This is a story about cataracts. Actually, it is my story. And I am writing it in the hope that it may reassure any of you who have been recently diagnosed with cataracts and are facing surgery.
I am used to my annual optician appointment being a very routine affair. I am extremely short sighted and, without my contacts or Coke-bottle spex, have only a very blurry ethereal view of the world. Plus I am lucky enough (ha bloody ha) to have a swarm of floaters in my right eye – something lots of us older women (and men) have to live with. Despite my substandard vision, my prescription hasn’t changed for years.
This time however was different. Apparently my right eye is changing, fast. And not for the better.
“You need cataract surgery” my optician announced. I looked blankly at her. I thought a cataract was an opaque membrane over an eyeball – and I knew I didn’t have that. She explained that cataracts are very common as we age and is a clouding of the lens inside the eye which leads to loss of vision. Cataracts often develop slowly and can affect one or both eyes. Symptoms may include faded colors, blurry vision, halos around light, trouble with bright lights, and trouble seeing at night.
Cataract surgery involves replacing the existing lens with an artificial replacement. “Will it hurt?” No, she reassured me. “Takes ten minutes. They’ll do one eye on one day and the other about a week later. But the best news is that your vision will be fully corrected so you won’t need to wear spex or contacts ever again.” I wasn’t sure whether to be worried or over the moon.
Had a pretty restless night. How much time do I have before the cataracts are fully formed and I can’t see? Days, weeks, months, years? Will the insurance company cough up? Will the operation be completely safe? I don’t quite have the nerve to use Dr. Google. Somehow ignorance seems preferable to potentially frightening information. Not very sensible I know.
THREE MONTHS LATER
I won’t bore you with the details of my 14+ week tussle with my private health insurers, except to say that they finally agreed to pay for my cataract surgery. Usually, you phone your private health insurance provider and are given approval and a claim reference immediately. You can, of course, have cataract surgery on the NHS – the waiting time is around 18 weeks if you believe their website; but according to several people I know, it can be much longer.
Armed (finally) with my insurance claim reference, the day dawned for my consultation with the eye surgeon. Husband drove me to my appointment as I wasn’t allowed to drive afterwards. They gave me eye drops (slight sting on first one, nothing with the second) so that my pupils dilated and biometric measurements could be taken.
The surgeon was impressed by the “spectacular number of floaters” I had and said he could remove them at the same time as replacing the lens in my right eye. This procedure is called a vitrectomy. I cannot tell you how exciting this news was for me – floaters are, quite frankly, buggers to live with. There are translucent grey worms swimming slowly in my field of vision as I type this.
Equally thrilling, he explained that once the operations were completed (there would need to be two, one eye at a time), it was highly unlikely that I would ever need spex or contact lenses again as my vision should be near perfect (apart from needing reading glasses which I am used to anyway). If you are reading this and are considering surgery yourself, you may be a candidate for multi-focal lenses which means you wouldn’t even need readers).
I must wear my bottle top spex for at least a week to let my eyeball return to its natural shape. Then I will be ready for the first operation which will be performed under local anaesthetic, as a day case. The leaflets I have been given about the operation make it sound like a breeze, but I shall definitely be taking up the option of a sedative and/or a nurse’s hand to squeeze during the operation! My dates are all booked in – so this is really happening!
To see how I got on with my ops, click here