DIANE PHILLIPS: The eye – so small in size, so large in life

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The eye is so small in size, so large in life. Think about it. Of all your senses, what would be the worst to lose? Most of us would say sight. You lose your sense of smell and the best part is you don’t smell the garbage, the worst is you don’t smell the coffee or a Cinnabon. Lose your sense of hearing and you don’t hear the chirping of birds or the crow of a rooster, but you get through the day somehow. Lose your sight and the whole world changes. Goes dark. You lose your way.

I hadn’t given a thought to how small the eye is by comparison with the role it plays until a skilled technician named Jennifer at Eye Associates of Boca Raton told me that when she was studying at the University of Maryland she focused on the eye just because it was so small and played so large a role.

If you are among the fortunate and have no eye problems, you’ve no idea just how blessed you are. I had my first eye operation before I could talk and my second before I could walk. This week, I had my most recent, a truly amazing piece of science and surgery that allowed the surgeon Dr. Douglas Kohl to go into my right eye, shatter a cataract, break it up, suck it out and replace it with a multifocal lens that takes the place of contact lenses or glasses forever.

My local doctor had referred me to Dr. Kohl, a youngish looking Harvard med school graduate and Fellow of several of those institutes that are very particular about who they certify.

Kohl has performed about 6,000 surgeries and says by the time he finishes his career, he will have done some 20,000. The most complex is those in patients suffering from glaucoma. I was one of the simple ones, no glaucoma but when you think about the science that goes into entering the eye and replacing the lens it is one of the wonders of the era of knowledge in which we live.

That science was the invention of Dr. Patricia Bath, a black American woman who hailed from Harlem, her mother a homemaker and house cleaner, her father a seaman. Bath’s story is amazing, the first woman to head an ophthalmology department at a major university (UCLA), inventor, holder of numerous patents, humanitarian, and best known for her 1981 invention, the Laserphaco probe, which allows the surgeon to make a one-millimetre insertion into the patient’s eye to vaporize the cataract.

Cataracts are not merely annoying because of cloudy vision. They can lead to blindness. Mine measured a 3.66 out of a possible 4, the worst on a scale of 1-4. From start to finish, the process took less than one week. First, there was an exam that required dilation to check the health of the eye, the dilation not being as bad as it once was when you lost a day to it and vowed never to do it again (though you did the next year).

The next day was measurements, going from station to station and room to room with every piece of equipment costing upwards of $50,000 on average. There were IOC measurements, Lenstar, corneal topography, endothelial cell count and macular OCT. There were probably more but that gives you an idea. All that is to measure for the manufacture of the lens which will be inserted into your eye. You start eye drops two days before surgery.

The day of surgery arrives and you are nervous, but there is no reason to be, unless it is about insurance coverage – a separate issue which we will deal with in another column about health insurance. The only sacrifice was nothing to eat or drink from midnight the night before which for me meant all I could think about was coffee.

The anaesthesiologist named Dr. Knowles had Bahamian connections, offering an inexplicable sense of relief which I never questioned. A light sedation and I was whisked into the surgical suite’s operating theatre which was not unlike an emergency room setting with a curtain on one side. Very comfortable. The actual surgery took a matter of minutes.

An hour later, I was wide awake, rarin’ to go for a coffee and half a fat corned beef sandwich on rye at a local deli.

As for my sight, it’s too early to tell, but I was told during the follow-up visit the day after surgery that everything looked good and I can’t wait until another week passes (the cornea remains swollen for about a week) and I can see just how good it looks to me.

I know this much, it saved me from blindness and I will never have to worry about wearing glasses or contact lenses in that eye again. So small a piece of your body, so brilliant a piece of science, so large a piece of your life.

That vanishing year, yes, it’s true

If there were times during the past year that you felt life was passing you by and you just lost a year of your life which you’ll never get back, you were actually right.

According to a recent report, the coronavirus pandemic took a measurable toll on life expectancy which, for Americans, was 78.8 years in 2019. By mid-2020, it was a full year less, or 77.8 years. For black Americans, it was even worse, with the number dropping by 2.7 years from 74.7 years to just 72.

Part of the decline was a direct result of COVID-19 deaths which as of this writing, May 20, stood at 3,435,717 worldwide, 587,000-plus in America alone. But significant contributors to shorter life spans were side effects of the pandemic including drug overdose, alcohol abuse and suicide. More than 165 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported globally. It has been one crazy ride of a year.

My favourite Charles Carter story

Like thousands of others who knew and respected him, I mourned the death of Sir Charles Carter this week, a one-of-a-kind individual who put his money where his mouth was, that unmistakable deep, credible voice on the microphone telling the Bahamian music and culture story. His interviews with the famous, the singers of bygone days who had more history than future, the hopefuls who believed the best was yet to come will live on long after all their voices have gone quiet.

But there is one story that tells so much about who Sir Charles was and why he bid partisan politics farewell though he never lost his love for the PLP. He told this to me in front of a sitting member of his party at a business function unrelated to politics when I asked him if he were so passionate about the PLP, why did he drop out of frontline politics.

“Politics,” he said, “takes the brains right out of you. Makes you stupid.” What do you mean, I asked? “You see this table right here?” Yes, I replied. “It’s brown, right?” Again, yes, of course it is brown. “Well, you get into Cabinet and the leader says it is orange and you are looking at it and you know it is brown but you have to say it is orange because that is the way our politics works. Whatever the leader says is what it is. Politics, it takes the brains right out of you.”

It did not steal yours, Sir Charles. Thank you for your legacy.

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Elena Johaness

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