The Eyes Have It

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I’ve off-line for a while, at least as far as my blog is concerned. This is because of a number of reasons, the most memorable of which, for me, was the eye surgery I had back in April.

I have suffered from glaucoma for years now. I even have congenitally deformed eyeballs, which hasn’t helped. They aren’t quite spherical, which causes focus problems. I’ve worn glasses since I was 17. In March this year my ophthalmologist suggested I have cataract surgery and at the same time get drainage stents inserted to deal with the glaucoma.

Yes, that is my right eye in the picture above. And yes, it is scary. That’s how my eyes look, and have looked for years now. The bloodshot effect is caused by the glaucoma medication. I’m on three different eye drops for that. I use them three times a day and will do so for at least another month until it can be determined if my stents are working properly. I will then, hopefully, be able to go of the medication and my eyes should return to normal.

As for the cataracts, they are gone and artificial lenses have been inserted. That was fun an experience.

The surgery consisted of two operations (one for each eye) two weeks apart. The old lenses, the ones I was born with, were destroyed using a sonic lance rather similar, I guess, to Dr Who’s sonic screwdriver, except that it had to be actually inserted into my eye to break up the lens. The bits were then sucked out by a vacuum pump (I’m not kidding here) that was also inserted into my eye. The new lens was then put in place and the stents inserted in the bottom of each eye in a part called the trebecular mesh.

Naturally, I was under anaesthetic during these operations, which only took about twenty minutes each. The first one was fine. Although the anaesthetics were the “twilight” kind (which means I remained conscious during the operation, not that I fell in love with a sparkly non-vampire) I have no memory of the first operation. The anaesthetist introduced himself and said he would knock me out completely for about five minutes during which he would insert a needle under my eye to deliver the rest of the knock-out drops that would numb my head. That was fine by me, since I had no desire to witness (at the closest possible quarters) that part of the proceedings. He inserted a catheter into my arm and the next thing I remember was waking up in recovery. I have to this day no memory of the operation itself, or even being wheeled into or out of the theatre. My doctor said later that I was fully conscious, said hello the surgical team and followed instructions well. But the actual operation itself (mercifully) is a complete blank. Such is the nature of twilight anaesthetic.

Not so for the second time around, the operation on my left eye. I woke up during that one.

Strictly speaking, I was “awake” the whole time. But I have a memory of the last few minutes. The last thing I remembered the anaesthetist delivered the initial drug, while we talked about Canada for some reason. Then I became aware of being on the operating table. I couldn’t see anything: my right eye was closed and my left, the one being operated on, “saw” some weird things. It was like looking at a white sheet of paper over which someone had smeared orange marmalade. I know that sound bizarre, but that’s what I saw. I became aware of things “moving” behind the whiteness. I suppose those were the instruments inserted in my eye at the time. I could hear the surgeon talking. He asked me to move my head slightly to the left, which I did.

I wanted to let them know I was awake, so I emitted a groan. While I felt no pain  at all, there was a definite feeling of discomfort which made me afraid that I would start to feel pain. I wanted them to know I could sense something going on, in case they didn’t know that and it wasn’t supposed to happen. I groaned a second time.

There came more voices, I felt myself being moved and then a voice asked me to step down. I climbed off the gurney as my vision came back and sat in the recovery room where a kind nurse gave me a cup of tea and sandwiches.

I’m glad the “awake” episode occurred on the second operation. Had it happened the first time, going back for the second operation would have been much harder psychologically.

So here I am now, awaiting laser surgery next month. This is remove some “thickening” around the lenses and tweak the final touches to my eyes.

I now need glasses for reading, which I didn’t before. I used to wear glasses to correct my short-sightedness and now don’t have to, although I do wear some very weak corrective lenses when I drive because my long vision still isn’t quite perfect, and never will be.

So that’s been my health issues in the last few months. Recovering from such surgery doesn’t take long, but there is an extended period while the vision settles down and, as I said, I still need laser surgery in July.

Certainly not something I wish to do again.

Russell Proctor

 

 

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The Horror of Children’s Stories

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This is repost from an earlier one. It’s still relevant though.

Picture this: a little girl has just thrown a bucket water over a Witch. What happens next is quite disturbing.

With these words the Witch fell down in a brown, melted shapeless mass and began to spread over the clean boards of the kitchen floor. Seeing that she had really melted away to nothing, Dorothy drew another bucket of water and threw it over the mess. She then swept it all out the door. After picking out the silver shoe, which was all that was left of the old woman, she cleaned and dried it with a cloth, and put it on her foot again.”

Now let’s get this straight… a little girl calmly melts an old woman, sweeps the gooey slime she has become out of the door like so much swill, and then calmly cleans her shoe like this sort of thing happened every day.

You might think the extract is taken from the latest gore-filled treat from Permuted Press, but it’s actually from L. Frank Baum’s children’s classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900. A children’s book. Of course, if you are only familiar with the 1939 Judy Garland film, you may remember the witch-melting scene was a little more wholesome. Certainly in the movie Dorothy didn’t have to clean up the disgusting sewage of what used to be a human being like she was doing a simple household chore. And in the movie version Dorothy felt pretty upset about the whole thing as well, even though the witch was evil and had tried to kill her.

Take another story: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Now there are no violent scenes in that timeless classic, surely? Admittedly the Queen of Hearts threatens everyone with having their heads chopped off, but no one is unfortunate to actually have it done. But most of the violence of the Alice books is more subtle. According to Hugh Haughton in his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition of Carroll’s books (1998), there is an underlying theme of eating and being eaten in the book. The characters are in more danger of being consumed by other characters than anything the Queen of Hearts might threaten. Alice eats and drinks various substances and changes size; the baby oysters are consumed by the Walrus and the Carpenter; the Hatter is obsessed by tea and bread and butter. There is also, of course, more overt violence: the Duchess physically abuses her baby son, the March Hare and the Hatter try to drown the Dormouse in tea, and the terrifying Giant Crow threatens Alice in the forest.

It doesn’t end with those books. In Peter Pan by J.M Barrie, the fairy Tinker Bell is a right bitch. Her first act on seeing Wendy is to get Tootles to shoot her with an arrow in an attempt to kill her. He almost succeeds. Tootles is so distraught he asks Peter to kill him.

Now, the point is that these are probably not events most people recall when remembering these tales. But they are there in the original books.

There have, of course, been many criticisms of traditional fairy tales as being too violent. Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and so forth contain considerable murder and mayhem. The difference between them and the more modern stories I’ve referred to is that these stories are folk tales, handed down over many years and added to, extended and changed over generations before being recorded by people like the Brothers Grimm. They were not written specifically for children. The adventures of Alice, Dorothy and Peter Pan were.

So what do we make if this? Are these stories in their original forms just too violent? I say “in their original forms” because each of those I mentioned has been “toned down” when made into films. Disney and Warner Brothers made a point of changing things so the stories were more wholesome for tender readers (or, in their case, viewers). Dorothy melts the Wicked Witch, but feels bad about it at least. Admittedly, modern versions of Alice (I refer specifically to the recent Tim Burton CGI extravaganza) may take liberties with the plot in which they do present a more dangerous version of Wonderland than the Disney version. But this is a modern trend, I submit, and I’ll mention it again later.

My point is (and I’ve taken a while making it) is that there is a wealth of trauma available to writers in children’s tales. Quite often where you wouldn’t expect it. In The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, Toad not only steals a motor vehicle, he is actually in involved in numerous car accidents and is thrown in prison as a result. And I’m sure most of us remember the Narnia series by C. S Lewis, which tells of children not only fighting in wars but killing their adversaries with barely a nod at any feelings of guilt afterwards.

Writers might well find ideas in these tales. And that’s a good thing. While I’m not condoning the exposure of children to violence, death and horror, it certainly can entertain the adult reader and inspire the adult writer.

Back when these stories were written, I submit the world was a more violent place. There was no such thing as being an adolescent. One went from the caterpillar stage of childhood to the butterfly stage of adulthood without any inconvenient chrysalis stage of adolescence in between. People grew up earlier. Children’s books were violent because life was violent. It still is these days, but we don’t like to admit it and try to protect our children from its excesses. An example of this is the scene in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland where the Duchess throws her baby boy to Alice (who only just manages to catch him) after singing a song about how beating a child was a justifiable punishment for it sneezing. This would hardly have raised an eyebrow back in 1865. Children were beaten. The world was perhaps no better or worse than it is today, but violence was condoned more and seen as an acceptable solution to social and domestic problems. Carroll was using violence as nonsense, and perhaps as a comment on the philosophy of child-rearing at the time: the air in the Duchess’s house was full of pepper, the baby sneezed as a result, and so the Duchess beat him. Problem solved.

We would not condone such a practice today, even as nonsense, which is why this incident has not, my knowledge, been incorporated into any film adaptations of Alice so far ( I don’t include the Burton film there, as it is so far removed from the original story as to be a separate entity).

Burton’s film does, however, seek to make an adult vision of Wonderland (with a bit of Looking-Glass Land added into it). And that is how the horror of children’s stories can be used to good effect. Tales like Frank Beddor’s The Looking-Glass Wars is a classic use of a classic to create something new and insightful.

So horror is there in children’s stories. If you sit and read the originals and wonder why they all seem so different to what you thought they were about, or what you remembered when you read them as a kid, then I hope you can take a whole new delight in these children’s stories for grown-ups. And, as a writer, that they inspire you in your own tales of horror and fantasy.