We’ve been back at home, on the Echo River, for a week and a half now.
“Look at those trees at the top of the hill…I’d forgotten…”
No, I haven’t forgotten since we left last winter. I’ve forgotten since decades ago. I have a new and improved view from my back deck.
When I was in my late 30s I began wearing reading glasses, which I could never find unless I wore them around my neck, and then they were usually coated with peanut butter. By my late 40s, I was wearing bifocals, mostly for the convenience of simply having them there on my nose whenever I needed to read something. Of course, gradually I needed them more and more.
For more than a decade now, my eye doctors and I have been battling it out. First, it was just the optometrist.
“I’m just not seeing as well as I used, even with the glasses,” I’d say.
He was a nice man, but deadpan. “You will never again see as well as you used to.” In other words, get over it.
I tried. I’d go for several years before grumbling again, but my frustration grew. “I’m having trouble with road signs. I simply can’t read small print. I can’t read at all unless the light is just right. I can’t see birds in trees or boats on the water.”
“You vision hasn’t changed since last year,” he’d say, year after year. So—was I imagining this? I began to wonder.
Early-stage cataracts were first identified in my early 50s, before I was experiencing any difficulties. And they developed slowly. Very slowly. Unusual, said the optometrist. Eventually he acknowledged they were affecting my vision—but not enough to justify surgery. It was some years before he referred me to an ophthalmologist, and even then, grudgingly.
“I don’t think he’ll consider surgery yet. But you’re obviously frustrated so we’ll have him take a look.”
He was right. “There is no such thing as risk-free surgery,” the ophthalmologist said. “I won’t operate on someone who sees as well as you do. Probably if you go to Florida you’ll find someone who will, but I won’t.”
I couldn’t help liking the guy. It’s hard not to respect that point of view. But I wondered—still wonder—was this about OHIP’s payment schedule? Do cataracts have to reach a certain objective level before he could bill the provincial plan? Is that why he mentioned Florida? Should I look into a private eye clinic? Pay a bundle? But then, why wouldn’t he just say so; the OHIP rules are not classified.
This scenario played out several times over the past ten years. “Really, they’re no worse than two years ago.”
It’s not that I didn’t believe him. I did. But I didn’t understand how his thorough examinations suggested I could see better than I could. Was I really just a wimp, unwilling to adapt to this minor inconvenience of aging?
Whoops—was that my turn? I didn’t see the sign. And what do you mean there’s a gaggle of ducks on the lake. Ohhh, yes. I think I see them now.
My deadpan optometrist retired, and the woman who took over seemed more sympathetic—though she, too, figured it was too soon for surgery. Last fall, when I shared with her my plan to have the cataracts dealt with at a state-of-the-art eye clinic in Mexico during the winter, she warned me against it. Not because of inferior work, but because I might have trouble getting a Canadian doctor to follow up if there were ever complications down the line.
I don’t know if that would have been a problem, and I don’t know if I’d really have done it. Again, not because of the quality of the work, but because I feel strongly about speaking the same language as someone hovering over my body with sharp instruments, and while my Spanish is passable, under stress it deteriorates considerably.
I didn’t have to find out, because before leaving for Mexico last fall, my ophthalmologist finally agreed he’d do the surgery when I returned in the spring. And I felt less of a wimp when both he and my new optometrist agreed that—although from an exterior examination the cataracts did not seem so bad (they both reported seeing through to the back of my eye)—their position and refraction characteristics explained the problems I was having from my side of the lens.
WAS having. Because yesterday I had surgery on my left eye.
Amazing. After an hour or so of eye drops, waiting, more eye drops, they wheeled me into an OR, somehow clamped my left eye open, and put a little tent over it. A machine reminiscent of a dental office hovered above, producing interesting lights of various colours while sensations of cold water washed through the eye.
“So, what are you doing now?” I asked when the lights seemed particularly interesting.
“I find I can either work or talk, and just now I think I’d better work,” was the reply.
Okay, then. I didn’t follow the procedure blow by blow. But I know he cut two tiny incisions in the membrane, emulsified the cataract and sloshed it out of my eye, slipped my personalized, pre-measured lens in place, and taped on a clear plastic eye protector. It took about ten minutes.
That was yesterday. Today, I am ecstatic. At this morning’s follow-up appointment, I measured 20-20 vision in my left eye. I am seeing things I haven’t seen for years—the markings on a chickadee, the lacy intricacy of high branches just beginning to bud out, the intensity of colour everywhere, the clear, sharp road signs (who knew that sleazy motel had free hi-speed internet?). Oh yes—and some details in the bathroom mirror that I’m less enthusiastic about. I guess I’ll get used to them.
For now, I’m in a sort of visual limbo, with one eye nearly perfect and the other unchanged. For distance, it doesn’t matter much, but I suspect I won’t be doing a lot of reading until the other eye is done. Probably before the end of June. At that point, I’ll need weak reading glasses, which I can begin to lose track of.
Except for the mirror, it will be just like being forty again!