How a health scare led to the best holiday of my life

It felt like a cruel joke walking through the Louvre – the epicentre of arts and culture in the Western world, the home of more than 35,000 displayed works – and seeing blurred shapes and black dots obstruct my view.

Yes, technically, I saw Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ enigmatic Grande Odalisque, Eugène Delacroix’s iconic Liberty Leading the People and the ever-mysterious Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, but let’s just say they all looked a little different to what they’re supposed to.

The Louvre, minus the squiggly lines – you’re welcome!

It was our first day in Paris, on a European trip that took the better part of a year to plan. And, honestly, I almost didn’t make it. Just weeks before we were scheduled to board our flight, I found myself in an emergency room.

I’d noticed flashing and a black curtain appear in my vision and instantly thought, “Well, this isn’t good,” but put it down to stress. I made an appointment with the optometrist down the road. “Lucky you came when you did,” he said during a rushed appointment between personal admin tasks. Grocery shopping, check. Trip to the bank, check. Emergency trip to the hospital, check. “Your retina has detached from the back of your eyeball.”

Within minutes, I was in the hospital being told the details of the surgery I needed to have immediately. I won’t go into the gory details, but my retina had detached up to 2cm from my central point of vision, which meant fluid had to be sucked out of my eye, my retina reattached, and a silicone buckle fastened to the outside of my eye. Say what?!

I was losing my vision and needed surgery, so planning and paying for my European getaway felt like an expensive dress rehearsal for a trip that wouldn’t happen. Lucky isn’t exactly how I felt.

“Will I be able to go on my trip?” I asked the surgeon while lying on the operating table. Even as I was saying it out loud, it seemed like a silly question to ask. Surely I should’ve been more interested in what my vision would be like when I woke up. Would there be pain? How long would recovery take? But I couldn’t help but wonder if my trip would still go ahead.

“We won’t know until the surgery is done,” he said. That all sounded well and good, but actually I didn’t get the go-ahead to travel abroad until TWO DAYS before my flight. TWO. DAYS.

Happy that: 1. Surgery is over. 2. Purple is my colour.

So many thoughts went through my head:

Do I pack my suitcase, just in case?
Should I contact my travel insurance company to find out if I’m covered?
Should I cancel with the dogsitter (my dad)?
Should I still go shopping for my ultra-cute European holiday outfits? (Yes)

One week post-surgery

Thank goodness, on the Wednesday before my Friday flight, my surgeon gave me the all-clear. “Just don’t go bungee jumping,” he said. Good to know.

I can safely say that I have never been so excited to go on holiday before. I didn’t care about the blurriness, the brightness, the squiggly lines impacting my vision. I bought a hat and a pair of prescription sunnies, packed my suitcase and got ready to enjoy myself to my absolute limit.

I like to travel, a lot. From the Middle East to South America, through Asia and around my home of Australia, I’ve had some incredible experiences through travel, but I can honestly say that I have never travelled with such unreserved joy before this trip. Maybe it was something about the fragility of life and the impermanence and fleetingness of it all – but something just changed in me.

Smelling the bougainvillea in Mykonos.

Where I used to feel nervous about having my photo taken in front of busy tourist landmarks with several hundred people around, all waiting to take the same shot, I now did my best pose and just had fun.

I didn’t care who was watching me pull silly faces in front of the Eiffel Tower, or how many people were waiting for me to get out of the way while my partner took my picture on the streets of Mykonos. I committed to doing all the touristy stuff, and I had fun doing it. I smelt flowers, spoke to locals, swung around lamp posts, ordered food in different languages and laughed when I got things wrong. Actually, I laughed the entire three weeks.

Laughing AND swinging around lamp posts

We met family members for the first time and stayed up all hours of the night singing and dancing in living rooms. I ate more gelato than I could name the flavours of, visited castles, caught trains, ate alllllll the breads and the cheeses and, after a while (thanks to my very fashionable hat and sunglasses), I forgot all about my eye.

Feeling pretty lucky in Calabria, Italy.

So, maybe despite the black dots and squiggly lines, the sensitivity to light and the blurriness, I really am lucky after all.

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