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.