In April we went out on a special distribution trip to one particular Syrian refugee ad-hoc encampment.  For two weeks on the hop, we had been unable to get to this small encampment that we have entitled “White House”.

We named it “White House” because the Syrian refugee field workers are encamped around the house of the gang-master.  The gang-master is the individual who arranges the work force for those who need field workers.  They also are responsible for providing a degree of provision for the Syrian refugee field workers; for example, at the very least, they arrange a place for them to pitch their shelters, and arrange transport for them to and from the work in the field and that they have access to a source of water.  In this instance, the gang-master’s house is painted white and stands proud on the edge of a rise – hence the name, White House.

The White House encampment was on the list for distribution a fortnight previously, but, due to new registrations at previous encampments, we depleted our stock of food stuffs before we were able to get to the White House.

This happened the following week as well.

So, we determined to go out on a special trip to just that encampment.

According to the new conditions imposed upon us by the local district governor, as we passed through the town of Kırıkhan, we picked up our two ‘companions’ who accompany and observe us – our minders.

As we were driving towards the White House, along the simple roads between the fields, we passed an encampment where we had been just the previous Monday.  It was immediately apparent that the overwhelming majority of the people were gone – just the scars on the ground giving poignant testimony to where their shelters had once been pitched.

Then, as we drew near to the White House, everyone in the van was commenting on a new encampment.  It was on the left hand side of the van, but, driving as I was, I was looking at the road and immediately to my right a new shelter that had been erected caught my attention… hence I didn’t see this ‘new encampment’.

On arrival at the White House and realising my error, I walked back down to the bend in the road where I could see this new, rather sizeable encampment, dominating the top of a barren rise about a kilometre or so from the White House.  This new encampment was towards the border from the White House.  The White House is just under seven kilometres (as the crow flies) from the border and this new encampment, would be just under six kilometres distance.

Because, currently, there are not many refugees at the White House, we quickly processed the list and distributed the foodstuffs. We routinely load extra (as a hedge against the unexpected), and there was a new family to register.  They were registered and provided with foodstuffs.  When all was done and finished, we had but two bags of foodstuffs surplus to requirements.  Not bad planning.

It was as we completing the distribution at the White House that one of our two ‘companions’ got my attention.  He was the one who just a fortnight earlier was ‘offended’ because, in his view, we were ‘advertising’ that we were Christians and that he was very strongly of the opinion that this was wrong’;  this was the same chap who had complained and had the Gendarme (in charge of rural policing) called out to stop us.  Now he came up to me with a query.

He earnestly inquired if we were planning to go to the new encampment just observed a kilometre off, with a view to assessing the needs there.  He made this enquiry in such a manner and with the clear understanding that he felt that we should do just that.

I was not expecting that, especially from him, after all we unashamedly and unabashedly ‘advertise’ that we are ‘Christians’ and that the provisions are provided by ‘churches’.

In actual fact we were planning on going there to determine if they were Syrian refugees and from whence they had come and what their needs are.

Meanwhile, at the White House, the gang-master’s wife treated us to some powerfully strong Turkish coffee in the traditional demitasse cups…  It gives you an almighty kick to carry on with.  Our travelling ‘companions’ declined the coffee.  After we had enjoyed the break, we climbed back into the van and headed out.

We hadn’t travelled fifty metres when the road before us was nigh unto blocked by two farm tractors thundering up the road (these roads are, er, not of a generous width).  As I slowed and pulled as far to the right side of the road as I could safely go, E recognised the lead tractor driver and asked me to wait.

The first tractor shuddered to an abrupt, skidding halt which caused the following tractor to also hastily slam to a stop – it is a narrow road.

The lead tractor driver came up to our van.  He had recognised us, and E had recognised him.   He is one whom we have aided in the past, but he and his family had moved and we lost touch with them.

They were lost, but now they are found.

We felt that this was significant as he has a sweet wee daughter afflicted with Cerebral Palsy and his sister is in a struggling battle with cancer.  We gave him the last of the food stuffs that we had and learned where he and his family are now abiding.  We added them to the list for our normal distribution.

rocky fields and shelters 2We then carried on to this ‘new’ encampment we had seen.  It consists of about 25 + shelters, encamped on a slight, rather desolate rocky rise.  The field where they are situated has not been ploughed – can not be easily ploughed because of the large rocks – and so it looks to be a drainable, dry site for the pitching of an encampment.  There is no water, but, hey, isn’t that what water bowsers were created for?

water bowser
Water Bowser
open water containers
Kitchen & Washing Water sitting in the open air

We parked up and immediately the wee children began to materialise, and as they did so, we instantly recognised them.

It seems the encampment we had seen on our way to the White House, the one that appeared to be ‘almost abandoned’ has in fact moved, lock, stock and barrel to this new location.  Those shelters that we did see in the old location, are actually erected and populated by new (unregistered) people who have taken over that location.

The gang-master for the encampment we were in, arrived and we ascertained the relevant details, and commissioned a name for this new encampment (there are trees nearby – across the road – so we are calling it ‘the Grove’).  This established, we departed.

Isken Yani 1 at a distance
the other half of the encampment

The following Monday, on our return to this area, and in the course of our planned distribution, we were directed to another new encampment.  This encampment struck me as strange as it is divided into two distinct clusters, separated by about 150 metres or so.

Even in desperate conditions, mankind can display discrimination and petty rivalries and strife – they have all fled the same, most abhorrent violence, chaos and terror and are now living in primitive, deplorable circumstance, existing, literally hand to mouth, and yet they can still squabble and fight and shun one another.

Many of the people in this ‘new encampment’ had been previously registered at other locations – it turns out that, in like manner,  these were people whom we had lost contact with.

They, too, are now found.

Once the registration was completed, we distributed the remainder of the food stuffs we had on the lorry (our ‘contingency’).  We were restricted in what we could provide as our contingency was not sufficient to provide that which we would normally distribute which is according to the size of the families.

From this new encampment (we have identified as parts 1 & 2) we departed to meet a chap who had flagged us down on the road.  He asked us to come and see the Syrian refugees living near his farmstead.

We agreed to meet him at the corner where he had flagged us down.  From there we followed him to a new encampment situated just over three kilometres from the border.  There, three long platforms had been carved out of the hillside to make flat surfaces for the shelters to be erected (hence not using up valuable field space).  Apparently, he is the gang-master and lives, I presume, in the farm house nearby.

At this location, which we have christened “Border”, we encountered another 20 shelters (nearly 100 souls).

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In this encampment there are many young babies, but, alas, we had no nappies left.  We went to this encampment on the following Monday for our monthly distribution (with sufficient nappies).

Already, at the start of this season the number of encampments and individuals has increased.  Consequently we have had to go from twice a month to three times a month for our distribution.

This is a significant increase in amount of work involved.  For three months we had a group of Americans helping, and they have been doing the heavy lifting.  Alas, they left at the end of April.

And now, what shall we do – what can we do – with our diminished numbers and limited strength…

When you see the innocents, the children, the babies, the young teenage girls and boys whose world has been wrenched and torn asunder – when you look at their ‘washrooms’ – a tarpaulin enclosed frame with some tarpaulin on the floor to ensure you are not standing in mud as they sponge bathe; or you examine the kitchen, often another tarpaulin enclosed structure with no chairs, tables, benches, cupboards, oh, and no cooker… ; or you look in the shelters and see some carpet on the floor, laid over the rough field surface, with precious little else in the shelter; living in barren and desolate fields with no means to prevent the ingress of all manner of creepy-crawly insects and a whole host of field creatures; when you consider the ‘toilet facilities’, one of the most basic of human requirements and see a tarpaulin enclosed square over a shallow hole in the ground at the edge of the encampments, no security or real privacy –  this calls us to persevere – for as long as the opportunity and means exists, for at the end of the day, when I leave the fields behind me, I go to my home, close my real, substantial door, where I reside in security, with indoor plumbing, running water and nice hot food.

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On  the days that we are out in the fields seeking to provide some practical assistance to Syrian refugee field workers, it is our normal practice to stop mid-way through for a meal break.  

We do not stop willy-nilly, indeed there are only a few places that we habitually return to.  These locations have gained this status by meeting certain criteria.  For example, a place must not be too near an encampment or other buildings, have space to park safely off the road and it simply must have shade – which is essential, vital, in the hot summer months.

In the region where we labour, we have settled on a limited number of locales that meet this criteria; one at an isolated tree on the edge of a field, another under the trees at a water pumping station, and one that is next door to a well treed cemetery.  The latter one, the cemetery, is also situated in the lee of a very distinctively shaped bald hill.

Recently we arrived at my specifically selected and chosen luncheon venue, by the cemetery.

That may sound a bit odd as a place to lunch, but cemeteries in Turkey are often treed – and hence the shade so-created spills over the boundary, giving the weary traveller or in our case, the weary aid provider, a coolish place to rest without having to actually go into the cemetery.  

By this particular cemetery there is ample off road parking.

IMG_8963.jpgWhen this venue was originally selected as a ‘luncheon venue’, the fact that there is barren hill beside the cemetery was not in the least a factor in choosing it.  

But, today I specifically selected this venue, precisely because of that hill.

On even a cursory observation, it is apparent that this is not a natural hill.  Its unique shape tells the observer that while this hill is not ‘natural’ – it is the ‘natural result’ of continuous human occupation over millennia.  

These distinctive hills or mounds develop, because, historically the most common building materials were simple, sun baked mud bricks and/or wattle plastered with mud mixed with dung and straw.  

In time, the buildings inevitably return to the soil from whence they were born.  This deterioration can be the results of the effects of rain, neglect, age, fire or humanity being what it is, wanton destruction.   In the ‘crumble down – rebuild’ process, new buildings are constructed over the remains of the previous building, resulting over time in the creation of a rather unique shape, and this shape speaks, it ‘tells’ that that location is the site of human occupation stretching over millennia. 

As these mounds grow, not much at first, but over lifetimes, over centuries, and then over literally millennia, a distinctively shaped hill develops and slowly rises above the plain.  These mounds have surprisingly steep sides, often with a slightly tapered side and, invariably, with an unnaturally flat top.  This is their prevalent shape and they are fairly wide spread across Mesopotamia – the Fertile Crescent.  

It is because these mounds are the result of the same common, human activities, that in various locations across this region, they share the same basic shape.  This is so widespread and so common that it has become a means of recognising the location of these ancient settlements.  It has become a ‘tell’, something that clearly indicates that history is buried and hidden within.  

Archaeologists, often names things in a simple, plain, unimaginative, prosaic fashion: when they engage in an excavation or in other words, they are engaged in actually digging an archaeological site, they refer to that simply as a ‘dig’.  When something is found in a ‘dig’, it is unimaginatively referred to as a ‘find’.  And the indicators that inform or tell the archaeologist that a mound is actually the remnants of human activity, it is banally labeled a ‘tell’.   


IMG_4629 Amik Ovasi tell map smallThe plains around Antakya are liberally decorated by these characteristic ‘tells’. 

I am aware that there are one or two ‘tells’, by the main road that traverses the plain from Antakya to Reyhanlı, that have been excavated revealing, among other things, centuries of Hittite rule and millennia of human habitation.  Many impressive artefacts from these and other ‘tells’ are on display at the local Archaeological Museum telling the story of daily life, government, religion and tracing the history that has transpired on this plain since time immemorial.

This broad valley that leads to Antakya has always been a fertile region and hence mankind has dwelt, married, buried and farmed here from antiquity.  The area is still actively farmed and farming communities continue to be dotted all over the plain – hence the presence here of Syrian refugee field workers.  These are desperate people, willing to do whatever needs to be done.  Field work is hard, strenuous, poorly remunerated, providing no security – no one chooses to do it if they have any choice.  Thankless, profitless, arduous do not begin to adequately describe the work.

IMG_8506.jpgPreviously, we had eaten here, by the cemetery, on the skirt of this striking mound, on a number of occasions, and, being acutely aware as I am of the presence of this millennia old, man-made accumulation of the detritus of daily life, I have silently longed to ascend the pinnacle of the mound.  But, alas, not to inconvenience others in my personal quest, I both refrained from sharing my longing and from arbitrarily heading off on my own.

However, on this particular day, the mid-day break was at the end of our business for the day, therefore, there wasn’t the normal pressure of time hanging over me.  Speaking with my companions, and gaining their understanding, I grabbed my lunch and together with T, we headed off, eating and walking, so as not to delay our departure unnecessarily.  We headed up the tapered end of the mound as being the least demanding means of making the ascent – the other sides being as they are, rather steep.

Roughly speaking, the mound probably stands 30 metres (or about 100 feet) or more proud of the surrounding flat plain. 

IMG_8488.jpgAs we began our stroll up the mound, it wasn’t difficult effort, I noticed the soil was liberally littered with the ‘plastic of the ancient world’ – pottery shards.  Here and there some stones were visible, lying partly buried in the soil, the sizes ranging from apple-sized to large melon-sized in diameter.

Some of the pottery shards were IMG_8489.jpgreasonably large, with clear shapes, a rim here, a handle there mixed with smaller bits and bobs.  In the words of the British Archaeological television programme ‘Time Team’, the breaks in the pottery were clean and not worn, indicating that the soil has not been disturbed.  Time Team is a wonderful TV programme that makes archaeology easily accessible and understandable.  I, for one, find it highly entertaining and informative; it is available to view on YouTube.

As we made our ascent, I had to remind myself that people did not live at this site for the view, as the growth of the mound was the result of a natural process involving the building materials (sun baked mud bricks), copious amounts of time, depredations of the buildings over time, no doubt the odd earthquake and again, humanity being what it is, destruction resulting from passing armies and marauding raiding parties.  As time passed, later generations built their homes on the ruins of the previous structures and consequently, the settlement slowly rose above the plain.  The first settlers had a limited view, the latter residence had a marvellous view over the surrounding plain.

If an archaeologist were to come and conduct a professional ‘dig’, interpreting the ‘finds’, they would be able to discern the various levels of occupation and read the history contained therein.  They could correctly decipher the signs of earthquakes and fires in the soil.  They could trace the development of tools and society in the detritus that remains.

An unschooled individual like myself, can but look and marvel at the amount of pottery shards, at the height of the mound, at the rocks on the flat top – common-looking, uncut rocks that are only there because someone at some point in the past picked them up from somewhere else and physically carted them up there.  

Were these stones the basis of a foundation for some building or did they perform some other function – well, those are questions left for the archaeologist.IMG_8487 stones.jpg

When we crested the mound, and began walking the circuit of the flat top, it was not as I expected.  

I knew they all have a distinctive flat top – that is part of the features that declares that it is a ‘tell’.  But I had assumed that they were basically circular or ovalidal in shape at the top.  That was an assumption.

IMG_8478 flat top.jpgThis particular one, the only one I’ve had the pleasure and honour to walk upon, did indeed have the flat top, with the slightly trailing taper, but on the opposite side of the mound, there was what appeared like a shallow depression from the top going down to the north out of the mound to the plain.  This depression made an incursion into the top of the mound, denying it a full flat ovalidal shape in practice. It did not appear to me to have been something that was done to the mound after the fact – but I do not not know.  It struck me (unschooled and uneducated in all things archaeological as I am) as an original artefact of the mound, which had developed over time and in the life of the ‘tell’.  Obviously, I could be completely wrong.  

Nevertheless, I found it very fascinating.

I have seen mounds on the plains around the birthplace of Abraham, south of Urfa, at the village that surrounds and over-dwells the ‘tell’ of Haran.  From the top of that partially excavated ‘tell’, you can see the neighbouring ‘tells’ on the surrounding plain.  Those reflect the existences of villages and towns that date back to the prosperous era of farming on that plain in the time of Abraham.  They were probably closer to the level of the plain then, only over the subsequent centuries and millennia slowly working their way upwards to the dominant mounds they are today.

On our journeys around Turkey, we’ve driven past many ‘tells’, some, silent, deserted monuments to that which once was, and others where people are continuing the tradition to live and work on that locus – those tells where mankind has been doing just that for millennia and continues to do so…

It was a real treat for me to be able surmount that tell.  That is the good news.

However, now, I would love to visit another tell (there are many on the plain around where we labour).  That is the bad news.  I’m not here to indulge my passion for old mounds of dirt.

Having said that, maybe another opportunity will present itself.  I am not going out of my way to find one, but, if it so transpires that one presents itself, and if it is appropriate and there is time, I will grasp it…     

For me, these ‘tells’ are truly fascinating… not much to see to my uneducated, untrained eyes, but, the connection to humanity over millennia, for me, that is, well, intriguing… 

My wife and haven’t done anything special for a while, so I floated the idea of walking down to the new Antakya Archaeological Museum to have a gander. We’ve been there before, but as we purchased ‘Museum Passes’ last autumn, we can go for ‘free’.  Of course it is not actually ‘free’, but more accurately ‘pre-paid’, but it feels free. Sometimes it is nice to go to a museum, and streak past many exhibits to spend time exploring, experiencing and enjoying just one particular aspect. The Museum Pass enables this. Summer has not yet come, and consequently, strolling in the afternoon is acceptable, so we decided to head out in the afternoon.

After lunch, we struck out, planning a fairly direct course as the museum is a fair walk away (3.3 kilometres there – oh, and then there is back).

This took us, naturally, to the dominate road in the old quarter of Antakya. This road is ‘Salvation Avenue’.  Salvation can have a special meaning for Christians, but locally, it is probably a reference to the war of independence or some other victorious battle.

This ‘Salvation Avenue’ runs, straight as a die, through the heart of the old quarter.  By examining street plans of the ancient city – and due to the mountain being a a fixed point, and the river (until recently crossed by the ancient Roman bridge) as another fixed point, you can discern where the ancient layout and the modern ‘old quarter’ coincide.

In ancient times there was a major street dissecting the metropolis. This was a unique, colonnaded street which hosted the first street in the Roman Empire to boast ‘street lighting’… a significant thoroughfare and as Romans tended to make, a very straight street.

It would appear that ‘Salvation Avenue’ follows directly on top of the course of this ancient thoroughfare. If archaeologists were to conduct a dig, it is extremely likely they will come upon the ruins of that ancient way just two or three metres below the road surface.

We headed off, our goal in mind.

As we walked along on the pavement, I noticed ahead, two men dressed in civil attire, but one had a distinctive radio hanging from his waist.

As we drew nigh, the one with the radio turns towards me, and pointing a single finger directly at me, directs me to stop. He looks like a policeman. His manner of stopping me was as one who has authority, very unlike salesmen and beggars.

Once stopped, he begins patting and examining his pockets until he finds his ID and produces it to officially declare that he is a policeman. His travelling companion did not do this – I suppose one is sufficient, would be the thinking.

He knew he had stopped foreigners, we are somewhat obvious, he therefore spoke in English, and asked for my passport.

Under the current conditions, I ‘never leave home without it’. I reached into my pocket and produced my passport. He looked at it and we then had a discussion on what made up the ‘United Kingdom’.

My wife, following our rules, ‘only do or answer what you are asked, volunteer nothing’, is standing there, passport safely stored in her bag.

He asked for her passport as well.

They took photos of both passports – the modern ‘smart phone’ at work in all its glory. Then they sent a text message or email with the salient information from the passport somewhere.

He asked what I do. I explained I ‘help a local church’. My belief is the truth will be spoken convincingly and comfortably – and is verifiable and hence is the best course to follow.  Besides, Holy Writ instructs me that my ‘yes’ needs to be ‘yes’ and my ‘no’ must mean ‘no’ – in other words be honest in my communications.

Which church?, and such questions naturally followed.

This done, they hold us there on the side of the footpath – it is not a wide footpath.

A man came up to assist, he identified himself as the local ‘muhtar’ (the elected head of a neighbour in a town). The two identify themselves as police (without showing ID) and the man beats a prompt retreat.

We are informed that we are awaiting a message – our details having been sent somewhere, are being scrutinised and a response will be forthcoming.

As we wait, the other policeman engages me in a discussion of religion – specifically, ‘Protestantism’ and ‘Evangelicals’. As we are chatting, the other policeman’s phone rings and I hear him talking with the person on the other end. He refers to me as a person with responsibilities at a church.

When the call was concluded, he, making no additional comment, gave us back our passports and sent us on our way.

So it was a ‘random stop and check’… he seemed to be at pains to point out that we were not the only ones so stopped.  That, in itself is somewhat odd for me – why would you do that, unless…. it was not random, but targeted…. it is a path I use frequently….

Enough pointless and profitless paranoia…

There is a very important referendum on Easter Sunday – we will be celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, and the Turks will be going about their democratic duty voting in the referendum. This has probably resulted in some additional security checks.

 

I did not enjoy a very comfortable sleep, but I rarely do on the night before the day when I must rise at an unusually early hour. As I had selected 05:00 as the best time to rise, this easily qualifies as ‘unusually early’ for me.  But it was not too early, for it allowed me just enough time to get prepared for the day and the hour long drive into London and to the hospital.  As a diabetic, it is not wise to head out without sustenance – blood sugar goes down as well as up.

The Christmas break – synonymous with people on leave and hence a massive reduction in the amount of traffic clogging the roads – was over and motorway traffic reflected this even when we commenced the drive at 06:00 in the morning.  

Once in London proper, traffic was busy – not yet rush hour and nowhere near its daily gridlock, but nevertheless teeming with vehicles.

As I had previously reconnoitred where the hospital was, the location of the Moorfields Eye Hospital clinic within the hospital’s sprawling  complex and most importantly, where the parking area was – parking is the scourge of London – overall, I had a good idea of where we were going.  

On our arrival we drove into the expansive campus and made our way to the parking area, driving past the entrance to the Moorfields Eye Department.  As we drove by, I duly noted that several people were waiting, in the dark and cold, by the entrance door.

Knowing that today was going to be knocked for six by the procedure, and as we were early, I took advantage of our early arrival and walked around the large, spread out institution twice for some exercise – the 10,000 step per day goal isn’t achieved automatically.  Then, as the department had opened, we paid for our parking (the machine only begins dispensing tickets at 07:00) and in we went.

At reception we were told to proceed up the corridor and take the first right and then to take a seat on the ‘green chairs’.  So off we traipsed.  

The ‘green chairs’ were not in a room but stretched along one side of the side corridor.  There we encountered those who had been waiting outside.  It seems that they, like me, were there for a cataract procedure.  

Waiting outside in the cold and dark ensured that they were now at the head of the queue.  They were chatting happily amongst themselves.  It seems we all had an ‘early morning’ appointment.

It did not require Sherlock Holmes to deduce that this portion of the corridor functioned as both a corridor and as a ‘waiting room’.  We took the next available green chairs, sat down and commenced the task of waiting.

Now if you are waiting for a special treat, to meet someone you have always wanted to meet, or to go somewhere you always wanted to go to, there is a palpable excitement and anticipation, impatience even.

But, waiting for something that is essentially intrusive and unpleasant, something that ‘must be done’, just isn’t in the same league.   

There I sat, stewing in my thoughts, pondering what I ‘think’ is coming, and, yet, not really knowing – I have no previous experience to inform my mind.   However, my imagination can be quite active when it is provoked – this procedure was definitely provoking it, and it was busy filling in the blanks.

After not a lengthy time of musing, I began to wonder if what I have told others is really true: “The only thing worse than cataract surgery is living with cataracts”.  

Maybe cataracts aren’t so bad after all…

In the waiting corridor there is not a lot to do.  The main, well, the only task really, is to wait.  Whilst sitting there, ‘waiting’, I observed.  

I noted various members of staff, in diverse uniforms going about their labours; moving trollies of waste, or shifting supplies, or entering or leaving various rooms with design and direction.  They are engaged in a wide range of activities and have purpose – we on the green chairs sit with nothing to do, save, think and anticipate – rather docile, cowed, subdued…

Someone pops out of the room on our side of the corridor and calls one of the people waiting on my left.  They rise and disappear into the room.

After a bit they return and sit down.  Another name is called and in they go.  

And this procedure is repeated another time.

Then one of the people previously called, is called again and they return to the room.  

And so it goes, the first three folks are called and return and called again.  At one point they return with an arrow drawn on their foreheads with black felt tip marker, indicating which eye is getting the ‘treatment’.

Then, after half an hour, my name is called.

I rise, lacking any enthusiasm and with motions more like a condemned man, I enter the room.  

I see that it is a not large room; a simple rectangular space that has been subdivided into three divisions by curtains.  In each little division there are chairs, tables, cupboards and various types of equipment.

I am directed into the first division.

A surly nurse was there.  She didn’t greet me.  I smiled – she didn’t reciprocate.  I don’t think she was having a ‘happy’ day, and it was just beginning.  

She sat me down, a grump on her face, and took my blood pressure.  Once my blood pressure was duly recorded, she then did a ‘finger prick’ blood test for my blood glucose levels.  She informed me, only after I inquired, that both results were good.  She then brusquely dispatched me back to the corridor to wait.

After a while, I was called again, by a doctor, or maybe a junior doctor, I do not know, and I entered into the second division for a brief consultation.

My file was on open on the table before him and he informed me that as my eye is astigmatic it was essential that a special scan of my eye be taken to determine what kind of replacement lens to apply – normal or ‘toric’ lens – whatever ‘toric’ means.  I had had the scan done prior to this appointment (at a different Moorfield’s clinic in a different hospital) – but, alas, the scan printout was not in my notes.

Sooooo…

They arranged to have another scan taken there and then.  Hence, I was sent back to the ‘waiting corridor’ whilst they busied themselves getting the operator found, the machine turned on and prepared to take the scan.  This was not planned.

Once the machine was turned on and fired up and with two members of staff in attendance, the scan was once more accomplished and the printout duly affixed to my file.  The operator then busied himself examining the printout.

Back I went to the waiting corridor.

After a while my file came out of the ‘scan’ room and into the room where the consultation had taken place.

And still I waited….  

Well, it is a ‘waiting corridor’ after all.

After a while, I, once again, was called in to see the doctor or junior doctor, whatever he was.  My file now displaying my multi-coloured eye scan is lying on the table.  Indeed, I was to receive the ‘toric’ lens, which will go some way to correcting my genetic astigmatism.  

I have subsequently learned that a toric lens has two different curvatures to assist in correcting both astigmatism and short or long sightedness – and as such is rather difficult to fit as it must be set correctly in the eye for both curvatures to work correctly.

The doctor, or junior doctor then informed me that, as part of the preparations for the procedure, he now had to stick a needle in my eye (!).

This was not what I would call good news, and I had no previous knowledge that this would be happening, but as I’m on this ‘ride’, I have no control as to what happens, I can only get on or get off the ride.  

But, if I have decided to have the procedure done, then I must submit to whatever is required, or opt out and get off the ride – to abandon the procedure – and continue living with an active and growing cataract.

Stinging drops were once again administered – this is becoming a habit.    The drops were to numb the eye, so I wouldn’t ‘feel’ what was going on.  He then got a sealed, packaged needle out, ripped it out of it sterile environment and had me place my head in the head rest with my chin on the chin rest and forehead pressed into the forehead rest.

He, positioning a microscope like device in front of my eye, moved in close and pressed the needle into the left side of my right eye.

“Well, that’s all done…” thought I, “not too bad…”.  

Not quite.

He did it again.

Oh, and again.  

Then there was a lateral movement, a tearing like movement.  I’m not feeling ‘pain’, but I am more than aware of the poking, prodding and dragging transpiring within my eye.  

Pleasant is not the adjective I would choose to describe it.  

Horrific and terrifying are also not words I would choose, for it wasn’t, but, it definitely was not in the ‘pleasant’ range.

He then moved over to the opposite side of my eye and proceeded to poke around in my eye with the needle on that side.  

Definitely not ‘pleasant’.

Also, at some point he declared that he needed to ‘mark my eye’.  

Please note: not mark my forehead identifying which eye for the procedure, but he was referring to actually ‘marking my eye’ with what looked like a wee marker pen.  This, too, was applied to my eye, my living, poked, prodded and eye-dropped eye.  

This was added to the sum of what I had experienced thus far, and I must admit, that overall, it was not really a pleasant, fun experience and it kind of was setting the stage for the actual procedure yet to come…

Also on this occasion, subsequent to the physical ‘marking of my eye’ he also did make the ‘mark’ on my forehead, identifying which eye was to be subject to the procedure.  I must admit, I think that marking my forehead with a large, black arrow pointing at the target eye is a good thing to do.

After all this, it was back to the waiting corridor for me… now clearly designated with the ‘mark of the operation’ on my forehead.

The next time I was to be called, after having been duly poked, prodded, scanned, pricked, eye-drops dropped and marked, as I was, would be to go in for the actual procedure…

Oh joy, the anticipation…

After some additional waiting in the waiting corridor, I was duly summoned and leaving my glasses behind, like a lamb to the slaughter, I meekly shuffled down the corridor.  The nurse gave me a wee little plastic head covering to put on to cover my hair and I entered ‘the room’, on the opposite side of the corridor.

As I entered I immediately noticed one member of staff, perched on a high stool diligently reading the morning newspaper.  The other nurse then instructed me to lie down, on my back, on the raised table in the middle of the room and place my head in the head rest.

I found it rather ironic for in Turkey I have to put plastic booties over my shoes to visit the dentist, but here, for my cataract surgery, surgery to be executed on my eye, I have my street shoes on – just as they are, as I lie on the table.

The nurse put a pulse monitor on my finger and began explaining what she would be doing.  This nurse, unlike the other member of staff, who was fully engrossed in reading the morning paper, was in charge of getting me ready for the procedure.  

Not sure what the other member of staff was there to do.

However, one of the tasks that the busy one had to do, was to put another series of drops in my eye….  So the poking, prodding and dropping was not yet completed.

These drops were to dilate, numb, and freeze the eye – oh and to sting.  Fun.

At one point my eye was smarting rather smartly and my whole body was tensing up, as it does.  Now, in the background I could hear the beep, beep, beep of my pulse monitor.  But when I tensed up, the beeping stopped…. 

I must be dead !

There is no beep beep…

But I didn’t feel dead – there was a bright light in front of my eye, but not the one accompanied by Heavenly music.  Rather the bright light had to do with what the nurse was doing to or in my eye.  After a bit, the beeping recommenced, reassuring me that I had not died, or at least I was once again in the land of the living.

When she had positioned me properly on the table, settled my head into the rest and finished with the drops in my eye, she said she was going to help the person who had just had the procedure in the theatre out and then I would go in…

So, there I lay, eyes shut – with my head in the rest, aimed at the ceiling, hence there was nothing to see, and besides my right eye had shut on its own.  Resting, anticipating, musing and pondering if I really should be having this procedure done… all a wee bit late in the day… but what else do you have to ponder and consider…

I heard the doors open and the nurse return.  It was at that moment I realised that I was already lying on the operating table as I was directly wheeled into theatre, dirty shoes and all.

I can only see with my one functioning eye and then it is just the ceiling and lights – not the most intriguing and entertaining perspective on life.  My table is wheeled in under the operating theatre lights and comes to a stop.  

I can hear two men talking – well, one man talking rather authoritatively to another.  

He was saying things like “you kept pressing on, you should have stopped” and “you need to be aware of…” and other corrective and instructive statements.

Corrective, instructive, and indicative that the person doing the previous procedure was not, er, ah, well, fully trained, or maybe trained but not yet fully qualified.  

Not reassuring.  

Not a warming, good thought in the cockles of my heart.

Moorfields Hospital4 are experts in eye surgery and cataract surgery, and are also a renown ‘teaching hospital’…  A teaching hospital, yes, a “teaching hospital” which, er, well, engages in teaching – and that involves hands on experience for the trainee doctors… I hadn’t thought about that before, but I definitely was considering it then and there, on the table…

This all resulted in the natural and inescapable thought: “Yikes!  Will I too, have some novice doing his first procedure on my one and only right eye…

Then the authoritative speaking voice said, “Go and write up your notes”.  The ‘other man’ was being dismissed – sent from the room.  

That was encouraging, but, alas, there could be other novices silently waiting in the room, awaiting their turn to try their hand at this delicate and critical procedure.

Then a face came into view in my one functioning eye.  He introduced himself and said that he was the ‘consultant’ who would be doing the procedure.

Immense relief filled me… the consultant, the instructor to the instructees, would be doing the procedure.  

Very selfish I know, but I felt a strong sense of reassurance and, frankly relief.

He explained it would take between fifteen to twenty minutes for the surgery with the bulk of the time given to preparations.

I thought, “So much for ten minutes – in and out,” that I had heard and read about.  I had already been in hospital for over two hours and they were threatening that I would be there for another two or three hours…

After the consultant conducted a series of checks, looking at my hospital bracelet on my right wrist, having me tell him my name and date of birth and also having me confirm what procedure I was having and to which eye and which lens would be applied.  Then the consultant  confirmed a bunch of things about the lens being employed and a myriad of other details that I could not begin to understand with other health professionals in the room (out of my very limited vision).  He then excused himself to go and get ‘scrubbed up’.

A new pulse monitor had been fixed to my finger, but this beep was not as loud, I could not hear it very easily.  And as part of the preparation, the consultant had securely tapped my head to the head rest – no movement possible.   Hence now I could not turn and see the pulse monitor and in the same manner I could not see what my pulse rate was.   Considering the operation that was about to take place, probably a good thing that I could not physically wiggle my head about.

Although I couldn’t see the pulse monitor, I could hear it – just – and I found it somewhat reassuring to hear the beep beep beep… however it was too low a sound… sometimes it was audible and others times not… a transitory reassurance – undependable.

I lay there waiting…. well-strapped to the table as I was, I couldn’t actually stretch my legs, nor do a runner could I.

The consultant returned and they all began to busy themselves around ‘the table’.  A blanket was laid over my legs – the room was distinctly chilly, and a tray of something was deposited on my legs, instruments were being prepared.

“I’m going to put a sheet over you now” declared the consultant.

A plastic thing was then placed over my right eye.  Now, as far as I am concerned, my right eye has been and continues to be closed.  I can see nothing.

So much for, “you can’t see any details just a light”; for all I was aware, my eye was closed – I could see nothing, not even the ‘light’.

I did wonder when they would open the eyelid for the procedure… I wasn’t looking forward to that, but I’m along for the ride, they know what they are doing and it will be dragged open in the fullness of time.

The thing he placed over my eye seemed to have a large ring of flexible play-dough like material.  I’m not saying that is what it was, just, that is what it felt like – I saw nothing.  It completely surrounded my eye like a very large doughnut. 

He pushed down on it and vigorously worked it, like if you were working dough or something like that – pressing it down on my face and making it conform to the unique form and shape of my face.

I had been told that when the eye is opened they spray a wee mist on it, to keep it moist, and this liquid can run off your face, and often into your ear – I was told to expect this and not be alarmed by it.

However, at the end of the procedure I came out bone dry, I can only assume that the round, pliable doughnut shaped thing that was firmly pressed and worked down on my face had conformed sufficiently to my face that not a drop seeped out to find my ear.  T later recounted to me that the previous occupant of the table, she saw them in the recovery room, was soaked, not just her ear but hair,  neck and down her back.  Once again, I am very thankful for the consultant performing the procedure. 

Back to the Theatre – what a strange name for the place where the procedure will take place – after the fitting of the round pliable thingy, an instrument was inserted on the right side of my nose, I assume either into the eye, or ready to do whatever it is that it does to or in the eye.  Something was positioned above my eye at about my eyebrow line.  I was very aware of various  movements, motions and ‘workings’.

I’m still wondering when they will ‘roll up my eyelid’ to enable them to see what they would be doing, and hence I would perceive the ‘light’ and ‘shadows’ that I had been told about.

Yet, I could feel things ‘inside my eye’; sometimes still, sometimes moving, often just the presence or motion, sometimes there was a wee sharp pain.  

So much for  “no pain – you feel nothing”.  

I felt something and it wasn’t pleasant.  

Don’t get me wrong, there was no gut wrenching, out right PAIN pain, just the occasional, wee sharp prick that reminded me, if I needed reminding, that they were poking, prodding and well, mucking around inside my eye.

Then there was a sudden loud sound,  a ‘Beep-boop’ followed by another ‘Beep-boop’.  I have no idea what that sound means – but to my overactive and a little paranoid mind, it says “oh-oh, went to far” or something negative like that… kind of a warning sound.  But, truth be told, I do not know what it actually means and as there was no “gasp” or reaction of any kind at the intrusion of this sound, it must have been ‘normal’.

They all calmly carried on without the slightest reaction – almost like they initiated whatever made the noise and fully expected it – unlike me. 

For them it was normal, nevertheless, nevertheless, throughout my time on the time, and at various points, I became aware that my body had tensed up – all the muscles from my neck to my toes were tensed and tight, even my back arching slightly.

I’ve encountered this experience many times in the past, especially whilst reclining in the dentist chair.  The whine of the drill filling my ears, the pressure and activity in my mouth and I would silently, without my conscious mind directing it, tense up.  Every time I became aware of this tensing and tightening, I would focus on relaxing, take a deep breath, slowly releasing it, and all the while consciously relaxing all the tensed and tight muscles… until next time.

And so, I applied that technique here in the operating theatre.  At every occasion when I became aware that I was tensed up and my muscles were tight, I would exhale, take a deep breath and let it out slowly, consciously relaxing all the tensed and tight muscles.  

Every time I became aware of this natural physiological reaction to the stress of being in the operating theatre and the activity going on inside of my eye, I would focus my mind and thoughts, not on what was going on, but on the task of relaxing and breathing.  

It has been noted that more discomfort is felt and the mind is more focused on any distress when you are tensed and tight.  The opposite is also equally noted, that you feel less and are less aware of the distress and pain when relaxed.  It is a matter of degrees, for you are still aware and there still is stress and discomfort – it is whether it is more or less…

It was a helpful goal and helpful technique to apply – especially on the ‘table’ as I was.

Then there was a new sound, a series of tones and a vibration.  I heard the tones, and there was a sympathetic vibration in the back of my head.  

I felt that.

“Ah” surmised I “we must be at the destroy the old lens stage”.  I had been told and read that that was how the old lens was ‘broken up’ in order to be removed.  

‘Broken up’ is a pleasant way to say ‘irrevocably destroyed’.  There is no opportunity for repentance now, no changing of my mind – it is all in now.

Ah,” I also surmised, “if we are at that stage, my eye lid must be open…”.  And yet, I could still see no light.

Then, once again, the melodic series of tones and the corresponding vibration.  And again.

Time for the relaxation technique – tensing, it seems, comes very naturally to this old man.

Then there was another sound indicating that something else was happening.  No idea what, just ‘something was happening’.  Maybe the ‘sucking of the broken lens’ out of my eye… don’t know for certain.

Following this I felt that some instrument was being twisted, like the winding of a watch like feeling and of course an accompanying sound.  

Everything, it seems, has a sound, a beep or tones to it.

The consultant then informed me that there is some plaque build up on the lower side of my capsular – the vitreous sac that once contained my birth lens and is now host to my artificial ‘toric’ lens.  This was not overly surprising as I had a posterior sub-capsular cataract.  It seems the cataract was composed of layers of plaque and not all of it was broken up with the repeated melodious vibrations that I had earlier experienced.

He said he would try to polish it away, but as it was in a critical position, at the bottom, in the centre, there was a danger that if he went too far, it could pierce the capsular resulting in a whole range of complications that he informed me, neither one of us wanted, hence, he continued, he may not be able to expunge all of the plague.

I’m glad it is the consultant who knows when to stop.

He tried to polish it away as best he could – but some has remained.

I was then informed that it could either break up on its own and not be a problem, but if not, in about three months time it could be removed with a relatively common lazar treatment.  The treatment could be done at a much later date, if it becomes a problem – but nothing could be done until the healing was complete and that was stated as ‘at least’ three months.

The cataract surgery has now been completed, gauze has been applied, the pulse monitor removed from my finger (no more beeping) and I was sat up on the operating table.

There followed a fuller discussion with the consultant about after care, what I would need to do and then I was helped to the recovery waiting room.  I’m shambling along on my own, but assistance is literally by my side.

Once in the recovery waiting room, where T has been patiently awaiting my arrival, the duty nurse offered me a drink; tea, hot chocolate, coffee, cappuccino.  I opted for cappuccino.  He also offered a sandwich.  It seems this is standard practice after the trauma of a procedure like this, and it is a trauma – minor on the scale of traumas, but a trauma none-the-less.  

A hot beverage and some sustenance are extremely beneficial in the recovery period.

For many, their blood pressure will be spiked or often highly elevated and/or their blood sugar will either drop or go sky high.

He took my blood pressure and found it the same as was taken before the procedure began – that is to say, it was good with no change.  He also repeated the blood glucose test and it, too, was very similar, lower actually, than the previous test but still in the good zone.  As both were good, the nurse asked me how it was so.  I explained my relaxation exercise whilst on the table and experiencing the wonders of eye surgery.

Minor and routine though the procedure is, it is still inherently a rather stressful experience and most people reflect that in their blood pressure and blood glucose levels.

After my recovery time, another nurse came with my prescriptions and explained their use and gave some other information and finally sent us on our way.

The one-eye man, with a eye patch and protective shield over his right eye, beginning a new chapter sans-cataract, was about to be chauffeur –driven home courtesy of my dear wife.

This rather routine, pedestrian procedure, which is nothing major, nor truly traumatic, has been done.  But still, it took a lot out of me. 

I was told that “I’ll be back to do the other eye”.

That was said before the procedure and I did not understand that as my other eye was, at that time, my ‘good’ eye.

Now, days later, with the patch and eye shield off, seeing as I am, in High Definition for the first time in a very long time, I understand that my ‘good’ eye is now my ‘bad’ eye.  My former ‘good eye’ is now the eye that is effectively drawing down my over all vision.

I may very well have the other eye done….

… but not for a while…