It began almost a year ago. I was, I thought, simply experiencing the same sort of deterioration in my eyesight that I’d witnessed my father undergo many years before. Focusing was less and less straightforward, my glasses needed updating and age was creeping up on me in other ways; less energy, a slowing metabolism resulting in weight gain as well a hundred little symptoms which reminded me of the onset of true middle age. I thought. I’d always had ‘floaters’ in my eyes despite – until the age of forty anyway – having eyesight which was so good, it astonished anyone required to measure it. I had in the past been suspected of cheating in eyesight tests for police advanced driving (not so), but now my eyes were, I felt, beginning that long slow decline to permanent spectacles. One of the floaters in my eye seemed to be more troublesome – more noticeable – than before. The decline seemed inevitable with the passage of time.
In the spring of 2017 I had an eye test and purchased some new spectacles. Two weeks later, they were ready for me. Immediately, I could tell that they were not working, but the rest of my life seemed to always divert me from going back to remonstrate with the optician (why, by the way, do these people always have raging halitosis?). Fast forward a couple of months and something new is becoming evident. We had just moved to our home on a small island, and life seemed good. But my energy was still decreasing – in fact I was starting to sleep almost every day in the afternoon. My eyes were deteriorating, and there now seemed to be a fixed floater in my left eye. One day, while driving slowly through a village, I simply didn’t see a car heading towards us until it was almost upon us. Something wasn’t right.
As a diabetic for twenty-two years, the onset of blindness has always been a threat, and one of my greatest fears. Losing my sight would change my life so drastically, I have trouble imagining how I would cope. This was partly why I basically ignored my new symptom for several months; why I convinced myself (at least partially) that everything was actually OK, and that I simply needed to wear glasses full time. It took me three months, however, to take the logical step of having my eyesight tested once more.
The optometrist – a very pleasant young lady sporting surprisingly tight clothing and truly appalling halitosis (why do these people….?) tested me thoroughly and diagnosed me with a new problem. I had, it seemed, a ‘macular hole’ in my left eye; a serious but manageable situation. A little shaken by this unexpected development, I dutifully made an appointment to see a specialist for confirmation and treatment.
Several weeks later, therefore, I dragged myself along (my energy levels were by now very low and I had put on a great deal of weight without changing my eating pattern) to the specialist where I underwent a number of vision tests. The rather shy young man (yes, you guessed it: halitosis) finished his overview of my results. In my left eye the results were very clear; I was missing a full quarter of my field of vision. My right eye was almost as bad. Holy shit, I thought; it’s worse than I imagined. “You don’t have a macular hole.” he said quietly. As I stifled outraged thoughts of “Well why the hell did she tell me that I did?”, he continued. “In fact I don’t think that this is a problem with your eyes at all. It’s either an optic nerve issue…” (Holy shit!) “…or it could be something…” and here he paused ever-so-slightly; “…something growing in your brain.” At this point I gave up on ‘Holy shit’ (it suddenly seemed inadequate) and began thinking in terms of “Fucking hell!”
Another referral to the next level of specialist followed and two months later I lay in a CT scanner while pictures were taken of the inside of my head. In the intervening months I had quite successfully convinced myself that I had some optic nerve problems. It was inconvenient and maybe life-changing, and the idea was not welcome at all. When, therefore, my wife and I sat down with the doctor and he said “Well I think I can see where the problem is.”, I had a pretty good idea of what might come next.
Not for the first time (as you will know if you follow my other adventures in life), I was wide of the mark. The doctor pointed to his computer screen as he swivelled it – bearing a picture of the inside of my head - towards us. “Here it is.” he said. I looked at the point he was indicating and my insides performed a somersault. “You have a tumour.” I was already ahead of him, however. I could see it on the screen, right down at the base of my brain. It looked as if it were in the worst place imaginable. “Oh shit.” I said out loud, and looked at my lovely wife, whose face seemed like an immobile, pale mask.
Shit, shit, shit. A tumour. In my brain. Death, I thought.
The rest of that conversation – conducted very skilfully and with great empathy by the doctor – is preserved as a blur in my memory. All that seemed to count was that I had a brain tumour; that this wasn’t happening to someone else (as it surely should….not to me!) after all. It was, of course, very real. It was my turn to have this conversation and to face a bleak future – if I had a future at all. Holy fucking shit, I thought (well if you can’t use profanities at such a time, when can you?) as plans were made to see surgeons and undergo further tests. Holy….
As we left that hospital, we bumped into one of our new, friendly neighbours who was helping an aged, ailing man into the building. Perhaps he wondered why we seemed distant, devoid of small talk, and why our smiles didn’t seem to reach our eyes. The truth was that we had no time for social interaction. We needed one another, we needed privacy, and we needed to come to terms with the conversation that we had just experienced. We said our goodbyes – perhaps a little too hastily – and stumbled to our parked car.
The doors closed upon the outside world, bringing a sudden painful silence. I took a deep breath, looked at the love of my life alongside me, and as her eyes filled with tears, I began to cry.