Service of Seeing the Light

April 10th, 2014

Categories: Medical, Medical Care, Uncategorized, Vision

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Iris Bell described the impact of her cataract operation in an enlightened way. She is a graphic artist which is apparent in her descriptions of color.

If you know someone faced with such a procedure and is hesitating, it would be worth passing along her narrative. She noted: “It’s as if the very stuff the world is made of has changed.”

This is what else she wrote:

eyes 4I had the cataract in my right eye removed and replaced with a lens that gave me 20/20 vision. The result: I see colors accurately and have perfect distance and night vision.

People who’ve had similar procedures told me the effect was dramatic. I knew the brownish cast of my cataract had made it hard for me to see the difference between my blue and green bracelets unless I looked at them under a strong light. Over the last year I also noticed I had trouble seeing outside after dark.

Throughout this period of change I wondered what the real colors of some things were and how bright or intense colors and whites might be. After the surgery my husband, Paul, and I took the bus home. For 10 blocks I looked out the window at the familiar shop fronts, checking back and forth between my eyes, one as yet uncorrected. The effect was as if I took on and off sunglasses with brown lenses.

eyes 5When I got home I was overwhelmed by the feeling of joy the colors gave me. It was exciting to look at my things with my corrected eye. I’d bought many items for their special colors because they have a major effect on my emotions.

With my uncorrected eye my periwinkle items looked grayish blue. With my corrected eye I saw the color I loved. I’ve always thought of periwinkle as the last blue before a color become lilac. The cataract hid the essential subtle reddish tint which turns a blue into periwinkle.

In subsequent days I’ve been shocked by rediscovering the true colors of things I’d lived with for years: A kitchen sponge is vibrant lilac; a sparkle-covered fingernail file an elegant purple not what I’d previously thought of as an unremarkable pinkish purple and a ream of paper and bath towel are the color of the newest spring grass with sunlight shining through…not the dull hue of older grass. And I’d forgotten how bright green bok choy at my favorite Chinese restaurant looked.

eyes 6Dyes on different fabrics are too subtle for my uncorrected eye to register and the intense purple underside of a vine I’ve grown under plant lights for years is back for the right eye.  The gas flame in the stove startled me,  transformed from dull aqua to a brilliant spectrum blue with a fine edging of purple.    

There was a loss: My corrected eye sees the russet and golden grapes in a photo hanging in the kitchen as bland pastels, no longer the richer colors tricked by the cataract.

The most startling effect of the surgery lasted only a few minutes some 10 hours afterward. We were in our supermarket just before twilight: The clear glass front window looked as if it had been replaced by blue stained glass. We’d spent time walking in the grocery, with its warm lighting. I was now looking out at the cool light of early evening. It had been years since I’d recognized either of these types of light. My brain didn’t know what to do with them. By the time we were on the sidewalk I was getting proper information from my brain, there was nothing special to see, no bright blue light. Only if I was planning to paint a watercolor would I study the quality of the light and notice it had a blue cast to it. Non-artists usually don’t notice the color of light.

One of the reasons I wanted the operation was that my night vision was  so poor that I was uncomfortable walking outside after dark, even on our block. People would suddenly appear walking toward me. I’d only see them when they were several feet away.  The day after my surgery it was hard to believe this block had always been this brightly lit between the street lights, decorative lights on buildings and from entryways.

This new world of lovely colors and light sources is a pleasure to experience. I’m not ready to have my other eye corrected quite yet, I’m having such fun comparing the two worlds I see with my two eyes.

Since she wrote this, Iris said she plans to have the other cataract removed in a few months.

Not once did she mention discomfort or pain. Isn’t it remarkable that she took a bus home after an operation that once kept people in the hospital for a week? Have you undergone a procedure–or known someone who has–that has similarly so dramatically [and effortlessly] transformed a life?

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6 Responses to “Service of Seeing the Light”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Lordy, Lordy, Lordy, now I see the light…Joanie will be having Eye surgery next month… Will report back at that time…

    Meanwhile, yes it’s all so totally miraculous, as to be magical!

  2. Hester Craddock Said:

    I’m delighted for Iris that her cataract operation worked out so well. My regular doctor had his eyes done a few months back and reported similar results.

    I’ve got cataracts also, but my eye doctor, who happens to be a surgeon himself and no slouch — two years ago he correctly diagnosed my Bell’s Palsy as being caused by Lyme disease that I didn’t know I had — told me not to do anything about them. He said that my eyes were otherwise entirely healthy and that any surgery involves risk. In effect, he is a believer in the old, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” school.

    I guess it depends upon whom you talk to.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    I’ve heard only good things. I look forward to hearing Joanie’s success story.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hester,

    My mother had a friend who wanted an eye operation and three doctors told her she should not have it. Eventually, she found one who performed the procedure and the bad results the others warned her about happened. One size never fits all when it comes to this kind of thing. I also imagine that age is a factor along with other health considerations.

    Not seeing in the dark is scary and if it affects a life adversely and cataract surgery can address the situation and the patient’s health is otherwise stable, then I’m all for it.

    Also, people in good health have gone in to have work done–i.e. face wrinkles removed–and have died on the table. There are risks to everything that intrudes on a body–even having one’s teeth cleaned.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Having worked with the blind, I am grateful to be sighted. The color feature is a welcome bonus.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    If I wake up in the middle of the night and go to the kitchen to get a glass of water I try not to turn on any lights as I read somewhere that you go back to sleep faster if you don’t. I imagine that when Iris went out after dark she felt as I do in a dark kitchen although her description of people seeming to come out of nowhere on the street sounded scary. Finding a glass and filling it with water isn’t. Seeing nothing at all, as you wrote, is devastating.

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