Looking at the world through a clearer lens...

Eyedrops – my life for the next six weeks

I woke up yesterday morning and could see.

No, not a divine miracle, but a result of expert surgery and it’s only one eye so far. The other one will be sorted out in a fortnight’s time. (Update 10 October: Second eye done and all is fabulous.)

I’ve lived in a blurry world of deep myopia since I was seven; sometimes assisted by glasses, other times by contact lenses, but always worried about losing one or the other and dropping back into that blurry world. Short sight has been part of me over many decades. I’m vain enough to whip off my glasses for photos, especially for that vital author mug shot, but otherwise my 180 degree vision has mostly been only partly usable.

Now it’s all going to change and so will part of my identity. It’ll be strange not scrabbling almost instinctively for my glasses first thing in the morning. Practically, I will join the rest of my cohort and need reading glasses for close work as I requested long sight over medium range for my new implanted lenses. I live in rural France and here you can’t survive without some form of personal transport, i.e. a car. But I will regain my confidence to  drive at night again. Actually, I’ve hardly driven for a few weeks now because of the evil cataract that’s been growing in my defenceless left eye.

Currently, I’m typing this one-eyed and wearing my husband’s spare reading glasses, but I will be getting my own after the second eye operation. I can then do that ‘looking over the top of my reading glasses’ thing that I make the older Aurelia do in my Roma Nova books when she wants to remonstrate with somebody. I’m looking forward to the dramatic gesture of sweeping my reading glasses off with a sigh and staring coldly/pityingly/compassionately at some unfortunate.

The first one that says ‘Arrrh’ gets it!

It’s been a year of operations for me: skin cancer last December, realignment of foot bones in March and these two eye operations. The French health service has been superlative and the follow-up and ancillary care unrivalled. We live in a medical desert when it comes to specialists – this is the downside of rural France – but are lucky to have a good local health centre with GPs and nurse practitioners. However, good hospitals are an easy hour’s travel away so it works out in the end.

A bonus has been the fascinating conversations in the anaesthetists’ bay, operating theatres and the post-op recovery rooms about vocabulary, holidays in England, chatting in German with an anaesthetist from Alsace whose husband was an English teacher, giggling over sounds we find difficult to pronounce in each others’ languages. Oh, and you always get cake afterwards…

But there’s a dark side to my year of operations

Cramming all these procedures into less than ten months was not my favoured plan. The cancer was the urgent one, of course, and had to be done ASAP, but the others could have been sorted out at a more leisurely pace. It was Brexit.

There, I’ve said it. The Withdrawal Agreement (WA) has been fiddling about in the UK parliament for ever and older French resident British citizens didn’t know from one month to another whether their healthcare would still be covered by the EU reciprocal reimbursement system. As I now receive a UK state pension based on national insurance contributions I’ve paid throughout my working life in the UK, my healthcare is delivered by the French system and the cost reimbursed to them by the UK. This system is EU-wide, but would end for British citizens on Brexit. The draft WA made provision for this to continue for existing residents, but it became obvious the agreement wasn’t going anywhere.

Then came the threat of no-deal exit in March 2019 with much anxiety especially among the more elderly pensioners who had lost 20% of their income since 2016 due to the falling pound. Many of us with appropriate knowledge and experience spent hours talking and reassuring them, but couldn’t offer them any hard information. Neither could the embassy here, let alone the UK government.

So on a personal level I planned to get everything at least started by March which would qualify under the continuation scheme. My second eye operation and follow-up will just about be done before 31 October which looks as if it will be a no-deal Brexit. I received a letter yesterday from the UK saying healthcare would be extended for another six months, albeit with a convoluted mechanism. Not very comforting for an elderly acquaintance of ours with a husband suffering from terminal cancer, or for people needing ongoing dialysis or diabetic or hypertension medication.

Luckily, the French government stepped up in February with up to two years’ no-deal post-Brexit cover. But the UK has let its elderly EU27 residents down badly. In France, EU27 residents receive healthcare on the same basis that French citizens do; the social security generally reimburses 65-70%. You need a top-up insurance for the balance unless your income is below the mininum wage or it’s a life and death condition which is paid for by the French state.

For the UK, which pays our social security portion, British pensioners in the EU27 are a cheap date. And it seems we’re being stood up.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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