Monday, 14 September 2015

Cataracts



The bridge of my glasses had broken.
A broken bridge
It all started with a broken bridge.  The bridge of my glasses had broken.
The previous evening, the 15th of august, we had driven to my Father-in-law’s house in Moca. Once we left the main road, it was a really rather difficult drive, with dark trees and deep ditches on both sides of a winding country road.  A black-on-black night drive illuminated only by our headlights, and the occasional dazzling glare of on-coming traffic. It was really rather tricky.  But what I didn’t realize at the time was that the problem wasn’t the lack of white lines on the road.
The following day I found I had broken the bridge of my glasses.  So, when we got back to Santo Domingo, I went to the oculist to get a new pair.  Of course he had to graduate my eyes for the lenses, and then came the news.  “You have serious cataract problem in both eyes.  They should be operated on immediately”.
The problem with cataracts is that they “grow” on you.  It is a slow, very slow loss of visibility.  So slow that you don’t realize that you are seeing a tiny bit less every day.  I never imagined that I had a problem.

Every patient’s Vía Crucis
So I started out on the “preproduction” which all doctors insist upon:  blood and urine analysis, X ray of the thorax, and a long a very expensive examination by a cardiologist.  We do have an health insurance plan, which covers maybe 80% of costs, but there are all sorts of extras and little bits added on. 
And then came further tests (and further add-on prices) in the surgeon’s consulting office, and an admission charge from the clinic.  And of course I shouldn’t forget the charges from the original oculist.
Finally I was ready.   The final total was a near wipe out of our savings.
Apart from the economic damage, I found myself suffering alongside so many patients who are hustled and bustled, when they are nervous and sometimes really frightened.  Almost always they are piled into “waiting areas” that are little more than corridors, complete with harsh over-head florescent lights, a painful echo, indifferent people pushing through, and some under-paid clerks shouting through a stupid glass window.  And then comes the waiting and waiting and waiting.  There is no suggestion of “take a ticket” o “the doctor will see you at exactly …” You just sit on your thumbs, wasting your day away, until the secretary deigns to call you next.
There are NGO’s that complain when cattle are treated like this.

27th of August 2015
With less than a day to go until I receive the first of two cataract surgeries, I have to admit that I am scared. 
Yes, I know that it is a simple job, and that I will walk out of the clinic the same morning. But, they are my eyes, my eyes!  Not only are they the windows to my soul, but my window to the world outside.  I am still wrestling with the fear -however small- that something might go wrong, and I could be left “eyeless in Gaza, by a well, with slaves”.
Maybe it is a small conceit, but it seems to me that I always see more around me than the people I am with.  I love to use my eyes, I enjoy observing, looking at the details:
 — at people sitting in the underground, guessing from their appearance and their clothes as to what sort of lives they live; 
— or driving through empty countryside, whether on Dartmoor, in the Scilly Isles or on the road to Cap-Haïtien, imagining living there alone, as a hermit;
 — or following the line of a beautiful face, from the lobe of the ear, bordering the cheek and the crinkle at the edge of the mouth, to the clear cut roundness of her chin.
Will I lose the light that shines in on my life, and have to fall back on my memories to enjoy the sunset from the Cinque Terre? Or the daffodils of my childhood, bending before spring winds?
 I know it is immature, but then, I am who I am.
Ever since I heard the news, I have been repeating again and again John Milton’s Poem:

WHEN I consider how my light is spent 
E're half my days, in this dark world and wide,
 And that one Talent which is death to hide, 
Lodg'd with me useless, though my Soul more bent 
To serve therewith my Maker, and present 
My true account, least he returning chide, 
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd, 
I fondly ask; But patience to prevent 
That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need 
Either man's work or his own gifts, who best 
Bear his milde yoak, they serve him best, his State 
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed 
And post o're Land and Ocean without rest: 
They also serve who only stand and waite.
"On His Blindness"
John Milton

29 of August 2015
“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed is King”
Here’s a one-eyed looking for a Kingdom!
The surgeon seems to be content with yesterday’s handiwork.  And Me?  Well I can see with a lot more detail, and with a greater “depth of focus”.  I can even see the mangoes on the mango tree!
Now we enter the next stage:
Cataract 1.2 = rehabilitation.  At least a week using dark glasses to:
a) avoid infection and
b) so that my friends don’t scare me when they see a bit of red in the corner of my eye, and suggest a “diagnosis” that might get me worried. (Amateur doctors are dangerous!)

Light, colour, distance, shades, tones, details - life!
Cataract 1.3 = I have to follow a complicated eye drop procedure: for the next month, at different times each day, I have to give myself drops from little bottles, twice a day from one bottle, thrice from another and four times from another.
Cataract 2.1 = on Monday I started out on the same “Via Crucis” all over again, with visits to the specialists all week long, finishing up on Friday receiving the same “proceeding” on my left eye.
I am calm, slightly confused, convinced that the work was necessary, but stunned by the cost.

12th of September 2015
And two and a half weeks later, I have survived!  No, I’m not talking about the possible things that might have gone wrong.   I mean I have survived my own fears.  I didn’t lose anything and I gained so much:
For a week I was seeing with one eye renovated, and the other still untouched by the surgeon’s ultra-sound.  The comparison was dramatic!  I can see everything so much clearer, bolder and crisper with the new eye. 
I had forgotten that there are so many different colours
But even more, I rediscovered the impact of the thousands of shades of colour in every thing I saw around me.  I understood for the first time the expression “depth of focus”, because I could compare a distant view seen with either eye, one after the other, and the difference is dramatic.
 Now I can see that the girls are even more beautiful, and the boys are even more ugly!  But seriously I am re-discovering the beauty of nature. I used to see the trees, now I can see each luscious mango on them, waiting to be eaten.  I didn't realize I was missing so much.  I am really happy, and really broke - each procedure costs (as we say here) an eye!  But I can really see again!  Suddenly I have another reason to give thanks... for being able to see.
There is one loss: the freedom to look anywhere at anytime.  The lenses that were implanted are for middle and distant vision.  From now on I will have to use glasses to read.  But that is a small price to pay.

Oh to be in England now that April’s here
Oh to be in England now that April’s here
And whoever wakes in England sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf        
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,  
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough  
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows           
And the white-throat builds, and all the swallows!          
Hark, where my blossom’d pear-tree in the hedge          
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—  
That ’s the wise thrush: he sings each song twice over 
Lest you should think he never could re-capture 
The first fine careless rapture!      
And, though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew        
The buttercups, the little children’s dower,           
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

“Home Thoughts from Abroad”
Robert Browning

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