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I can see clearly now, the rain is gone, I can see all obstacles in my way Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind It’s gonna be a bright, bright Sun-Shiny day. Those are some of the lyrics from I Can See Clearly Now, by Johnny Nash. It is one of my all time favorite songs and I've been whistling it a lot lately. What follows is a detailed description of my encounter with a common eye condition, cataracts. If you have cataracts and have had them surgically removed, you know the story. If you have them and haven't had them removed, you should read the detail. In many cases, the surgery can give you good vision again. But first, I've got to share with you some conditions that may alert you to your failing vision because this comes on slowly and as with all small slow changes, you hardly notice. My apologies to Jeff Foxworthy for what follows. If you think newspaper ink has become almost the same color as the page, you might have cataracts. If your birdie putt disappears but didn't go into the cup, you might have cataracts. If the screen on your GPS on the dashboard is getting fainter so that you can hardly see the map, you might have cataracts. If you have noticed that there are more hazy days lately, you might have cataracts. If road signs have become impossible to read from a distance, you might have cataracts. If the left turn arrow of the traffic signal is too faint to be seen, you might have cataracts. If your nose is touching the computer screen, you might have cataracts. If you've quit reading books and magazines, you might have cataracts. If you haven't seen a sky filled with stars lately, you might have cataracts. If you are seeing fewer birds, you might have cataracts. In 2002 my optometrist advised me that I had a small cataract in my left eye. There was an area of cloudiness in the lens of the eye. It didn't seem to be causing me any vision problems so he said we would monitor it to see if and how it progressed. At each biennial exam he would comment on its progress or lack of progress. It didn't seem to be much of a problem. This past year I have noticed more and more difficulty seeing (see the list above), but the problem seemed to be my right eye, not my left. In March I was back in Missouri and stopped in to see my optometrist. He found a severe cataract in my right eye. He said the left eye had progressed some but was still borderline. I wasn't staying in town long so I would have to find an ophthalmologist when I got back to Texas. I started with the internet, learning about cataracts and cataract surgery. I found out that cataract surgery is the most common surgery in the US. I also learned that it is 98% successful and that the most common complications are relatively minor and affect people who have other serious health problems. The web site was an excellent source of independent information. All the types of replacement lenses which are available are described with their benefits and limits or problems described. There was one very interesting entry, a description of his own cataract surgery by an ophthalmologist. There are numerous articles which address many aspects of eye health, cataracts are just one topic on that site. The site is operated by Access Media Group, a healthcare publishing company specializing in eye care. The company's primary business, All About Vision®, is a website providing information to consumers about all aspects of eye health and vision correction. A friend, a retired optometrist suggested one way to find a good local ophthalmologist would be to consult professional organization web sites so I went to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). Entering my zip code gave me a list of a half dozen ophthalmologist within 30 miles of our home. I also found a listing of local surgeons on another web site, Eye Surgery Education. Finally, I asked my physician for a recommendation. I now had three sources and a number of possible surgeons. My physicians office made an appointment with their recommended physician. When I arrived for the appointment I learned that the doctor wasn't in, hadn't been in all week. I was welcome to see another doctor in the group. I wasn't happy with that arrangement, after all they had called to confirm the appointment only a few days before. I left discouraged, it would be another week or two before I could get an appointment with another doctor. The second doctor I chose had an office which was definitely high end. He was a very professional doctor but had one particular premium lens that he liked to install and talked down all others when I asked about them. Then we were sent to a scheduling consultant who reminded Louise and I of the worst used car salesman we could ever imagine. He exaggerated, misrepresented, and exhibited an alarming lack of knowledge about lenses. He informed us of the doctors fees which were well above the charges that web sites indicated for premium lenses. It took me about ten minutes of this to walk out on this sales pitch. I still can't imagine that doctor sanctioning his presentation. It would be another two weeks waiting for the next appointment. I went back to my list and picked a doctor from the AAO list. I read about this doctors background, education and years of experience. Everything looked promising but I was now leery of the whole genre of ophthalmologists. When I arrived at this office I was first tested by an assistant who did an excellent job of explaining the testing and measurements she was taking. Then I went to see the doctor and she completed her exam and we talked lenses. I told her what my concerns were and what I expected from a lens. I wasn't after the most expensive, nor the most convenient. Some lenses can allow you to do away with glasses entirely. Some have different focusing zones, others are flexible like the body's natural lens and can be flexed to focus on different distances. The lens I chose is a fixed lens which will give excellent distant vision but will require reading glasses for close vision. Dr. Alexander agreed with me that given my concerns that was a good choice. We set up surgery dates for both the right and left eye, one week apart. By the way, both of the doctors I saw agreed that I needed cataract surgery on both eyes. The left eye didn't have the spot that was in the center of the right lens but it was generally cloudy throughout. We planned to do the surgery on my worst (right) eye first. Surgery was done in a surgery center. Prep included about 4 dozen eye drops, some to sterilize the eye, some to numb the eye and finally the ones to dilate the iris. I had an IV with a sedative to relax me. Then I was wheeled away to the operating room. Dr. Alexander came in and began to work. She works through a microscope for the entire process. I am pretty much immobilized by a protective cover on my eye which is fastened to the bed. I can see light but can't feel a thing, no pain, no pressure. The light keeps moving and Dr. Alexander requests one thing or another from her assistants. I have read about the surgery and seen movies simulating parts of the surgery so this all sounds familiar. Soon she announces that she is finished with the surgery and everything is fine. I am wheeled out to recovery where I get some juice to drink, the IV and heart monitor are disconnected, I am put in a wheel chair and am on my way home. I have a clear cover on my eye, I can see but I'm looking through plastic. It has holes around the edges for ventilation and the central area is transparent. I can see, everything is blurry and way too bright, sunglasses help. At home I am able to eat for the first time since midnight. Slowly through the day my vision is improving. I notice that the houses are really white, the grass is green and cars are really colorful. I'm like a railroad crossing signal, right eye, left eye, right eye, left eye. Wow, my left eye is really bad! It is just the first day and I'm looking through a plastic cover and I'm seeing better with my right eye than with my left. Following surgery I have to continue eye drops and sleep with the patch on for a week. There is no pain following surgery, no discomfort, only the steady improvement in my vision. The next day I have an appointment with Dr. Alexander. The plastic cover is removed from my eye and I can really see how clear my vision is now with the new lens in place. I'm on restricted duty, no lifting or bending so I catch up on some of the light work around the house and on the computer. Later in the week I do some painting that we'd put off for some time. By the weekend I'm able to mow the lawn. The following Monday, May 20, I'm back to the surgery center for the left eye. The story is much the same, I remember more of the operation this time but the results are the same. I'm writing this just hours after the plastic cover has been removed from my left eye. I have a pair of reading glasses purchased off the rack at Walgreens that function as my reading glasses for now. I can see clearly now. We stopped at the grocery store on the way home this afternoon and the experience of walking through the produce section was amazing, the colors are now so bright, vivid compared to what I was seeing only two weeks ago. It is as if I am seeing the grocery store for the first time. I am amazed how far down the highway I can see, even reading signs from distances I could only imagine a few weeks ago. I can see all obstacles in my way. The old hazy gray world I was living in is now gone. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright, bright Sun-Shiny day. Have you had your eyes checked lately?
Two years ago studies came out that identified one of the most dangerous items we use daily. It is an item that we all enjoy and doesn’t seem that dangerous at all. It isn’t cigarettes or liquor. It isn’t fast cars or fast women! One of the most dangerous things for people is the chair you are sitting in right now as you read this. Yes, I too am sitting in a chair as I write this. We all love to sit in chairs. Chairs are in front of TV’s and that is a glorious reason for sitting in a chair. Chairs and couches turn us into potatoes and there lies the danger. Overweight and inactivity are sure paths to an early end. Today as I was sitting on the couch watching football, I saw the NFL logo and the slogan, “Play 60” on every field. One of the NFL adopted causes is Play 60, a program to encourage at least 60 minutes of activity for children in school. When I was in school, I didn’t need an advocate to promote 60 minutes of activity in a day. I didn’t have the distractions that face our children and grandchildren today. I rode my bike to my friend’s house. We played sandlot ball. We climbed trees and played at various games. I remember spending many days exploring the mystery of the woods behind our home, following a little trickle of a stream for great distances to see where it went. Young people today have many forms of entertainment which do not involve physical activity. The variety of electronic devices that entertain our children today competes directly with physical activity. Once you fall into the trap of sitting, physical activity becomes more difficult. Muscles atrophy and weight increases. This all makes moving more difficult, if not painful. It is a disaster for our children to start out so early in life with this challenge. It is an unfortunate truth for those of us who are now retiring to find out that what we have dreamed of all our lives will end our lives before our time. I don’t know about you, but my idea of retirement always involved a picture of relaxing in a rocking chair. I am guessing that came from seeing my grandparents sitting in their rocking chairs. It sounds like a great life to sit and watch the world go by, but it really isn’t that great. That rocking chair will kill you. It doesn’t matter what you do to exercise. If you can manage any motion at all, you should engage yourself daily in some activity. Walk, swim, garden, bowl, golf, yoga, Wii, Pilates, or Zumba, it all counts. It all raises your metabolism, burns calories and helps to keep your muscles, heart and lungs in good working condition. Cold weather is settling in across the country. I love our Wii Fit program. The exercises are not exceedingly strenuous but do work on basic challenges for older adults. As you and I get older, the small muscles in our legs lose their strength and flexibility. Our ability to balance ourselves slowly deteriorates. We don’t notice it until our ability to maneuver and balance becomes a serious hindrance to our movement. Doing yoga or playing the balance games on the Wii helps to restore the strength and control of these muscles. The Wii gives good feedback, indicating the level of your success at each activity. We take the Wii with us in the motor home and try to use it as often as possible. Even if you can’t be outdoors, you can benefit by using the Wii or other exercise programs indoors. The point is, don’t just sit there. Now the disclaimer: Before starting any exercise program, consult a physician. The New Year is coming and many people put exercise programs into their list of resolutions. Often this results in a brief period of activity which results in abandoned equipment and a feeling of failure when the program is abandoned. Start small with your exercise program and fit it into your regular daily routine where it fits best. Ten minutes of activity on a regular basis is better 30 minutes a day for several weeks which ends when your schedule no longer fits that much activity. All exercise programs wax and wane. Schedules change, injuries occur, enthusiasm lags. The important thing is to stay with it as best you can for as long as you are able. Live long and prosper. Have a happy New Year!