- Vision & Eye Care
Before and After Cataracts
You may be interested in knowing what it is like to have cataracts. While I had them, I didn't know it, because I thought it was normal to be blinded by the light.
I used to lower my eyebrows to shield my eyes from the overhead lights or from the bright sky when I looked at people. Otherwise, their faces were nothing but a silhouette, if the light was coming from behind them. Finally, someone said something to me that made me realize what I must have looked like all my life: "Sam, you don't have to be mad at everyone; none of us, including yourself, is perfect!" I went to the mirror, and did my usual lowered-eyebrow thing to shield my eyes from the light. I really looked mad!
That, in addition to the fact that I started to see a yellow haze around me that dimmed the room, made me go to the eye doctor to see what was happening. He reported that I had cataracts, and that I was the first patient he knew that could perceive a notable difference in light and color around me. He also told me -- and all you cataract sufferers should take note of this -- that it wasn't serious enough to affect my life, and that perhaps it wouldn't be worth it to operate at this point in time. I mention that so that I can point out to you that doctors are never in your shoes, and may not know, like you do, how much you are suffering.
It's true that you don't know how serious your condition is until after you've recovered from it. But I had heard from people who don't have cataracts that they could see the faces of people who were inside of cars while walking in the sunlight, and that they could see into shadows cast by the sun. I used to come to a near stand-still before driving into a shadow cast by a building onto the street before proceeding (when there was no other car ahead of me clearing the way), because I couldn't see anything but blackness ahead of me. Also, I couldn't read a poster that was written with yellow markers.
So I decided to have the surgery. The doctor did one eye at a time with two or three weeks between, so that if the operation failed, I would still have sight in the other eye. Each operation was done while I was awake. The doctor also threw in his lasik procedure, giving me 20-20 vision at the same time.
For each operation, I was lightly sedated, and also anesthetized in the eye with eye drops. Even though my eyelids were propped open continually, there was no discomfort, because of regular washes to the eye during the operation. When they took out the lens with the cataracts, everything went completely blank or blurry. I could still see light, but everything was just white or near-white color. When they put in the artificial lens, I could see again clearly. The doctor finished up and sent me into recovery. My mother was there waiting for me, and when I looked up at her, there was a set of bright, fluorescent lights embedded in the ceiling above her head. With my normal eye, I couldn't see her face. But with my newly-operated eye I could see every detail! I became a bit emotional as I told her, "I can see you!"
I continually compared the sight in my left eye with that of my newly operated right eye. I was enthralled in this exercise, comparing the before and after. I could hardly believe the difference, and I couldn't comprehend how I lived in this state for so long. The colors were richer and the world was brighter than before! (I admit that my eyes were still dilated, so it was probably not as bright as it seemed at the time.) I knew I had suffered with cataracts for a long time, because when I used to play with my friends as a kid, I was always squinting or cupping my hands around my eyes so I could see them or the things they showed me. I remember one time, when we were in the shade, and they showed me a small object, I had to create a small hollow tube with my hands in order to see it. Their laughing and teasing me about it started an awareness in me that perhaps this wasn't normal.
As soon as I was relaxed enough at home to work on something, I decided to paint a picture of what my left (unoperated) eye saw, compared to what my right eye saw. As I am an artist, I had confidence that I could accurately reproduce those sights. I decided to sit in my dining room and paint a picture of the kitchen area, using PhotoShop.
The drawing at the top of this article shows how the vision was in my left eye before it was operated on. Here, I'll put it beside what I saw with my right eye. Notice that I couldn't see into shadows, and that there was a dark haze around light, especially in the shadowed areas. Also, colors were dimmer, and because my cataracts were yellowish, I had trouble seeing yellows, especially when they were on a white background.
I tweaked the painting several times, trying to get it as close to reality as possible. When I was content that it was near perfect in matching what I saw, I took the paintings to my doctor. He was surprised that it was so accurate, and asked if he could use my art in his next text book. I consented and asked him how he knew it was an accurate rendition. He replied that they have computer simulation programs that show about the same results.
After I had my second operation, I wondered if I would ever get used to this "new world," or if the wonder would ever go away. I felt I gained an appreciation of the sights around us that would be hard to come by with one who didn't suffer from cataracts. I now found pleasure in being able to read road signs when the sun was behind them. I no longer had to decelerate while entering shadows on the road. I can now see people in cars, and wave to them if I recognize them, which made me wonder how many others have waved to me without me waving back. I can see people standing in front of windows without squinting or cupping my hands around my eyes.
Yes, the wonder leaves me at times, but I still have a pang of gratitude and appreciation occasionally when circumstances help me to remember my cataract days.