Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Our Grand Day Out

This culminated in a five hour session in Casualty at the Eye Hospital in Belfast. I'd been sent there by my optician. I had large black cobwebs, small dark spots and blurred vision in my left eye. A few days earlier when I was mowing the lawn, a branch had caught me on the left side of my face and dislodged my glasses. The symptoms began a little later. I was trying to write something on my computer and found that I couldn’t make out the words on the screen. I’d never had a visual impairment before, other than short-sightedness, and it felt disturbing and distressing, particularly as my left is my dominant eye.

I rang my optician and got an appointment. It was for a couple of hours after my cancer surveillance CT scan. So I drove to the Cancer Centre and went through the routine: drinking the contrast (iodine, I believe) and lying down inside the big whirring scanner. I’d been through this dozens of times; the scan itself is not a problem, waiting for the results is. Although, I had more pressing matters on my mind as I walked into town to the optician. T joined me there and we looked at new spectacle frames to distract ourselves for a while.

My optician is a techie. His consulting room is full of eye examining machines. He heard my story, dilated my pupils with eye drops and then put me through his suite of machines. This included retinal and macular scans, and culminated in him looking into my eye with a large microscope that he proudly told me that he had just bought for £12,000. All of the time he was doing the examination he was cracking jokes. Then he gave me the verdict. He thought I had a tear in my retina because he’d seen pigment cells in my vitreous (the jelly-like substance that fills your eyeball). As this could lead to permanent loss of eyesight, he recommended that we went to the Eye Hospital. Since it was 4.30pm, he suggested we went the next morning.

Outside, the bright sunshine hurt my dilated eyes and the world seemed very distorted. We took a cab direct to the Eye Hospital and got there just before the reception closed. We were ushered into a very small waiting room already full of people. There was an enormous flat screen TV on the wall. The sound was up very loud. Pointless was on. Nobody spoke. We waited and waited. Very slowly, people were called. T told me that beside the TV was sign saying that nobody was allowed to touch it or try to change channels. It was stuck on BBC 1, all I got was the sound and distorted visuals. Sometime during the tedium of the One Show I was called to see the Triage Nurse. She took my details and put some more dilating eye-drops into my already dilated eyes. T said I looked like a frightened rabbit.

Back in the TV waiting room, Eastenders was on and there were still plenty of people. I recalled A Clockwork Orange, where Alex’s eyes are held open and he is forced to watch footage of concentration camps and war to cure him of his violence. I wondered what an enforced diet of bland BBC1 primetime is likely to cure me of? Holby City came and thankfully went, it didn’t remind me of any of the different hospitals that I’d spent time in. As Years and Years began I was called to see the doctor. He began by putting more dilating eye-drops in and then looked into my eyes with a microscope. He did this for a while, getting me to look through all of the points of the compass. Then he got me to lie down on a couch and put a portable microscope on his head. He switched on a bright light, pressed my eyelids wide open with probes (T said it they were like extra-long cotton buds) and looked deeply into my eyeball.

He told me that my vitreous had partially detached from my retina. Adding that we should not be concerned as this was a normal part of ageing. The incident with the branch had precipitated something that would have happened in time anyway. I asked him about the optician’s diagnosis. He said he could find no tear in the retina but this was still a possibility as the remainder of the vitreous would also detach sometime. The small spots that the optician thought were pigment cells, he thought were specks of blood. He said that the floaters and blurring should slowly clear over the coming months and booked me into a clinic in four weeks time. We sighed with relief. I was glad I didn’t have to watch the Ten O’Clock News.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

My Bikes

I got my first proper bike on my seventh birthday. It was a gold Raleigh with three gears and whitewall tyres. I cycled regularly in the Forest of Dean until I was sixteen when I spent my hard-earned savings on a Vespa scooter and paraded around Gloucester in parka, Ben Sherman shirt and Levis. Later I got into motorbikes, then cars and I didn’t own a bicycle again until I bought a second-hand Dawes Galaxy in 1987. Over the next fifteen years, this trusty bike took me on a series of multi-week cycling tours, including the Scottish Highlands, the Western Isles, Normandy, Brittany, Sri Lanka, Southwest China and a circumnavigation of the entire Irish coastline.

I love the sense of freedom that you get on a bike, the wind in your hair, the unfolding landscape, the immersion in the natural world and the encounters with people you have not yet met. It is certainly the best way to explore somewhere. I’ve particularly enjoyed cycle trips in developing countries, where cycling is the most common form of transport, for then you are travelling with the people as they go about their daily lives. This island, with its multiplicity of back roads, is the best place I’ve ever lived for cycling.

Fifteen years ago, I recognised that my faithful Dawes Galaxy had earned an honourable retirement. In its place I bought three new specialist bikes, each of which would do part of the work that it had done so trustily: a Dawes Audax for local day rides, a Bontrager all terrain bike for the supported cycle-tours I would do in faraway places (e.g. Patagonia, Laos, Vietnam) and a Dawes Sardar for the solo cycle-tours I would do in Europe (e.g. Italy, Spain, France).

Then, eight years ago, I got cancer and, like all other aspects of my life, my cycling changed. After the series of major operations with their collateral damage to my body, it’s taken me plenty of time to rebuild a modicum of strength and fitness. Even now, some eighteen months after my last major surgery, I only feel able to ride every other day. Perhaps I may become strong enough to do multi-day cycle tours again.

Over the years, I’ve learnt how to maintain my bikes. I’m largely self-taught; and when a local bike shop returned one of my bikes in a dangerous condition after bodging the repair, this process was given impetus. So now the time has come to invest in a new bike. But I’m not buying a bike ready-made from a shop. I’m going to build it myself from scratch. Although I’ve had experience of some of the tasks involved, I’ve never actually built a full bike before. It’s going to be a challenge and a learning process. I’ll post regular instalments from that journey here.