Peter Lapsley: I can see clearly now…

Peter LapsleyNever one to shirk my fieldwork as patient editor of this esteemed journal, I pottered along to the Moorfields Eye Hospital outreach clinic in Ealing yesterday morning to have the cataract removed from my right eye – a short, un-traumatic, and near-miraculous Patient Journey.

My eyesight had been deteriorating for several years. To begin with, I thought the lens of my spectacles had become grubby, but no amount of cleaning could remove the blurring, and it grew steadily worse, until it became very difficult to read the captions on the BBC’s 24-hour television news programmes. Increasingly, car headlights coming towards me flared in that eye, making night driving unpleasant. And fly-tying became a more and more hit-and-miss affair. I am a keen tyer of trout flies but, with what was effectively monocular vision, found myself snipping away almost at random in my attempts to trim off bits of fur, feather, and silk, missing them completely as often as not.

So, with a referral from my GP, I headed for the clinic at Ealing Hospital. There, a kindly ophthalmologist peered into my eyes, concluded that I had cataracts in both of them – the one in the right eye being worse than the one in the left – and said yes, of course they could sort me out. At a pre-operative assessment just before Christmas, meticulous measurements were taken to ensure, inter alia, that the natural lens would be replaced with a suitable artificial one.

The operation itself took less than 40 minutes with local anaesthetic and required me to do no more than lie on my back and stare straight ahead at a very bright light. There was almost no physical sensation of any sort – occasional slight pressure but certainly no pain or discomfort. As he went about his task, Mr Hamilton, the surgeon, gave a quiet, relaxed, and coherent commentary which was both interesting and helpful. And then it was done. I went home 45 minutes later with a couple of bottles of eye drops for daily use for a month, and wore an eye patch until this morning. When I removed it, the transformation was startling. Distance vision with my right eye is clear and pin sharp, colours are very much more vibrant than they have been for ages, and my binocular vision has been fully restored. No-one has ever complimented me on my singing, but I went down to breakfast humming, “I can see clearly now…”

Mr Hamilton told me that, in all, he would treat 13 patients a day, and the clinic does three days of surgery a week. Just think how satisfying it must be so greatly to enhance the lives of 39 people every week.

The left eye, upon which I have been increasingly reliant for several years, is now markedly less good than the right. I am returning for a follow-up appointment next week and hope very much that I shall be told they can treat that one, too.

Peter Lapsley is patient editor of the BMJ.