A sight of passage
Sunday, July 14, 2019
I recently passed an important milestone on the fascinating journey of growing older: being told it was time for cataract surgery.
For 35 years, I’ve worn progressive, no-line bifocals with transition lenses that darken and lighten automatically. One pair of glasses for both reading and distance vision. I put ‘em on when I get up in the morning, take ‘em off when I go to bed at night.
Few people remember having seen me on TV without glasses, and I would look odd even to myself without them. So I’ve been basically content with the notion that I would always wear glasses, that my vision would slowly but inexorably grow worse and that I would just need to get a new prescription every so often.
The last time I got a new set of specs a year and a half ago, I was pleased that the prescription hadn’t changed all that dramatically from the one before that and that the new pair was basically because of needing some new, unscratched lenses. (I had already decided I wasn’t making any more dramatic changes in frame fashion.)
But over the winter, my vision really seemed to plummet, and I became reconciled to a new reality of finally having to change prescriptions more often. When I got an exam, though, the diagnosis was cataracts: a clouding of both eyes’ natural lens.
Cataracts often begin with slightly blurred vision, similar to looking through a cloudy piece of glass. Many people notice problems with driving at night: excess glare from oncoming headlights, for example.
We still don’t know for sure why the eye’s lenses change as we age, forming cataracts. We do know that the lenses work like a camera lens, focusing light onto the retina and adjusting the eyes’ focus — letting us see things clearly both close-up and far away.
The lenses are made up of water and protein, and researchers believe that as we age some of the protein may clump together and cloud a small area. Over time, the area of haziness typically grows larger and clouds more of the lens.
Cataract surgery, fortunately, is a relatively simple, painless procedure in which the surgeon removes your clouded lens and replaces it with a clear, synthetic lens. During the last several weeks, I have had cataract surgery in both eyes and have had an amazingly pleasant and successful experience.
Once I finish the final three weeks of a fairly rigorous eye-drop regimen, I’ll get a new glasses prescription and that should be that for a long while. My distance vision has already dramatically improved.
There have been all sorts of developments in the use of lasers, not only to actually improve vision — even with astigmatism — but to make more precise incisions for removal and replacement of the lens. That was an option in my case, but since I wasn’t personally anxious to pay an extra out-of-pocket fee in order to do away with glasses completely, traditional cataract surgery performed with a scalpel was all I needed. This procedure is totally covered by Medicare and my supplemental vision insurance.
I had my work done by Dr. Jitendra Swarup, owner of Precision Eye Care in Washington, who did my surgery at Vidant Beaufort Hospital. The hospital, Precision Eye Care and Dr. Swarup were all terrific, and I understand Swarup is one of the nation’s leading cataract surgeons, having performed well over 30,000 traditional and laser surgeries across a broad swath of eastern North Carolina.
Growing old may not be for sissies, but at least getting rid of cataracts should be no big deal at all for the vast majority of us.
Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at email@example.com.