'˜Losing half my sight has turned my world upside down'
Keen drummer Den Barry was having fun playing a pub gig with his band. But then the vision in his left eye suddenly went blurry and he could only see colours and shapes.
He recalls: ‘Halfway through a song it felt like I had got a greasy smear on my glasses.’
He carried on playing. But when his sight didn’t improve, he went to hospital where tests revealed he had suffered a huge haemorrhage.
Den, 51, now has only half the vision he had five years ago.
It’s changed his life. He gave up work, had to stop driving and now can’t read a book or use a computer for very long without getting eye strain.
But despite that, later this month he is launching his debut novel. The storyline is based on some of his experiences trying to come to terms with his loss of sight.
It was back in October 2011 when he realised something had changed.
Den, from Brompton Road in Southsea, recalls: ‘It happened instantly.
‘We were playing at a pub in Gosport. Everybody was having fun and having a drink and the adrenaline was flowing. It was great fun.
‘I didn’t take too much notice of the change in my sight because of where I was and what I was doing.
‘When I look back, I think ‘‘why did I carry on?’’
‘Afterwards I then had to drive home from Gosport, which wasn’t the most sensible thing to do.’
The seriousness of his sight problem hit home.
He says: ‘I didn’t know what to do, so I went to hospital to have it checked over.’
Den was told that he had had a haemorrhage in his left eye.
‘They called it bad luck,’ he explains.
‘Usually they are small bleeds. They hoped that it was going to clear. All the blood sat in the middle of my eye, so I could see peripheral things and nothing else.
‘Then while they were treating it, my right eye went as well. It wasn’t as bad as the left, but my vision had gone so I couldn’t drive or read or do many things.’
Den had a procedure to remove the blood from his left eye. But doctors then found that his retina had torn, so more operations followed to repair it. A similar operation was then carried out on his right eye.
Den, who has suffered from type 1 diabetes for 30 years, says: ‘All they were able to do was stabilise my vision. It’s at about 40 to 50 per cent now. I’ve got no peripheral vision in either eye. I’m not very good with bright lights.’
Den, who lives with his wife Jane, has a stick which he sometimes uses to help him when he’s out and about.
‘I’m quite self-conscious about using it,’ he says.
‘But when my vision is particularly low, I do use it. I still take it with me sometimes because it gives me a bit of confidence if I’m somewhere new or if I’m in a crowd.
‘I don’t see people until I am bumping into them. That really freaks me out, to the point where I don’t go out on my own.
‘People would literally come out of nowhere. I am forever bumping into people or tripping over things.
‘I don’t have any depth perception so floors are difficult. Sometimes it’s a step up or a step down, so I find these things quite challenging.
He adds: ‘But it is what it is. It’s much better than we thought it would be. We thought that I would lose my whole sight.
‘But it’s completely turned my life upside down. I still miss driving every single day.
‘Things like reading and working on a computer are taken for granted until you can’t do them properly.
‘Seeing bands live is something I have done since I was a teenager. Jane is a big music fan too. But that is hard now. It’s dark and I don’t deal well with flashing lights and big crowds.
‘Sometimes it can be a real chore so it’s taken a lot of that pleasure away.
‘And it’s the little things like making tea and coffee – it takes three goes to make sure I have done it properly.
‘I bump into Jane a lot of the time because we’ve got a long, narrow kitchen. She’s got used to making a noise when she walks so that I know she’s there.’
Den had a senior position in community housing, but he had to give up work in 2013.
He recalls: That was frightening. The job I had was really good.
‘I’m a househusband now and that filled me with dread. I am happy in my own company, but work is something else that defines you.’
He struggled to come to terms with not working.
‘I got depressed, but I’ve got a very supportive partner who encouraged me not to go back. I had to look at things differently and I struggled with that for a period of time.
‘There were times when it was pretty bleak. It affects you in different ways. But it could have been much worse.
‘Look at what some other people are facing. I thought to myself “what have you got to be depressed about?”.
‘I have a caring and supportive wife and I’ve got three grown-up children and a granddaughter.’
A NOVEL EXPERIENCE
It was Den’s wife, Jane, who encouraged him to write his first novel.
He says: ‘I had written a couple of history books back in the late 1990s and said that I would write a book later in life.
‘It was something that I thought I could do. Now I had the time to do it.’
So in January last year, he started writing the book. Den explains: ‘I wrote about an hour or so a day because I can’t sit in front of a computer screen for too long without getting eye strain.
‘I got some advice from a couple of people in publishing and joined a creative writing group.
‘The biggest bit of advice was to read as much as I was writing.
‘I was advised to immerse myself in the local literary scene.’
Den’s book is called No Way Out. He says: ‘It’s light-hearted and quirky and something that I think you would read on holiday.
‘It’s about a guy (a middle-aged college lecturer called Mike Powell) who gets a bit of news which turns his life upside down.
‘He has to deal with a low mood and it’s about how the story pans out in relation to him and his own wellbeing.
‘I was trying to reflect the fact that mental health issues affect all kinds of people. It struck a chord because of the way I had been feeling for a period of time.
‘It made sense to write about something that I had experienced.’
Den is launching his book on Saturday, November 26 at The Loft, above The Kings pub in Albert Road, Southsea. It is available as an e-book from amazon.com.