November 5th 2016. Guy Fawkes Night. Bonfire Night. The day my whole world changed, literally in the blink of an eye.
It was a Saturday, a busy weekend ahead. As usual! I certainly lived a crowded life, with a full time job, as well as running a feminist society, voluntary work, a busy social life, and a husband and cats at home. I knew I was packing too much in and was running on empty. Friends and family were telling me I needed to ease up. I was becoming increasingly exhausted, and had even cancelled a couple of after work meetings over the previous few days.
My husband and I were off to an induction session that morning, so that we could volunteer at our local winter night shelter for homeless people. As we settled down in the chilly church hall to hear about the work we had signed up for, we got chatting to another volunteer sitting next to us. We had chosen seats quite near the front as my glasses had broken that week and I knew that I’d have trouble seeing the small projector screen. We nibbled biscuits and sipped tea from polystyrene cups as the hall filled with people. I looked around to my right to see if we knew any of the people who were arriving. Or, at least I tried to. Each time I glanced right my vision distorted. It irritated me, and I wondered briefly what was wrong with my eyes. I hadn’t gotten anything in my eye, it didn’t hurt. As we heard various people talk, watched a presentation, and the hours passed, my right eye seemed to become swollen. I could see my eyelid in my line of sight.
After meeting our shelter coordinator at the end of the session, I went to the toilet, and when I looked in the mirror I was startled and a bit worried to see that my right eyelid was quite noticeably drooping. In the car I said to my husband,
There’s something wrong with my eye.
He told me he had noticed it too. Trying not to worry, I decided we should carry on as planned and we drove to the supermarket.
Walking around the aisles picking up groceries, I started to feel quite odd, disoriented and almost as though I was floating. We finished shopping and left, and I decided I should call NHS Direct for advice. I was almost afraid to voice my fear to my husband that there was something very wrong. The last time I had told him there was something seriously wrong with me, and asked him to drive me to accident and emergency, it turned out my lung had collapsed!
At home I left my husband to unpack our groceries and called 111. The health advisor on the other end took me through some diagnostics and told me she was going to dispatch an ambulance, but not to worry because she didn’t think I’d had a stroke. The paramedics arrived almost an hour later and checked me over thoroughly. Although they didn’t think I’d had a stroke either, they wanted me to go to hospital to see a doctor. Refusing the offer of being taken by ambulance, I asked my husband to drive me.
By this time several hours had passed since my ‘episode’ had occurred, and I wasn’t in any pain other than a vague feeling of pressure in my head. The triage nurse read the notes the paramedics had given me to hand over and I told her I had felt OK other than becoming increasingly exhausted in the days leading up to this. She informed me I most probably had an eye infection. I was called through to a cubicle by a young doctor a short while later, and after examining me he said he also thought I had an eye infection. When I told him about the exhaustion he told me I might have an unidentified virus too. He gave me some antibiotic eye drops and sent me home.
So home we went, where I obediently put drops in my eye, rested and waited. Waited to suddenly get better. Hoped I would wake up tomorrow and be well. And tomorrow. And the next day. I spent the next few days hoping, and waiting, having no inkling then that there was indeed, something seriously wrong with me. I had yet to discover that this was the day my life had changed, and that blinking, or being unable to blink my eye was going to be the first of many difficulties.