It’s more than a touch unnerving to find yourself lying face up on an operating table, wide awake, eyelid clamped open with some medieval instrument of torture, a blue rubber mat covering the rest of my face and some bloke in a natty line of green headwear attacking your eyeballs with what appeared to be (from my position at least) a harpoon.
Even more worrying, my limited Spanish didn’t allow me to understand the riotous laughter pealing incessantly around the theatre.
However, I optimistically thought to myself, they know what they’re doing, its not the first corneal transplant they’ve ever done.
For the previous three days I’d been scrupulously following the doctors instructions, drops three times a day, washing my eyes morning and evening with some special (for special throughout the rest of this tale, read expensive) antiseptic tissues (looking suspiciously like Wet Wipes in a posh wrapper) getting ready for this moment.
I’d opted to go to Spain for the treatment as even with the travelling involved, it was going to be much cheaper than either France or England. It was going to be a bit planes, trains and automobiles but I was convinced it was going to work.
A flight from Rennes to Malaga (via Paris) followed by a train from Malaga to Jerez de la Frontera being topped off with my friend, the good Doctor Alvaro and his lovely wife Estefania driving me from Jerez to the clinic in Cadiz. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, as it happens, quite a lot, although notwithstanding being knocked over by a bloke riding on the pavement to avoid stopping at a red light in Rennes, I made it.
Malaga airport was a very simple taxi transfer to the train station, well signposted and cheap, my broken Spanish enabling me to work out the the Maria Zambrano station was named after a famous Spanish writer no longer with us.
The train from Malaga to Jerez meant a change of train at Dos Hermanas, where a half hour wait meant I could drink a coffee so strong that had I painted my throat lining before leaving home, it would have been time wasted. Hopping onto my train to Jerez I had about an hour to really start to worry about the impending spearing of my eyes.
On arrival at the beautiful station of Jerez de la Frontera the good Doctor was there to meet me and along with Estefania we drove directly to the clinic, their children having been sent to Grandma’s for the night.
We arrived with 15 minutes to spare, the legendary rush hour traffic onto the island of Cadiz not being too ridiculous on this particular evening, and Alvaro barking orders at me to take yet more drops that he had in his grubby mitts.
And so, after a short wait, I found myself in the above situation.
I wasn’t looking forward to this, but I was very much looking forward to the results. I’d had such poor vision for so long that myself and Stevie Wonder used to compare vocal notes.
The first cut is the deepest they say. The process consists of an incision, followed by the insertion of a laser to destroy the current cornea, a hoover type thing to suck out all the broken rubbish, and finally the insertion of a brand new, all seeing all dancing one.
The surgeon tried valiantly in English, and I tried as hard as I could through clenched cheeks (everywhere) with my Spanish but I just wasn’t understanding. Doctor Alvaro was called and my world was a better place.For about two minutes whilst the current cornea was being smashed to bits I could see absolutely nothing, my entire world went black.I’ll confess to being a touch disturbed at this, “todos normale” soothed me. But not much!
The process of putting in the new one is strange. I could sort of make out what was happening, could feel no pain but could feel pressure being applied on various parts of my eyeball as the new cornea was manoeuvred into place. To feel your eye being pushed around in its socket, without feeling any form of discomfort is something I didn’t particularly care for, but knew it was going to happen again shortly.
After what appeared to be several lifetimes, but was in fact only about 20 minutes, the torture mechanism was released from my eyelid, the blue rubber mat thing taken off my face and his work there was done. The anaesthetic was already starting to wear off, and I could feel my right eye smarting a touch, but then it was straight onto the left one. No time to waste here, nearly 8pm, these surgeons have homes to go to.
20 minutes later and I’m done. All these years of having bat like vision were coming to an end, now I could set up my watch manufacturing business
Only, I could see nothing.
“Todos normale” again. Hmmm, normale for me is at least being able to see something. I sat in the chair for a few minutes, bolt upright, not really daring to open my eyes, aware that the pain in my right eye was about to be mirrored in the left as that anaesthetic wore off too, but finally I took the plunge.
“EEEEKKK bright light bright light.”
Having pupils that looked as if I’d been mainlining Charlie for three weeks meant that any light in was going to be painful. Shades on,and a tentative look around the room. Everything was a blur. Thousands of euro’s spent to have vision like Dylan from the Magic Roundabout.
This was, of course, “todos normale” and even I could see (get it?) that after only a few short minutes my vision was starting slowly to improve.
Out of theatre to the waiting room, wearing shades indoors and looking like a dork, but not really caring.
A final meeting with the surgeon in the ante room, a few tests and he was entirely satisfied with the procedure.
The drive home was, er, different. Every speck of light (it was now dark) was surrounded by a huge halo, probably the only time Cadiz looks heavenly,
With my friend the doctor fussing over me like a mother hen the rest of the evening was spent putting in drops and keeping my eyes closed as much as possible. However, when it came to bed time, I opened my eyes to get the radio playing on my computer, and for the first time in over 20 years I read small print unaided.
The following morning the pupils were still much larger than usual, so shades on again, a traditional Andelucian breakfast of molletos and strong coffee was attacked, whilst being able to read the menu unaided was a simple pleasure greedily enjoyed.
This is being written in the plane on the way home, three days after the op. I try not to use them too much, as advised by the doctor, rest rest and more rest he says, still get flickering from what appear to be the outsides of my eyes but this is again todos normale. I’m back to Cadiz next week for the final check up, the doctor was delighted when he saw me the day after, everything is going swimmingly and I’m about as happy as happy can be.