Sunday, October 16, 2011

You See?

I went for a LASIK consultation. I’ve been nearsighted and astigmatic all my life. (No, astigmatic doesn’t mean I have trouble breathing.) Until recently my vision had been nicely corrected with comfortable toric lenses. Lately, however, my prescription has changed dramatically, to the point where I can’t even make out what’s on my TV screen. The other day I was flipping through channels and I thought I had stumbled upon an episode of River Monsters. Turns out it was Nancy Pelosi.

So I went to a local eye care specialist, where the waiting room consisted mostly of people who were born during the Renaissance. I heard one guy telling someone what a great president Zachary Taylor was. Anyway, a series of assistants performed a number of diagnostics such as a vision test, glaucoma screening, cornea shape, and retina health. I thought the prostate exam was a bit unnecessary, but who am I to question the experts?

Well, the LASIK surgeon finally saw me to discuss whether I was a good candidate for the procedure. I wasn’t. You know why? Because I have cataracts.

I’ll repeat that in case you thought you misread it: I have cataracts. I’m in my 40s and in perfect health, I work out regularly, take fish oil, and avoid harmful activities like smoking and marriage, and yet I’ve developed a disease that has traditionally been relegated to people whose daily highlight is  catching the early bird special.

Actually a lot of people my age have cataracts, but now they are being detected in the early stages with modern diagnostic equipment. You can have cataracts and not even know it because while there may be changes in visual acuity at first, it takes several years for vision to become noticeably cloudy. It’s kind of like heart disease, which doesn’t become noticeable until arteries have become significantly blocked and you keel over during your P90X workout and suddenly that “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” commercial doesn’t seem so funny anymore.

So what exactly is a cataract? It is a clouding of the lens, caused by clumping of the proteins that are normally arranged in such a way as to keep the lens clear. Furthermore, the lens grows throughout life by regular addition of fibers, causing the dimensions of the lens to change, and this will cause changes in vision. Other parts of our bodies grow throughout life as well, such as our noses and ears, showing that God has a sick sense of humor.

The good news – and this applies not only to me but to you as well because chances are that you will eventually develop cataracts – is that modern medical advances have made it possible, as well as relatively painless, to restore vision with cataract surgery. Even astigmatics can achieve perfect vision with special lens implants custom made to work with their particular cornea shapes. Now, you can say what you want about the medical establishment. You can say that a lot of doctors are incompetent dolts who miss important diagnoses and make mistakes such as amputating the wrong leg. You can say that many administrators are crooks who bill insurance companies for procedures that were unnecessary or never even performed. You can say that pharmaceutical companies torture small animals in order to create drugs that often cause more problems than they solve. And you’d be right. But sometimes good things get produced. Artificial lenses. Coronary bypass surgery. Anesthesia. Spray-on hair.

So am I upset about having cataracts? Not at all, because I found out that cataract surgery is covered by my insurance, while LASIK isn’t. This will save me a lot of money, which I need because I am still dating and if I want to keep these ladies’ interest I can’t take them for the early bird special. Unless I want go out with women who like to reminisce about the good old days before Prohibition.