This month Glen and I celebrate a year of cataract free vision. It’s embarrassingly cute that we both required cataract surgery in our eyes at the same time. And the same ophthalmologist operated twice on each of us on the same days last year. Given our ages, however, it seems we’re rather typical.
Cataracts are common among seniors as a leading cause of vision loss. Fortunately, our generation benefits from advances in treatment. In the ’70s cataract surgery took an hour, required hospitalization of one to three days, was reserved for the worst cases, and entailed significant risk. Now ophthalmologists perform this 10-minute procedure in outpatient surgery centres, safely, on anyone with clouding of the eye’s lens.
Vision impairment from cataracts can affect our ability to perform daily tasks. Colours become muted; reading and driving, especially at night, can become difficult. Our tennis and golf games might suffer as we view the world through a cloud or fog. (That errant shot? Blame cataracts!)
We’re favoured to need cataract surgery in a first world country. According to the WHO, cataracts cause blindness in 20 million people in developing countries because they lack access to surgery.
- An optometrist will detect cataracts during your annual (!) eye examination and then send you to an ophthalmologist to discuss the options based on your vision goals. Get rid of glasses, for instance? Monofocal lenses will give crisp vision at one particular distance; other replacement options can treat multiple eye conditions at once.
- For the surgery, you administer various eye drops before and after the procedure — to numb the eye, reduce inflammation and prevent infection.
- The surgeon applies local or topical anesthesia, removes the eye’s cloudy natural lens, and then surgically replaces it with an intraocular lens.
- In our procedures, the surgeon used ultrasound to break up the lens, sucked the fragments up into a tiny probe, and then inserted the new lens. In recent years, lasers similar to those used in LASIK procedures have also been used for cataract surgery.
- Premium replacement lenses that correct for astigmatism or farsightedness likely come at a cost, depending on the provincial health insurance plan. We both opted for monofocal lenses, which are free in BC.
A friend Gerry Kordoski writes, “My optometrist said my cataracts were progressing at a normal rate, until 2019. Within one year my loss of vision was noticeable. I was referred to Dr. Climenhaga, considered one of the best ophthalmologists in Edmonton. Following an efficient examination, the booking agent said my waiting period would be four to six months. And six months later I reported at 6:45 am to Westview Hospital in Stony Plain. The surgery was over quickly, with no pain, just a brief enjoyable light show. Within hours my vision was clearing, and the new reality was incredible. I never had this strong a view of the world. Six weeks later the well-oiled team conducted the second procedure. After saying goodbye to glasses of 60 years for distance correction, I felt undressed. But the feeling passed, and now I live with terrific results.” •
P.S. Johnny Nash was in his early 30s, recovering from cataract surgery, when he wrote the 1972 chart-topping hit I Can See Clearly Now.