Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.
It’s funny how different people react to the same piece of news. When I tell people about my Retinal Detachment I get a variety of responses…
Some people get terribly squeamish. They can’t imagine having anything more than a simple eye examination carried out on their eyes. They certainly don’t want to hear about Scleral Buckles and the rest of it. Sometimes, I spare them the gory details and move onto a more gentle subject, like the weather. At other times, when I’m feeling mischievous, I throw in some choice snippet of gore just to see them squirm.
Next, there’s the mothering types. The ones who want to wrap me up in cotton wool (followed by a layer of bubble wrap, just to be sure). Their concern is sweet, truly lovely, but then I worry about them worrying and feel the need to reassure them that I’m OK really.
Of course there’s the opposite end of the spectrum too. Those who view eye surgery as no different to having a pesky wisdom tooth removed. These people probably annoy me the most, not because I want their sympathy, but because it suggests they have no regard for how fortunate we are to have the gift of sight, how precious that gift is and how scary it can be when something risks taking it away from you.
The ongoing discussion is interesting too. Now, a lot of people don’t bother to ask about my eyes any more. After all, I don’t look any different so I must be OK, right? On the one hand, this is nice. Sometimes it’s nice to just be me, not the girl with the wonky eyes. But in other instances you can’t help but think that a bit of ongoing concern would be nice. I guess all people with chromic and ongoing health issues face this juxtaposition.
Then there’s those who do ask, but don’t seem particularly interested in the response, issuing a textbook and clichéd retort to whatever you say.
Of course, you get the worriers again. The ones who, when you tell them you’re still getting the odd flashing light, want to march you up to the eye hospital and demand a check-up pronto.
Not forgetting the humorists. The ones who make jokes about Labrador’s and white sticks.
I was hoping to write this piece to give guidance and advice on how best to deal with people who have chronic ailments like mine. I saw it almost as a list of things to say/not to say. But now as I get to the end of the all the scenarios that I’ve encountered I’m actually not sure which tack I prefer. What I will say is…
- Try to avoid clichés – as the person with the wonky eyes there’s only so many times you can hear certain phrases before you become the person with the eyes that keep rolling ceiling-wards.
- Having a chronic ailment, especially with your eyes, is worrying. Allow the person going through this to talk through their concerns with you.
- Recognise this is a big deal. It’s something that’s ongoing, so saying things like ‘It’s sorted now’ or ‘It’s fixed’ aren’t really helpful.
- Don’t think they’re being melodramatic if they talk about going blind. When you have something like Retinal Detachment happen to you, you can’t help but think about sight loss and whether it will happen to you. I think it’s important I accept this could happen to me (to be honest it could happen to any of us regardless of current eye health) to appreciate my sight now and to come to terms with what the future may hold.
- But don’t let them be too melodramatic – that’s where some good old-fashioned humour comes in handy.
- Do ask. Sometimes I don’t want to bring up the subject of my eyes for fear of people thinking I’m being melodramatic. Having you ask how my eyes are makes me know that I can confide my concerns in you.
- Don’t panic them, but do take a firm stance if you really think they need to get checked out. When you have a chronic ailment the hospital generally tells you of warning signs to look out for, certain things that mean get your ass back to the hospital pronto. If the person says they’re fine, believe them, unless you think they’re stalling because they don’t want to face the truth – then it might be time for some tough love.
- Try to avoid saying things like ‘ewwww’ when people talk about their ailments. Erm, that’s my eyes that you seem to think are gross, thanks for that!
Do you have any other tips? How do people react to you?