OldArchive / The Way I See It

I'm Seeing Things Differently Now

Here's an example of what can happen when dollars and cents get in the way of common sense.

I've always purchased eyeglasses locally, but a "buy one get another at half-price" offer at a city shopping mall last summer convinced me to change my shopping habits.

I'd been thinking about getting new glasses anyway, and this offer, which would result in me getting a pair of prescription sunglasses at half-price, was just too good to ignore.

But the savings started to slip away almost immediately when I was informed that the frames I'd selected for the sunglasses were not in stock and would have to be ordered. That meant that I would have to come back to have the frames professionally fitted and adjusted. I reluctantly agreed, but realized the money I'd saved would be reduced significantly by making another trip to Wilkes-Barre.

When I returned the following Saturday and took a seat while a store employee unwrapped my new sunglasses, she discovered a small chip in one of the lenses and said it should be replaced. I agreed but then was told that it couldn't be done until Monday and that, of course, would mean yet another journey to Wilkes-Barre, obliterating what was left of the money I'd saved. The deal that had seemed so sweet at first had turned very sour.

"As long as I'm coming back, " I said to the woman holding my sunglasses, "how about setting up an appointment for another eye exam?" I went on to explain that since purchasing my new glasses, I'd started to notice that I wasn't seeing things as clearly as I had expected.

When I returned the following Monday, my new sunglasses were ready and in just a couple minutes they were adjusted and I was wearing them. Then it was on to the eye exam where I was informed there was really nothing that could be done to improve my vision because I was suffering from macular degeneration. I was stunned. I started wondering how much longer I'd be able to do things like drive or even read.

When I returned home, I checked on the Internet and discovered that age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of legal blindness in people older than 55 in the United States where it affects more than 1.75 million people. Because of the rapid aging of the U.S. population, thanks to Baby Boomers like me, this number is expected to increase to almost three million by 2020. And because overall life expectancy continues to increase, age-related macular degeneration has become a major public-health concern.

I decided to get another opinion and made an appointment to see an ophthalmologist at Guthrie. It took until early fall before I would see the doctor and I had to drive to Corning, NY for the appointment. "You've got macular degeneration, alright," the ophthalmologist told me, "but that's not the reason you're having problems seeing. You can't see because you have cataracts." He went on to explain that lots of people my age show signs of macular degeneration and that the form I have, which is called dry macular degeneration, is not nearly as serious as the wet variety. He suggested that I take a dietary supplement, which has been shown to help slow the progress of macular degeneration.

I'm not sure how many people who are informed that they have cataracts look at it as good news, but I can tell you that it brought a huge smile to my face. Of course the puzzling part of all this is that during the two eye exams that I underwent where I purchased my now very expensive glasses, it was never mentioned that I had cataracts.

Now I need to tell you that up to this point, I knew very little about cataracts or the surgery that removes them. I have vivid memories of my grandfather undergoing cataract surgery in the 1950's, which involved him spending about a week in the hospital, including a few days with his head immobilized between sandbags while his eyes healed. Thankfully all that's changed.

Today cataract surgery involves replacing the damaged lens in your eye with an acrylic lens. The actual surgery takes less than 10 minutes, although the process involves a couple hours in the hospital. I had the cataract in my left eye removed last month and the one in my right eye was removed on Monday of this week.

Dr. Terence Devine, the ophthalmologist who performed the surgery, does it about 1,500 times a year. He even helped develop one of the instruments used in the surgery. And he adds a personal touch that is sure to make most folks smile: each of his surgery patients is given an African violet when they leave the hospital. I have two of Dr. Devine's violets.

During my checkup Tuesday I asked Dr. Devine how many violets he's given away over the years. "I really have no idea," he said with a smile, "but I've been doing it since 1985."

So do the math, and you'll see that over 26 years, Dr. Devine has given his patients approximately 39,000 violets.

"The local florists love me," Dr. Devine says. He says he started doing it when cataract surgery no longer involved a stay in the hospital, which meant that patients would no longer get flowers from family and friends. So Dr. Devine decided to provide the flowers. Some of his former patients have told him their violets are still flourishing after 15 years or more.

And I nearly forgot the best news of all. My vision is now better than 20/20. For the first time since I was in my mid 20's, I don't need to wear glasses when I'm driving and I can do without them for most things I encounter during my day, including working at my computer.

So now I'm wondering what I'll do with those expensive glasses I purchased last summer. I need to tuck them away somewhere out of sight because just looking at them reminds me of an experience I'd rather not think about.

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