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Saturday, December 12, 2009

ABC. Easy as 123.I don't know how concerned I should be by the fact that there's a copy of this book lying on the side in Theatre 1 at the Sussex Eye Hospital. It made me wonder if the surgeon's flicking through 'Vitrectomies for Dummies' in between patients.

But anyhoo, my morning with the ophthalmologists yesterday was an eye-opening experience. And not just because I caught sight of my reflection walking into theatre. To be honest, I don't really think I have the figure for scrubs. I looked like the hippo from the Silent Night adverts. And I'm not sure plum is my colour. The only good thing was that by the time I'd got the hat and mask on, you could barely tell it was me. Especially as I'd left my ID badge back in the changing room.

But that aside, I have to say it was all quite awe-inspiring. I know it's fun to slag off the NHS, but when you witness the sheer skill of the eye surgeons, and the multi-million pound equipment they use, you realise just how little the British public have to moan about. Although I'm not sure the second patient of the day would have agreed with me when they started injecting anaesthetic into his eyeball. Let's just say he wasn't a happy bunny.

I actually sat in on a total of three vitrectomies, some laser treatment and a cataract removal. The first of those was a 55-year-old man with diabetes. They gave me his medical notes to flick through as I sat at the bottom of the bed waiting for the anaesthetic to work, and I have to say, it makes you realise just how seriously people need to take this disease. The man had never managed to control his diabetes, and his notes were a catalogue of eye treatment dating back to 2003 when he was first referred by my current boss from the retinal screening programme. He's now virtually blind in both eyes, and yesterday's operation was a last ditch attempt to save the tiny amount of sight he has left. I see patients every week who laugh and joke about the fact that their sugar levels are always high and they can't stop eating Chocolate Hob-Nobs. It's not until you see one of them on the operating table with a scalpel in his eye, that you realise it's no laughing matter.

I watched most of the operations on a video screen at one end of the theatre, but the surgeon invited me to come and sit next to him for part of the first procedure, and I was allowed to view it through the microscope he was using, which had two sets of eye holes at right angles to each other. I don't have a photo of the Sussex Eye Hospital theatre, but here's the same equipment at Eastbourne...

It was like we were co-pilots of the same submarine. I spent most of the time terrified that I was going to knock the thing with my head and cause him to slice the patient's eye in two, but despite never really relaxing, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was like looking into another world, with the surgeon explaining what he was doing, and me feeling shocked that I understood it all.

I must admit, the first fifteen minutes of the day were a little difficult, but it's amazing how quickly you adjust to the sight of knives puncturing eyes, conjunctiva being peeled back, blood being sucked away, and stitches going in and out. You kind of forget what you're looking at after a while. There was also a sense of completeness to it all: this time last year I was at the pharmacy stores, packing the eye theatre's pharmacy box with Balanced Salt Solution and Hyaluronic Acid. Twelve months later I was seeing it being used. It was satisfying to know that most of the boxes on the shelf of the operating theatre had been personally supplied by my pal Stefan. I must remember to thank him. In approximately one hour's time.

Anyhoo, it was all rather fab, and made me proud to be a taxpayer. I'd write even more, but I'm due out shortly at a non-religious gospel concert. No, really. We're all praying there'll be no mention of God.