Seeing the pandemic through new eyes

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About four months into the worst pandemic in 102 years, my baby cataracts decided to grow up. I had worn progressive lens glasses for 25 years that gave me good vision from close up to far away. Then I began having trouble seeing distance even with glasses. Road signs were fuzzy. I had a scary drive back from Holiday Island one night at twilight in the rain when I was unable to see the road in an area where there is a steep drop off.

Several of my friends have had cataract surgery recently, and quite a few more are planning it soon. It isn’t just reaching the age when cataracts are more common, but the fact that UV radiation has increased 30 percent in recent years, which has led to an increase in cataracts.

It isn’t ideal having surgery during a pandemic, but my eye surgeon in Rogers said his operating room was safer than visiting Walmart. While that might not be saying much, it was reassuring to see so much attention being paid at the eye clinic to wearing masks, sanitizing and social distancing.

I had not realized before my first surgery how much light and color were being blocked by the cataracts. After having the first eye done, I realized I didn’t really need to paint my living room ceiling… it wasn’t as dingy as I thought. I would switch back and forth between the eye with the new intraocular lens and the eye that hadn’t been fixed yet. The difference in color and light was amazing.

My friend Lisa had very poor vision before her surgery this summer. There were a lot of things she simply couldn’t do. She said the new lenses made her feel like she was walking around in an art gallery. It had a huge beneficial impact on her mood.

There was one decision I wasn’t prepared to make and that was whether to have a single focal lens implant or a multifocal lens. The single focal lens was free with Medicare. With it, I would be able to see distance without glasses, but not close up. The eye surgeon said that multifocal lens would be an extra $2,500 per eye, and discouraged it saying some patients are unhappy with the multifocal lenses.

At the time, it didn’t seem to be a big deal to need reading glasses. But I had no idea how many dozens of times a day I need to see something within an arm’s reach: my telephone, plugging in a recharger on a camera or phone, or reading my own notes. My biggest problem was seeing the computer screen. I either had to get way too close to see it with reading glasses on or so far back it was hard to read the words on the screen. It was causing me significant occupational difficulty until a friend who has serious vision problems gave me a 40-inch monitor that has worked wonders.

Lisa decided on the best multifocal lenses she could get, costing her an additional $3,000 per eye. Another friend, Jane, who recently had cataract at the same clinic I went to (but a different doctor), got multifocal lens for only $1,400 more per eye. Jane is very happy with the improvements and says she can see everything close except tiny print.

The total cost allowed per eye with Medicare is about $1,700. Why should it be more than twice as much for an interocular multifocal lens not that much different than a contact lens? I hadn’t realized that I might need to shop around to find the best prices.

If I had it to do again, I would get the multifocal lens. For others considering having this done during the pandemic, take into account that Trump has announced plans to permanently end the payroll tax that funds Medicare, disability insurance and Social Security. If the funding source for these programs goes away, I fear the end of these programs would cause misery.

Who would have thought that we might one day look back on the pandemic as “the ol’ good days” when we still had Medicare and Social Security? Get your new eyes now, is my advice.

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