Saturday, 1 September 2012
As always, the wait in the eye clinic to be seen by the staff is a long one. The mostly elderly and infirm patients sit and sigh, greeting every new neighbour in the row of seats in the corridor as a long lost friend, leaning towards each other confidingly and sharing snippets of wisdom. People are called, disappear and return, swapping seats. First comes the eye test to establish how much the patient can currently see ; then another nurse in an another room administers eye drops, which gradually enlarge the pupils to the extent that the world of the corridor becomes a blur. When this blur has reached the maximum stage, the eye is photographed. Finally, it's time for the big man himself, the consultant, to pronounce judgment, diagnosis and a course of treatment. It all takes time. Time is what the old people have in abundance.
"Some of these drops can be real torture". An old lady is being dragged past the row of stretched out feet by her daughter.
"We all have to put up with them", the lady next to me says behind her hand. Having thus broken the ice she feels entitled to continue the conversation.
"Look at that chap", she says, pointing to a man who limps badly, painfully lifting his left leg with every step. "Poor man, walking so slowly. He will have seen better days in his life."
Her compassionate words get through to my unwilling ears. I am not good at joining in with chance-met strangers in hospital corridors. I look at her more closely. She is an old lady herself.
"It must be so frustrating for him", she adds warmly. I nod in agreement. "At least I can still move", she says, just before she is called by a nurse and I notice that she has to feel her way along the wall to follow the call.
Another lady, also pulled along by her daughter, stumbles into a door jamb. "Oops", she says, "drunk again". She picks herself off the door frame and grins conspiratorially. "It's the drink, and being so cheerful, as keeps me going". Her daughter's smile is slightly strained. "Mum", she says, "don't".
The chap with the limp is back and makes for the chair next to me. I move over to give him room to manoeuvre and he says, "Don't move, don't move, I am not going to sit on your lap". Within minutes he has told me that he is 81, has been a widower for ten years and used to be a train driver. "That was in the days when trains was trains, with 10, 15 carriages and maybe a thousand people. Up the mountain, down the mountain, through the tunnel and over the viaduct", he says. "Now I look at the hills and I think 'how did I manage to do that and never thought about it' ". His Welsh lilt is music, swooping up and down like the mountains. He tells me about his son, who is a treasure, looks after his old dad a treat, even bought him a mobility scooter. "The scooter is great", he says, "I went to the end of the road where I hadn't been for a long time, all the way up the hill and back again." His son is selling his house and has had some bad experiences. "When I was young, you took people's word. You didn't do all this business with solititors. They're the worst, they are".
The old people don't really want me to add anything to their ramblings. A friendly ear is enough. A lady on my other side, who can be no older than sixty five, watches the chap leaving. "I used to know him, when he was on the trains", she said. "Used to do the North Wales from Shrewsbury route."
I put the book on my lap into my bag. It would probably not be very kind to sit here reading anyway. Most of these people can't see the printed word. Somehow we got to talking about cleaning and dusting. "I don't know how much longer I can do it", she says, "the Hoover has been sitting at the top of the stairs for days".
In spite of her very poor sight she still lives on her small-holding, has 400 sheep, two horses and a donkey and eight or nine dogs. She has a lovely smile, warm and friendly. Dark glasses cover her eyes. Then she starts talking about her son who lives and works in Germany. She visits him a lot and loves Germany. This is not something I hear very often in the UK, so I am surprised. When I tell her that I am German she opens up further and tells me about the many happy holidays she has spent in the country and the friendly welcome she has met. "I find it all depends on you", she says, "if you treat people with respect and friendliness, that's what you get in return. All you have to do is show willing."
One in the eye for me! My willingness to 'show willing' is too often invisible, hidden by impatience or lack of interest.
Beloved is finished with the consultant and he waves to me. We are done for today. As he weaves his way through the corridor, I catch up with him and ask "Can you see?" offering my arm. "Enough", he says over his shoulder, as he strides towards the sliding doors and out of the clinic.
We have a lot to learn.
It so happens that I came across a site called Theme Thursday where other bloggers happen to be discussing what eyes mean to them. I've added this story to theirs.