A different view
Eyes. The colours and stories they tell. You never forget them. Hadi’s wife, Azir, felt eyes really were windows of the soul. Hadi did not compute this. As a surgeon Hadi looked beyond the iris’ unique blueprint of radiating colours and pupils involuntary dilation and constriction. He sought to map the genetic fretwork of muscles, cornea, retina, aqueous humour, arteries and veins that poured light through optic nerves where it was translated in the brain. Miraculous, magical. Focus, that’s all he had to do.
Azir hated the way Hadi only made love in the dark: ‘Why can’t you look at me,’ she asked, her dark brown eyes held his. He answered: ‘Because you’ll feel like a patient’, and turned off the light
His tiny hands were perfect for ophthalmology. Hands that got lost in the firm shake of alpha-males with their hairy paws and iron grip. He had small agile fingers which tapered to neatly cut, scrupulously clean nails with pale crescent moons. His palms were almost creaseless. Azir said he was a man without a past or future.
Hadi had quickly vetoed orthopaedic surgery which required sturdy hands to wrestle smashed limbs and hip replacements which necessitated hard graft as well as craft. Initially, he’d picked gynaecology. But stubborn babies that needed to be hauled from wombs, rotated, dragged by forceps or sliced into life by emergency C-sections left him shaken until each infant drew its first breath and changed from purple to dusky pink.
Eyes were his natural forte. You had to get up close. There was no millimetre of room for manoeuvre. It was all precision. It was why he liked clothes neatly folded,
their home clean and tidy. Azir mocked him for being unable to sleep if the wardrobe doors were open. He felt they watched him.
She was happy with the money Hadi made on the side of the NHS. Privately, he fixed squints, removed cataracts, lifted brows, cut away bags and lasered eyes. There was plenty to send back to his family in Iran. His parents held him up as their icon of educational achievement. An English surgeon. He saw them twice a year. Last time he told his father his cholesterol was too high.
‘How do you know that?’ Ebi had asked peering into the mirror his eyebrows up and mouth pulled down so his dark brown eyes widened.
‘White rings around the iris. It’s your body depositing excess fat. Look,’ and Hadi pointed to the tell-tale faint white border that pricked the edges of his iris’. Ebi went to his own doctor and proudly informed him what his son had diagnosed and what he needed to prescribe.
When Ebi returned rattling the drugs he said: ‘The doctor was pissed because he’d bloody missed it when I saw him for a check-up last week. Ha!’ He slapped his knee with the pleasure of his son being the better doctor.
His mother Noushin piped up: ‘Can you tell from my eyes that I have terrible constipation? When I am on that loo for hours I think my eyes will pop out!’ Hadi bought her mangoes and apricots and told her to lay off the sticky Nazook pastries loaded with sugar, walnuts, cinnamon and cardamom that clogged her insides. She frowned and lit a cigarette. A sure sign of her displeasure especially when Hadi added: ‘They will kill your eyesight if they don’t destroy your lungs first.’ Ebi blew out
his cheeks and wagged his finger at Azir’s red lipsticked mouth where tiny creases bled into skin.
It felt a lifetime since he’d left revolutionary Iran for London. He never would get used of the hot and sticky tube ride to his three-times-a-week clinic. Being middle-Eastern after 7/7 meant not carrying a back-pack or having a full beard. Hadi wore a smart charcoal grey suit, carried a slim black briefcase and smelt of Gaultier aftershave.
Hadi noticed travellers’ wary glances and the information their eyes revealed. The man whose failing liver gave a yellow tinge to the whites, the woman with a bloodshot left eye that signified sky-high blood pressure, another woman with Graves disease, her huge light brown eyes bulged, the baby whose cornflower-blue iris’ crossed nearly to his snub nose. He was always glad to get off.
The Eye Hospital’s antiseptic smell was still reassuring after 15 years. Hadi made sure to say hello to everyone. Gareth the portly security guard with one blue eye and one brown, Lagni, the cleaner with five children, one of whom he’d successfully treated for severe stigmatism, Afra, the feisty receptionist whose green eyes reminded him of speckled pears and his secretary, Diana, calm and cool with steel grey eyes.
His first patient was 86-year-old Mrs Wilder. She had age-related macular degeneration. It affected a tiny part of the macula at the back of each eye and caused havoc with central vision.
‘Hello Mrs Wilder,’ he said as she came through the door, white stick in hand. He helped take off her light blue coat and sit her down. He turned on the slit lamp above
her white hair and said: ‘Lovely day, all this sunshine, let’s hope it stays, how are you?’
‘Ah, Dr Hadi, I’m so glad it’s you,’ Mrs Wilder moved her head from side-to-side in order to capture his face at the edges of her clouded lens: ‘Love the sun. I can feel it. Can’t read now. All the lines are wavy and the telly’s smudged but I can see you are as handsome as ever.’
Hadi laughed. ‘Ah Mrs Wilder, you are too kind. Are we ready?’ She nodded. Hadi put the slit lamp to her right eye. Mrs Wilder’s wet macula degeneration meant new blood vessels grew in a bid to fix her vision’s collapse. But they grew in the wrong places and cause swelling and bleeding. If left, they would scar and cause rapid sight loss.
Hadi would inject AntiVEGF drugs directly into the eye’s jelly to destroy the overgrowth. Mrs Wilder knew what was coming and tears welled. Dr Hadi squeezed her wrinkled hand and noted the large blue sapphire and diamond ring on her wedding finger. He placed numbing and antibiotic drops before the injection that would leave her vision blurred.
‘Who is picking you up?’ asked Hadi while he waited for the drops to work.
‘My grandson, Andrew,’ she answered, as he filled the needle and the dark haired, brown-eyed young nurse took over Mrs Wilder’s hand-holding.
As he punctured the cornea, easing in the gel, she added: ‘You operated on him once. When he was airlifted from Afghanistan. Do you remember?’
Hadi had to over-ride his instinctive reaction to stop and continue to carefully empty the syringe. With the needle out he queried: ‘Seven years ago?’
‘Yes,’ she answered gripping the nurse’s hand, ‘He was transferred from Birmingham, as an emergency. We saved his eyesight. He’s come from Cornwall to see you.’
Hadi remembered and was curious to see how his stitches and scars had softened over the years.
‘He’s out the army now,’ continued Mrs Wilder, ‘He’s a carpenter. Makes boats. Beautiful they are, well, if I could see them properly. It’s thanks to you he can.’
Hadi thought about the great bear of a man with his shaved bull head. He couldn’t imagine him living a civilian life.
The nurse put a patch over Mrs Wilder’s eye. Hadi remembered her grandson being brought in. His body was pock-marked with shrapnel. His face had taken the brunt of the IED which had killed two others and blown the legs off a third. Andrew had worn glasses that offered some orbital protection and a helmet but still; his face was torn to ribbons.
Hadi first saw him disorientated with morphine. Andrew swore and made for a gun he thought he had. His huge hands grabbed Hadi’s in a crush that had to be unpeeled by two other doctors. Hadi looked in his bloodshot blue eyes and snapped: ‘I’m a doctor. I’ll try to save your sight but if you move a fucking muscle I’m gone.’
The swearing in English calmed him. Hadi watched bruises bloom on his hands as he explored the soldier’s eye injuries. Their faces were close enough for Hadi to
smell his stale medicalised breath. Then he’d asked for the soldier to be knocked out for in-depth stitching that included the right cornea. After two weeks Hadi watched him open his eyes and count the fingers held up across the room.
‘Are you Muslim?’ Andrew had asked.
‘Born one and will die one but don’t live like one,’ replied Hadi who was partial to whisky and didn’t attend mosque.
‘They hate us,’ he slumped back on his bed. ‘I’ve lost ten friends and seen eighty injured. What fucking for? ‘
Hadi said nothing but mulled it over. After 7/7 he volunteered for Medecins Sans Frontiers. His wife and parents were incandescent. They wanted him safe in London. But it didn’t feel safe.
There was a knock on the clinic door and Mrs Wilder put out her hand. There stood the blonde curly-haired smiling Andrew who filled the frame. Hadi held out his hand and said: ‘How are you?’
Andrew stepped in and the room shrank. His face under bright fluorescent lights was grittily pockmarked; mostly on the right side where little black grains disappeared into stubble. Hadi’s intricate 200-plus stitches had softened. The skin was almost lineless after the explosion’s intense heat scoured its surface. His dark blonde eyebrows were patchy and eyelashes sparse but he looked young and surprised. Hadi focussed on the eyes and they stated healthy.
Andrew’s meaty hand gently shook Hadi’s; enveloping his fairy fingers. You never forget eyes.