Shooter's Worst Nightmare

Several years ago there was an article in the NRA Journal about prostate cancer which seemed an unusual topic to cover in a shooting journal. Considering the age range and gender of many in our sport it was actually a very wise idea for recognising the symptoms early enough could save lives. I have decided, therefore, to write about what happened to me just after the New Year as it was only because I recognised the symptoms which meant that I am not now partially sighted.

I was walking up Guildford High Street on the Sunday after New Year when I noticed a bright flashing light on the edge of my field of vision. Whenever I looked down and up it seemed to happen. This was just an irritating semi-circular flash to start with but then I noticed my eye filling up with floaters. My first thought was that I had burst a blood vessel in my eye but I then remembered a colleague at school who had the same symptoms and did nothing about it. He soon lost much of his vision due to a detached retina.

I didn’t expect any opticians to be open on a Sunday but the lights were on in Dolland & Aitcheson. My usual optician is, naturally, Specsavers in Newbury but considering the situation I just went in and spoke to the lady at reception. Within moments I was having drops put in my eye and a very thorough examination with lights and a machine for looking at the back of the eye. The optician said she couldn’t see any sign of a detachment but still gave me a letter and told me I was to go straight to A and E. The A and E was packed so I was expecting to be waiting for hours only to be told I had to go to Chertsey as the opthalmist on duty was there. After a fraught journey I arrived at another packed A and E … does everyone play football on a Sunday? My letter worked wonders for clearly Guildford had warned them I was on my way. Many eye drops later I was told that it was a very small tear right on the edge of my retina that could be sorted out by laser surgery and I was to come in on the Monday to have that done. I was told not to rush about or exert myself and they didn’t seem too worried.

Monday morning saw me travel to Guildford for a long wait in the eye department with drops and more drops and more sitting around. The same lady saw me and was keen to show the consultant before what I had been told was a routine and non-intrusive operation. The consultant spent nearly an hour with me shining lights into my eye until finally he decided that due to fluid behind the tear (there were now two tears) it had to be an operation in London rather than the laser surgery. By this time the snow had started to fall and as I had to be in Moorgate eye hospital for 8 am it seemed wise to get on the train and stay at the RAF club.

I was wise to have travelled up the night before for when morning came it was clear that the county was closed down by a huge quantity of snow. The underground was fine and I arrived on time. It didn’t take long before the eye drops and sitting around had started again. The eye surgeon saw me and said there were now four tears and that I would be operated on at one o’clock. I had the choice of general or local anaesthetic and opted for the local for I had never been in hospital and didn’t want to miss the excitement by being asleep. This meant that I could eat and go for a wander around London for a few hours. They draw a big red cross above the eye so they don’t operate on the wrong one and it would have been nice if someone had pointed this out before I went out into the streets of London.

Before long I was sitting waiting for my turn and chatting to some of the others who had no idea how they would get home with all the snow. It was very strange to be lying in the room next to the operating theatre having all sorts of anaesthetic drops in my eye and seeing the needle coming towards me. You can’t feel anything but you can still see and as you can’t close your eye it doesn’t take too long before you can’t even see for the retina becomes bleached with all the light. They protect the other eye by covering that side of your head so I was pleased that I had given permission for a student to watch for it meant the surgeon had to give a running commentary. Two probes were then put in which I could just about see their outline but I couldn’t feel anything apart from continual running water over the eye which was cold. For an hour he very carefully froze the areas around the tears (now nine in total) and removed all the fluid from they eye. I could just make out all the ‘floaters’ being sucked up the tube and they put a gas into my eye to push the retina into the right place as the frozen areas healed and the scars held the retina into place.

I then had to sit for two hours with my head down without moving which was very uncomfortable. I was glad to be taken up to my room to sleep after a long day. For the next four weeks I had to sleep with a cover to protect the eye and face down but with my head to the left to make sure the gas bubble was pushing against the retina in the right place. I had four sets of eye drops which all had to be put in at different intervals which took some getting used to. One had to be shaken and another kept in the fridge and each seemed to have been made especially at the eye hospital. I also had to be careful not to move too fast or else the bubble busts into hundreds of smaller bubbles which then gradually joined together.

As the weeks went by the gas bubble gradually dissolved and was replaced by fluid. It was strange that the bubble looked as if it was at the bottom of my eye but was actually at the top as everything is upside down. The bruising seemed to go quite quickly and before long I was booked in to see the consultant to see if the operation had been a success. I arrived at a snow free tube station only to find that there was a green line all the way from the underground to Moorfields which had been completely covered with snow the last time I had been there. I was seen quite quickly and it was good to meet the other patients as all those who had been operated on the same day were seen together. All was clear and within a week I was off all the drops. In the cold weather my eye still ached but the vision was back to what it was but without any floaters at all. They tell me I will have a cataract in the eye within two years due to the gas but they will sort that out in a quick operation.

So what have I learned from the whole experience. Well I now know that if you see flashing lights followed by floaters you should just go to A and E. If you leave it a day then the detachment is starved of oxygen and so even if it is reattached it doesn’t work.