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Jane Bates: tales of dangling eyeballs are nothing more than fake news… honest!

It can be hard for nurses to debunk myths that some patients seem to prefer over hard fact

It can be hard for nurses to debunk myths that some patients seem to prefer over hard fact


Picture: iStock

‘Tell me what’s worrying you most and we’ll talk it through,’ I said to my patient. Tears of anxiety were coursing down her cheeks.  

‘When they take your eyeball out to do the cataract surgery,’ she said. ‘Does it go back in easily? Supposing it doesn’t?’ I could just imagine an eye on a piece of elastic swinging around the theatre and then pinging back into place. I assured her that no eyeballs would be going anywhere, and showed her on a diagram how the surgery is done.

The voice of scepticism

She looked at me, eyes narrow with suspicion. ‘My friend Pamela had her eye taken out.’

‘I’m afraid she was mistaken,’ I said. The patient gave me that look again and I wondered if she preferred Pamela’s Hammer House of Horror version to my more prosaic one. ‘She did,’ she insisted quietly.

Fake news! I wanted to say. Or, fake nooz, as Mr Trump would have it. There is a lot of fake nooz around in healthcare. I spend half my life debunking false information.

The power of hearsay

Another patient, same day would you believe, asked a similar question about his cataracts. When they scrape the front of the eye off, is it sore afterwards? He said. Pamela strikes again, I thought.  

Out came the diagram. I showed him it was the lens that was removed, not the cornea. ‘Everyone’ had been telling him differently, though. All of our patients receive oodles of information from us about their cataract surgery I assure you, but they seem to prefer hearsay – fake nooz – to cold facts.

Then it happened again… a usually well-informed friend has been quite depressed lately about her developing lens opacities. When I tentatively suggested she have them removed, she mentioned the cost – someone had told her the NHS had stopped performing cataract surgery to save money.

Fake nooz! I told her. Of course we still do cataract surgery. We take your eyeball out and scrape off the front…


Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire

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