Five-minute memoir: Lindsey Davis on life with her brand new eye

 

I always think first about the robin. I was digging the vegetable patch in my garden, because I was about to have an operation I was trying to forget. The robin flew down to look for worms – a real Secret Garden moment.

They are so bright, and communicative; I felt cheered, as if the bird somehow understood and came to comfort me.

I had a rare eye condition called keratoconus, 'conical lens'. My right cornea had become increasingly mis-shapen and now required a corneal transplant. A consultant had first described it as "like a car tyre getting a bulge in it" – frankly, a worrying image.

The condition affected my sight; for many years I was a willing guinea pig with a succession of innovative contact lenses, though they were hard to fit. Worst was that too much light could enter, very uncomfortably. The cornea became extremely sensitive to touch; one night my boyfriend was horrified to find me sitting on the edge of the bed, with my poor eye swollen and tears streaming as they had been doing for three hours, after his thumb inadvertently brushed my eyelid in his sleep.

The time had come. Even so, when my consultant put me on the transplant list, it came as such a surprise I asked hardly any questions. Would it hurt? How would I feel? What if it went wrong?

A corneal graft is 'major surgery', even though I was perfectly well in myself and the operation involved only a quarter of an inch of tissue. But this is organ donation. The surgery requires a full anaesthetic, so you don't move. That would be easy: the thought of having the front of your eye sliced off is alarming. As a keen dressmaker, I could imagine the skill needed to sew in the tiny new lens.

My friends and family were agitated; I said I would go to the hospital myself, then they could visit afterwards. (I need to explain: there was no question I would be blind. Unlike most people with keratoconus, I am very lucky and have a perfectly good left eye.)

But of course I was stressed. I had been warned I must do nothing strenuously physical until the new lens took – which was why I dug the veg patch like a lonely stalwart beforehand.

When I turned up at the hospital to be settled in, the robin had given me courage. I know that night I read Peter Wiseman's book on the death of the Roman Emperor Caligula, and I do recommend a mad tyrant's assassination, to calm you down in a crisis.

I thought keenly about the person who donated my new cornea – and I had a particular reason to think about their family. I never knew who they were. TV dramas get this wrong: you are discouraged from asking, or making contact – even to say thank you.

But I knew what they had gone through. Twenty years before this, my brother committed suicide. Max carried a donor card. Because there had to be a post mortem, his major organs could not be donated, only his eyes. I know how hard it is during sudden bereavement in terrible circumstances to say you want to do this. That's why I am a very strong supporter of opting out, not opting in.

I have heard people say, they could donate any organ except the eyes, because "they are the window of the soul". That makes me angry. A window is just a pane of glass. It has no effect on what happens either outside or in. A cornea is just the same.

That evening, as the ward grew quiet, a motorbike courier arrived. Being close to the nurses' station I overheard his cheery cry: "Where do you want the eye?" "Oh put it in the fridge!" It could have been macabre, yet the sheer matter-of-factness made me laugh and feel reassured. I'm laughing now, as I remember.

When I came round after the operation, my dear boyfriend was there. He helped me out of the hospital gown and I remember that getting into my own nightie seemed to mark the return to ordinary life. My editor and agent both visited. I remember my editor's amazement to find me wearing an eye-patch yet sitting up reading the paper. My agent had brought wine, but no bottle-opener; we destroyed the cork with a nail file eventually.

At no time did I feel I had acquired part of some other person. When the patch came off, that eye was mine already. Even with the invisible stitch still in, I could see more than the coloured blurs that had been all I could manage for years.

Two decades later, I remember the robin, the courier, the people who loved me, and my unknown donor. We are bonded through this stranger's generosity; they will always be part of me.

Lindsey Davis is the author of 'Master and God' (Hodder & Stoughton). She is also the current chair of the Society of Authors

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn