The latest member of the Severely Sight Impaired Club

The last of the old articles and a huge milestone for me. Things are continuing to change which is an ongoing adjustment with using new accessibility tools and finding ways to adapt to different environments.

First posted: 6 January 2022

Once more, I’m sat with pen in hand on a train, this time waiting at the platform at Didcot Parkway on my way home from yet another eye appointment. I should have been in Reading over an hour ago, however due to a miscommunication with the station assistance team, my train left without me. But that’s a story for another time.

Roll back to 10 am on a Monday morning less than two weeks before Christmas. After much persuasion from my wife and a close friend, I had finally cleared my diary to spend the afternoon at Reading’s Eye Casualty. I’d had these weird shapes floating across my field of vision for well over a month now, I’d been to see my local optician in October who confirmed that there was no sign of detached retina and they explained that these floaters should go in the next few weeks as my brain adjusts to them, but if they didn’t then I should go to Eye Casualty for a complete check-up.

I’d been on the Royal Berkshire website the night before to check opening times and noticed the message that Eye Casualty was only for acute cases that had developed in the past 24 to 48 hours. With no triage line to call for advice, I was once more stuck to know what to do for the best. In the end I decided to call the Oxford Eye Hospital’s triage line. 

Why Oxford? As my condition only affects around 1 in 60,000 people, there are only a few places in the country with the equipment and expertise to treat it. For me, that is the Oxford Eye Hospital within the John Radcliffe.

The nurse I spoke to was lovely and, although I could tell from her tone she didn’t feel this was particularly urgent, she suggested for me to head up there and forego going to the Royal Berks.

So, at 10.30 that morning, I set off to catch the next train to Oxford. Aside from a late announcement on the train meaning I had to rush to get off, the journey was uneventful and I got to the city centre in good time. The hospital is about a 30 minute bus journey from the city centre or an hour walk so I opted to walk to give me time to clear my head and also finish listening to the next Colin Murray Midnight Meets with the composer David Arnold from James Bond fame.

As I walked onwards I was quietly optimistic – finally I would know for certain what was going on – and I arrived at the hospital in good spirits. 

Reading all the right letters…

Before seeing the Optometrist, I was given the once-over by the nurse. She had a good look in both eyes and then handed me what can only be described as a mask from a masquerade ball, only with less sequins and a single eye hole to look through. Whilst continuing to write some notes, she asked me to read as far down the chart as I could. I waited expectantly for her to stop writing and put the chart up for me. After a beat, she asked again and I politely replied “what chart?”. Eric Morcombe would have been proud of my comedic timing, but the nurse obviously wasn’t as well versed with the Andre Previn sketch as I because she simply gave me a weary look. This changed to one of confusion and concern as she looked from me to the wall and back again. The penny dropped for me and I understood that the rectangular light box on the wall wasn’t for decoration at all, but it contained a Snellen Chart with an enormous H at the top. I finally read this letter when she took the chart down and held it within 1 metre of me.

The rest of the time went much the same as many of my scheduled appointments. They dilated my pupils, shone some more lights in my eyes, took some photos and did some in-depth scans.

It was only when I was back in with the optometrist that I finally understood the implications of the chart episode. Apparently when they measure your visual acuity with fingers instead of letters that’s usually a sign that you’ve passed the milestone of Severely Sight Impaired (also known as legally blind). The doctor kindly advised that he would contact my consultant and the ECLO (Eye Clinic Liaison Officer) who would be in touch.  

A platform alteration

Approximately four hours after I had arrived, I was now free to go, the latest member of the Severely Sight Impaired club. Alone and with semi-dilated pupils, I exited the West Wing of the hospital and headed for the bus stop. I don’t really know the bus routes in Oxford so jumped on the first one heading back to the city centre. There was one hour until my train was due to depart, plenty of time to get back to the city centre and walk to the station, or so I thought! Turns out that, whichever number I got on was the one that reaches the city centre using the principle of slowly decreasing orbit, with the bus circling the centre before finally splashing down outside the Westfield Shopping Centre.

There was just 10 minutes to walk the ¾ of a mile from the bus stop to the station but I set off nonetheless to catch it. 

I almost made it as well, if it wasn’t for a platform alteration and an accessibility assistant insisting on using the lift, right now, I’d be back in Reading getting picked up by my wife and not waiting here at Didcot for the final leg of a very long and tiring journey to begin. 

The latest member of the Severely Sight Impaired Club

 So there you go, that’s the story of how I’ve come to be registered severely sight impaired. The following day, I had a call from my consultant and was back for another appointment and some further tests that same week (this time I had a lift) where the ECLO completed my registration form, not quite the early Christmas present I was expecting, but at least I can soon apply for a discounted TV licence!

I would just like to finish by apologising to the assistant at Oxford Station, who insisted on using the lift. I don’t know if that was the reason for me missing the fast train, but there was no need for me to have been short with him. I’d had a very long and stressful day and he really should have listened to my needs, but that’s still no excuse so I hope he can forgive me.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year.

Chris 

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