Over Christmas there was an added treat. For the first time in years the meals were made complete, now I could see things that, a few weeks earlier, would have been a horrible blur. After years of feeling an outsider, I was able to enjoy the expressions on the faces of family and friends as we chatted and laughed. The removal of my cataracts had worked!
The offending cataracts had been developing for almost ten years. Since my forties I have had regular examinations to check whether the lenses in my reading glasses needed to be changed. Nothing remarkable was found until I reached 70 when, in both eyes, the optician saw the tiny, telltale, opacities of early cataracts. She told me how they might be slow-growing and so leave me untroubled! Well, it was these little patches that did grow and which were removed in two operations; one for each eye, a week apart.
Deciding to have them removed took time. Initially I was unable to focus on distant objects and, gradually, that distance shortened. Apart from problems around the table, when I ‘met’ people in the street the blurring was so dense that without my glasses friends could not be recognised, and so ignored. This was so unlike me! And there were other problems – some perturbing, some momentarily disabling. Seeing two birds when in fact there was only one was simply awkward; being faced at night by the blinding glare of haloed street-lights and car-headlights presented danger.
It baffles me that these problems could take so long to make me seriously concerned. Possibly it was because their development was insidious that I never really caught up with what was going on, and of course when I wore my glasses the key problem – blurring – was remedied. Perhaps it was also gender-related; being a man I chose to neglect my body and its various ailments! Ultimately, it was the bleak prospect of seeing nothing that prompted me to seek help.
Several stages were needed before the surgeon would consider replacing the cataracts with tiny, translucent, lens inserts. In the clinic they confirmed the diagnosis, checked exactly what size my implants would need to be, and then, after explaining the procedure, asked me to sign my consent.
After the preliminaries were over, I was told that the surgeon, Miss Rathie Rajendram, wanted to speak to me. I agreed, but felt puzzled and anxious. However, the next few moments were very special. From behind her mask she introduced herself, and, looking me straight in the eyes said that she was so pleased to meet and thank me. She said that I had taught her at medical school, that I was on the panel that interviewed her when she applied to the school and had offered her a place, and finally, that without my work to abolish the admissions procedure that discriminated against women and against those with names indicating minority ethnic origin, she would probably not have become a doctor and, twenty years later, be the consultant ophthalmic surgeon standing before me. I just stared back and melted. She then left, saying that I should call her by her first name.
In the operating theatre Rathie was very much in charge as befits a consultant surgeon. As I was being prepared for the operation I asked her questions and made comments. There then followed a moment of reality coupled with insight when Rathie said, “I am about to start your operation. I know this is going to be difficult for you, but from now on you must stop speaking, you must remain silent”. I remained mute till the drapes were removed some twenty minutes later. Rathie told me that the operation went well and then, as she left the theatre, turned and again thanked me.
Within a day of each operation, the vision in the eye with its implant returned to the norm of yesteryear and what I saw was extraordinary. Without glasses everything was suddenly bright and in focus – no blurring now! On trees, the ridges of their trunks were now precise and the different colours of the bark were delicate shades of lime green or ochre (see illustration) rather than a featureless muddy brown to which I had become accustomed. And there was more, to me the leaves on the ground now looked golden. Seeing again was a real thrill.
Clear vision like this was as good a Christmas present as I could have dreamt of. How I managed for so long without really noticing or caring about the sights I was missing, is a question in itself. Maybe this is what constitutes ageing, but my aim is that such neglect will not be part of me again.
The illustration shows a photo of some wintery trees dotted down a path in a favourite local Richmond wood.
For helping me write this blog, I would like to thank Rathie, Rohan and Vivien.
14 thoughts on ““I Know This Is Going To Be Difficult””
Joe! – what an utterly uplifting story – in fact my own eyes filled with tears to read it! As a painter I have long supported https://www.sightsavers.org/ which allows people in the third world to have the experience that you so well and movingly describe. Congratulations – and a vivid and glorious 2022 to you.
Dear Merrily, Thank you very much for you generous comments. In that the blog describes the development, symptoms and treatment of cataract, it could be that others will be that much more aware of cataracts and their management. Love, Joe
Congratulations- wonderful change for you! And what a blessing to meet the doctor who owed her medical career to you!
Dear Robin, Thank you for your comment. It was, and always is, wonderful to meet old students and to hear their stories. Love, Joe
A perfect blog for New Years Day Joe, a time to think of our past words and actions and a time to step into a new year full of potential, hope and brightness. It must have been a wonderful ‘gift’ to meet a former student who has given you new sight and insight to your life, past, present and future.
I look forward to your 2022 blogs Joe!
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Dear Carolyn, Thank you for your comments. It was indeed a wonderful experience to meet Rathie and it gave me a great pleasure to write about her. Love, Joe
What a lovely blog for January 1st. Full of lessons and optimism .
Happy New Year to you and Rohan and hopefully we will have lots of fun
and laughs in 2022 – despite the fact that you can now see my wrinkles !! Arn’t we all
so lucky to grow old.
Dear Kaye, Thank you for your kind comments. Wrinkles! – What wrinkles? Love, Joe
As others have said, what a positive and uplifting blog to start the new year. So many students and junior doctors (amongst others) you must have inspired, encouraged and championed over the decades, Joe, and it is very moving to hear this story of someone who was able to give something precious back to you so many years later. The proverb goes that what you sow, you later reap … and in your case there’s so much good you have sown. I’m glad it’s coming back to you. And I’m so pleased the operations were successful and the clarity of your eyesight is restored. Happy new year to you and Rohan. Love, JJ X
Dear Fruitbat, Thank you very much for your generous comments. Yes, I am sure you are right, Rathie could well have seen her operation to remove my cataracts as a sort of thank you, and indeed what she gave was very precious – Quid Pro Quo. Love, Joe
To wish you a happy new year seems a bit redundant as even before the year started you had a dream come true :your eyesight returned.
Nevertheless I know this year will bring you new discoveries great or small and the cherry on the cake for us your readers you will carry on sharing them in your blog.
May I wish you and Rohan an easier year 2022. In England and in Treguennec. Not a very good start for my wishes as you are forbidden at the moment to cross the Channel but things can only get better..
Much love and thank you again for your blogs which like this one always delight me.
Dear Sauliac, All I can say is thank you for your many kind comments. I do indeed plan to continue my blogs while I can. I think I still have a few years I me. Love, Joe
You should be so proud of yourself – to think that without your help, this undoubtedly brilliant surgeon would probably never have been able to help you and who knows how many others.
It’s a privilege to know you, Sir (even if you do sometimes talk too much).
Happy New Year,
John the Cheese
Dear John the Cheese, Thank you for your various comments. With you, I only talk to get a word in. We must come to an understanding. Yours,Joe