The Case of the Missing Cataract
I’ve spent the past three weeks in a bizarre visual limbo. Eight months ago, during a routine eye exam, it was explained to me that I’d developed cataracts and that they needed to be removed. At the time, it occurred to me that I was a little young for cataracts, but being a lifelong overachiever, it made sense that I developed them at a precocious age, that being 54.
So three weeks ago, my beloved and brilliant ophthalmologist removed the left one and replaced it with a multifocal lens at 7:30 on a sunny July morning. I left the surgical center at the precise two-hour mark they’d promised with a patched eye and a pink flowering plant as their departing salvo (sweet, no?).
At five o’clock that evening, we were back in the doc’s private office, removing mountains of surgical tape from my oh so delicate face. I opened my eye and gasped. First, I could see completely clearly, like I was looking through a freshly washed window; second, it was instantaneous!
We went home and I broke into a happy dance periodically for the rest of the evening. Then I started bumping into things, missing the handle on my teacup, and feeling generally clumsy although I did drive to work without glasses for the first time in 25 years! Which totally amazed me.
At the post-op appointment, the eye tech tested my vision. It was 20/25—better than it has been in decades. I was even reading without glasses which had been unheard of till then. In fact, I could drive, read, see the television and work on the computer all without glasses when before I had five different prescriptions for different glasses for different things. (I’m one of those who can’t wear progressives for some unknown reason.)
So what’s my point? A couple things.
First, I could accomplish all these miraculous visual feats because I paid for multifocal lenses which my insurance wouldn’t cover. The multifocal lenses have already been paid for and used by over 50 million cataract sufferers. Why won’t insurance pay for these miracles?
Because they already have a cataract benefit. (Code: we’ve been doing it this way for nearly a century and it’s worked okay.) Yeah? I said. What gives my insurance company the right to insist that I wear glasses for the rest of my life?
So you know, with that many prescriptions, it cost about $700 every two years to get new glasses despite taking advantage of sales and reusing old frames.
What gives my insurance company the right to consign me to wearing glasses for every waking moment of the rest of my visual life is that they a/ don’t care; and b/ don’t have my health as anything near their priority. I could have had a standard distance or close-up lens put in and they would have paid for nearly every dime, but a technology that sets people free from glasses? Absolutely not. Insurance companies, beloved, are in business. Business is in business to make a profit. When I needed to get new glasses every two years, the insurers and the glasses companies made money. Now that I don’t, they make less, ergo, they are uninterested. It’s so sad. So very sad.
Second, I looked up cataract in the OED. Originally, the word cataract meant waterfall, and came from a reference in Genesis in the Hebrew Bible. You have to get to the fourth definition to get to the kind of cataract I’ve been writing about, which is defined as “Pathol. An opacity of the crystalline lens of the eye, or of the capsule of the lens, or of both, ‘producing more or less impairment of sight, but never complete blindness.” Its etymology is Medical Latin for a web,
And that’s how it looks out of my eyes right now. I’ve described it as looking through a clear window on the left and a progressively denser lace curtain on the right. From the inside, it does look like a web. What causes cataracts?
According to Taber’s Medical Dictionary, cataracts are caused by “aging, trauma, endocrine or metabolic disease” (so far, I’m three for three here) “or as a side effect of the use of tobacco” (uh, four for four: I smoked for 29 years) “or from the use of steroids.” (Whew, off that hook!) So okay, we’ve got the medical reasons, what are the metaphysical reasons?
Here’s what I think: I think cataracts develop so that we can see our lives and their meanings anew, and what better time for that to happen than at midlife? Dr. Michael Lincoln, author of Messages from the Body, alleges that a left cataract means we don’t want to see what’s within us, and a right cataract means we don’t want to see what’s outside us. Bless his heart, he always takes the drastic view. I like mine better: a new look at what has been and a new look at what will be.
So, the coolest thing is that I’m having the right eye done on Wednesday of this week, and my wizard eye doc says that after a week or so I ought to stop bumping into things and that my binocular vision ought to return. I can’t wait. Mercury goes direct that day. I’ll be looking at my life through two clear windows at long last, and we’re full speed ahead on getting The Mex Books into the world.
Now when you see me doing a happy dance, you’ll know why.