Back at work on Tuesday morning, it was if someone had dropped a black cloud on my head the second I walked through the door. There’s something about the lighting in my office that throws me off and has me raising the blinds straight away to let some daylight in. The fluorescents are quite white, but not an even white; with peaks in the spectrum that make it seem somehow bright and annoying while not actually casting much light. It’s quite hot and dry according to measurements we’ve taken, thanks to all the PCs in the building.
I’m generally very healthy, but a year and a bit ago I developed a strange problem in my right eye, which I can trace back to the office conditions. My eye felt as if someone had been shining a bright light into it, all day. There was a constant red cast to everything, and I had it closed half the time and considered getting a patch. So, being an “efficiency expert”, I thought I would go straight to the specialists; I took off from work early and headed for the Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital, here in Dublin. (Yes, it still has “Royal” in its title, like the Royal Dublin Showground, a.k.a. the RDS – but both are in the relatively Anglophile part of South Dublin.)
Big mistake. For starters, they’re only set up to treat “walk-in” patients as “casualties”. The procedure went something like this:
- Register, and display your “unemployment” card, or pay up front. (This is Ireland, cash up front is the order of the day.)
- Take a seat and wait to be called.
- Keep waiting.
I wasn’t an acute case – no-one there was – and so I waited over four hours to be seen. This was at about 8PM, when I was given numbing eye drops, and waited another thirty minutes, to the point where the drops almost wore off. By that time of day there was one (1) doctor in the whole hospital, a harried resident who managed to squeeze me in. She kept going on about “floaters”, meaning visible bits floating around inside my eyeball. I normally have some of those anyway, or maybe I’m just more aware of them because of my short-sightedness. But I hadn’t suffered an actual eye injury, and she couldn’t find anything dramatic. She ended up referring me to the specialists, in the same building.
So, a few weeks later, I met the specialists, who I can relate to more, since I have roughly the same position. (Not that I’m comparing computer work to medicine, mind, I’m talking about having to handle pressure from “above” and “below” in an organization.) They immediately sent me off for a battery of tests. First the visual field tests, where you have your head in a bowl, watching for little lights flashing at all angles. Then: have you ever had your retinas photographed? With a flash? While your eyes were more sensitive than normal? Not funny.
It went downhill from there, when I had to come back a week later for a more serious workup in the research department, also in the same building. The colour-blindness tests weren’t hard, but I got some strange looks from the researcher conducting the tests, since I am apparently very colour-blind. (I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t tried the Ishihara tests years ago, and it doesn’t bother me at all.) Then the nicest part: half an hour relaxing in a totally blacked-out room with the radio on, after which even the slightest light was bright. I then underwent electroretinography, which involved:
- having my eyes held open by electrode-bearing clamps, fed with artificial teardrops, like a scene from A Clockwork Orange;
- electrodes on my face and forehead, picking up the signals from my retinas, feeding them into a computer;
- having strobe lights flashed into my eyes, which were acclimatized to darkness as well as being more sensitive than normal.
After a half-hour of this, I was in serious pain, and could hardly see straight until the next day. (According to the website linked above, the test should be painless, but my protestations were ignored.)
The tests were inconclusive, and on my return to the specialists a week later, guess what happened? After three of them discussed the problem in front of me, one of them said “well, you’re blinking a lot. You have dry eyes?” Well, I didn’t think they were dry, but they told me to get some artificial teardrops from the pharmacy. They aren’t even a prescription item. “Try them for six months, and see if you still have a problem.” OK. The problem eventually went away, probably by itself, but I still keep the eye drops around for whenever my eyes feel strange. The office air-conditioning probably has something to do with it, of course. The eye hospital may have tried to send me a bill for putting me through all that, but I wouldn’t have received it, since I moved house not long after my visit.
Apparently a four hour wait in the casualty department isn’t enough, and I’ve heard other horror stories about the Irish health system, such as spending eight hours waiting to have a fractured skull looked at. No, that’s still too efficient, and so hospitals in Dublin are currently closing beds and cancelling operations because they have already spent most of their allocated budgets for the year, just keeping things going. I have company health insurance, which I haven’t used yet; but what if I was injured? I would need to use a casualty department, since the private hospitals don’t have them. The sub-standard infrastructure here – health, education, transport, waste and land management, etc. – only serves to emphasise how Ireland is a “third world” country with “first world” delusions, I’m sorry to say.