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Lordy, I Can See!

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It had to be the happiest doctor's waiting room I have ever been in.

I, and a handful of other patients, were awaiting a miracle operation in Toronto that restores sight to those who have had to wear glasses and/or contact lenses all their lives.

Since the age of 16, when I was diagnosed with a severe case of astigmatism, or short-sightedness, I have been blind as a bat to objects more than about a foot from my nose. In Australia, where I grew up, I received what seemed like a life sentence as a teenager, from an unsympathetic woman eye doctor. Those were the days when those who wore glasses were scorned as losers, and reminded of humorist Dorothy Parker's famous adage: Men never make passes at girls who wear glasses.

So I struggled on, choosing to snub acquaintances, or walk into walls, rather than wear the dreaded glasses when I was out on a date.

In those days, contact lenses looked like something out of a Frankenstein movie -- thick glass bottle tops that must have hurt like hell and which my doctor, anyway, would not prescribe for my condition.

Eventually, after I emigrated to Canada in the 1950s, I graduated to the new hard plastic contact lenses -- and indeed, wrote an article for my newspaper about one of first contact lens providers in Toronto. They were uncomfortable and could only be worn for a few hours without irritation. But, miracle of miracles, I could ditch the hated glasses, especially when wanting to be glamorous. However, I remember with horror on a travel junket to Turkey and Italy for my paper, accidentally leaving my contacts in after a wild night out and waking the next morning with tears streaming, in unbearable pain and having no one to turn to for a sympathetic ear as we toured the ruins of Ephesus.

Finally came soft contact lenses, a godsend which meant I no longer had to wear glasses and could go out at night feeling less like a nerd.

I wore these for the next few decades, but when I reached my 70s, my eye doctor warned me I was slowly getting cataracts and eventually would have to have them removed. Fine, said I, let me know when. I had some sort of idea that removal of the cataracts would improve my increasingly blurry vision but I would still have to wear glasses and contacts.

At my last doctor's visit earlier this year, I was finding it difficult to read the newspaper even with high-powered magnifying glasses you buy for a few bucks at the drugstore, and was forced to take off my glasses/contacts and read like Mr. Magoo with the print a few inches from my eyes.

Hallelujah! The doctor said: It's time for you to have a cataract operation, and sent me to a famous eye surgeon with palatial digs on Bloor St. West in Toronto. I eyed my surroundings with apprehension, figuring this was going to be expensive. And indeed it was. I was given the option of either having an OHIP-covered procedure in a hospital which would remove the cataracts but necessitate reading glasses. Or, if I anted up some $2,500 (which was tax deductible), I could opt for a more sophisticated procedure -- bifocal artificial lens implants which replace the natural lenses in the eye and give one virtually 20/20 vision. I could not believe this was an option. But I hastily agreed, not really believing it would work.

A few weeks later, I joined a veritable assembly line of patients receiving the operation, which takes only 15 minutes, is painless, and is usually done one eye after the other over two days. All you need to do is take a bunch of eyedrops which sanitize the eyes and get them ready for surgery. On operation day, as I sat among the waiting patients (and the old pros who were there for their second op in as many days), I listened to their stories. All agreed that it was a miracle. One woman had travelled from Barbados to stay in Toronto at a hotel for the few days required to have both eyes and a post-op appointment carried out. Another young man had driven 11 hours (four times!) from rural Virginia to get his eyes done, since the option of having the special lenses is still not approved in the U.S., which has been studying them since 2005 apparently. We all marvelled that for once, Canada was in the forefront of this new technology.

Finally, it was my turn. After a complimentary hand massage from the empathetic Romanian woman who shepherded us into the operating room and a quick lookover by the very kind surgeon, I was given a sedative, a plastic face covering which kept the eye being operated on from closing, a few psychedelic minutes as the operation proceeded, and it was over. Almost immediately, I realized I could see out of my left eye as never before, despite the eyelash-in-the-eye irritation which lasted less than an hour.

Next day, the right eye was treated and I walked out of the office about a half hour later (with drink and cookies provided in the post-op room) seeing properly for the first time in 60 years. Within 24 hours of the second op, I was driving my car, seeing perfectly and conscious that I had undergone a true miracle.

Thank God for modern science!

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