We rolled up to Stoke General Hospital, with bated breath, where my destiny awaited
Before being treated to a medley of brand-new eye-popping tests, I was served a cocktail of eye drops. The first batch cranks your pupils wide open, prepping the stage for an encore of deep-eye exploration. These drops, however, come with a couple of fun side effects. Firstly, they give you the wild-eyed look of someone who’s been hitting the party powder all night. Secondly? Well, we’ll get to that later.
The sequel in the eye drop saga was a generous double dose of anaesthetic, which, they warned, “might sting a bit.”
Might sting a bit? Holy shit, these bad boys sting like getting your ball bag ensnared in a rogue zipper!
I availed myself of the abundance of tissues handed my way by the nurse, mopping up the deluge of tears that had unleashed. Mind you, I wasn’t weeping. No, sir, I’m far too manly for that.
Instead of the classic ‘air-puff-eye-startle’ routine, they introduced me to a nifty little gadget that actually touches your eye and applies pressure on your eyeball to gauge resistance and, thus, internal pressure. I managed to suppress my primal urge to shut my eyes or wrestle the contraption from her hand as it inched ever closer. To my relief, it didn’t hurt one bit.
Ah, now the stingy eye drops started to make sense.
Next on the agenda was a fresh snapshot of the flip side of my eye. On the house this time, courtesy of the lovely NHS.
You can check out the results below. Note the elaborate network of veins, a veritable motorway of nutrients for the vital bits. That bright disc near the centre? That’s the macula, our very own detail detective, and the anchoring point of the optic nerve. This savvy piece of biological wiring scoops up all the light intel gathered by the retina and shuttles it to the brain, where it’s flipped, spun, and ultimately transformed into our visual reality.
Oh, and that massive grey blotch lounging at the bottom? That’s our uninvited guest, the unpleasant ‘nasty’ that we politely avoid discussing.
I was then courteously asked to once again grace Sub wait Area 6 with my presence. Little did I know then, this humble space and I was about to become as familiar as two peas in a pod, thanks to the myriad of tests lined up in my near future.
I found myself gazing at my phone, Wordle on my mind. It was my go-to escape hatch, a delightful distraction from life’s curveballs. As I puzzled over the potential of it being a vowel-less word, with maybe a smattering of repeated letters, my name echoed through the room.
My next encounter was a double assault on the senses, a shock to both eyes and ears. I could hear the poxy contraption whining even before I made it to the room. A high-pitched wail that sets your teeth on edge, like nails on a chalkboard. It was something straight out of Star Trek when aliens would torment the crew from some far-off ship. You could almost see Spock and Kirk gripping their heads, faces twisted in pain, before collapsing, incapacitated by the otherworldly scream reverberating in their minds.
Once more, I was cordially invited to rest my chin on the support jutting out from the cacophonous machine.
“Focus on the wall behind me,” I was instructed by a fellow whose face looked like he’d just swallowed a sour grape. He wrestled with a joystick, guiding the whining beast’s snout closer to my eye. The screech morphed into a rhythmic click, and I could see a thin, vertical apparition flickering in my line of sight. The clicking sped up, then halted.
He tilted his head slightly, inadvertently intruding upon my line of sight. Suddenly, instead of my chosen spot on the wall, his ear consumed my field of vision. A stray hair seemed to be sprouting from it. Was I staring at it? Where was I looking? At that point, my eyes could have been performing pirouettes in their sockets, for all I knew.
Mr Sour Grape clicked his tongue in annoyance and jerked back on his joystick like he was manoeuvring a 747 over a surprise mountain range. The screeching resumed.
With a gentler touch, he nudged the joystick forward, the clicking returning, accompanied by the ghostly white sliver. Click, click, click. He glanced at the screen by his side, eased back in his chair, and signalled approval at whatever cosmic alignment he’d been seeking.
I, too, reclined, anticipating some form of human exchange – a bit of small talk, a simple pleasantry one might expect when you invite someone to engage in some sort of activity.
But, nope. Mr Sour Grape simply stood up and meandered off, grumbling something that vaguely included the word ‘six’.
I accordingly sauntered back to my familiar roost. And waited.
Reengaging with my Wordle game then, I was certain there was a ‘Y’ in the mix, but were there possibly two elusive Rs hiding?
The door of the doctor’s office swung open, beckoning me to receive my destiny. Initially, I was subjected to an ultrasound scan of my eye. Never having been pregnant or sustained any injury that warranted its use, the chilly dab of the gel on my eye was somewhat startling. He applied pressure far firmer than I had anticipated as he manipulated my closed eye from various angles.
Then, guess what? Another round of looking up, down and all around whilst enduring the blinding laser glare of the slit lamp, its impact amplified by my pupils being medically cranked wide open.
Eventually, I was handed a handful of tissues to clean off the residual gel and painstakingly remove it from my entwined eyelashes. The doctor studied his notes, glanced at his screen, and swivelled it in my direction.
He showed me the ultrasound image, the results from the irritating screechy machine – which, it seemed, had managed to construct a cross-sectional view of my eyeball – and the photograph of the interior of my eye.
“Well,” he commenced, “if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it is indeed a duck.” Offering a somewhat vague explanation, he continued, “I regret to inform you that you are dealing with an ocular melanoma.”
“I am truly sorry to deliver such dreadful news,” he said.
Why did everyone keep repeating that phrase to me? I had eye cancer. In my naivety, I was confident that it would be fixed and life would return to its fragrant, floral normality.
Had he said what I now recognise as the harsh truth, “I’m sorry, Mr Tester, but you have eye cancer. It is going to severely impair your vision and curtail numerous activities you enjoy. There’s a significant likelihood that we might have to remove the eye altogether. Moreover, you face a 50/50 chance of developing liver cancer, which could be rapidly fatal.”
It would have been a statement I could grasp. That’s the sort of news that would have drained my face of colour and likely elicited a tearful breakdown.
We stepped outside to return to the car, trying to digest what we’d just been told.
In case you were wondering, the Wordle word was myrrh, by the way.