Sky news is on but the words don’t match. The volume is right down and a radio blasts instead. It takes me a minute to work this out. Why Prince Harry’s lips are moving to the news that a body has been found. He’s there with his fiancée, all smiles and beauty, scripted and sculpted, while the death of a man in Meath is reported. These pain killers are slowing me right down. It shouldn’t have taken me this long to work out the silence of the TV news and the mismatching blast of the radio.
The waiting room is as packed as it was yesterday but it’s all moving much more slowly. One doctor for the whole A & E department. It’s a Saturday. You’re not supposed to have an emergency with your eye or your ear on a Saturday.
Things morph into perspective as the eye sight blurs. The fact that we’ve managed not to have done a single thing for Christmas is no longer quite the stress that it was two days ago. That evening, after a day of list making and thinking about firing off my CV double quick to help with the impending Christmas bill, my right eye began to tingle. Helped along by crying laughing at a hilariously apt YouTube video put onto a school mum’s Whatsapp group – when doing the homework sends you to breaking point. Marque 5 had watched me switch from trying to hammer a verse of Trasna na dTonnta into him for a test the following day, to hot tears streaming down my face watching a skit of other mothers going nuts with homework.
‘You’re laughing and crying’ he says, enjoying the idea of it, laughing at the video himself.
‘I am. Forget the Irish verse. We’ve tried. It’s still gobbledygook’.
The next morning I knew. Straight into the eye and ear. Catch and treat early. It’s similar to the last time, not as painful though. I probably haven’t scratched my cornea with a chipped lens this time. I’m much more careful now. I never doze with the lenses in, never swim with them on, never shower with them. I steep them in fresh solution at night. Wash my hands before putting them in. A slight threat to your sight will do that to you. Ups the vigilance all round. Why the hell I’m off to the same hospital with similar symptoms a year later I’ve no idea. It’s minor. Bound to be.
My mother was having a small procedure in the same hospital on the same morning. Before I knew about me, I was going to collect her. Drive her home. Then she ended up sitting in the waiting room with me instead.
The eye is examined by someone who wants a second opinion from the top. A word I don’t know nor understand is bandied about. Acanthamoeba. The top person sees the same thing.
‘I hope I’m wrong’ she says reassuringly, rubbing my arm.
She scrapes my eye for the lab.
‘It will be extremely painful later when the anaesthetic wears off. Like someone is poking a finger in your eye. I’ll give you some very strong painkillers’.
Marvellous. I press her for information. She thinks it’s an infection caused by an amoeba. No-one ever wants to hear that. I wouldn’t even have to google it. I know it’s not good. We try to locate it, discuss swimming, which I love – no I don’t wear the lenses. I think of my lovely relaxing swim on Tuesday. The timing is right. I definitely wasn’t wearing the lenses though. Do I ever wash the lenses in water? Certainly not. Clean the lenses case with water? Kettle water, yes, then wipe it dry with fresh tissue. It would have to be boiling at the time, the kettle water, I’m told. Nope. I’ve done it when it has cooled down a little. Silly me.
She writes scripts, a sick note for work (I hope the kids understand that I’ll be off duty) and an appointment for first thing Monday morning. If it’s what she thinks and she doesn’t ‘like the look of it’ she’ll ship me into the cornea clinic. It’s all a bit much. I had insisted on driving in to town so I’d be out for the kids school collection on time. Now the pain is really kicking in and I reverse out of the parking spot with a hand over my eye. The sun is gloriously strong for this freezing day which should be wonderful. Bright, crisp and cold. Just how I like the winter. But every ray near the amoeba eye is excruciating. He was going to cancel his two o’clock to collect the kids when he knew I was going in, in case the eye deteriorated. Don’t be silly, it’s not an emergency, I’m grand, I had said. Driving down the dual carriageway with all the frenzy of Christmas shoppers out and about, one hand on the wheel, one hand on the eye I thought he’s right. Again. I should be pulled over.
The preparations for the Late Late Toy show had taken place earlier in the week. Christmas PJs, drinking chocolate, marshmallows, mince pies, briquettes, logs, Prosecco. The evening goes ahead with me out cold on my super duper pain killers, wearing sunglasses to stave off the flickering joyful light of the show, slurping sporadically on ginger ale. My alarm chimes merrily every hour for me to wake up and put in drops. I rise up, zombie like, after one such call to make the hot chocolates, bung the mince pies in the oven. They all want to help but no, this is my gig, they must watch on.
Today I wake to the vision so blurred in my right eye it’s as if there’s a net curtain over it. I have an appointment for Monday, but having not been able to not google I imagine this needs a little looking into. Words that I certainly should pay no attention to thrum in me. Rare. Serious. Devastating. Blindness. Corneal transplant. I would like very much to pull the covers over my head for the day and hope it will go away. The heating flicks on and I doze for a bit. Then I gather myself to do the necessary. Back into A & E. To the silent TV and loud radio. To the glaring fluorescent lights that punish even the un-sore eye. To a woman sitting beside me who has to keep popping out to feed the €2.90 per hour meter. It’s her husband she’s in with. She’s laughing as she tells me I really don’t want to know how many hours she’s been here already. Her husband has a scratch on his cornea, she says. Oh yes, I had one of those last year I join in. It’s different this time though. This time they think it’s an amoeba thing. Her lit up jolly eyes switch mode. Maybe I shouldn’t mention that again.
The young doctor manning the fort calls another doctor from the hospital.
‘How would you feel about staying in?’ he asks me as we wait.
Say what now? I’m squinting at him with my good eye.
The young doctor thinks I need to be admitted. The vision was 20/20 yesterday he tells me. Today it’s 6/20. But that can happen with keratitis, can’t it, I say. Yes, but it’s dramatic and we can’t let it get any worse. The next up doctor talks admission also. Images flit by. Sending him home to pack a bag for me. What the hell will I tell him to bring? The kids. Cancelling things. Pulling in the sheets. I really, really don’t want to be admitted.
‘Whatever’s best for the vision’ I hear myself say.
Then the second up doctor consults a consultant who, he reports back, takes a logical approach. We like logic. Stops the mind from whirring forward to the certainty of being a one-eyed granny. The logic says to swap the current drops for a viral ointment. There’s still a sliver of hope that it’s viral rather than amoebic. They look similar and they really won’t know until the swab results come back from the UK. As it seems to be worsening on the amoeba/bacterial treatment front they advise to ditch that, try an antiviral attack and report back in first thing on Monday. The relief of not being admitted combined with the hope that it’s viral spins me into a Saturday night high. We stop off at a late night chemist for the ointment. The jolly Australian pharmacist asks if I’ve ever used this before. I tell him I haven’t and in fact they’re not sure that it’s viral, it could be an amoeba thing. Oh god, he says, let’s hope it’s viral. Amoeba and eye are two words that should never be combined, it seems. If it turns out that’s what it is, the treatment will be anything from six months to two years. It’s difficult and tricky to treat. Success rates are variable. It’s contact lens wearers that can get it, and so if that’s what I have it’s a ticket to a life time of beating myself up. I knew from the last time that they are not fans of contact lenses in the eye hospital. It seems frivolous, my answer, when they ask, time and again, do you wear contacts. Yes I say with a shudder. I want to say no. No, of course not. Sure I wouldn’t want to mess around with my sight. Dailies or monthlies? Monthlies. Acute shuddering. Wrong answer, again.
But for tonight, sharp relief catapults us into celebratory mode and we stop by Tesco Express to pick up two chicken tikka masalas, briquettes, and a viennetta ice-cream log. We head back to the haven of the kids. They’ve ordered take-aways in our absence. Paid for out of their own resources. Survivors, fair play to them. We light the fire. Pop the cork on the un-drunk Prosecco from last night. I almost get to the end of a glass before I’m dozing again. Before we’ve had a chance to heat the curries. It’s 9.30 on Saturday night and I take myself off to bed, to the promise of soft dreams about lovely viruses instead of angry nightmares about an amoebic invasion.