My flight from sight

2011-09-15 00:00

I WAS going to title this article “It could have been worse”, but then I thought that would be tempting fate.

Not long ago I wrote about being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. At the time I was overwhelmed with disbelief and dread, but I grasped my new life, my new eating regime and my new second-hand Cash Crusaders exercise bike with both hands and have succeeded in managing­ my diabetes successfully, so far. But a curve ball was coming my way.

I left on two-week dream holiday on July 8 to visit my son and his wife in London. My birthday fell within this holiday period and as one of my birthday presents they gave me a three-day trip to Paris.

Excitement is such a pathetic, silly word to use when the feeling is so much more. I am a Francophile and had an absolute ball for two weeks exploring parts of England and France. But reality had to kick in sometime and before I knew it, it was time to return home, via Dubai.

The day before I left, I mentioned to my son that I had a slight headache behind my eye but thought nothing more about it.

During the first flight that little ache started again, this time worse but bearable. I was feeling nauseous though and as the flight progressed I started feeling like death. Freezing, shivering, hot, and that pain behind my eye and in my neck wouldn’t go away. By the time we landed in Dubai my left eye was swollen shut and I was a wreck. The three-hour wait there was a nightmare.

Finally, it was time to board the flight to Johannesburg. At the check-in desk the attendant asked me if I was alright and I explained that I was in incredible pain. He said that he would call the paramedics as the airline wouldn’t let me fly in my condition. He instructed them to take me to the airport medical centre, which I welcomed with every aching limb in my body. Missing my connecting flight couldn’t have been further from my mind.

At the medical centre, the doctor and clinic staff thought I had had a stroke so I was made to walk in a straight line, had my knees and joints knocked with a rubber mallet to check my responses and was asked how many fingers the medic was holding up. It was established that I had not had a stroke and I was put on monitors and injected with painkillers. Finally I slept.

Back I got on the plane. The drugs wore off and during the eight-hour flight to Johannesburg, not only did I think I was going to die, I welcomed the thought. Hot, cold, shivering, nauseous, neck pain, pain, head pain, eye pain. I ate a quarter of an apple because I had to take my diabetic medication to keep my blood sugar at a realistic level. I hadn’t eaten anything in the past seven hours.

Finally, my flight landed at O. R. Tambo. By this time, the left side of my face was one complete rugby-ball shape. My left eye had swollen totally shut. I hobbled to arrivals and collapsed in my daughter’s arms.

She took me to hospital where I was seen by not one but four doctors and specialists, who decided that I would go into emergency surgery (by this time it was 1 am) to relieve the pressure around my eye which was still swollen shut.

One hundred and 11 minutes later, I was pushed into the trauma intensive care unit (TICU), hooked up to drips and beeping things, all the while wondering why this was happening to me. My left eye was still swollen shut and even after surgery I still could not see out of it.

An eye specialist paid me a visit and advised that he would put me on steroids to try to get the swelling down and hopefully get my sight restored. He also let me know that if, after three days of steroids, my sight had not returned, it would be bad news. After three very long days in the TICU, he returned.

“Can you see anything from your left eye, Mrs Hitchcock?”


“Can’t you see anything — not even this light?” he asked shining a very bright torch into my left eye. I was not even aware that he had lifted my left eyelid.

“No,” I said, fear creeping quickly into my voice.

“I’m afraid, Mrs Hitchcock, the fibre optic nerves in your left eye have been irreparably damaged and you will be blind in that eye for the rest of your life.”

“What! How?”

“Have you had a cold or flu lately?” the specialist asked.

“Yes, two weeks before my flight to the UK, I had a bad dose of flu. But with medication it went away.”

The specialist continued: “I’m afraid that dose of flu didn’t disappear completely. You developed an infection in your sinuses, which was exacerbated by the cabin pressure on your flight, causing an infection to travel into your eye area, into the front part of your head and into your spine, which was also causing the terrible neck pain. When the specialist opened the area around your eyeball, the infection had damaged your fibre optic nerves causing permanent damage. I’m so sorry, Mrs Hitchcock. My colleagues and I have never seen anything like this before. Normally, an infection like this would only cause temporary blindness, but this has caused permanent damage.”

With these words I had to begin my new life. I was blind in my left eye.

There is an upside to this whole debacle. I’m allowed to park in the disabled parking and I get a 50% discount on my prescription glasses.


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