I Can See Clearly Now

If you are reading this on the day it is released, then I am or will have been in surgery for a cataract today. It’s the ultimate irony for a photographer to lose their vision, but also a reality for many of us who are older. In my case, it is doubly frustrating. Other eye issues I’ve had since 2014 mean that the eye being operated on today is my only “good” eye.

I’m titling this in the hope that this will be the outcome. Of course, every surgeon has to apprise you of the risks, which even for routine, production line surgery like this are still somewhat frightening. Bleeding, swelling, damage to other eye structures, infection, reaction to the materials that the new lens is made of, and on and on. But it is “routine” surgery, sometimes even performed with the aid of computer guided instruments. Hope that computer doesn’t have a crash today.

Back in 2014, my last year of full-time work, I started experiencing some distorted vision in my right eye. Long story short, apparently your retina can lift off its backing and “pucker”, giving what you see an almost fun-house mirror look. Sometimes, surgery can correct the issue, but in my case, I was left with a permanent distortion, making the right eye great for peripheral vision but useless for fine detail. The eye is still functional for many things, but it’s like I’m wearing the wrong eyeglass prescription permanently.

So my left eye is my photography eye, assessing composition, focus and edge patrol when I shoot. They can’t mess it up. They won’t, right?

It seems that cataracts are prevalent in our family – my brother has had both of his eyes done. And I’m sure I didn’t do myself any favours by being a sun loving teenager. I was always outside in the summer when I was young, sunbathing and exposing my eyes to high doses of UV light without any protection. So take note, everyone, and make sure your younger family members don’t make the same mistake.

It’s kind of interesting to develop a cataract. Sometimes they can appear quickly. Most times though they are gradual, introducing a kind of foggy pollution to your vision. In my case, it’s like having a light east coast fog present all the time.

And in case you don’t know what a cataract is, it is an ailment that affects the lens in your eye. That lens is clear and flexible when you are born and gives you the most amazing ability to perceive the world. But as you get older, the lens dries out and loses its elasticity and in some cases like mine, can actually get cloudy. The lens works in conjunction with the cornea to direct the incoming light properly to the back of your eye – the retina – where it is collected and sent to the brain as electrical signals that are processed and converted into what you see. It’s an amazing system that we very much mimic in our cameras, particularly our digital cameras.

We all know the hassles of a bad camera lens – a cracked front element, improper focusing, some imperfection that distorts the image. Same thing with the eye.

But the worst part is at night, when having to drive. Any oncoming traffic projects the most amazing whiteout in front of them, along with incredibly shaped “sunstars” that would be wonderful to photograph, lol. A foggy lens distorts the direction of light entering the lens, creating all sorts of magical effects. I’m fine to drive when there is limited oncoming traffic at night, so I avoid the busiest roads when I have to be out. Luckily, Covid has meant a 10-fold reduction in traffic at night, so if there has been any good news this year, my ability to drive at night when needed is part of it.

I live in Canada, which provides universal health care to its citizens. Interestingly though, there is some room for profiteering even in cataract surgery. It seems I can accept the “basic” lens funded by the government, or I can pay a bit extra for lenses offering extra clear vision, or lenses that combine near vision with distance vision, or lenses that compensate for astigmatism, which is a crooked cornea. It’s no different than buying a new lens for my camera, lol. Just what features are important is an individual choice. But I am delighted that the government looks after us this way. Paying for needed surgeries to remain functional makes no sense to me.

The surgery itself apparently takes 15 minutes, once you are gowned and on the table. It’s not even a table really. You are rolled in on a moveable, adjustable chair, put in position, given a local freezing and some “relaxing” medicine and before you know it, your chair is being rolled out to recovery and the next patient rolled in. Having had other eye surgeries, I was sure I would have a panic attack seeing gloved hands and instruments coming toward my eye, but that “relaxing” medicine is wonderful and makes almost anything bearable.

The eye will feel scratchy for about a week, but the vision should be amazing as soon as the surgery is over, minus any complications. That’s what others have reported. I sure hope so.

I do wonder though about my choice of dates for this procedure. April 1. Hopefully I will not be the fool today! “See” you soon!

2 thoughts on “I Can See Clearly Now

  1. You were a great patient, and I think you should be really happy with everything in a few weeks.


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