“You have a cataract in your left eye.”
I felt the world spin around me as I heard the doctor’s calm voice. I hadn’t ‘seen’ that coming! My husband looked just as stunned. A cataract at my age? I wasn’t close to seventy yet, even if my hair was a natural burgundy, as I always claimed. How could I have a cataract?
The doctor smiled in amusement. “Yours is probably a pre-senile cataract,” she explained, as though that made it better. “People in their forties sometimes develop this condition.”
“Ahem, I am in my mid-fifties,” I coughed modestly.
“Oh, then it is a senile cataract!” she amended decisively, making me cringe for my poor cataract. “But don’t you worry. We will fix you.”
I went home in a daze, half apprehensive, half elated at the bombshell I was going to drop on my unsuspecting family. And I was not disappointed, for all of them were flabbergasted, each one climbing over the others to assure me that it was going to be fine, there would be no pain in a laser surgery and that I would be able to look on the bright side of things when my eyesight improved drastically.
“Oh, you might actually be able to see the man you married properly!”quipped my brother-in-love.
“And yes, imagine being able to recognize people from a distance!” said my sister, referring to an article I had once written, which was titled ‘Glassy Eyed!’
If I have deigned to write about any malady till now, it is because I have gone through it, a la ‘Hysterics over a Hysterectomy’, which I had written after that oh-so-vexing ‘period’. Luckily, these proved good fodder for my writing, and the aforesaid article actually won me an amazingly accurate thermometer which calculated body temperature through the ear. That my enthusiastic Army husband made me donate it to his Unit Hospital/MI Room is a different story altogether!
My thoughts flew back to my childhood when I had thought my relatives who had had cataract surgeries singularly blessed. All they did was loll around on their armchairs wearing glamorous dark glasses, listening to music or the news. They were forbidden from any strenuous activity, and from going out into the heat and dust. Special dishes were made to tempt them to eat and drops were assiduously poured into their eyes every couple of hours. What was best was that they were not allowed to bathe, an activity that many of us wished we could get out of, as it ate into our playtime.
Many a harassed student, yours truly included, had gazed at the cataract survivors enviously, bemoaning the fact that we ourselves had to pore over prodigious amounts of school work or beastly projects we had to complete in ‘record’ time.
As I grew up and meandered towards Literature, the word ‘cataract’ took on a whole new meaning. Wordsworth said poetically in Tintern Abbey, “The sounding cataract haunted me like a passion,” and Tennyson expounded on how, “the wild cataract leaps into glory.” As I read these words, my heart leapt with passion and glory, and cataract surgeries seemed too far removed and unromantic to be worried over.
A scientific minded cousin of mine scoffed, “A cataract is a mere waterfall, in literary parlance.” I recall retorting that Botany was the art of insulting flowers in Latin and Greek, which led to an amicable truce.
Thus, I ambled along through life, rose-coloured spectacles perched firmly on my nose, when gradually I began to sense a lowering of sight in my left eye, which had always been weak. My right eye was a lone ranger and had put an understanding arm around the left from a very young age as if to murmur, “Don’t you worry, my boon companion! I am there to take care of you!” And so it did so, taking over the whole load of its lazy companion who promptly decided to roll over and play dead.
As I lay on the surgery table, my eye having been regularly doused with drops over the past couple of days, clad in the green hospital gown, with only my left eye exposed, my doctor came to me, and said, “Don’t worry! It will all be over soon. Only lie still and don’t move your eye at all.” That was easier said than done, as my heart beat violently, and my single eye stared up at the blinding lights above.
However, what followed was, indeed, an experience, as I witnessed an explosion of colours, hemispheres colliding, and a sensation of water cascading over my eye at regular intervals. There was no other sensation and I relaxed and lay back, as the colours continued to dance and frolic before my eye. In about fifteen minutes, she told me, “We are almost done, OK?” I was overwhelmed when, after bandaging my eye, she explained that not only had she removed the cataract, but that she had also corrected my vision as well.
Once home, my concerned husband hovered around like a mother hen. He handed me a brand new set of earphones, saying sternly, “No exerting, no reading, no watching TV, no cooking...!”
“And no living!” I retorted. But I knew he was right and gave myself up to sitting and contemplating on all the future books I would write, and all the mouth-watering dishes he would cook for me. However, after the first two days, I needed to have something else to occupy my mind. What could I do?
The first thing I did was discover ‘Coldplay’, the band that had come and conquered our capital, unlike the next hyped young singer who came and apparently lip-synced his way out of the hearts of all those poor souls who had spent a bomb for the gala event.
Next, I found a treasure trove; a website that offered almost 7000 free audio books, which consisted of all the old classics that I had always adored. From then on, I did not have a moment to lose as I lost myself in such gems as ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’, ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’, ‘Wives and Daughters’ and ‘An Ideal Husband’.
I then veered towards crime stories, choosing ‘The Abandoned Room’ by Wadsworth Camp as a first choice, listening to an eerie voice read out the story as I lay in the dark, night after night. It was not surprising that, on one of those nights, I walked into the bathroom, and almost jumped out of my skin at the sight of a monstrous visage that glowed out at me in the inky darkness. I screamed, as my husband jumped up and hastened to put on the light, his heart in his mouth.
“What is the matter? Are you fine?” he asked anxiously.
I looked at him sheepishly, one eye covered with a cup that was stuck over it to protect it. I had seen myself in the shadows, and my one eye without its generous ‘racooning’ of kajal had quite undone me! Almost as scary as seeing movie stars minus their painstaking make-up on! It would take a month for me to look human again.
However, my sky was full of stars as my eyesight had gone from a minus 8 in my left eye to almost normal. I would not need glasses anymore, except for reading. How huge a miracle was this, and how amazing were the nano surgeries of today which had transformed the old painful procedures in the past into an experience that was more pleasant under the meticulous hands of my doctor, than not! The biggest blessing of all was that I had experienced no pain at all, during the surgery or even after.
So now, “when on my couch I lie, in vacant or in pensive mood”, I marvel upon the mysteries of nature and medical science, that dance together in a harmonious waltz, to create that ultimate miracle... in my case, the boon of good eyesight for once, in all my years of life! And as Walt Whitman said so poetically, “Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.”