Before I had cataract surgery I thought that the lighting in my new home was a pleasant, golden yellow. I had this in common with the famous French artist, Claude Monet, who was also in his 60s when he discovered there was something off about the way he perceived colour.
I Was An Accident Waiting To Happen
We both suffered from cataracts - a clouding of the eye’s crystalline lens, which may also result in blurred vision. I don’t know how Monet managed to get around in Giverny but I feared driving at night in case I missed something, or someone.
Even strolling in the evening was fraught with possible danger. I was always peering down at my feet, lest I missed a flight of stairs or a sudden dip in the pavement. You see, my cataracts were not only impairing my vision but also playing havoc with my lifestyle. They were ageing me prematurely by making me feeble.
Despite this, I kept putting off a visit to an ophthalmologist, as the idea of having surgery on my eyes, scared me. It seemed like a form of mediaeval torture - being operated on with my eyes open. Please.
Everyone Is Doing It
Cataract surgery is actually one of the most common procedures for those who have passed life’s halfway mark.
Around 50% of older Australians are likely to develop significant cataract by their 70s, according to a report compiled by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.
Each year more than 250,000 of us will undergo cataract surgery to replace the eye lens, which has degenerated and become opaque, according to the report, with almost 70% of these surgeries performed in private hospitals. The day procedure includes a small incision before the clouded lens is removed and a clear artificial one is implanted
Australia Leads The Way
Australia is one of the world leaders when it comes to cataract surgery rates, according to the Second Australian Atlas of Healthcare Variation 2017. We have twice the rate of cataract surgery (8,000 per million) compared to New Zealand. But we’re still lower than France, the Netherlands and the United States. It’s excellent that our eye surgeons get so much practice, as this is one of the safest operations in Australia. The procedure is simple, very low-risk and has a success rate of more than 98%, according to the statistics.
I Kept Putting Mine Off
I waited so long between being referred by my optometrist - to actually booking into an ophthalmologist that the date expired and I had to seek another referral. (This defies logic for a woman who is well acquainted with Botox needles and ahem, certain cosmetic procedures.) The cataract in my left eye was a serious cause for concern.
I was fortunate that the surgeon, Dr Ilan Sebban, a family friend of over 20 years, who had also operated on my father’s cataracts, is a patient, understanding man. He put me at ease and explained that anaesthetist would give me some sedation and my time in the operating theatre would be just a matter of minutes. It would be over in a blink of the eye. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself).
Cataract Surgery Is An Out Patient Procedure
I eventually arrived at the East Sydney Private Hospital in my very best mental and physical shape: I’d meditated some of my fear away, eaten lightly the night before (you fast from around midnight, depending on the time of your surgery) exercised during the day and had a good night’s sleep.
Turns out that it’s the before and after routines with cataract surgery that are the most time consuming, thanks to an eye drop protocol to numb the eye area and then help to protect it afterwards.
Finally came the moment I dreaded, I was wheeled into the operating theatre, while cautioning the nurse all the while not to go too fast. But it all turned out to be an anticlimax: I met the charming anaesthetist, who gave me an intravenous injection. I felt a slight tugging during the procedure and the next thing you know, I was sitting up in recovery being offered tea and a choice of sandwiches.
Pain Factor Almost Zero
There was some slight discomfort, which soon disappeared with a couple of pain killers. I also had a plastic shield over one eye, which would stay on for one night but I could magically see quite well. I was back at home by lunchtime.
For the next few weeks I would follow a routine of having four different kinds of chilled eye drips at least 4 times a day, which meant taking an Esky to the office. I could drive again after two days and would not wear eye makeup for around nine weeks
It’s now been two months since I had surgery (my right eye was operated on two weeks after my left) and I have a new confidence as I see things very differently now.
I also feel fortunate to be living in a time when surgical procedures are so advanced. (Poor Monet also had cataract surgery in the early 1900s but by all accounts it wasn’t as successful as mine). It’s also relatively inexpensive. Mine was covered by Medicare and my health fund.
There’s No Turning Back
There really is only one down side. It turns out that the lighting in my home was not a soothing golden yellow at all but a take-no-prisoners white. It shows up every mark on the floor and the kitchen bench. But that’s nothing on how it brings the ravages of age into sharp focus. I thought my face was almost smooth but I really look as though I’m auditioning for Mount Rushmore. And let’s not even discuss the dimples that have seemingly popped up on my body overnight. (The rascals, why couldn’t they stick to my cheeks?)
However it’s a small price to pay for getting my mojo back. And besides, I can always invest in a pair of rose-coloured glasses. Thanks to my cataract surgery, they’re the only kind of glasses I’ll need.
So don’t put off dealing with concerns you may have with your eyesight by scheduling regular eye checks. Changes to your vision may be subtle, at first. And if you receive a cataract diagnosis this should not be cause for alarm but an affirmation that you will soon view life very differently.