Sight is truly a gift – a personal experience of cataract surgery

It started at Kuala Lumpur airport. An avid solo traveller for most of my life I was enjoying a few

It started at Kuala Lumpur airport. An avid solo traveller for most of my life I was enjoying a few hours wait between my flights from Penang to Australia. Wondering if I had time for some quick shopping I looked up at the departure board far above me. It was a blur. I cleaned my glasses but still could not read it even by squinting and scrunching my eyes to a slit as I peered hopelessly.

It all hit home, having to resort to GPS most of the time, fuzzy street signs and fading vision. Something was seriously wrong with my eyes.

My local optometrist said my cataracts were slow growing but driving was still legal with glasses. “It will be years before you need surgery.”

I’m only in my 60s feeling far too young for all this but I wondered about it. Deep down I had a gnawing anxiety but I was caught up in the complexity of an interstate move on my own from Western Australia to northern New South Wales so somehow moved into denial at the same time.

A few months later, another optometrist offered a different story. “You have two cataracts on each eye. The second is fast growing, you have only about six months then you won’t be able to drive.”

Apart from reading for which I had the large font on my Kindle, it was all about the driving. In love with my new lifestyle, zooming up and down the M1 freeway basking on the beautiful beaches, exploring national parks, quirky towns, waterways and visiting cafes with my many friends in this area the truth was inescapable.

Soon I was in the consulting room with the eye surgeon trying to absorb the details of the procedure and all the potential hazards and of course the benefits including if I’m lucky no more glasses.

The estimate of the cost was on the desk in front of me. “How long is the public waiting list?” I croaked, seeing my savings dwindling even further and with no medical insurance.

“At least a year more like 18 months,” she replied with a practiced smile. There was no choice so I was soon booked in.

Fortunately my elderly neighbours in the retirement village brushed away my concerns.

“We’ve all had it done dear. Some of us have no glasses others need them, that’s just how it is. We’ll help you with the drops too,” said my 90-year-old neighbour as he handed me a device with pincers on the end.

“Take this as you can’t bend over for a couple of weeks, you’ll need it to pick up your socks.”

Fast forward a few weeks and I’m being driven home after the first surgery, a huge patch on my eye wondering what all my anxiety was about. I had discovered the wonderful Community Transport system, perfect for those of us with no local family.

For a small charge courteous volunteers escort you literally door to door with just enough chat on the journey not to be overwhelming.

It’s natural to feel fear about this operation as we imagine something very sharp penetrating our eye and knowing the operation is done while we are conscious. Let me reassure you that the needle part is painless because we are blissfully unaware of it having been given just enough anaesthetic to be unconscious for the few moments it takes to slide it in. Then we are awakened into drowsiness for the fairly brief procedure. “It’s a piece of cake,” as my old Mum would say.

Now that I have had both eyes operated on and a month has passed since the second procedure a whole new phase of life has opened up. My results are not perfect, everyone is different. One eye has perfect vision the other less so but I will easily pass the eye test for my change to a NSW licence. I am very sensitive to glare, well I always was, but now its more apparent and I need very good sunglasses especially on the beach. There are also some floaters, but these symptoms are likely to improve and are a minor inconvenience overall as they have no real effect on my vision.

I’ve also moved from being short to long sighted and need reading glasses but otherwise have discovered my EYES hidden for a lifetime behind strong glasses and even revealed them on my Facebook page.

Above all I am deeply grateful that we have this advanced technology available to us. Sight is truly such a precious gift. I have a whole new appreciation of those Fred Hollows ads and the work done to share this gift with those less fortunate around the world.

Have you had cataracts?

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