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Just over a year ago, I happened to have a coupon for a free eye test at Specsavers.  I'd never been to Specsavers before, and I didn't like it.  I found it very impersonal and clinical, but the real problems started when the woman dealing with me was photographing the backs of my eyes.  When she saw what she'd pictured, she looked concerned, said, 'Just wait here a minute, please,' and wandered off.  When she came back, she asked me to follow her and took me to a room that had a place where she could pin up my eye pictures against some lights.

'I'm concerned about the blood vessel in the optic nerve of your right eye,' she said, pointing to the appropriate part of the orange and red image on the wall.  'It's a little swollen.  Can you see that it's a bit bigger than the one on the left?'

'Yes,' I said, seriously wondering whether this meant that my days were numbered.

'You're going to have to go to hospital,' the optician said.  'I don't know for sure what it is, but if it's just a build-up of fluid, they should be able to drain it.  I'm not going to give you an eye test today, because this could be affecting your vision.'

I can't remember how the conversation continued after this.  I just remember that at one point, she directed my attention to some device with red digital numbers on it, and asked me to look at it with my right eye covered.

'Now cover your left eye,' she said.  'Does the red look any different?'

I stared at the numbers, wanting the colour to look different, because I had an idea that if the problem was what she thought it was then it didn't sound too serious.  But the red looked just the same with both eyes.

'It looks the same,' I said.

'It looks the same?' she said, staring at me as though I were mad.  'Well, you'll have to go to hospital today.  I'll write you a letter to take to A and E.'

It must have been about then that I remembered a friend of one of my aunts; she'd had cancer in her eye, had the eye removed and then died when the cancer reappeared elsewhere in her body.

When I had my letter, I wandered out of Specsavers and went to sit among the bus stops outside the nearby shopping centre.  I was in no pain or discomfort, and my eyesight was fine.  I considered just taking a bus home and making an appointment with my GP to look at my eye.  But then I started panicking that if I did that, I wouldn't wake up the next morning.

The hospital was a bus ride away, but I didn't happen to know which of the many local buses went there, and I wasn't in much of a mood to investigate.  Even at the age of thirty we often want to call our mothers; unfortunately mine had died unexpectedly four and a half years earlier, so instead I called the home of one of my aunts.  It wasn't the aunt with the dead friend, but rather the one who'd been insisting for the last four years that my brother and I call her if we needed anything.

My uncle answered the phone.  I asked if my aunt was there, but she wasn't, so I told my uncle what was happening.

'Do you think I really need to go to hospital today?' I asked.

'Oh yes, I think you should.'  He sounded disappointingly blasé about it all.  'Luton and Dunstable is the nearest.  You'll be able to get a bus.'

'But I don't want to go to hospital on my own,' I said.

'Oh,' my uncle said, sounding suddenly alert and warm and reassuring, 'I'll go with you.  Where are you?  I'll come and pick you up.'

My mobile phone ran out of credit and cut us off in the very second that we agreed on a meeting place.  I tried to top up at an ATM while I waited, but when I tried to call my uncle back to confirm what was happening, I still had no credit.  I stopped worrying about my eye and started worrying that the ATM had stolen ten pounds from my debit card.

After a while, my uncle turned up.  We drove to the hospital, parked in the overflow car park and accepted a car park ticket with a few hours still on it from a kind family who was leaving.  We then walked around the corner to the hospital where my mother had died, which brought back some very unpleasant memories.

We went to Accident and Emergency, where I had to give my letter to a nurse at reception, and then we had to sit and wait.  That particular wait wasn't too long.  I don't remember too well what happened when I was called, except that I had to do a sight test in the middle of a corridor.  There was an eye chart on one side of this corridor; the nurse made me stand on the other side, just behind a black line, and read out the letters with each eye in turn while people walked to and fro in front of me.  She also asked me some questions, then said she was going to make an appointment with the eye clinic, and gave me another letter to give to them.

It was a few hours before my appointment.  My uncle and I walked back to the overflow car park and bought a new car park ticket.  Then we went back to the hospital and had something to eat and drink in the canteen, where I told my uncle that I thought I'd been cheated out of ten pounds from that ATM.

'I've just checked my credit again,' I said, 'and there isn't any.'

'Have you got enough to phone Val?' he asked.

'No,' I said, 'there isn't any.'

Val is my aunt, and this uncle's wife.  I'd noticed some payphones just outside the hospital, so we went and tried to call her from one.  Neither of us had any change, so my uncle tried several times to pay for the call with his debit card, which kept being refused (it later turned out that this had made the bank cancel the card).

'I'll have to make a reverse charge call,' my uncle said.

We could always have reversed the charges on my mobile, of course, but I didn't mention that.  My uncle called my aunt, and she wanted to speak to me so she could quiz me about exactly what had happened and was happening.  I found out that my uncle had left her a note saying, Have taken Rosey to L&D.  She had then phoned my brother, with whom I lived in our late mother's flat, wanting to know, 'What's all this about Gerald taking Rosey to the L and D?'  This was rather worrying for him, as I have since been told.

It was a long wait at the eye clinic.  My uncle either found a newspaper or bought one, and we did the crosswords while the people all around us were called by various doctors and nurses.  Gradually, all the staff and patients disappeared.  The reception desk emptied, and finally there seemed to be no one there but me, my uncle, a cleaning woman and her small son who was bored and wanted to go home.  We were beginning to wonder whether we had been forgotten when the one remaining doctor called me into a room.

I had to tell this doctor everything that I had already told my uncle, the A and E nurse and my aunt on the phone.  Then he shone a torch in my eyes several times, and I decided I didn't like him when he suddenly announced that I was blinking at the wrong time.  He could have told me that after the first attempt.

Then he said, 'Well, I don't agree with the optician...'

My spirits lifted.

'I think the blood vessels are swollen in both eyes.'

My spirits sank again, lower than they had been before.  I'll add now that he was completely, embarrassingly wrong about that.  I am convinced that he'd made up his mind long before he pointed that torch at me, and he was seeing what he expected to see.

'Have you had any headaches?' he asked.

'No,' I said.

'Any nausea or vomiting?'

'No.'

'Blurred vision?'

'No.'

He looked thoroughly puzzled, and said, 'Well, I can't make a definite diagnosis now, but it's probably...' and I will never be able to remember what he called it.  'It means you've got pressure on the brain.  Are you sure you haven't got even a little headache?'

'Yes.'

'Well,' he said, looking suspiciously at me, 'I think that's what it is, so I'll book you in for a CAT scan.  We also need to rule out brain tumours and things like that.'

'Right.'

'But it's probably just pressure on the brain.  Do you have any questions?'

'If it's pressure on my brain,' I said, 'how will it be treated?'

He told me about three options, but the only one I can remember is a spinal tap, which he seemed to think the most likely.  In fact, he pretty much convinced me that I'd end up having one (I didn't).

'I'll make the appointment for the scan,' he said, 'then I'll give you an ultrasound on your eyes, just to see if I can see anything else.'

I went and told my uncle what this idiot doctor had said, and my uncle said, 'Well, that doesn't sound like anything to worry about.'

Soon, the idiot doctor fetched me for my ultrasound.  As we were going into the room with the machine in it, he turned round and said, 'Or it could just be that you have to lose some weight,' which I don't think he should have said without a scrap of evidence or even the smallest hint of a clue what was wrong with me, but he said it anyway.  (No medical professional has mentioned my weight since.)

For the ultrasound, I had to close my eyes and have gel and a special camera on my eyelids.  The doctor showed me the pictures afterwards, and said, 'There's the swelling, look.'

'Doesn't it tell you anything else?'

'No, not at this stage.'

What was the bloody point, then?  I was extremely ready to go home by this point, and allowed to do so only after a few more pointless tests.  Back in the waiting room with my uncle, I had to answer the doctor's stupid questions and obey his stupid instructions.  'Can you feel my hand there?'  (It was on my jaw, next to my ear.)  'Resist while I push it.  Resist us... resist us...  Okay, can you hear this?'  He was scuffling his fingers next to my ears.  'Which ear am I doing it in?'

'Both.'

'How about now?'

'The right.'  I held up my hand to confirm that I knew left from right.

'Okay,' he said, stepping back and looking thoroughly puzzled again.  'You'll get a letter in a few days telling you when you'll be having the scan, and another one for a follow-up appointment afterwards.'

'I can't even tell you when I'm available?' I said.

'No,' he said.  'Don't worry – it's probably...' and he once again used the scientific term for pressure on the brain.  'Try not to Google it.  Just go home and relax now.'

As my uncle drove me through the darkened streets, the stress of the day hit me, and I started to cry.

'I don't think there's any need to worry,' my uncle said.  'He seems very sure it's this brain pressure, and we can easily sort that out.'

When we got back to my flat, I managed to blurt out a tearful thank you, then went inside and found my brother and our cat.

'Don't – worry – ab-about the – tears,' I said.

'Oh dear,' my brother said, 'what have you been up to?'

'It's – nothing – too – s-serious,' I managed, and then I had to cry myself out before I could tell him the whole story.

That evening, my cat didn't want to leave my lap.  She isn't normally sensitive, so I must have been sending out some strong distress signals.  At some point I looked at my bank account online and found that the ten pounds I'd tried to spend on phone credit had bounced back, which was one weight off my mind at any rate.

When my aunt called my mobile with the best of intentions, I wasn't in much of a mood to be quizzed again, but of course I had to talk to her.

'Gerald says,' she said, 'that you think you're going to be like Angie and have your eye removed and then die of cancer.'

I must have mentioned the friend of that other aunt to him.  I tried to tell this aunt that I didn't think that at all, but I don't think I succeeded.

'It sounds like it's just a bit of pressure on your brain,' she said, 'and they're going to sort it out.'

After this, a few days passed without incident.  I went to work the next day, and the day after that, and my right eye was still working as well as it ever had.  My brother told me that someone at his work told him that the same thing had happened to her sister.

'They told her to lose weight,' he said, 'and then nothing else ever happened.'

'Maybe that's just what they'll tell me, then,' I said.

My appointment for the CAT scan came, and a letter summoning me to see an ophthalmic consultant a week before the scan.  I had to miss work for both of these appointments.

Both my aunt and my uncle went to the hospital with me for the first appointment.  A nurse gave me a 'field test', for which I had to stick my head in a hole and press a button whenever I saw a light in my peripheral vision.  Then I was called to see the consultant.

'Well,' he said, 'I'm not really supposed to see you until after your scan.'

'Oh,' I said, silently fuming about forfeiting my wages for this.

He went on to examine my eyes, and told me that my field of vision was 'excellent'.  He asked me about Specsavers, and when I said that it was the first time I'd been there, he decided to write to my regular optician and ask if they thought I had naturally large blood vessels in my optic nerves.  (When I looked into this at a later date, they said they hadn't received any such letter.)

'Your eyes seem very healthy,' he said.  'It's probably nothing.  We'll see what your scan says, but I don't think there's anything very wrong.'

When I got home, I found messages on my mobile (which had been switched off for work and then hospital) and on my landline phone saying that, because I was supposed to have my brain scan first, the appointment had been cancelled.  The messages had been left well after nine o'clock, which meant that I was ever likely to have left for work, and anyway the appointment had gone ahead.

My uncle took me to have my brain scan.  We had to sit in a waiting room full of anxious-looking people for a while, then I was called through to a restricted area, where I had to sit in another waiting room.  This one had cubicles into which some people were sent to take off all their clothes in preparation for a full body scan (I didn't need to do this).  They were allowed to wear dressing gowns, of course, which made them look very ill and vulnerable.

Eventually I was called by a radiologist who wanted to put a needle into my arm.  She tried it in both my inside elbows a couple of times, then went off to get a man who apparently had the power to find a vein where no other medical professional could.

'When they take blood,' he said, after a bit of a struggle, 'where do they normally take it from?'

'That's never happened,' I said, to this person's surprise and disappointment.

Eventually he managed to find a vein in one or other of my elbows, and then I had to wait a while for my scan.  When the time came, I just had to lie back while a plastic-looking arch went back and forth over my head for several minutes.  When it had finished, the radiologist went to look at the results, leaving me lying there.

'Right,' the radiologist said when she came back, 'we're going to put the dye injection in now.  You may feel the need to pass urine, but don't worry – it's just a trick being played on your body.'

The dye injection was interesting.  I could feel a kind of uncomfortable warmth going from my arm where the needle was (that was why I had to have it in), down through my body and all the way around to my other arm (and yes, it does make you feel a bit like you need a wee).  I felt a little bit reassured because the fact that I needed the dye injection, which would make the different areas of my brain stand out in the second scan, must have meant that nothing was noticeable on the first attempt.

I had to sit quietly for a while after the second scan.  Then, once the radiologist was sure that the dye injection hadn't had any adverse effects, I was sent home to await the results and a second appointment to discuss them.

A week or two later, I noticed that the vision in my right eye had become blurred.  I had a cold at the time, and for a few days I didn't tell anyone about my vision, hoping that it was something to do with my cold and it would go away.  Of course, I was kidding myself, and pretty soon I made an appointment at my GP's surgery.  This was about a week before my follow-up appointment at the hospital, which ended up getting cancelled, after what happened next.

I didn't see my own doctor.  I saw the first one with an available appointment.  She was young, and very nice indeed.  I told her the whole story, and she looked thoroughly puzzled by the whole thing.

'Well,' she said, 'the results of your brain scan should be available by now.  I'll have a look.'

She did some tapping on her computer, looking concerned all the while.  Eventually an image came up on the screen.  It meant nothing to me (I didn't think it even looked that much like a brain), but this young lady doctor deflated with relief, lunged across her desk to grab my arm and said, 'Your brain is normal!'

I can't quite remember how the conversation continued, but I'm sure she didn't examine my eyes at all.  I just remember thinking that we must have finished when she said, 'Well, just go along to your appointment with the eye specialist and see what he says.'

'Okay,' I said, feeling reassured that she didn't think there was much wrong, however blurred my vision may be.

I was just about to leave when the doctor said, 'How often do you get the blurred vision?'

This struck me as a very odd question.  Who said anything about it coming and going?

'All the time,' I said.

Her relaxed expression changed to one of horror.  'All the time?'

'Yes.'

'So how many of me are you seeing right now?'

Again, this was strange.  Do most doctors assume that blurred vision means multiple vision?

'I'm just seeing one of you,' I said, 'but if I close my left eye, you're just a blur.'

She continued to look horrified.  'I'm phoning the L and D Hospital right now!'

So saying, the now hysterical doctor dialled a number, announced herself and her reason for calling, put the phone on speaker, started taking my blood pressure, then scurried off back to the phone when she was put through to the eye department.

'I've got a thirty-year-old lady here,' she said, and went on to explain things.  The result of the phone call was that I had to go back to the eye clinic the very next morning.

'They'll probably do an MRI,' the doctor said, 'which is a more detailed scan of your brain, where they can see all the blood vessels and things.'  (This never actually happened.)

'Oh, right,' I said.

'If you could just wait a few minutes while I write a letter to give them,' she said.

'Okay,' I said, standing up to go back to the waiting room.  'Do you have any idea what it might be?'

'No,' she said, rather pathetically.  Then she saw my face, patted my arm and said, 'It'll be all right.'

While I was waiting for my letter, I phoned my aunt and uncle's house, and arranged for my uncle to drive me to the hospital again.  All I wanted at this stage was a diagnosis.  Even if it was terrible, even if it was potentially fatal, I just wanted to know what I was up against.

At the hospital, I had a short wait before being called by the doctor who had been on the phone the night before.  She did a quick examination of my eyes, then announced, as cool as a cucumber, 'Right, you've got central retinal vein occlusion.'

Right at that moment, before it was explained to me, I thought the diagnosis sounded very much like what the optician who referred me had suggested in the first place.  At any rate, this doctor didn't sound too worried.  She then explained that the blood wasn't draining properly through the vein behind my retina.  Yes, I thought, that's exactly what the optician suggested it might be.  This doctor even did the same test, making me look at something red (the lid of a ball-point pen), and this time it did look duller with my right eye.  It had taken four weeks and four doctors to get to this right answer.

'It doesn't usually affect people as young as you,' the doctor said, 'so we need to try and figure out why it's happening.  I'm going to refer you for some bloods.'

That time, my blood was taken by a nurse who was good at finding veins.  When I told her about the problems they'd had in radiology, she rolled her eyes at the thought of it, and said, 'Well, we're good at that down here.'  Then she found a vein in my elbow with no trouble.

A lot of things happened over the next few days, including another dye injection to highlight parts of my eye.  A nurse tried to find a vein to inject, couldn't, and took me to another department to find a doctor who was supposed to be good at it.  He gave up on my elbows right away, sprayed some numbing spray onto my wrist because wrists are so sensitive, and used one of the very prominent veins there.

Whatever they'd tested my blood for, they didn't find it, so I was sent back for more blood tests and this time, the nurse couldn't find a vein.  She went to get another nurse, and both of them stuck needles into my elbows about four times.

'You can use one of these if you like,' I said, showing my inner wrist.

'Oh, but it's so sensitive there!' one of the nurses said.  'Are you sure?'

Was I sure I didn't want any more pointless stabbing in my elbows?  Yes, I was sure.  I told the nurse so, and so she went for my wrist with a needle, saying in ominous tones, 'Are you ready?'

'Yes,' I said, so she injected me, and it was fine.

I had tests for several things, including diabetes (that one was just a quick stab to the finger) and thrombophilia, and they all came back negative.  I heard this from the consultant I've ended up seeing regularly.  His face was full of apologies as he said, 'Your blood is normal.'

I wasn't sorry about that, but I know he wanted there to be some kind of cause so it could be treated.  As it is, I can only be treated for central retinal vein occlusion.  It turns out the blood can't be drained, as the optician suggested all that time ago, because apparently this would damage my retina.  Instead, every four weeks or so, I go to the hospital for tests, scans and an injection.  This involves me lying down, having a plastic sheet put over my face with a hole torn for my eye, my eyelid being clamped open, all kinds of drops going into the eye and then a needle.

The first time this happened, my uncle waited with me, and I worried about it all day.

'Well,' said my uncle, a nurse and the consultant afterwards, at different times, 'was it as bad as you thought?'

'Yes,' I said each time.

Everyone who hears about it is horrified, and inevitably they'll ask, 'Does it hurt?'  The answer is, not exactly.  They numb the eye to an extent, but I can still feel the needle, and it is extremely uncomfortable.  I don't seem to have got used to it after almost a year, and the infuriating thing is that it evidently isn't working.

That is, it definitely didn't work for a while.  My vision got worse, and the consultant was about ready to give up, as was I.  Then, the last couple of times I saw him, he said that the fluid in my eye had gone down significantly.  I can't see a difference.  All I can see in that eye is a large grey blob, and some blurred peripheral vision.

The consultant advises me to persevere, so I am doing so, though it is now some time since I came to terms with the idea of never getting my full vision back.  I am typing this with a patch on my eye to block out the floaters, and because looking at the screen with the eye uncovered sometimes gives me a headache.

I have done a lot with one eye.  I've seen last year's students through their exams, got started on this year's, been paid to mark two-hundred-and-sixty exam papers from all over the country, been accepted to a part-time college course and got myself a second part-time job.  I get on with my life around going to the hospital, which I no longer associate with unpleasant memories, just letter charts and getting poked in the eye and medical professionals whom I've come to know and like.  I feel braver than I ever have, and perhaps even better equipped to face life's challenges, in spite of what I've lost.

Oh yes, and I've learned not to let doctors frighten me unduly.  Many of them can be trusted, perhaps even most of them, but they are not infallible and some are clearly idiots.
My entry for LiliWrites' 29th Birthday Contest: fav.me/dan1eku

The contest calls for autobiographical works about an event that has shaped the writer as a person. Mine is a rather long event; I've made it as short as I can whilst including everything I wanted to, and it's still around the 4,500-word mark. There is no word limit, fortunately, nor is there any constraint on how we approach the contest. My approach was to take influence from Roald Dahl's Boy and Going Solo, just like I did the last time I attempted something like this, as that's the only non-fictional autobiography I have ever actually enjoyed.

Oh, and Lili, as this is your birthday present I really hope you enjoy it. ;)
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:iconmsklystron:
msklystron Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2017  Professional Digital Artist
'Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye' (I too had eye needles and the brain test with the lights, among other medical indignities including watching a cauterizing gun coming at my eye, but for a different condition.)  I really enjoyed and related to your story.  Anyone who has had to navigate the medical system, await a diagnosis and deal with treatment, will take heart from your journey, because you portray yourself as just an ordinary not brave person.  I'm a fan of Dahl which comes across and the story also has a somewhat Kafka-esque feel from the scene at the optician's.  Well done.
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:iconthornyenglishrose:
ThornyEnglishRose Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2017  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you very much. :)
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:iconjes6ica:
jes6ica Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2016
I've been thinking about this since I read it. It was really touching--and I don't say that much about things, because it feels trite, but reading your account made me realize a whole bunch of things about what someone close to me (now deceased) went through, and you wrote it in such a brilliant way. I'm babbly, so I'll shut up now, but I just wanted to let you know how effective and affecting this was. Heart 
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:iconthornyenglishrose:
ThornyEnglishRose Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you very much for your kind comments. :heart:
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:iconthornyenglishrose:
ThornyEnglishRose Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you for reading and commenting.

I wouldn't describe the scan I had as loud. I've been trying to remember what sounds it actually did make; it was over a year ago now, and I've pretty much forgotten that aspect, but I think it was something like a quiet printer. I daresay different machines and different scan types are different, but I very much doubt they're very loud anywhere.
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:icondagaizm:
DAGAIZM Featured By Owner Dec 15, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank You so much for answer,few months ago my house doctor admitted that I am practically invalid,... She was supriced about that story with scaner but didn't do anything about it...

I wish You all the best!
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2016
This put me in full-on flash back mode to when I was in the hospital for nearly a month while they tried to figure out what was wrong with me. :lol: You're entirely correct. Some doctors are clearly idiots. I've luckily never had that much trouble with people putting needles in my veins though. 

I hope your consultant is correct about the progress. Often the healing takes much longer than the damage. Hang in there! :hug: 
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:iconthornyenglishrose:
ThornyEnglishRose Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you. I actually had an appointment yesterday and the news wasn't good for the eye, but it did mean we didn't bother treating it and I got to go home quickly and not have drops to put in. I'd rather that and be living with one eye than getting treatment that doesn't work. :shrug:
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:iconliliwrites:
LiliWrites Featured By Owner Dec 16, 2016
I know what you mean. You can get used to living without something if you're allowed to leave it alone lol 
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:iconmensjedezeemeermin:
MensjeDeZeemeermin Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2016
Searingly matter-of-fact, reflecting your bravery and successful adaptation to your situation. I do hope that there will yet be good news for you on this front.  And those ARE good autobiographies.
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:iconjessamar:
JessaMar Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
What a difficult adventure you've had! But I'm sure the things you've learned from it will come in useful someday.
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:iconthornyenglishrose:
ThornyEnglishRose Featured By Owner Nov 29, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
I've certainly learned a lot from it. Hopefully I won't need it in a similar situation... :paranoid:
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:iconsquanpie:
squanpie Featured By Owner Nov 27, 2016  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Must say, I laughed at the saga of the hunt for the vein.
I had a blood test once. The nurse there all but greeted me with the words "you have such lovely veins;" at the time it seemed more creepy than anything, but following your tale I think I see where her glee really stemmed from!

There's so much in here to love (barring the cause of the story, or course). I especially like the little bits about how the family reacted around you - the mixed messages and phonecalls in particular. It's the details like that, and the couple with the car park ticket, that bring the story to life, for me :)

Serious props on dealing with this whole situation, and being able to go through and write it out like that. My eyes are feeling a little twitchy just reading about what yours have been though! :hug:
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:iconthornyenglishrose:
ThornyEnglishRose Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2016  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you for your detailed and supportive comments. :hug:

You've made me a little jealous of your blood test 'once' and your 'lovely veins'! A lot of things make me think of my mother, and the blood tests reminded me of how she had plenty of veins in the backs of her hands, but they'd all disappear when she had to present them for an injection. She said it because she was always so nervous in hospitals. I flatter myself that I've always coped with such things pretty well, even before all this happened. In fact, the one place I hoped I'd never have to be injected was my eyes! :O_o:
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