There’s nothing more irritating than listening to Auntie May rambling on about her operation for varicose veins or Uncle George loudly regaling everyone in the pub with the details of his hemorrhoid removal.
Intubating lachrymal ducts. This one’s a bit on the obscure side, so I thought some of you lot might find it of interest. It contains no gruesome or salacious details. Sorry.
About 20 years ago, when I was in my late 30s, I started to get a bit weepy. We originally put it down to depression, with one doc pointing out that “we all get more emotional with age”. Age? By the time that remark was made I was in my mid-to-late 40s and the teariness was occasionally embarrassing me at moments entirely devoid of emotion. By the time I hit 54 I dreaded going out in cold weather or in strong winds and this winter I frequently found myself literally blinded by tears while walking in the street: bloody dangerous, especially at night.
Finally, when I realised that even bending over to pick up the cat was bringing on floods of tears, a great cry of “Fuck this, I’m going to see the doctor” was heard in the land.
My GP, who’s a good bloke, if occasionally sadistic, burst out laughing. “Sounds like a blocked tear duct. You need to see an ophthalmologist. They put a little tube in to open it up again.” Sounds delightful.
The ophthalmologist shone lights in my eyes, put coloured drops in them and went “Hmm” a lot, in between telling me about her endocrine problems and how she’d always been terrible at endocrinology. Yes, yes, it’s a funny life innit. What happens now? Well, first of all: lots and lots of different eye drops. Yay. And have the op. Bugger.
I need to see this specialist surgeon who’ll insert the little tubes. Oh, great. I bet he’s in the centre of town where parking costs a fortune, if you can find a spot.He is. He pokes and squirts things into my tear ducts. I object to inhaling saline solution. I object even more to his trying to squirt it into the right eye: it’s completely blocked, worse than the Paris ring roads during the rush hour (this is any time other than 3 a.m. as far as I can tell). He tells me about the tubes: nunchaku stents, he calls them. I am not encouraged. This is going to happen, he says, but the good news is that it’s an outpatient job, fully covered by my State health insurance, and there will be local anaesthetic. The secretary will fix it all up.
The next step is the obligatory pre-op meeting with an anaesthetist, a funny wee man who explains that a very brief part of the intervention will be under general anaesthetic: not enough to expect blood pressure problems afterwards, but enough to require someone to accompany me home afterwards. This comes as a relief, since I’d been wondering how the hell you can suppress the reflex to remove your face from the immediate proximity of someone trying to force a very fine piece of tubing into a refractory eyelid. I am much happier.
The great day dawns, and with it comes a bus strike. Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck. On Twitter one of my mates, self-employed and carless – because who needs a car in a city with a modern public transport system? – is raging that it’s costing him money. Me, I’m going to have to leave the car at a Metro Park & Ride and just hope I can pick it up again in a day or two, before the MoT runs out and I get done for it. For this reason I arrive sweaty, sweary and a little late at the clinic.
Ah, cool sheets, hospital jimjams and pretty nurses bearing Xanax. Gimmee. I get wheeled down to the operating theatre. Bereft of my specs, I can nevertheless deduce that the stretcher bearers, though lovely lads, are nothing like as shapely as the nurse. The profession has clearly gone downhill since last I watched House MD. The duty anaesthetist is waiting to insert the catheter in my arm. He forces a bit against a valve in the vein. I say a word.
“Steady on,” he objects. I explain I need to vocalise. “Hmf”
I am wheeled into the tiny operating theatre, where we all look complete nanas with our standard-issue surgical hairnets. The surgeon checks the file, announces he’s doing both eyes (oh shit) and does a quick recap. The only thing I’ll feel will be the local anaesthetic, he assures me. The gas doc, fearing for his eardrums, takes this as his cue to slam the pentothal into the catheter and down I go.
I come to while still in the operating theatre and the big rectangular light over us somehow prompts my groggy brain to dream I’m live-tweeting all this. I’m not sure in which language I told the surgeon about it, but he laughs and shrugs anyway. After the obligatory post-op surveillance period, I’m sent back up to my room and I text for Teacup 1 to come and fetch me. She’s already on her way.
Eyes are irritated and puffy. Well, they would be. I get to the mirror and see the bruising is nothing like as bad as I thought it was going to be. I’m impressed: the right-hand tear duct was completely blocked, remember. The irritation is not much worse than what you’d get when wearing contact lenses for the first time. Close inspection shows little black dots at the inner corner of each eye. So the stents go in both the upper and lower eyelids, and no bloody wonder it feels like I’ve been sleeping with contact lenses in.
Teacup 1 deals with the paperwork to get me out of there, as I’m still dopey from the op. The local anaesthetic hasn’t yet worn off and my nose and upper jaw are completely frozen. Pity I hadn’t got any dental work planned: we could have done it on the same jab. One thing they forgot to warn me about: remember to take a pair of sunglasses with you as irritated eyes can’t take too much light. You’ll probably need them when going outside for the next 2 or 3 days.
Two weeks later, bruising and swelling are gone, the irritation as well. I still feel as if I’m wearing contact lens, but these are contact lenses I’m used to. Still having to take several different types of eye drop, but only for the next 3 months. The overflowing tears have stopped.
The stents come out on 8th July as part of an ordinary consultation. I have been told I’ll be allowed to “express myself, should I feel the need.” We shall see.