An accountant with perfect vision was effectively ‘blinded’ for a year after blinking in bright sunlight, only to have his eyelids close until Botox injections allowed him to see again.
Forced to manually open his eyelids or squint to give himself a vision slit, Robert Graham, 67, did his best to keep functioning – downplaying his situation, partly believing it would be temporary and partly left out of fear.
But it wasn’t until he was referred to a private specialist a year into the problem who suggested he use Botox, which is more commonly seen as a cosmetic treatment to smooth out wrinkles, than his eyelids. got up and he could see normally again.
Now retired, Robert, a father-of-two and grandfather-of-one, who lives with his wife, Suzie, 63, a former stay-at-home mom, in Bingley, West Yorkshire, said: ‘After my first ‘Stop whatever you need to have your eyes open cause I just couldn’t do it.
“I couldn’t read, watch TV or drive. It was really debilitating. »
Recalling the morning in April 2014 when he stepped out of Leeds train station and blinked in the sunshine, Robert recalls trying to “just carry on”, hoping it would be temporary.
He said, “It was a trip I had taken a thousand times before from home to the office.
“I entered the main street outside the station, turned into the street and the sun was coming up. Everything was completely normal.
“I looked up at the sun, blinked into the light like anyone else, and then it hit me.
“That was it. There was no advance warning. My eyes just closed. The eyelids wouldn’t open at all.
Robert, who always had and continues to have perfect vision, had no way of knowing that it was the bizarre and sudden onset of a disease that still affects him today.
Called blepharospasm, this is where the muscles that close the eyes contract involuntarily. There is no known cause and some sufferers do not have success with treatment.
The first time what is called a stoppage happened to Robert that day outside the station, he remembers feeling confused and doing what he could to get out of it.
He said: “I dug my fingers into my eyes and opened my eyelids manually. I could then almost see passing in the shade.
“I thought it must have just been the brightness. In the shade, I found I could kind of open my eyes.
He added: “I managed to get to work mostly with my eyes closed, but opening them just a little bit every now and then to see where I was going.
“Once I stepped out of the light and walked into the office and sat down, I could half keep my eyes open. But I had to keep closing them because my eyelids were so heavy, my eyes watery and it was hard.
“If I got up to walk across the office, even the stimulus of the wind moving through my eyeballs was enough to have another stop where I couldn’t open my eyes at all.
“I had to force my eyes open for a very short time, see what was around me, and then close them as I walked.
“I repeated this same strange process to get home.”
He continued, “But I didn’t let myself panic. I assumed it would go away. And, sure enough, I woke up the next day and my eyelids were heavy, but I could open and close them at will.
“Come at 10 a.m., however, the shutdown has happened again!”
Robert saw his doctor, who suspected he had dry eyes.
When the eye drops didn’t help, he worked his life around his “new normal” and continued on his journey, adopting a walking pattern with his eyes closed before very briefly opening them to get his bearings.
He only managed to continue working after his retirement ended and focus on building a team to reprise his role – something he could do with his eyes closed if necessary.
He said, “I would explain that I was listening even though my eyes were closed.
“I didn’t want people to think I was rude or that I wasn’t interested. If I needed to say something, I briefly opened my eyes.
“I was almost completely blind.
“I bought many pairs of sunglasses and goggles to protect my eyes from any air movement, which seemed to trigger the eyelids to close.
“It helped slightly, but as my eyes got more tired throughout the day, they closed for longer periods of time.”
He added: “When I was walking, I could only keep my eyes open for a split second at a time – enough to see where I was and allow myself to walk for the next five seconds with my eyes closed.
“But one day I collided with a lamppost which made me realize I couldn’t continue with this weird routine.”
Soon all aspects of Robert’s life were affected and he was unable to perform many daily activities that he had once enjoyed.
He also felt very embarrassed, adding, “I’m sure everyone at work thought I was pretty crazy.”
In March 2015 Robert was referred to private specialist Professor Bernie Chang at Optegra Eye Hospital in Bradford, East Yorkshire.
After sending the consultant a video of himself showing how he was unable to open his eyes, he said: “He concluded that I had blepharospasm and immediately suggested Botox.
“At that time, I would have tried anything. I did not hesitate. Within 24 hours of my first treatment, I saw improvement and haven’t had a full stop since.
Robert has now had 15 to 16 Botox injections in his eyelids and around his eyes and has treatment every two to three months.
He said: “I’m no different before and after the treatment because it’s not cosmetic.
“I can still feel the condition. I feel a lot of pressure in my eyelids, almost like I’m always tired when I’m not.
He added: “But now, with Botox in place, I can use other techniques to help me open my eyes when they close.
“It also helps to stop thinking about it. This way your face relaxes and it’s easier to open your eyes.
“I’m learning to manage my condition and I’m largely functional.
“It does, however, make everyday actions like reading more difficult.
“I used to sit and read for two to three hours, but these days half an hour would be enough because my eyes are getting tired.
“And even though I have perfect eyesight, it’s a constant pressure on my eyes.
“Yet thanks to Botox, rather than being a liability now, it’s now more of a nuisance.”
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