“I decided that I was going to halve my portions”
Elizabeth Manuel speaks with OT about losing her sight at the age of 46 and a campaign to ensure priority shopping slots for the blind and visually impaired
When I was 46, I had a near-fatal subarachnoid brain haemorrhage. My husband was told to go home and tell the children, who were 15 and 16, that mummy would probably be dead by morning. I was given a 10% survival chance.
When I woke up from a two-week coma, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I looked at the clock at the end of the bed in my hospital room and said, ‘Why are there only numbers on the right side?’ I have a dense hemianopia with no sight in my left field in either eye. I have lost about 15% of my right field as well.
When I had my stroke, I was working full-time as a district judge in Portsmouth. In a moment, my life was almost wiped out. I was paralysed, mostly blind and couldn’t work. I could no longer be the mum who did everything for her kids. Everything became harder. Although I did go back to work in 2015, in the end, with chronic fatigue, chronic pain and substantial sight loss, I was medically retired in 2017.
COVID-19 has been a really tricky period. Normally I function well, travelling independently and leading a very full life. I was advised to self-isolate from the beginning of March. By 29 March, I was showing symptoms of COVID. I woke up with a sore throat, a headache and a new cough. By the end of the day my breathing was getting pretty scrappy. Friends told me to ring 111, which I did. I got diagnosed over the phone by two clinicians with suspected COVID-19.
I think it is really important to recognise the RNIB for their hard work to ensure internet shopping slots for those with sight loss
Two days later, my breathing was worse and I made my first ever 999 call. I couldn’t speak. That was the scariest thing – I was trying to ask for an ambulance, but nothing was coming out. Eventually the Hampshire Police traced my number and an ambulance turned up 15 minutes later. I was admitted to hospital and spent a few nights there to stabilise before coming home at the beginning of April.
The first thing I did, right at the start of lockdown, was to consider how I was going to get food. I tried to get a supermarket shopping slot every day for a few weeks but was unable to. I was working out how much food I had left in the freezer. I decided that I was going to halve my portions so I could stretch my food out.
I wrote to all the main supermarkets saying that I was vulnerable, alone and could not get a shopping slot. No one replied. I wrote to my MP, who told me to contact the council. I had one neighbour who put a note through the door early on saying that they were happy to help. Apart from the fact that I had this one neighbour, I would have run out of food.
I think it is really important to recognise the RNIB for their hard work to ensure internet shopping slots for those with sight loss. There was a petition of over 22,000 names calling for the Government to do something about this. It shows the power of a group of people who share experiences making their voice heard.
Retired district judge, Elizabeth Manuel, suffered sight loss following a stroke at the age of 46. She welcomed the Government’s decision to implement priority deliveries for visually impaired shoppers following months of campaigning by the RNIB, Guide Dogs, Thomas Pocklington Trust and Visionary.
• As told to Selina Powell.