Does it count as self-isolation if I have been on an adventure to St Thomas’ Hospital and back?  The hospital seemed satisfied that, despite the journey, I’d obeyed their strict instructions so I’ll settle for that.  My swab test came back negative in less than 24 hours.  I had to read the text message twice because, throughout my long life, the word ‘negative’ has usually been the harbinger of  bad news.  I quickly worked out that since being infected with Covid-19 is bad, a negative result is good.

St Thomas’ Hospital welcomed me (and remarkably few other people) with one-way systems, hand sanitizers, and free face masks.  Only four people were permitted in lifts designed to take a patient in a bed, plus equipment and associated staff.  Large  footprints on the lift floor indicated that you should stand facing the wall (everyone cheated because it was impossible to see the floor indicator).

I was the only person with a 7.30 appointment at the eye unit, other people arriving after me at approximately half hour intervals.  I was plonked in a chair marked ‘No.1′ immediately in front of a large TV screen.  And there I waited for three hours, watching the sort of inane TV programmes I assume I shall have to watch if, and when, I am incarcerated in a care home.  The presenters were all artificially cheerful, and the main programme featured unfortunate people who were restoring dilapidated properties bought at auction.  They were all encountering serious hiccups: delays beyond their control and escalating costs that made a nonsense of their budgets. I decided the BBC must have got the participants to sign a contract stipulating that they must be cheerful in the face of all difficulties.

Perhaps we should all be made to sign one of those?

Anyway, I waited on my No.1 chair, alert to everything happening around me. Five other patients arrived, sitting in socially distanced chairs numbered 2 – 6.  People had their blood pressure taken, two of them recording unacceptably high readings.  They were told they’d have to sit there until such time as they’d calmed down.  When I left at 1pm they were still there, by then presumably panic stricken.

Apart from watching the TV and, despite myself, becoming intrigued by the various mishaps encountered by the amateur property developers, I watched nurses going about their business, all wearing masks.  I played a game working out what they’d look like without masks covering half their faces.  Occasionally there were some other diversions, like the man who took a long phone call standing at a nearby counter whilst holding a cardboard box labelled ‘Human Ocular Tissue’.  The box was large, but obviously not heavy, and I concluded that it was probably full of slippery eye balls.

The surgeon, Professor David O’Brart, an eminent cataract surgeon,  popped in occasionally to apologise for the long wait.  Apparently something essential (the plastic lenses?) that should have been ordered, hadn’t arrived. Couriers were involved.  I imagined flashing lights and an escort of motor cycle outriders.  Or perhaps a helicopter landing on the roof. (If you leave me sitting in a chair with nothing to do for three hours, my imagination runs riot!)

Eventually I was guided to the theatre (not, alas, the sort Judy Dench wants the government to save), given a fetching pale blue hairnet, and taped down onto a flat operating table.  The importance of staying absolutely still for half an hour had been impressed on me, but with my head swathed in masking tape, moving was not an option.

I gazed at bright lights while the surgeon asked his helpers for this and that (I listened out, but didn’t hear the word ‘scalpel’) and performed his particular brand of magic. Then I was unbound, told everything had gone very well and even thanked for not moving!

So, now I’m home again with a sheet of instructions and eye drops.  My plastic eye, the right one, is already vastly superior to the one I was born with.  Mind you, there are some odd instructions I’m supposed to follow. I have a plastic shield and the notes say I should wear it when I take a shower. Totally disastrous: it fills up with water!  It’s far better to keep my good eye shut tight for the duration of the shower. The notes also say that, when I go outside, I must ‘wear dark glasses when windy’.  The significance of wearing dark glasses in a wind escapes me. Or might it mean I should wear dark glasses when I am windy?  It’s a puzzle.

I regret the passing of the daily government coronavirus briefings.  Our ritual of settling down at 5 pm, with a cup of tea and a slice of fruit cake, to watch a hapless secretary of state announce various initiatives, flanked by the likes of Vallance and Whitty politely distancing themselves, was fun. I loved the way the ‘next chart please’ often failed to materialise and how every question posed by the public, and even by hostile journalists, was hailed as a ‘very good question’.

6 comments

  1. I can’t tell you how delighted I was to read this blog, Peter. I was so conscious of you going to St Thomas, having the op and was simply concerned that it should all go according to plan. And it (more or less) did. Well done, congratulations.

    Of course, it’s the ‘way you tell it’ that makes this blog a rather good one. The images you conjure up of mainstream TV, of the poor individuals with high blood pressure awaiting surgery, the op itself and of the instructions you are supposed to follow afterwards….. all are really fun and very telling. Even the final homage to Covid TV briefings.

    Do hope Carol is as upbeat as you (she must have had her moments of uncertainty).

    xx

  2. Well done Peter, how lucky you are to have St. T’s nearby. I too had my cataract done ten days ago at Hereford Hospital and it went smoothly. Val has had both eyes done and I was amused when she told me that during the half hour of immobilisation she repeated the Lord’s Prayer continuously, I was pleased to learn that she did say it silently!!

    Love to you and Carol x

  3. Glad the operation went well. Exciting when the lights suddenly go blurry and then change to being in crystal clear focus. Have you noticed the greater whiteness of white walls/ paper, with the new lens as opposed to a yellowish tinge with the old natural lens? Or did you have both done at once? – A vague memory.

  4. I share the joy of Joy. It is fascinating to read your description of your procedure and to compare/ contrast it with my own experience of the same operation, in the same location, but performed at the expense of my heirs & successors, rather than the taxpayer.

    My chap is a distinguished Professor from Tommies, who I found particularly refreshing for at least 3 reasons: first, he had a dreadful stammer, most pronounced when he attempted to utter the word ‘cataract’. Second, he was and probably still is a member of the Garrick, albeit I don’t think I have ever come across him there. Third, he never attempted any false bonhomie,

    I had both eyes done, at an interval of 10 days. ( if the first one went wrong, it would be good planning to retain one indifferent orbit). I certainly don’t remember being strapped prone on a table. On the contrary I was sitting up in a chair on both occasions. ( I have just rehearsed this with Max, who says inconsequentially that this is because I was a private patient). I remember the anaesthetist telling me that the anaesthetic agent he planned to use was Ketamine, and I had a horrid reaction to the anaesthesia. On the second occasion I discussed this with the second anaesthetist, & asked him whether he planned to use Ketamine. “We NEVER use Ketamine for this op” he said. “ Look at my notes” I said. He did; & in the best traditions of the medical profession said nothing, but the furrowed brow, which I could plainly see with my now excellent vision in my left eye, said it all.

    I have absolutely no recollection of dark glasses; showering instructions ( perhaps it was assumed that, as a private patient, I had no need for a shower); but I clearly remember the follow-up consultation. The Prof told me that with my new lenses I was good for the next 25 years. I think he was focusing on my visual acuity. If that was a general health forecast, & it proves to be accurate, it is well worth the modest professional fee.

  5. I’m so pleased that you are all right!
    What a wonderful description! It’s entertaining despite the subject matter, and the reader feels he is right there with you. The “presumably panic stricken” patients who were still waiting for their blood pressure to go down when you eventually left made me chuckle. And the “negative” result of the covid test! That reminded me of the day I stood in the phone box listening intently to my pregnancy test result and couldn’t quite work out if “positive” was good or bad, i.e. did the nurse say “positive” because I was off the hook?

    Good to know that you will be wearing dark glasses when windy :) I shall keep my distance in that case.

  6. Glad you had a “positive” experience and all went well. An accurate description of our lives at St Thomas’ in the “new norm”. Slightly too sterile for my liking but necessary! You write beautifully Peter. It’s a pleasure to read your entertaining blogs. Thank you for sharing your experience.
    Best wishes.

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