I had my eyes lasered yesterday. Not to cure long or short sight but something called a laser capsulotomy. About six years ago I had cataracts surgery, which was awesome. I bounced out almost blinded by the pristine brightness through one eye. They do one at a time, so I lay in recovery marvelling how grungy the ceiling looked through my right eye and how clean through the left.
“What a marvellous economy,” I exclaimed to Bill, who I had been pestering to repaint the sitting room, a manoeuvre that called for scaffolding. “We don’t need to redecorate!”
Then my sight deteriorated again; the world grew murky. But worse, I couldn’t focus. Small print was a nightmare. Newspapers impossible. I acquired a kindle. Fine, I could enlarge the font, but I couldn’t read the index or the book descriptions on line. I tried, very reluctantly, large print at the library. Quite simply, they assumed my brain had gone the way of my eyes. One stack of non-fiction, most of which was bright self-help, including one on preparing for death, which they obviously thought was next on my menu. The rest were Harlequin romances. A bit late for that!
My optometrist had always been very lugubrious and gave me the impression that I was lucky to be be able to see at all – and then only after correction for double vision, astigmatism, and with wildly varying prescriptions as my eyes not only work independently, but apparently don’t even like each other. This all required multiple pairs of glasses for different activities – all very expensive, though I did find the drawer they kept the $15 frames in.
So when he said casually, “We can fix this – five minutes with a laser”, I was dumbfounded. Apparently about one in five people post cataract get a thick film over the back of the lens capsule. A quick zap with a laser, burn a hole in the back and let the light in.
I tottered into the office, unsteady because I couldn’t see the floor properly. And fifteen minutes later, I walked out with clear, precise vision, boring Bill by reading all the small print I could lay my eyes on. It felt like a biblical miracle.
Today, I am stunned by the clarity, the detail of allysum, minute, perfect. Even a cobweb is epidural xquisite – I wish I could sew like that. “I was blind and now I see,” I recited biblically over and over.
Yes, now I see – what it is like to be old and feeble. A very valuable and humbling insight when standing behind an elderly man fumbling change.
Because, it isn’t just not seeing; it is losing your compass. Being unsure, slow, bumbling. It is missing everyday clues, having to ask for help, handing a can to a stranger in a supermarket and asking her to check for gluten. It is googling and getting pages of minuscule letters, that won’t enlarge and, if printed off, are unreadable. It is not understanding things my intelligence would make mincemeat of – if I could read the details. It is watching House of Cards, unable to tell the characters apart. Why do they’re use muted light and characters in silhouette, let alone text messages in tiny print to convey key information. Finally, who started the trend of grey print on a bright white screen, paired with interactive buttons labelled in pale blue?
Yes, now I see, but I also understand, from the inside now, what it is like to be Bill with high tone hearing loss, adrift in an often incomprehensible world. No wonder he always needs to know where North is. It’s one of the few stable landmarks in a staccato world. The kids change plans on a dime, while all talking at once; grandkids crash rings round him; and it all ricochets off hard walls for the greatest echo effect.
When a sense is compromised, so is one’s map of the world. I will never again confuse intelligence with visual or auditory acuity. That is true blindness.