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Alan Has Visions

One Saturday early in December 2010 I went to bed so as to sleep the sleep of the just returned home from a party. When I awoke the next morning, my whole world was subtly changed.

Wherever I looked spider webs, blobs and suggestive silhouettes drifted across my field of view. Even closing my eyes didn't help much. I could still see the shapes glowing in the darkness against my eyelids. Funny, I thought; somehow that doesn't seem quite right.

The dark shapes are called floaters. Everyone has them at some time or other and generally they are of no great significance. But now I seemed to have rather more of them than I had ever had before. They were all concentrated in my left eye. My right eye was quite free of them. Nevertheless my whole field of vision was covered with them as my brain tried hard to reconcile the two quite different views of the world that it was receiving. Perhaps I had inadvertently picked up somebody else's floaters at last night's party and brought them home with me? But wherever they had come from, they were singularly annoying. It is very distracting to sit and read a book only to have something the size and shape of Queen Victoria's profile drift across the words and obliterate them completely. Neither she nor I found it at all amusing.

I checked my symptoms at various medical sites on that there interwebby thing that turns up on my computer every so often. The conclusion was inescapable. Clearly I was pregnant.

Perhaps I should consult an ophthalmologist? But first I had to learn how to pronounce ophthalmologist. It turned out to be surprisingly difficult, even for a man with a degree in chemistry who had never had any trouble at all with the tongue twisting consonants embedded in that curious chemical phenolphthalein, the part time laxative and titration end point indicator. Perhaps the problem lay in the extra syllable lurking in ophthalmologist. Maybe practice would make me perfect.

I checked the intertubes again. Alarming suggestions of leprosy sent me scurrying to the telephone. On the whole, pregnancy seemed a more preferable diagnosis. Though there remained the small, but distinct, possibility of housemaid's foot, athlete's elbow or maybe even tennis knee.

"8.30 tomorrow morning," said the ophthalmologist's receptionist.

I arrived in plenty of time.

"Please fill in this form," said the receptionist. I took the form, and a pen and tried hard to squint through the girders of the Eiffel Tower as it slid across the paper.


Hmmm. The hard questions first. I struggled through that and moved on to the next.


Today was a good day. I could manage that.

"Height, weight, inside leg measurement. Do you dress to the right or the left?"

I scribbled some figures and ticked the box marked 'Not In These Trousers'.

"You can go through now," said the receptionist. So I went through.

"Just sit here," said a nice nurse. "First of all we'll give you a little eye test." She held a black piece of plastic across my right eye, the one without floaters. Everything went much darker.

"Can you read what's on the chart pinned to that wall, please?" she asked.

I concentrated hard.

"Marilyn Monroe, Mount Fuji, the Titanic and something that might be a bunny rabbit."

"Good," she said and transferred the dark plastic to my left eye, thus exposing my severely short sighted right eye.

"Can you read what's on the chart pinned to that wall, please?" she asked.

"What wall?"

"Excellent," she said, and made a note. "Now I need to give you some drops that will make you dilate."

"I thought I only needed those in the last stages of labour." I was puzzled. Surely my pregnancy wasn't that far advanced?

"No, silly," she said. "It dilates your pupils so that we can see inside your eyes. Open wide!"

Anything to oblige. I stretched my mouth to twice the diameter that I usually present to my dental hygienist.

"No," said the nurse. "Your eyes, you idiot. Here -- let me do it." With thumb and forefinger she held my eyelids open and squirted half the Pacific Ocean onto each eyeball. I felt a momentary pang of conscience about all the sharks left to drown in the thin air of the Mariana Trench.

"The doctor will see you now."

The nurse took me into a small, dark room where a man sat waiting behind a complex machine full of dials, lights, mirrors and lenses.

"Hello," he said. "I'm the Doctor."

"Who?" I asked.

"Mackey," he answered, and we shook hands.

"Just rest your chin on this chin rest," said Doctor Mackey.

I did so, and he adjusted some levers that raised my head slightly and tilted it back. A brilliant white light shone dazzlingly into my eyeball and Doctor Mackey peered at me through a magnifying lens.

"Look up. Now down. Look right. Look left. Look right again."

"Can I cross the road now?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. "It's all clear. You've had an acute posterior vitreous detachment. We usually call it a PVD for short. Doctor's jargon."

"Just as I thought," I said. "What's a PVD?"

He produced a cross sectional model of an eyeball and began to point at bits of it. "The jelly in your left eye has detached itself from the retina at the back. It's also ruptured a small blood vessel which has leaked into your eyeball. The floaters you are seeing are blood clots. Fortunately there seems to be no sign of any damage to the retina. Sometimes, when the jelly is particularly firmly attached, it leaves small rips in the retina and the fluid in the eyeball leaks in behind the retina and starts to detach that as well. If the retina detaches and you don't have treatment, you'll go blind within a very short time. But you seem to have escaped that. Lucky you."

"What causes a PVD?" I asked.

"Old age and decrepitude, mainly," he said. "Debauchery and unclean living. Most of the seven deadly sins in fact. Short sighted people like you are particularly prone to PVD. I imagine the other eye will do it at some time or other as well."

"Oh," I said. "When?"

He shrugged. "Next week, next year, ten years time. Who knows?"

"What can we do about it?"

"Nothing much," he said. "You're making a good recovery. Your immune system will take care of the floaters all by itself over the next six or seven weeks. You might want to consider wearing sunglasses for a few weeks; the darker field of view will help your brain to cancel out the more annoying effects of the floaters. There's less contrast for it to cope with so it doesn't have to work quite so hard. Just watch out for people who mistake you for a film star and ask for your autograph."

"Oh I'm quite used to that," I said. "It happens to me all the time. Is there anything else I need to be careful of?"

"Well," he said thoughtfully, "your eye is in quite a delicate state at the moment. While it fixes itself you need to avoid doing anything that will put any stress or strain on it. You'll have to give up bungee jumping for a few months and don't have any arguments with your wife. If she hits you in the eye I won't answer for the consequences."

"Do you need to see me again?"

"No, not unless the symptoms get worse. If you start getting more floaters or if you see flashes of light it might be a sign that more detachment is occurring. That needs to be checked immediately in case there is any retinal damage left behind. But other than that, have a good Christmas."

"Eye, Eye, doctor," I said, saluting smartly.

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