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On Catarcts

May 30, 2019

I haven't blogged for some time as Marybeth and I spent most of May in Europe for business. A hectic schedule, we never spent more than two nights in the same town. I met a lot of great engineers, and we did get some touristing time in Copenhagen and Paris.

Before that, in April I had cataracts fixed in both eyes.

This is a short missive on cataracts; younger readers may not be interested. But these are a fact of life for many of us as we age.

Cataracts are a cloudiness in the eye's lens. They are progressive and can lead to blindness. By age 65 90% of us will get at least one.

I have had them developing for the last couple of years. They got worse, to the point where I stopped driving at night a year ago because headlights were blinding. The doctor said he was surprised I could see anything out of my right eye, though my vision seemed reasonable to me.

They're fixed by completely removing the eye's lens and replacing it with a plastic version. Sounds gruesome! I was a bit uneasy about the prospect of the surgery, which is done with the patient awake.

The doctor fixes one eye and waits two weeks before doing the other. That's the law here in Maryland as the fear is if something goes wrong, one doesn't want to lose vision in both eyes.

I was a bit nervous going in for the first surgery. They're going to cut into my eye! Yikes! A nurse does inject a mild sedative; I said "barkeep, give me a double!", but got the usual dose.

The surgery is... a big nothing. It's weird, you see funny lights and feel a little pressure on the eye, but there's no pain. It takes around ten minutes. The second eye was a breeze as I knew what to expect.

For a few days the fixed eye sees poorly. But then, a magical thing happens. You can see.

I've worn glasses full time for 55 years with pretty bad myopia. Without them I could read if the book was no more than 5 cm away; anything further was a blur.

Post-surgery my distance vision is almost 20/20, though, somewhat ironically, I can't see anything closer than a 30 cm.

Marybeth was cheated. She had one eye fixed some years ago by a different ophthalmologist who didn't bother to explain the options; we didn't even realize there are any. It turns out a routine cataract surgery gives you a lens much like the one you had. Myopic? You still will be. She went from a -6-diopter correction to -4, still pretty nearsighted. My ophthalmologist explained that there were several kinds of lenses available, and I picked that which gives pretty good vision. It's a $400/eye option, and I still need glasses, especially for reading, but it's incredible to me that, after an entire lifetime of being so vision impaired, I can see quite well if imperfectly at a distance with my naked eyes.

Being 65 and in the USA I'm on Medicare, which covered all of the surgery other than the $400/eye lens upgrade. So, workers of America, thanks for your FICA contributions!

Feel free to email me with comments.

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