The gift of sight.

As I have been discharged by the surgeon and declared fit, I deem it time to bang on about my cataracts and the absence thereof.

People who have stuff, such as working intestines, no cancer, no pain and all five senses in good order, have absolutely no idea how lucky they are.  Not a clue.

People who have an ability, such as digestion, and lose it in an accident, or bungled surgery, have every right to bemoan their lot, acutely aware as they are of their loss and the problems the loss causes them.  Difficulties such as constant pain, loss of function and independence reduce your world to four walls and sometimes just a bed.  The pandemic has given everyone a taste of the frustration and hopelessness that is the daily lot of some of us.  I sincerely hope we retain our sympathy as the world improves and the health situation eases. I never really had a carefree youth because I had my mother. I was always in puzzlement about health matters when I was kept at home to see the doctor because my mother fancied some attention or sent to school in awful pain with my appendix because she was going out shopping.  My stoicism was a survival trait, unallied to pain or the need for relief from it.  I know I’m not alone in this attitude – my lovely old neighbour once remarked at the start of his heart troubles, before he got proper help, that he was not sure how much pain was the right amount to have.  The ideal answer is: none, though this age of drugs and painkillers is a relatively new phenomenon in human history.  Frailty of various kinds is known to have assailed famous historical figures but not stopped them achieving.  We think of Julius Caesar who had a malady which caused fainting and falling and may have been epilepsy; Horatio Nelson who was almost as short as me, had frequent bouts of dysentery and malaria, and lost an eye and an arm; and Queen Anne who had eighteen pregnancies, none of the resulting children surviving to adulthood.

You don’t have to be a slave building some great monument by hauling blocks of stone somewhere else, or some consumptive literary genius, to suffer from health problems, anyone can do it.  Neither do you have to be Queen Victoria to be slightly undertall, or Emperor Claudius to have cerebral palsy, anyone can be born a bit substandard.  If you have always wanted different coloured hair or eyes, or longer legs or less humorous toes, you’ll be right in there with me, I’m sure.

But how many people are substandard from birth and then get accidentally put right?

Well, there’s me……………

I am aware that my left eye has always been imperfect, it is not aligned exactly to the other eye, I’ve got a bit of a squint.  This is the eye that developed the cataract all on its own in an: oh let’s give up and stop working, sort of way, years ago.  Gradually things became dim. Keen readers will be aware of the decline of my proof reading skills.  One of the reasons I was so enthusiastically employed by magazines was my facility with proof reading.  They knew they could ask for five hundred words to go to press in two hours and just operate the pagination programme without needing to spell, grammar and fact check first.  Time is money.

You may also recall the dreadful accident that caused the development of the cataract in my good eye, when the OH tilted the entire fridge towards me including a box of screwdrivers he had just rested on the shiny top, that caught my eye literally.  I still think it was only the hard plastic contact lens that saved my eye from bursting.

The gradual diminution of my sight was never more obvious than when the hospital stopped all the cataract surgery in the pandemic to help cancer patients from another hospital.  I didn’t just approve of this move, as a cancer patient myself I stood up and cheered, I thought it was The Right Thing To Do and was glad to wait.

I knew that I was living in a bit of a fog.  Supermarket shopping was confined to the rows of shelves I could see.  There could be shrink-wrapped dragons on the upper shelves, for all I was aware.  One inch away from the TV I could almost read the programme guide, but it didn’t matter as watching fog in a box is a pretty pointless activity.  I was driving only three streets away, very slowly and, in the garden, getting some startled close-ups of snails and other slow-moving grabbable creatures, though the overall picture was just general swathes of colour.

I have described, previously, how my skill at memorising bus timetables was rendered unnecessary by the provision of spectacles first at age sixteen.  It was a revelation that buses had numbers on the front to identify them and their destination.  What a good idea! How very easy!  You couldn’t have done that to a Georgian horse pulling a cart.  The spectacles were provided when my answer to the direction to copy the notes on the board was: board, what board?

But spectacles are supplied on the basis of: try this, is it better?  It was definitely better than awful and I had become very good at discerning letters of the alphabet from vague outlines and had unwittingly learned by heart most cardboard optician’s sight charts and I could always read the close eye test and frequently read out loud the bit that said ‘Printed in Letterpress Monotype, Optical Supplies Ltd. 35 Chard Street, Gastown.’

However my cataract surgeon took no notice of any of that.  He corrected my right eye to normal and my left eye to a bit short sighted.  So I can read this, but, also…………

At six in the morning little birds are very active in my garden.  They swoop and fly everywhere. Blue tits take a bath in the bird bath and then drink the bathwater.  I CAN WATCH THEM DOING IT. Yesterday I had to interrupt my neighbour, who was talking to me, to tell her she had blue eyes.  At the tops of trees there are leaves, in fact there are leaves all over trees and I can see every one of them.  I can see where the ridge tiles on the house at right angles to mine have not been laid with even gaps.  I can see every blade of grass on the lawn.  I have just watched a squirrel jumping across the lawn, if he stops to scratch I might be able to see his fleas.

I can’t stop drawing.  I can’t believe how easy it is when you can see where the edges are.  When the children two houses away watch cartoons in the bedroom I can too, through the window.

Other people have spots and hairs.  You know that thing about British teeth? Absolutely true.

Hardly anybody’s clothes fit them.  Don’t people walk funny? The kitchen floor is filthy, and I’ve just washed it.  I can see the individual tufts of wool in the carpet that I bought for the lounge. I still like it, even if it doesn’t look like a renaissance painting.

Art!  There are dozens of art galleries I need to revisit!  I can watch a film at the cinema instead of guessing from the sound track.

The glass oven door is so you can watch the dinner inside, burning.

I can count the weeds on the lawn from this upstairs window.  Hang on.

147, mostly daisies.

I would probably not have had the cataract surgery if I had not had the accident because I still had one good eye and you see with your brain.

The S&H was born by C section, as they lifted him out and up, he turned from lilac to pink and opened his eyes.  And was surprised and delighted.  All that morning he looked at everything and you could almost watch the cogs in his brain whirring.  When he eventually slept, just after lunch time, it was only because his brain needed to catch up.

I feel the same.


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