Strolling upright along the High Street of a small, out-skirted Essex town, head high, with her vibrant cheeked, sparkle eyed broad smile, Vera nods to all the locals she can now recognise. Warm greetings are called back and forth. Vera is not the same woman people remembered before her surgery. She happily describes the transformation of her life, and the buoyant pleasure she now receives from her environment to anyone who has the time to listen.
Every year, for 13 budding springs, Vera and her son had journeyed to the Arcadian Greek isle of Lesvos. Rich in olive groves the idyllic landscape hosts a teeming wildlife of flora and fauna. Both keen nature lovers and bird enthusiasts, the pair loved to sight the spring flight of many species of birds as they stopped to rest and feed up, during their seasonal migration from South Africa. The birds would then travel on to their chosen breeding ground in northern Europe, Russia and the Artic. In some cases, the birds would even return to the same nests.
Later, as the year approaches autumn, the birds, after raising their young, would journey back to their homeland, to see again the familiar and the loved, but with the additional appreciation instilled through their recent experiences of temporary estrangement. Just like Vera, when she recovered her sight after years of impairment. She was again able to directly witness, rather than have described for her, all the inspirational endeavours of nature.
Vera is always delighted to describe seeing her grandson's face properly for the first time, looking on as her son sailed along using the power of the wind, and most recently, watching the excitement of the Olympic torch relay. She recalls vividly the cheering crowds as the police escorts clapped the hands of the laughing children as the convoy passed through the channel of waving flags.
When Vera was on her seasonal Greek Odyssey, she discovered an unknown species of Orchid, nestling privately within the verdant green fields, where the mountain goats infuse the milk with the flavour of the wild flowers they ingest.
Now called Vera’s Orchid, the exotic hybrid is aptly named after her; a lady with such a heightened, particularly precious appreciation of the colour and shape of life unfolding around her.
Vera’s father had been diagnosed with glaucoma, a hereditary condition. Her family therefore kept regular appointments with an optician to monitor their eyesight for any signs of the condition. At one of her examinations, approximately 10 years ago, Vera’s optician discovered indicators of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Vera is quick to emphasise that an early diagnosis is a valuable tool in any monitoring and treatment of the disease. She strongly encourages people to have regular eye tests conducted by a qualified professional.
In addition to the AMD four years ago, cataracts developed in both her eyes. Vera explained that before an eye surgeon will operate, the cataracts are left to develop further so more sight deterioration is incurred before surgical treatment can be undertaken. Vera was eventually referred for surgery two years ago, to have each eye treated at different times by separate surgeons.
It is now literally true to say that Vera has never looked back after the day surgery the quick procedure entailed. The vast improvement to her vision and quality of life still feels miraculous to her. Vera spills over in smiles and flushes with such contagious, heartfelt gratitude towards the surgeons and advances in medical science that has made these procedures available. After personally thanking them, she was surprised to learn that they are "hardly ever thanked" for the work they do.
Vera describes the surreal experience of being prepared for localised day surgery. During the operations she was shrouded under a covering with just a slit for the eye being operated on. The medical staff helpfully talked her through all the treatment stages, from the tubular suction of the cataracts, to the placing of the new lens in her receptive eye; popping open like a flower bursting into timely bloom. There was no discomfort, just the beautiful prismatic colours and rainbow hues that first mesmerised and astounded Vera, as her sight opened to adjust to her ‘brave new world’.
The clouds had definitely shifted and Vera was transported to a whole new appreciation of the world she inhabits. Her love of bird life and nature has since taken on deeper dimensions, tinged with the joyful recovery of what was once a lost sense.
Vera was keen to stress that what proved enormously helpful to her was the understanding, friendship, support and advise she found in the Chelmsford Partially Sighted and Blind Group. Another, much valued Group is the Maldon District Vision Impaired Club.
Vera speaks with affection about the comradeship and the shared pleasure of a club trip, taken on the cruiser Viking Saga from Hythe Quay, Maldon.
The chattering friends escorted and described for each other the sights and shared senses of the two hour trip. They enjoyed the picturesque Heybridge Basin and of course, the welcome delights of the on board bar as the captain provided a running commentary.
Glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that if left untreated can cause blindness. It occurs when eye drainage becomes blocked and a build-up of pressure damages the optic nerve.
AMD is a condition divided into two types, usually referred to as "wet" and "dry". The most common form is "dry" which develops slowly causing loss of vision. There is no treatment for this form. The "Wet" form can develop quickly and can also lead to sight loss. In the early stages it sometimes responds to treatment. Neither type is painful and rarely leads to total blindness
Cataracts are a clouding that develops in the lens of the eye which obstructs the passage of light. Progressing slowly cataracts result in vision loss and can cause blindness if left untreated.
The Macular Disease Society Chelmsford Partially Sighted and Blind Group meet at Chapter House, Church Street on the 2nd Thursday in the month, 10am – 11.45am. Contact Mrs Pat Hunt on 01245 351265 for more information.
Maldon District Vision Impaired Club, meet at WRVS Hall, Mill Rd, Maldon, on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of the month. 1.30pm – 4.00pm. Contact the secretary, Mrs J.H. Jones on 01621 773160 for more information.
Macular Disease Society: www.maculardisease.org
For Viking Saga trip information go to: http://www.vikingsaga.pafweb.net/
Written by Kerry Barr
Wildlife Of Lesvos, www.wildlifeoflesvos.com
Vera is an inspiring Essex Lady, an active member of WRVS who has reliably served her local community by voluntarily running an elderly lunch club for isolated/housebound people, despite her condition, for over 20 yrs. Vera is brimming with renewed vigour, enthusiasm and encouragement since having eye surgery.