into an unseen parking sign on my blind side, slamming into the metal pole, my right hip, shoulder and side of my head bearing the brunt of the impact. The force of the collision sent me flying backwards at an angle, over a garden wall and into the middle of a massive wet bush. The first JK knew about this was when he arrived at my mum’s house, not more than 50m away from where I lay, with no sign of yours truly. As JK scoured the street for several minutes looking for me, he eventually saw me clamber over the garden wall, rub the majority of the mud from my clothes and limp up the street towards him. For weeks after that incident, every time I sat down it felt like I was sitting on broken glass, the pain being the result of referred pain from nerve damage across my hip.
I had flirted with going to university whilst I was at school, but I wasn’t that bothered and if truth be told I’d had enough of studying, I wanted to venture forth into the world. My mum encouraged me to apply for a job if that was what I fancied doing, and she even spotted an interesting job with Yorkshire Bank. Following up on her suggestion, I applied to Yorkshire Bank for a management trainee position and following a successful interview, I was offered the position, subject to a medical. The main reason for the medical was to consider my eye condition. However, due to my tender years and the way this manifested itself during my medical, I’m sure the doctor must have thought that my sight was only one issue for him to consider.
My train journey from Bridlington to the Yorkshire Bank head office in Leeds took almost three hours, and as it was late, I had to rush to the Yorkshire Bank head office as quickly as I could. Before I had the chance to ask where the toilets were, I was called straight into my medical. Thankfully the doctor immediately asked me if I would be able to provide him with a sample. I wonder if anyone has ever looked so excited at the prospect of providing a sample. The doctor directed me to a bathroom in the corner of his office, where I would find a jug in which to provide my specimen. Sure enough, sat on top of the closed toilet lid was a reasonable size plastic jug, the kind of thing my mum used to make gravy; such sweet relief. As I walked out of the bathroom with the warm, previously rigid jug wobbling in my hand, its contents almost overflowing, it never crossed my mind that such a large sample might look a bit strange, nor did it cross my mind to pour some of the excess into the toilet before leaving the bathroom. I sat down, mistakenly taking the look on the doctor’s face as one of an impressed person. As he dipped a piece of litmus paper in the sample, I recall thinking that he could probably have managed with a little less urine than he was in possession of. He must have wondered what I would do for an encore. Looking back, it wouldn’t have been out of place if I had said ” just let me know if you need any more, as there’s plenty more where that came from”.
Whatever he thought of my faux pas or my eye condition, I got the job. My workplace wasn’t immune to embarrassing situations caused by being blind in one eye. One such incident occurred on Christmas Eve one year. Fancy dress was the order of the day, and being game for a laugh I had decided to give in to my feminine side and dress up as a French maid. I must admit, with my blonde wig, massive false boobs with erect nipples, stockings and suspenders I really did fancy myself, even if the hairy legs and chest were not what I always looked for on a lady – but there again, beggars can’t be choosers! I was situated in the banking hall with trays of sherry and mince pies. I was enjoying myself acting the clown and the customers in the extremely long queues seemed to be enjoying it as well. After serving a sherry to an old lady at the front of the queue, I turned around to the right to offer the remaining sherries to the other customers. However, I had forgotten that there was a leaflet stand on my right hand side, and not being able to see it as I turned, my tray of full sherry glasses were deposited over the leaflets, over the floor and down my ample cleavage. Amongst the howls of laughter I could make out shouts of “he’s pissed” and “had one too many sherries eh sweetheart?” I withdrew from the banking hall hurriedly, and stayed out of sight until the bank closed and the pubs opened.
The second incident happened when I had finished tidying up the tenners in my till and looked up to see my friend MM, a fellow athlete, standing at my till. What followed would not be out of place coming out of Roy “chubby” Brown’s mouth, as was pretty normal for the kind of conversations which we had during our athletic training sessions. I believe I called him an ugly see-you-next-TuesdayHowever, I wasn’t aware that his mother was stood next to him, right in front of my right eye. Luckily in one respect she didn’t appear in my field of vision at all: I only knew I’d done this some time afterwards when MMl informed me. At least it saved me the usual embarrassment.
Mr Martin at the LGI had said that the other four people with my condition had retained the sight they had at 18, so I was very releived to reach 18 with good sight in my lef eye, ieven if it might mean I couldn’t or shouldn’t drive. However, things started to change when I reached 20.
Having been blind in my right eye for years, I was used to not seeing things on my right hand side and whilst I would often walk into things on that side, or be momentarily shocked when something or somebody suddenly appeared apparently from nowhere on my right, I had become accustomed to it. I felt that it was a minor irritation, nowhere near to being a disability, and it didn’t really bother me. It was therefore easily explainable when I didn’t notice a blind patch spreading across my left eye from the right hand side. At first I thought it was just the shadow from my nose, but once I noticed the incursion into my field of vision, its relentless progress was easy to track.
Within weeks the blind patch had marched about a quarter of the way across my field of vision, with similar patches appearing at the top and bottom of my field of vision. Feeling somewhat left out, the left hand side of my field of vision joined in with the party after a couple of weeks.
By the summer of 1990, my sight problems had started to become a hindrance. I still had good sight in the middle of my field of vision and to the left of my field of vision. However, after going out on Friday or Saturday nights with my mates, I would wake up, more often than not, with a blind spot at the very focal point of my field of vision. This meant that I couldn’t see the point that I was looking at, or anything to the right hand side of that, but I could see pretty much everything to the left of it. This state of affairs would last until Tuesday or Wednesday and then, eventually, the blind spot at the focal point of my vision would go, allowing me to see the point at the very middle of my field of vision. At first I tried to carry on as usual, but it wasn’t possible for me to work in a bank when I couldn’t see well enough to read. If the text was large enough, I could read using the peripheral vision slightly to the left of the centre point, but more often than not, the text was not large enough to enable me to read. This resulted in me having to go home and await the blind spot to dissipate later in the week.
I’m sure the rest of the staff at the branch thought I was putting it on. My explanation of what had happened was usually met with “so what, I can’t see when I’ve been drinking either”. I found this attitude frustrating and belittling the very serious problems that I was facing.
It never ceases to amase me how certain people just don’t seem to be able to get their heads around what sight problems are really like. When I was going through the loss of my sight, the long drawn out process of losing an unnoticeable bit of sight on a daily basis, I was approached by one of the parents at the athletics track in Hull. He told me that he knew exactly what I was going through as he had been registered blind just recently and he was finding it a bugger to read road signs when he was driving, especially at roundabouts. I, on the other hand, was having trouble avoiding road signs when I was simply trying to walk around town. “I know how you feel as I can’t see anything without my glasses” was another favourite. Such instances left me feeling isolated; only those closest to me seem to have an inkling of what I was going through.
Another favourite example of this lack of understanding was a news report on BBC Look North. It was a tragic news report, the reporter relaying the details of an horrific accident where a blind person had been killed on a major A road in the area. Whilst I felt for the deceased and his family, I couldn’t help but be annoyed by the description of his sight problems as he had, according to the reporter, been riding his bicycle on the A road. Would it really have diminished the tragedy of the incident if he had been described as partially sighted, or registered blind, as he must undoubtedly have been?
The doctor’s at LGI tried to halt the deterioration by giving me horrendously agonizing steroid injections into my eye. During such procedures, I had to look up and to the right, focusing on a point on the ceiling, trying desperately not to move my focus, whilst the needle was inserted into my eyeball through my lower eye lid …. Very unpleasant! The immediate affect of such injections was a banging headache instantaneously, with severe dizziness shortly afterwards; it was like nothing else I had ever experienced. However, I was so desperate to escape the eye department that despite being unable to walk in a straight line and lurching uncontrollably from side to side, I would risk life and limb by insisting that I was fine and making my way back through the bustling streets to Leeds train station. To add to the dizziness, the drops which had been used to dilate my pupils so as to allow the doctors to inspect my retinas had the effect of making normal daylight feel like a bright torch was being shone into my eyes. I must have looked a proper sight, clinging on to buildings, walls, lamp posts, whatever I could find, squinting at the passing traffic with a steadily blackening eye, trying to decide when to cross the busy roads. I really should have asked someone to accompany me, but 20 year olds do tend to have a tendency of always knowing best. Whilst the injections may have prolonged my sight, unfortunately they could not halt the inevitable conclusion.
As the summer drew on, my working hours lessened on a monthly basis. The original norm of my sight being restored in the very middle of my field of vision by Wednesday at the latest started to be moved back to Thursdays or even Fridays. I had asked the eye doctors why this was happening. Was it the excessive drinking that was part and parcel of the bog standard night out with the rugby club, tiredness after very late nights or could it be the end of night kebab? The doctors assured me that it was nothing to do with this at all, but there is still the nagging doubt that my sight may have lasted longer if I had abstained from the excesses of that wonderful summer.
By 4 October 1990, the day before my 21st birthday, I was unable to read at the very focal point of my vision, even if I hadn’t been drinking or partaking of the delicacy that was elephant leg smeared in yoghurt and chili sauce, wrapped in a pitta. I hoped it would get better, but it didn’t; That was the last day I worked in the branch and I never saw well enough to read again.
By the end of 1990, I only had a small area of sight left, about half way between the central focal point and the south west corner of my eye. Slowly, but surely, the sight in that patch started to fade away, almost like a fog was descending. I was as helpless as King Kanute; the tide of blindness just kept on rolling in.
The doctors had identified that a blood vessel in my left eye had become seriously inflamed to such an extent that it was tearing the retina away from the back of the eye to which it was attached. The angry vessel was also leaking, depositing a fatty substance onto my retina, rendering the still attached areas cloudy and for all intents and purposes blind. The doctor’s considered every option open to them. The last procedure considered by Mr Bird at Moorfields Eye Hospital was to insert a piece of silicon into the retina so as to allow the stress across it to be dissipated, but when I turned up expecting to b operated on in November 1990 matters had progressed too far for that to work.
My last hope of retaining any sight lay in Manchester in the form of Mr McDonald. I still held out hope and was positive that something would occur to save my sight, perhaps even reverse the sight loss.
Mr McDonald was relatively well known at the time for operating on heavyweight boxer Frank Bruno when he had suffered problems with his retinas. I was told that if anyone could help me, he was the man. Unfortunately, he was not the man. He was, however, the only person to have the balls to tell me that there was no hope. “let’s look at the evidence” he said when I asked if I was going to lose my remaining sight. “Your doctor’s, even though they are some of the best in the world, keep telling you that your sight will stabilise and you will keep the sight that you have. However, your sight continues to get worse. They have always been wrong and they will continue to be wrong. You are, I’m afraid, going to go blind” Harsh, but true as it turned out.
I thought I had accepted the inevitability of becoming blind, but my reaction told me that I hadn’t, at least not completely. It was a hammer blow, driving the final nail into the coffin of my sight. The last flicker of hope, the hope that I had been too afraid to openly cling on to, had been snuffed out. I was numb, upset and a little bit scared. My mum took it worse, it was how I would expect someone to react if they had been told that someone had died. The long dark train journey back to Bridlington seemed to take an eternity.
The remaining field of vision continued to shrink day by day, until by the spring of 1991 I had hardly any useful sight at all, just as Mr MacDonald had predicted. The last thing I could make out was in November 1991 – I’ll blog on that some other time as it was quite memorable!
Whilst I was able to see street lights and car headlights at night in one small area of my left eye for a couple of years, eventually that also went and now I can see nothing; I cant’ even tell if it’s dark or light anymore.
And that’s the story of my blindness. Since then my cataracts have become so bad that the eye doctor’s cannot even see my retinas anymore, and I’ve developed a painful cornea condition which led one specialist to tell me that he wanted to remove my eyes – I kindly declined his offer!
So, in conclusion, friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your eyes – mine are absolutely fecked!!