Thursday 31 July 2008


I thought it was going so well. I'd got past the worry about the level of correction in my left eye and was slowly getting my head around the idea that my brain will learn to deal with the ghosting in my right eye in low light conditions, apparently to the extent that I won't even notice it.... Everything was going tickety-boo and I was starting to relax into getting used to my new eyes.

...and then yesterday lunchtime I noticed what felt like a bit of grit in my right eye.

Now, obviously I don't really want to be rubbing my eyes, so I blinked a few times and, when that didn't work, tried to flush out whatever it was with some eyedrops. No effect. After a while, I found myself struggling to concentrate on the meeting I was in as I was busy trying to stave off the rising fears about my eye. I suddenly felt really vulnerable. It had only been 8 days since my eye had been cut open and a lens inserted behind the cornea, the stitches were still in place and the wound was far from healed. Was this the start of an infection? Was something coming loose? In spite of the fact that I had seen one of the world's leading experts in this area, when it came down to it, I didn't even have a phone number to contact him on. All of my dealing with him has been done via his private secretary, who - bless her - is a stranger to efficiency. Her professional email address is an 'amusing' hotmail address, for heaven's sake. The pain was far from being unbearable, but I was worried about what it might signify, and at the very least wanted a bit of reassurance. I did all that I could do, and dropped her an email.

Several hours later, presumably once she had got back in from whatever she does as a day job, I got a response. I had definitely done the right thing and she would raise it to the Professor as a matter of urgency.

Good. I popped some ibuprofen and tried to forget about it. Easier said than done when it hurt every single time I blinked....

Now, I have a pretty good idea what the problem is here. The professor told me when I saw him on Monday that the stitches that were in my eye were not going to be taken out unless they began to cause me problems. They could occasionally work themselves loose, but we'd deal with that as and when it happened. When I thought about the pain and irritation I was feeling in my right eye, I noticed that it actually seemed to be a problem with my eyelid rather than with my eye itself. What I was feeling was probably the result of one of the nylon stitches just above my iris lifting up just enough to catch my eyelid every time I blinked. Not catastrophic, and not worth bothering A&E with.... but annoying, painful and irritating nonetheless. I wanted to know what was wrong and I wanted it to be sorted out.

Thirty hours after that initial email dialogue with the secretary, and I have still heard nothing. I have received a note on a completely different matter (yes, it will be okay for me to use the new steroid drops I picked up on Monday in my right eye as well as in my left, even though they're in the same tube)....but the matter that had been flagged for his urgent attention? Not a sausage. What exactly does urgent mean to these people? Is he dictating me a letter?

Is it too much to expect that I might have at least received some reassuring noises? Any kind of response at all might have been nice. I've had this done privately, for heaven's sake. My medical insurance is paying several thousand pounds for this. Have they heard of customer service?

My dad was telling me a story at the weekend of how he had two procedures done under general anesthetic last year. The first was done privately, and he noticed that when the general was applied, it really hurt. The second procedure was done by the NHS, and he felt no pain at all. Both procedures were supervised by the same anesthetist. a friend of his, and so after the second procedure, he asked him what was going on. Apparently, all procedures done by the NHS use the finest drugs that they can lay their hands on: the taxpayer is paying. When it comes to private procedures, the consultant is paying for their own drugs and so they have an eye on their profit margins and buy something cheaper. Doesn't that anecdote tell you everything you need to know about both the private sector and the NHS?

The professor's clinic on Monday night was chaos. It was all very calm and genteel, but it was clear that the professor and his three secretaries (one private, one NHS and one university secretary) couldn't organise a piss up in a brewery. He had too many patients, was not keeping to time and kept adding patients to the bottom of the list. It meant that we all had to wait and it meant that he had a really long day (that starts at about 07:30 that morning when he starts prepping for his surgeries). That's pretty much what you might expect from the NHS, but when you're paying, I think you have the right to expect something better. You're paying to get better treatment than you might get on the NHS, but the reality is that you are getting people who, talented though they are, are essentially moonlighting from their jobs in the NHS. I don't think that some of them see the difference. The professor attempts to squeeze all his fee paying, private patients into one day of his working week and spends the rest of his week teaching and working for the NHS. This is a nice little earner on the side, and I think the patients basically get treated the same (which, to be fair, for his patients on the NHS is brilliant news). When the professor finally saw me and shrugged an apology for being an hour late, he seemed to be completely resigned to this as a state of affairs. He seemed to have no idea that there was a direct link between the chaos in his clinic and the system he operates that has three separate diaries and three secretaries who don't talk to each other. When I looked at the email that his private secretary sent on answering my query about the new eyedrops, as I always do, I looked down at the history attached underneath. Contained in the secretary's note to the professor that she'd added to my email was the following:

"Also, had yet another disgruntled patient on the phone [name removed], originally saw you in July 07 querying laser treatment, not suitable so TORIC PHAKIC lens suggested. You asked him to come for Pentacam tests later on but since then he has heard nothing. I can't tell him anything as I am not sure what the plan was or is. I will add him to the list for discussion at our meeting."

Now, ignore how unprofessional it is that this got sent to me, and focus on the fact that there's 'another' disgruntled patient who has apparently simply been forgotten about and who needs to be discussed. Oh dear. I get the impression there may be many more. This has been a long road for me. I first saw the professor nearly 2 years ago, and even after I finally made up my mind to go ahead in October 2007, in spite of a quoted lead-time of "4-6 weeks" for the lenses, it wasn't until June 2008 that they turned up. Between October and June I had not one single piece of information volunteered to me by the professor or his secretary. I did all the chasing, and on more than one occasion, the secretary was a touch snippy with me as a result. Excuse me for breathing.

The professor does the hardest and most important part of his job.... the surgery ... brilliantly. That's why I sought him out in the first place and let him monkey around with my eyes. He's also a lovely man with a very calm, friendly and professional demeanor. It's just a shame that the easier parts of his job are done so badly.

Ah. I'm just being crabby because my eye hurts.

Look! I can see! I can see!



No sooner had I published this than I got an email from the Professor saying that he thought that it was probably the tracking stitch working loose and he would be happy to see me at his clinic tomorrow morning.

I feel a bit bad now. All the above is true, but I'm still pathetically grateful that he can see me so soon and hopefully make it stop hurting.... I don't mean to be rude to anyone, I was just frustrated.


  1. Your revelations about NHS - V - private make me feel very uneasy about the massive procedure RH is having done next Tuesday, privately.


    I hear the food is very good where he's going, and he's already been asked which newspaper he wants, so the important stuff's covered at least...

    On an eye-related note, and not relevant to the moment, but while I remember, my saviour with the itchy/dry eye thing is Clarymist. It's a spray rather than a drop which you just scoosh at your eyelid, and which works absolute miracles. I read about it in a magazine article on hangover tips (!) and then got some free from my optician, and have been using it ever since. Bit expenny for an eye-drop (£14 a go) but available in Boots and totally worth a shot if you need something after you're past the prescribed drops stage.

  2. to be fair Cat, the actual procedures themselves were an absolute breeze. The prof and his surgical team were superb and it was all done fantasically professionally. That's the important stuff. It's just the bits around the edges that aren't so good.

    I was reasonably sure that the thing that's bothered me over the last couple of days hasn't been too serious, but what if it was? It's my chuffing eyes, for heaven's sake.


    I'm sure RH will be fine and is in good hands. Actually, as I said, it actually says masses about the NHS that you could have an eye problem and be seen by the same eminent professor who has looked at my eyes. I think that's brilliant. It's not just about the money still, and I think that's something to be cherished.

  3. I have been thinking about you and wondering how your eyes were getting on for about the last week and I finally got around to visiting today.

    Sorry to hear that all is not perfect. Are you enjoying the new vision, generally? Have you already forgotten what it was like without glasses, before?

    Good luck tomorrow, hope you get something sorted with the painful bits!!

  4. Yes, well, you've got every right to feel irritated. If nothing else, you should mention the email snafu to him; that's something he needs to know.