Early summer

Haircuts at home, empty classrooms and warm beaches. Clare Quigley MRCSI (Ophth), FRCOphth, reports

Clare Quigley

Posted: Tuesday, June 1, 2021

YouTube is useful. When I open the site these days, the top suggested videos are from the cataract coach, Uday Devgan. Browsing his channel, there are lots of interesting clips, where he gives feedback to surgeons in training and beyond. Devgan analyses different techniques for operating technically challenging cases, including posterior polar, and white pressurised cataracts. With a pleasant speaking voice, he is easy to listen to, and gives an honest appraisal, but in a generous manner. He extracts learning points from each case.

After Devgan’s channel, there are a variety of videos on the homepage, generated by my searches of late. Surgical knot tying. Walking tours of cities that are under consideration for fellowship; it seems likely now that I will need to decide where to go without physically visiting, given the COVID situation. Music videos, especially from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Most recently, how to cut your hair.

Even if the procedure were to go completely pear-shaped, I reasoned, I could hide it. In work, I could wear a theatre cap all day, along with scrubs. This would be unusual, as most of the time in clinic people wear ordinary clothes, not scrubs. Scrubs are worn when working in theatre. But I could get away with it, I imagined. People – patients and colleagues – would assume that I was in scrubs as I might be just coming back from, or about to go to, the operating theatres. And a theatre cap goes along with scrubs, naturally, so my hair could be tucked up into it, out of sight.

Outside work, I could get in the habit of wearing a hat. That way, only my family at home would need to see my new hair. I told myself this, before taking up a scissors in front of the mirror in the kitchen. This was months after I had last had a haircut, with the hairdressers still shut, and no indicative date for re-opening.

It is odd how normal this new way of life has become. No restaurants, no theatres, no pubs, no parties. The last time we went to the cinema was in December 2019, to Knives Out (it was fantastic). The last foreign holiday we took was to Galicia, Spain, in August 2019 (highly recommended). These days, weekends involve a stroll around the neighbourhood, taking in the local parks and playgrounds, with a takeaway flat white as a treat.

Considering the few exams I have coming up, it may be a good idea not to have too many distractions. Settling down to reading and MCQs is that bit easier when the alternative activities are not too enticing. Alongside studying, as I imagine must be the case elsewhere, we are strongly encouraged to do research and audit. Narrowing my focus down to get a manuscript polished and ready to go is that much more doable in lockdown. And of course, we need to take part in departmental teaching.

At the last teaching session it was my turn to present – I spoke about topics in cornea, my current rotation – and I found myself alone in an empty clinic room, talking to other ophthalmologists in training via Zoom on my laptop, about keratitis and techniques for sampling or gluing corneas. Presenting in that way, I alternate between self-consciousness, listening to the sound of my own voice, and unease about whether attendees can hear me and see the slides. Mostly, I miss the chat, before and after, often over a coffee.

When COVID case numbers had fallen enough for the government to allow us to move outside a five-kilometre radius of home, it took a few days for the idea of this new freedom to properly sink in. There was a sense like we were being let out of an institution, when the radius of potential free movement opened up. It happens that there are a few keen sea swimmers in the Eye and Ear, and when it looked like the weather would be good, we took advantage of that first weekend of travel-within-county to make for the sea.

That Saturday, summer had arrived early. Perfectly blue sky, with bare wisps of fluffy clouds. The sea at Killiney beach was bitterly cold, but the sun and the sand were warm. Sitting eating sandwiches and watching the sea glitter, was a good dose of normality.

So, in the end, I went for it. There was a YouTube video, ‘Bob haircut! DIY’, that looked suitably quick and straightforward. I enlisted my husband to tidy up the back, which he agreed to do, only after I had promised not to give out if I did not like it. It turned out that I did not have to be so tactful as Uday Devgan with my feedback, as my husband did a pretty good job.

Clare Quigley is a specialist registrar in the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital, Dublin, Ireland

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