I was going to expand on my mom’s diagnosis story from last week, but then something exciting happened.
I was diagnosed with central cataracts when I was 16, a nice souvenir from the high doses of barbiturates I had to take to recover from meningitis when I was little. They have been growing slowly, as cataracts do, for 26 years. My ophthalmologist says measuring cataract growth is like watching sand move.
For roughly half of that time, I have been at a point when most people would have had them removed. I even have a surgeon. She has even offered to cut her fees by 50% because I am so young for the surgery. But I don’t want to. For a lot of reasons. One of the biggest is that I would lose accommodation (the natural autofocus that allows me to go between near, medium, and far ranges without help). Without accommodation, I would have to choose between far, mid and near vision ranges. Practicality would demand that I not choose near, but reading with my nose literally buried in a book is such a fundamental part of my identity, I just can’t give it up.
There are multifocal replacement options, but 1) they cause some loss of contrast and I have already lost some, and 2) they have a higher incidence of retinal detatchment than monofocal lenses (which would not allow accommodation).
I have been waiting for science to catch up. Every visit with the ophthalmologist includes a discussion about whether it’s time for surgery. He tells me I can wait until I can’t see anymore, so I am. Sort of. I have strategies for difficult situations and I generally avoid driving in the rain at night, but I have been fearing that the time to abandon my characteristic stubbornness is coming. Improving on existing replacement lenses is very difficult, since it would have to go through the patent process again. In the back of my mind I knew it was unlikely I would get my way, but I hoped.
I never considered external options.
Then, last week, I was reading the paper, as I do every morning, and there it was, a minor headline in the tech section: Researchers just created a robotic lens that can be controlled by the eyes
Was this like Google Glass revisited?
No, it wasn’t. Researchers at the University of California San Diego had been working with soft robotics to create lenses that would imitate the muscle contractions responsible for natural accommodation.
Now, I’m not really the type to be bouncing up and down in my chair at work, but I was.
And you know I hate being a Guinea pig, but I would be for this.
It’s going to take a long time – it’s just a prototype at this point. There haven’t been large-scale tests, and medical devices can take forever to be approved by the FDA. But it’s something. Before last Thursday, all I had was a yawning chasm of nothing and hope, which was fading. Now the hope I harbor isn’t so lonely anymore.
Now I can wait. Or have the surgery. Either way, if this works, I will get my accommodation.
I don’t care how I get it, whether it is natural or artificial. I just want it.
(I’ll probably still wait.)