A large proportion of my translation work is concerned with the pharmaceutical industry, and its many documents detailing the trialling, manufacture, inspection, marketing authorisation and directions for use by patients and healthcare providers of many varieties of medication and devices. It’s surprising how many of these products are intended for eye care: antibiotic eyedrops, anti-inflammatory eyedrops, soothing eyedrops, eyedrops to treat blepharitis or conjunctivitis, eyedrops to reduce redness, and a wide range of medicinal ointments for eyecare. The concept of sight, and the fear of losing or jeopardising it, is of undeniable importance to us.
Palaeontologists believe that the evolution of the eye was a key moment in the history of the animal kingdom. Scientists at London's Natural History Museum, as reported by the FT, recently researched the link between the evolution of sight and colour, with the latter being used, for example, for decoration to attract a mate or camouflage, once sight had developed well enough to be able to perceive different shades. There is overwhelming fossil evidence for a sudden burst in diversity of life: the so-called “Cambrian explosion” around 545-530 million years ago. This significant moment marked the transition from simple photoreceptors, which may have helped early worms move towards light, to a much more sophisticated and intricate organ, eventually leading to high-resolution perception. It doesn’t take much to imagine the benefits of such a development to creatures living on the seabed – being able to locate food, spot prey, be alerted to the approach of a predator are among the more obvious.
And how much of the sensory information we receive is visual? According to the National Geographic, approximately 30% of all neurons in the cerebral cortex are reserved for processing and interpreting visual data.
With so much at stake, it is small wonder that protecting our sight is a high priority, and it’s hardly surprising that you get nervous when someone is coming towards your eyeball with a cutting tool.
Almost a year after blogging in May 2017 about some of the vision problems I was finding when spending long periods at the computer, I had laser treatment. As I mentioned in that post, working long hours in front of a screen is not an activity specific to translators, but I find the way my document is usually presented on the screen – source language on the left and target on the right, in a very small (occasionally minuscule) font size – makes for particularly close, rather intense work for which total concentration is vital. The need to focus (there’s another) on meaning, and not lose my place in the text, means that I often fail to blink as often as I might, effectively reducing the natural irrigation to the eyes.
Computer work wasn’t my only reason for taking this step. I’d been considering it for years. At minus 7 in one eye and something approaching minus 7 in the other, I’d had enough of staggering around and banging into things if I needed to get up during the night. I wore contact lenses virtually every day for 40 years and decided that was long enough. While some people manage to look intellectual or professional wearing glasses – they can lend a certain style when repeatedly removed and replaced by an individual chairing a meeting – my appearance in spectacles designed to correct such extreme myopia combined with astigmatism was more like that of a science fiction or cartoon character, with the eyes reduced to shrivelled peas behind a thick vitreous barrier. Camping was the worst. Not only the struggle to insert lenses without running water, but the tripping over guy ropes and partially hammered-in pegs when returning to the tent after dark.
It took the surgeons some time to convince me to have what is known as monovision surgery, which was not my initial preference. This essentially meant having one eye corrected to zero (20/20), and the other left slightly under-corrected (to -1) so that it could be focussed for reading. The brain, I was told, would eventually compensate for any blurring that I might experience because of this. I had gone in preferring to have both eyes fully corrected and use reading glasses. In the end I was persuaded by their obvious confidence and extensive experience of many patients.
I won’t go into detail about the procedure itself, which felt a little like having the eye clamped open and an ice cube pressed very hard into the socket. This has been extensively and eloquently described in countless reviews on the websites of various surgery providers. I’m a fairly anxious person and was mortally terrified before the surgery, but it was quickly over, and I began to feel the benefits straight away.
It’s still early days. My eyes need time to adjust and I’m not functioning fully at night-time, but so far I am getting the impression that they were right about the monovision. Being able to read an email or a message from a customer on my phone without groping around for my reading glasses, while also being able to glance up at the clock on the wall to check whether I have enough time to complete the request, is very convenient. As long as I have plenty of light, I can read, write and thus translate with no aids to my vision. Even small text is clear, and I’m feeling an enormous sense of comfort knowing that the surfaces of my corneas are no longer being compressed and suffocated by a plastic disc. Nor do I have the annoyance of having to peer over a pair of spectacles balanced on my nose when someone in the room wants to speak to me. To anyone considering laser treatment, I would say go ahead. Any minor inconvenience during the lead time or recovery period (in my case the horror of having to go without make-up) is worth it.
I am very impressed with the care, attention to detail, skill, personal touch, technological know-how, warmth and compassion I experienced at the Accuvision clinic in Fulham. I cannot praise the optometrists, ophthalmologists, surgeons and receptionists highly enough. Their extensive and thorough testing, record-keeping, understanding, communication and the extended, rigorous follow-up have been remarkable. Here is an organisation that realises that they are doing more than simply selling a service or product – this is an intricate medical procedure that is taken very seriously. From my point of view, “thank you” does not quite cover it.