cornea transplant stitches
Entertainment, Lifestyle, Wellbeing

Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye

I’m not religious, so I’m not going to cross my heart and as horrible as yesterday was, I really don’t hope to die. But I can understand why they added the sticking a needle in your eye into that old phrase. And not just for the frankly delicious rhyming qualities.

Yesterday was the appointment I’ve really been dreading.

Stitches out day…

Or the start of stitches out anyway.

Yesterday was the day that 16 became 12… I can see why the Spice Girls went for two became one, it’s far more catchy.

Between some fairly nosy questions and some very unadvisable Googling, I knew how it was going to go. No, you won’t be knocked out. No, you won’t feel it. Yes, you will be able to see the needle towards your eye. Yes, they have to come out. Yes, you might faint. Yes, they cut them with a hypodermic needle. No, I won’t slip.

My consultant is very good at what he does, and he did a fairly marvellous job in putting them in there, sure. But, ignorance is bliss and they gave me so many drugs I was unconscious for several hours and literally forgot about a week when he put them in there.

Being awake while he scratched at the surface of my eye seemed like a lot of room for error. What if he sneezed? What if I did?

(Neither of us did)

I knew the drill from before the surgery, the medical bit anyway. They’d cut my cornea out, replace it will a donor’s tissue and suture it in with several tiny stitches. As the cornea has no blood flow and benefits from immune privilege (which is fascinating  BTW, you can read about it here), it will take a long old time to heal. Most stitches will stay in for somewhere between 3-10 days, mine were due to stay in for somewhere between 5-18 months and would come out in pairs or batches.

The surgery I had is pretty specific, especially as they split the layers of my cornea itself, so I have to go to Bristol Eye Hospital to see a specialist, which is a bit of a ballache in itself. But the appointments are every 6-8 weeks and it’s not too much of a drama.

But yesterday was the five-month mark. Five months since the surgery. Five months since I got a bit of a whole different human sewn to me.

The uncertainty drives me nuts. I know they can only try to manage your expectations, but I got my self so het up about the idea of having the bloody things removed yesterday, I think I was equally as frightened of him taking them out as I was of them saying it’s not reeeeady yet (like in those Grolsch adverts way back when).

My sister, who deserves the biggest shoutout for being the most legendary person you ever will meet, came back from France to come to the appointment with me. She and her partner spent the night before at my house, where the three of us and my (also legendary) housemate played Yahtzee and drank whisky, in what was a not that well-disguised way of keeping my thoughts occupied (thanks guys).

We set an alarm for 5.45 and headed to bed where I watched Friends until I fell asleep, into a weird world of dreams where I was at a beach party with a bunch of people I have had literally no contact with since school (which is 13 years ago, if you were wondering. Bloody hell, how did that happen!?). I woke up at about 3.30, which is my thing at the moment, but I stayed in bed in the warm until Sorrel came into my room a little after 5, confused as she thought we were meant to have left an hour before.

6 am rolled around and my sister and I headed out into the dark to my car. Now, my car is a remarkable little thing for the very little money I paid for it, but is a little leaky, I think. It gets all kindsa steamy in there, though usually with a mixture of kitchen roll and blasting the heaters it’s all good to go. Weirdly, it wasn’t frozen, seeing as the whole rest of the world we saw seemed to have the first hard frost of the winter, but I won’t complain about that.


We headed off to the a30, like we’ve done a million times before together/


We had the weirdest drive I have ever been on… My car was doing the weirdest, neediest steaming up. A singular window at a time would freeze over and then clear. More than once, both my rear view mirrors froze, or steamed up, while the car was fine (which I have never seen before in any of the many weird, wonderful and slightly broken cars I have driven). The world looked like something between a watercolour painting and a Dhali surrealist scene. We drove through a frozen cloud of mist as the sun rose and the biggest fuck off moon I have ever seen sat in the sky. The passenger side window and windscreen refused to clear like my sister was a different temperature to the rest of the world or something weird. It was all very strange.

We stopped as is the tradition at Exeter Services, dealt with our disappointment that Costa appears to have stopped making tomato, mozzarella and basil paninis (what is with that?) and ordered buckets of coffee and something equally as beige instead. As well as the i newspaper, exclusively for the crossword and got back on the road.

We made it to Bristol, parked up (in the fucking 17 quid a day carpark) and got to the hospital about 10 minutes before my 11 am appointment. Which always makes me laugh because I feel like I always take the mick out of my family wanting to leave super early for appointments and I think Bristol is like three hours away and it genuinely always takes five…

Anyway, we sat in the waiting room full of (mainly) old people with arrows on their eyes and waited to get called to the weird line eye test room. This room is my favourite place in the eye hospital. There’s a room, with I guess like six or seven little cubicles in it, each with a nurse and a patient sitting there. At the end of the wall is a standard eye test chart, with the giant A on top and the letters getting smaller.

But, here’s where it gets really good. This is a room full of people who can’t really see very well. Yesterday I couldn’t even see there was a board, let alone any letters on the bloody thing. So, once they’ve determined you can’t see anything on the board, your nurse gets another board of the same letters, which isn’t attached to anything and goes to the other side of the room. She or he asks you if you can see anything and if you can’t, takes a giant step forward (like this is an accurate medical way of measuring distance or something) and again asks if you can read anything, then repeats this until they’re right in front of you. So this whole room is basically full of nurses taking giant steps with huge boards full of letters at fairly blind people.

I like that room.

I had that test, which basically confirmed I still couldn’t see shit all through that eye and headed off to the waiting room. Where we waited and waited. And waited and waited. And waited…

Man, I mean no one goes to the Doctors without expecting a wait, but yesterdays appointment was well and truly late late. Several hours later it was just me and Lisa and one other chap and his chaperone. Which was fine, like not ideal, but I’m sure they weren’t doing it on purpose and we had several crosswords and access to the internet in our pockets. But the other people were getting really aggy. A nurse wandered past and apologises saying we really were next, at which point the other couple stormed off in a massive huff. Which was ironic as it turned out they were waiting for a totally different Doctor to me and got called about 30 seconds after they huffed off. Okay, not ironic, but you know what I mean.

And then, three hours after my app`ointment time, I got called in to see Mr Darcy.

My consultant really is called Mr Darcy. And he really is quite dashing, and really quite charismatic too. The face of Darcy and the personality of Bingley as my friend says. I think that’s the real reason my sister came back from France, to meet this slightly swoon-worthy Doctor we all keep talking about…

Anyway, we had a chat, he looked at my eye and confirmed, yup he wanted to take three sutures out.

At which point I kind of lost my shit. ‘But this is the easy part! You did the big surgery’, he said. ‘Bugger off, you knocked me out for that’, I said. ‘You try being the one with the needle in your eye’. ‘Fair play’, said the Doc, ‘But, they’re coming out anyway, else this was all for nothing. It won’t be as bad as you’re imagining,’ (he totally lied), ‘Plus, unless you get your eyesight back, my figures get all screwed and we can’t have that, ha ha ha’.

‘Look, your sister can help’ (to Lisa) ‘Come over here can you? The hardest part of all this is resisting the urge to back away, could you hold her head against this thing?’

(resisting the urge to back away from the man with the sharp thing in your eye, weird reaction huh).

So, I put my chin on the slit lamp rest and my sister holds my head against it and he sticks some cocaine in my eye to make it all numb.

Then he opens a packet, with a shitting great needle in it and tells me to hold still.

Which is hard. You get this massive fight or flight rush of adrenaline (and not the nice kind of rush I spend all that time chasing), I got all sweaty and shaky and was trying to pull my head away, while my sister physically restrained me. I was making weird involuntary noises (which is what you really want when you’re with the hot doc). It felt fucking weird. You can feel like tugging and pulling inside of your eye, you’re staring at an actual needle on the surface of your eye (first time I’ve been happy about the lack of sight in that eye…). You can somewhere between feel and see your eye being squidged sideways as he tries to get through the nylon (?).

And… he’s done.

‘All, cut’ he says.

What do you mean cut?! They’re still bloody in there?! Head back on the torture contraption, sister back to holding it there.

‘Am I pushing it too hard?’ she keeps asking me.

Sister, you can do the can can and hit my head on a wall in the upbeat if you want, I really hadn’t noticed what you were doing.

Next, he has to pull the actual threads out, which from my point of view looks a bit like he’s playing that catch the duck game at the fairground, except for it’s not a pond he’s playing in, it’s my eye. And it feels a little bit like he’s trying to turn my eye inside out by pulling on a string, though it’s actually all quite quick.

‘Aaaaaaall done!’ he says. ‘Except, I’d quite like to take one more out, how do you feel about that?’

Well. Not great really.

I cry (again). I overheat a lot, I take off many layers. I do that weird thing where I bend over and put my elbows on my knees like I’m in a baseball game or some crap, I resist the urge to puke.

I’m going off Darcy by the second (I’m kidding, he’s always very nice).

But I did it.

And I did not faint nor puke, which is a total win in my book.

As for my vision, it was almost instantly better. Which is quite unsettling and emotional in itself… I haven’t seen anything through this eye for 17 months now, and never through the donor tissue. To be able to read giant things on the wall and see people is so surreal. The stitches he took out were the ones that were pulled too tight, they were making the cornea pucker, which is why I couldn’t see anything.

I had it all rescanned and photographed and you can see that taking those four out has relieved a load of the pressure. However, now it’s puckered in the opposite direction where it’s being pulled by the other stitches instead.

I can’t see much up close and what I can see in the distance is all pretty weird. It’s like everything is underwater, shimmery. Doesn’t move quite right and isn’t the right colour. But it’s massively better than it was before.

He says it will settle in the next few days and we’ll know a lot more then.

In six weeks I go again and potentially have another couple of stitches out, which sounds to me like another fun. day. out.


The other weird thing is I’ve got some peripheral vision back. When this all happened, it wasn’t all that long before my vision kinda recentered. If you close one eye, you can kinda see a little past the middle of what you usually can, right? Well not long after the infection, it all moved about a little, so what was once like I had no right side, kinda swang to the right slightly and it felt like I could see evenly from one side to the other. Now I can kind of see out of the right side again, it’s like the left eye is the middle and I can see way further round the back of me than I should.

Trippy huh.

It’s a lot for the brain to deal with really, it’s a funny old thing.

But it’s getting better.

We gave our thanks and head off to get out of the bloody hospital, stopping a few times to be a little bit hysterical and get given quite a lot of tissue, by quite a lot of nurses. No wonder the NHS has no money, I literally blew my nose on half their budget yesterday.

We get outside and I freak out some more. The whole world looks weird, everything is different. I feel like I’m in a dream. I cry some more. Lisa cries a bit too.

But then we went for sushi, so you know ups and downs…

Today I feel quite sore and a little bit traumatised. I think anything you have to get held down for might have that effect! But tomorrow’s another day and once the adrenaline hangover and this weird feeling that nothing I can see is actually real goes away.. and perhaps a little sleep. You never know, I might stop being such a drama queen and get back to real life.

But for now, I think I might just have a little cry… and maybe a nap.

(see a pattern here?!)