We all know that the gift of sight is precious, and perhaps one we take for granted — until we are faced with the possibility we might lose it.
Glaucoma is sometimes called “creeping blindness” because it robs people of their vision so slowly that they do not realise it is happening — until it is too late. It is caused when the pressures inside the eyes get too high and begin to damage the retina, with gradual loss of peripheral vision. Nowadays once it is diagnosed, it can be treated with daily eye drops which keep the pressures at a reasonable level.
I was diagnosed with glaucoma about 25 years ago, and have been monitored with regular check-ups ever since.
Over the last 12 months however I have noticed my sight deteriorating. I began to find it difficult to read emails and newspapers, or the Missal at Mass, and sometimes driving at night was not easy.
The cause of my vision loss was identified — part of the vitreous was sticking to the retina — so last December I had a vitrectomy on my left eye. I was warned that this operation would accelerate the growth of a cataract in that eye. The resulting cataract surgery in early May was successful but the vision in my left eye still remains a bit “misty”. If you are standing in front of me, my left eye can see you are there but at present it cannot clearly see your eyes or nose or other features.
My doctors have now postponed cataract surgery on the right eye and are trying to determine what is happening with the other one. They are exploring a number of possibilities, and I am dependent on their expertise.
In the meantime I now have glasses that do not “work” for the left eye [after surgery], but cannot get them changed till the left eye settles and until the doctors decide whether or not to proceed with the right eye.
“More one-eyed than usual”, people tell me. I am allowed to drive but do so only locally, and not much at night. I can still keep up with letters and emails.
I have become very “light sensitive”, and sometimes even just the ambient light on a sunny afternoon becomes too painful for my eyes. Some evenings I cannot cope with the glare from a TV or computer screen, but other evenings are fine.
My vicars and priests have taken responsibility for Confirmations, and for some other commitments. Initially I thought I would need this support just for May but now it is stretching out a bit indefinitely. I deeply appreciate the support of my priests and other diocesan staff, and have been very touched by the messages of support and the prayers of many people.
I am learning the need for patience because I do not know whether it will take one month more, or two or three, to become fully independent once again, with the new glasses I will require.
I have naturally wondered at times what might be my options if both eyes become “misty”. But I also know one cannot spend one’s life worrying about what “might” happen.
Shortly before he died last month, Fr Peter Penny gave me a little book of meditations with the title “Slow Down”. Over recent weeks others have given me the same advice. I have always loved the line in the Psalms: “Be still, and know that I am God”. Perhaps it is a message we all need to hear from time to time, and me particularly during these days.
Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn is the publisher of NZ Catholic.