Up Front by Emma Hart


Public Address Medical Journal: The Smut-Clog

As some of you may remember from earlier in the year, I haven't been seeing so well. It's not all that bad, I'm not bumping into things any more or less often than usual, but it is inconvenient.

Last month I went to see an ophthalmologist. That meant more optometric testing, which I just love. (P.S. Sarcasm.) They even came up with a test I hadn't done before: the visual field. This meant sticking my face in a big white bowl and pushing a button every time I thought maybe I'd seen a dim green light. I couldn't help wondering, though, why they'd made the whole thing so much brighter for my left eye than my right. I am a bit thick sometimes.

The specialist was a very lovely man called Shaun, which is one of the names that causes an instinctive positive reaction in me. (You don't want to be called Christopher or Sharon, but experience suggests that Daniels, Karls, Richards and Rachels may get some traction as well.) Shaun put anaesthetic drops in my eyes ("this will sting"), followed by dilating drops ("but not as much as this would") and sent me out into the waiting room to wait for them to take effect.

The biggest lie on the internet is the 'funny' tag, and the most honest statement is 'tasteless'. When it comes to hospitals, the biggest lie is 'they'll be with you in a minute', and the most honest is 'waiting room'. We waited. My pupils grew massive. My partner was very impressed. "You look like a cartoon character. You look like Jessica Rabbit." My eyeballs felt like they'd been coated in clear plastic.

Shaun was slightly relieved to find that the entirety of the bottom half of the visual field for my right eye was completely missing, as this was the only symptom that pointed away from optic neuritis and its bestest buddy, Multiple Sclerosis. No, he was much more in favour of blood clots in the vessels supplying my retina. Still, as a precaution he ordered an MRI as well as all the blood tests.

The MRI wasn't fun. There was more waiting, in what appeared to be a converted cupboard. The radiographer was lovely, though with a curious total inability to refer to my partner as my partner and not my husband. Said partner reassuringly held my ankle while I went inside something which, despite appearances, failed to transport me to another dimension. I'd been warned it would be loud. What I wasn't expecting was for it to sound like having my head shoved into a speaker at a Jean Michel Jarre concert. My brain kept compulsively trying to make music out of all the thumping and bleeping.

Then we went home to do some more waiting. That wasn't quite how it turned out. The health system is frustrating when it crawls, but completely bloody terrifying when it moves at speed. The wait for the first MRI had been six weeks. The wait for the one after they saw the results was three days. Even so, the ophthalmology appointment beat them to it, in a record two.

We were pretty sure this didn't mean the scans had come up clear. I postulated that perhaps what they'd seen was an obscuration caused by all the porn I'd read and watched in the last few years: a smut-clog. Either that or there was now medical evidence that 'it' really does make you go blind.

So we went back to the waiting room and waited, for over an hour. We speculated on what was in the Services Duct (services, surely), and whether I could chisel off the 'ser' without anyone noticing. Or a chisel. Parents tried desperately to keep their bored children amused. Stroke victims and people on crutches and drips endured the odd tedium of waiting and waiting to hear life-changing news. I'd forgotten how spirit-sapping the waiting room could be.

They must have gained some time after my consultation though, because it took about two minutes all up. All Shaun could do was tell me that they'd found a tumour pressing on my optic nerve, and he was referring me to a neurosurgeon. He was obviously upset that he couldn’t be of any further help to me, and I was tempted to give the poor guy a Shaunish cuddle.

We got out, and down the road, and all the way up to our car before I needed a Karlish cuddle, and to cry for about twenty seconds. Then we did what medical professionals have nightmares about. We went home and fired up Wikipedia.

I have an optic nerve sheath meningioma. The good news is that they never kill you. I'm looking forward to it making me stronger. Shaun called it "the best kind of brain tumour to have", which I’m pretty sure means it gives me super-powers. The 'meh' news is that it's the sort of tumour that you just leave in, and keep an eye on.

After we told everyone who needed telling, we got down to the serious business: finding a name for my tumour. We're calling it Adric. It's my constant companion, but it never does anything useful, just hangs around being annoying, and everyone will be really pleased to see it go.

On the down side, I got less than a day's mileage out of 'but I have a brain tumour'. ("Can you get out and open the garage door?" "But I have brain tumour!"). The clock is still running on "Adric made me do it."

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