I've had a lot of injures in my life, with most of resulting from some sort of bone-crunching impact or the wear and tear from thousands of hours spent in futile pursuit of fleeting fitness. But these have always provided a cracking tale for when you're in the pub and engaged in one of those injury anecdote battles, of the "You think that's bad? Check this out!" ilk, where a middle aged man lifts his t-shirt or drops his trousers to show off a war wound.
My retina detaching wasn't like that at all. I was sat on a coach on the way to a concert when a black blob appeared at the corner of my left eye. As the day progressed, the blob spread further across the eye until the next morning, when I was completely blind in that eye. Now we tend to be firmly in the 'stop making a fuss' and 'just run it under a cold tap' camp, but this didn't seem likely to get better with liberal applications of TCP, so after a bit of a leisurely mooch round Bristol, a cooked breakfast and a coach journey back to Plymouth, I 'immediately' dashed off to hospital, and 3 days later I was under the knife. I'd always thought retina detachments were the result of a punch in the eye, or some yuppie style eye / squash ball collision, but it appears that one in fifty thousand retinas just can't be arsed to hold on any longer and fall off.
This is baaaad news. I've just secured a space in the Man v Horse mayhem, which is in a mere 6 weeks time, and I had been running really well. But enough off that negative thinking; after receiving the bad news I was allowed the standard one day of wine-fuelled feeling sorry for myself, then it was time to get ready for some serious rehab. First thing was drag the bloody turbo trainer out of the cupboard for the first time in years. I've done many, many hours on the turbo, with assorted body parts in plaster and bandages, and stick to the principle that turbo should be such a boring, miserable ball-ache that you can't wait to get off it and outside again. Next up was fluffing up the sofa cushions as some serious sofa bashing would be inevitable. Little did I know just how right I was, and no amount of cushion fluffing was ever going to make it better.
Operation day arrives. I find myself sitting in a waiting room with a load of cheery old uns, patiently waiting for their cataract operations. Say what you like about the older generation, but not being surgically grafted to their smart phones does make then a sociable, chatty lot. And as they were facing the prospect of seeing the world clearly again the following day, they were a jolly fun crowd to sit with. The surgeon confirms my diagnosis, and informs me that I can also look forward to cataracts of my very own in the near future. Another bite of shit sandwich anyone? The retina operation is apparently done under either general or local anaesthetic, but I seemed to skip the bit where I can opt for the big sleep and instead I am soon wearing hugely flattering surgical stockings with a local anaesthetic which was the numbing equivalent of a can of Fosters. A sheet is placed over my face like the shroud of Turin, with only my bad eye uncovered. The eyelids are prised open, and the surgeon informs me that he's going to get medieval on my ass. Well, he may as well have.
The whole situation wasn't helped by the fact that I had to listen to Classical FM for the hour. I appreciate that it keeps the surgeon relaxed, but all that caterwauling makes my teeth itch. Having the jelly sucked out of my eye will go down as one of most interesting sensations of my life, and in terms of the sorts of fluids I could have sucked out of my body, it doesn't take top spot. I think they used a Henry the Hoover for the procedure, and followed it by inserting an array of power tools into my eyeball looking for the lost city of Atlantis. At no point are you told how much pain / sensation to expect, and being totally subservient when it comes to medical professionals, we assume that doctor knows best. You get to hold a nice nurse's hand, and I think the guidelines are that when you break two of her fingers, the pain is too much. The retina is stuck back in place with a Frozone freeze ray, which was excruciating, and if this wasn't bad enough, the surgeon had spent much of this time leaning on my good eye! Next time I'm just going to ask them to go straight for the waterboarding and get it over with. The NHS is a wonderful thing, but sometimes you suspect that they did their training in Guantanamo Bay.
Ten minutes after having your eye stitched up (yes, I know, it makes my stomach flip too) you are given a cheese sandwich and are just about good to go. But first, they have to break the good news about the post-op rehab, and for the first time they mention the dreaded 'POSTURING1' Sounds a bit like posing doesn't it? Conjures up images of strutting, posing, preening teenagers, hanging out with their mates and attracting the chicks with a good bit of posturing. Well it isn't like that. Just like immobilising a broken arm or leg, in this instance you are immobilising your head. The reason for it is that instead of jelly inside your eyeball, you'be now got gas and you need to keep the gas in a certain place. Or something. You do this by lying down in a prescribed position for 50 minutes in every hour. You then get 10 minutes off to do the necessary, get blood flowing again, then back to the sofa. There are a variety of stress positions you might be prescribed, and pity the poor buggers who get to be face down for weeks on end. They either a) hire a massage table and watch TV through the hole or b) stick an ironing board in front of their chair and lean forwards over it. All these medical miracles, and we're reduced to Wallace and Grommit style post-op solutions. I got 'lucky' and got to lie on my right hand side. My right ear will never be the same again but, surrounded by the TV, audio books (no reading allowed) and BBC Sounds, I settle in for the long haul.
Very quickly, you get into a sort of pattern. Some would call it institutionalisation - how you get used to the environment you are reduced to. Fifty minutes lying on my right side, planning how much I can cram into my ten minutes of freedom. The clock ticks down, you've got your plan streamlined to perfection in your head and it's almost time to execute. Nearly there, have you got your priorities right for the ten minutes of freedom? If you skip the wee in favour of pot noodle, can you hold on until the next break? Is it worth brushing your teeth as snogging is off the agenda for a while? No time for second thoughts, your time is now! GO! GO! GO!
1. Put the kettle on. Starter for ten.
2, Down to the basement for 5, 6 or 7 minutes on the turbo to restore blood flow and morale.
3, Off the turbo for a wee. I'm an old man now.
4, Back up to make a brew to be drunk through a straw, grab a snack and back to the sofa, all in ten minutes.
As the worst part of a turbo session tends to be the first few minutes, you get that over and over again throughout the day, but if you get up early enough and keep at it, you're soon doing an hour a day on the turbo in the world's most bizarre interval session. It might not help your fitness, and it makes the sofa a bit 'frousty' but it makes you feel good and that's the main thing. Fifty minutes squashing your head into the sofa, plotting your next ten minutes of freedom, and repeat all day long for the next couple of weeks. In the two weeks I spent posturing, I went as far as the back garden a couple of times, but as your pupil is kept artificially dilated you react like a ginger vampire at dawn. Gorgeous sunshine outside and our house had all the curtains drawn like a crack den. After a few days you start to feel like a hostage, and wish someone would pay the bloody ransom.
Your world shrinks to the principles of a) do the rehab properly because I don't want to do this again b) stop feeling sorry for yourself c) try and find some joy in the tiniest things and d) don't be a dick to your loved ones. You find yourself rediscovering those things you'd forgotten - audio books, Radio 4, classic albums from the back of the CD collection, and a ban on reading means no social media, which is joyful. You try desperately not to pile back on all the weight that you spent months trying to lose, but your stomach capacity is still the same as a shipping container through years of eating like a teenager, so good luck with that.
Before you know it, the two weeks are up and you can sit upright again. We no longer have sofa cushions down the middle of our bed to stop me rolling onto my back, because that would have made my eyeball explode. It was not the most romantic two weeks of our married life, I can tell you. No bouncing around means no running and no cycling outdoors, but the turbo remains a part of my life for a few weeks longer and there is the outside chance that I can run Man v Horse, albeit having missed weeks and weeks of training. Having run it in the past with a broken collar bone, it can't be any worse, or can it?