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At the heart of general practice since 1960

We need time to care

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‘Don’t be a drama queen, you’re not going blind.’ That was all the sympathy I got, which was fine, apart from the fact I couldn’t see.

In the morning I developed a storm of floaters which was like looking through a snow globe and then later in the day I started to see flashing lights. Is it migraine? This thin rind of flashing light. Maybe it’s migraine? I’ve never had migraine though. And then things became blurred.

Trying to see the back of your own eyes is like trying to taste your own tongue and it’s hard to know what’s going on in the engine room when you can’t get in. You can hear it thumping and making strange noises in there but you’re locked out. Is there anyone in there? What’s going on in there? Who’s in charge here?

I wanted someone with the right kit to look at me eyes so I sat in the shopping centre after work filling out the forms.

No hellos, just: ‘Name here, address there, tick that box and sit there, chin here, look into this, look at that, look up the way, look down the way, take your glasses off, put your glasses on.’

And then:

‘Do you have a family history of eye problems, sir?’

‘Er… Yes… But… Er… No… Not really. Am I going to go blind?’

‘Put your glasses back on please, Sir, and look at the chart. Can you see the dots? Which is clearer? Is it now or now?’

‘Jesus, my eye!’

‘Yes sorry, some people find the drops a bit stingy.’

She had the pre-prepared quick rhythm of a telesales girl and all the weariness of someone who just wanted to go home. Like a street seller skilfully flipping pancakes she reeled out the same monologue. I could tell she didn’t want to be there, she was exhausted and wanted to put her feet up in front of the Kardashians; and my thoughts began to drift.

‘Could you remember to press your trigger every time you see a dot of light, sir?’

‘Oh, sorry.’

She wants to go home to eat lasagne. I bet she’s got a piping hot plate of it just waiting for her. My eye ball means nothing to her. I imagined her spearing my eye ball with a fork, sharing it with her boyfriend, laughing at Kim and Kourtney and Khloe, the KKK of light entertainment.

‘Look at the light please, sir.’

Oh damn it I missed another one. I wonder if you can fail this test?

Another wait and another optician, this one wears a hipster beard which looks like he’s stolen it from his Dad. And he has face furniture too - my God, what enormous glasses you’ve got.

‘Look at my light, look into the light, look right into the light. I’m going to take pictures of the back of your eye now, look at the green light, look at it, LOOK AT IT.’

Later, he told me:

‘You have no retinal tear or detachment sir, you probably have posterior vitreous detachment, in a small number of cases this can lead to retinal detachment, if your vision gets worse please come back. Any questions? No? You can leave now.’

I was then deposited like a turd onto the perfectly waxed floor of the shopping mall.

The store was already beginning to close. The lights were cooling and one by one the metal fronts went up on the shops. It was a long way through the shopping concourse and I couldn’t see where I was going. The drops hadn’t worn off.

A cleaner stopped waxing and asked me if I was OK. Sorry I can’t read any of the signs. And then she carefully walked with me to the exit.

I’d been questioned, tested, photographed, scanned and slit lamped, I’d been diagnosed, managed and safety netted. But nobody cared. The cleaner cared.

We need time to care. We need time to convert all this science and learning and technology into a human form. We can spend billions extra on high tech solutions trying to make reality just that little bit better when sometimes all we need to do is alter perception. I thanked the cleaner that day for her kindness but despite of everything they did for me I forgot to thank the optician.  

Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Please, if you have a problem with your eyes, go to a qualified ophthalmologist-optometrist, one who has ALL the gizmos and *knows how to use them (hence ophtho-optometrist !) A good Humphrey Field of Vision Test can take 10 mins and sometimes more (depends on the model number) to perform. A patient needs to be relaxed to do a good test - and it is quite fun to do. Next, just a slit lamp aint much good, does not tell enough, an OCT will do an excellent job.
    So, let your fingers do the walking. Google for ophthalmologists-optometrists in your area. Then phone em to ascertain what equipment they have available. Have a good chat, preferably with the `expert technologist` who will be conducting the various tests.
    Make the appointment, expect to spend about an hour (or possibly even three hours) going through all the diagnostics. Cost ? Probably around £75.
    Remember, eyes are precious - only go to the best person and this can take a wee bitty time to identify !
    Now, go back and do it all over again -

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  • Clarification - Humphrey Field of Vision test, 10 mins EACH eye, but with some models can take 15 / 20 mins per eye. There is a new model on the market which sounds to be a great gizmo, cuts the test time down to about 5 / 7 mins `per eye`. But of course all these diagnostic machines cost a heck of a bundle.

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  • Anonymous-
    Wow, I think you missed the point!

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  • At the risk of "missing the point".

    "I wanted someone with the right kit to look at me eyes so I sat in the shopping centre after work filling out the forms."

    No rapid access eye clinic at your local hospital?

    I was GP referred for rapid assessment of my first posterior vitreous detachment. As you say, in a small number of cases these can lead to retinal detachment. I would not have been very pleased had my GP suggested this was a job for a high street opticians. While waiting to be assessed at the eye clinic, the patient in front of me, also referred for suspected PVD, was found to have a retinal detachment. The clinic were scheduling surgery for her for later that afternoon. I've since had PVD in the other eye.

    Would the high street optician be reimbursed by the NHS for the time spent examining you and giving you advice?

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