I Saw the Light, A Tale of Vision

I Saw the Light, A Vision Tale

I saw the light, a vision tale, is a personal story about cataracts. At one time I probably would not have written about that, but now I know a fair number of friends have some degree of cataracts. This should be a hopeful tale.

Light has always been important to me. Even as a little kid traveling through the Southwest on family vacations, I “felt” the light of the high desert. It was years later before I could express anything about that, though. I lived in southern Arizona from 1969-1976, when I was working on my PhD at the University of Arizona. I just knew I liked it there. After that I had a job teaching at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. At that point, I was aware of how important light was to me. I enjoyed many aspects of life in Kansas City, but not the extended periods of dark, gray skies and cold, windy winters. Springs were magnificent. I moved to Albuquerque in 1985. While I like to visit other places, I am always happy to get home and back to the light of the high desert. Although sunrises and sunsets have been called by some “the greatest clichΓ©” in photography, I show them here because I really like them. I think the people who knock them have never seen a real New Mexico sky. πŸ˜‰

New Mexico Sunrise. The Spot Where the Sun Will Rise Is Appaent.


Several years ago, my ophthalmologist told me I had cataracts. He also said, “You don’t need to do anything about them now. You’ll know when you need to do something.” Something akin to a “decisive moment,” I guess. I saw him in early November and told him I was not having any problems.

Many of you know Tim and Laurie. Some of you know that my journey into digital photography began in 2008, when my little Nikon Coolpix died while I was photographing roses in their garden. I replaced that with a compact digital, but a complex one. So, I had to go take some classes, and one thing led to another, and another, and another… That all started in their rose garden.

Late in November I was out in Corrales with Tim and Laurie, photographing some cranes that were right there close to their house. Laurie had a wonderful meal, and we sat and talked, and I stayed well past dark. That was a Saturday night. For those of you who know Albuquerque, Alameda was bumper to bumper traffic from Corrales to the Northeast Heights. And I was “blinded by the light”of the headlights of every oncoming car. At least I knew what was causing that. But, I was very happy to get home, and I have not yet driven again at night since.

I saw the cataract surgeon in December, and the earliest date was in March. So, I took it.

This was a long, dark winter, although not cold. My house seemed really dark. I kept thinking I needed more lamps, or maybe even some additional light fixtures. Anything to make the house brighter!!!

Cataracts and Color

I saw my regular doctor in February. He told me that I would love the brightness and “all the color” once I had my cataracts fixed. I thought to myself, “what?” with respect to color and cataracts. Many of you are familiar with the work I have done with my son, who, like my father, has severe red deficient color vision. I’ve seen my ophthalmologist for years because I am on a medication that has the potential to damage the retinas. Today there are highly sophisticated tests to assess the retinas and any changes, but when I first started going, color vision was part of the assessment. The cones that detect different wavelengths of light are part of the retina. The patient arranged a series of colored cylinders. The Munsell Hue Test is no longer part of the evaluation, but you can see an online version and try it yourself:
Munsell Color Test
Keep in mind there are many limitations in the virtual world, such as differences in monitors, lighting conditions, and so forth.

I had never had any problems with that test in the ophthalmologist’s office, but I decided to try the online test. I keep my monitor color-calibrated, and in good lighting conditions for working with color photographs. I was “shocked, shocked I tell you” with my results on February:

Color hue discrimination test, 2_5_2017

Color Vision and My Family

Color changes usually associated with aging, toxins, etc. tend to affect the blue-yellow axis. To me, my results appeared more red-green. So I immediately took the Enchroma Color Vision Test, knowing the limits of online testing. I was shocked that my results came back Mild Protanopia. My father had and my son has Severe Protanopia. My father, son, and I do have the same X-chromosome that so severely affects their color vision. As a female, I have another X-chromosome, a normal one, from my mother. That allowed me to see colors normally most of my life. I think, although I do not know for sure, that when the cataracts began to affect my color vision, that decreased the protective effect of the normal X-chromosome, and allowed some expression of the red color deficiency carried on the chromosome from my father. I do not know that as an absolute fact. It is my working explanation of some of the phenomena I see in my personal experience.

Until I did the Munsell Test online, I was not aware of any changes in my color vision. This is in spite of the fact I have spent so much time working on the color vision of others.

The Surgery

Even though cataract surgery is very “routine” these days, I did worry a bit. I mean, it is surgery on your eyes, the window to the world from someone looking out.
I had to be at the surgery center by 8:00am. I was home by 10:15, and served coffee and banana bread to my mom and to her friend who had driven us.
I had no pain. I had blurry vision in that eye, a short term effect of the surgery.

After the Surgery, the Light!

By that evening, some of the blurriness began to clear. More amazing was the light! The room kept getting brighter and brighter. It was almost like watching a sunrise, except with white light. I did not expect this at all. I had the surgery because I wanted to be able to drive at night. All the dark corners of that room became bright before I went to bed. It was like an unexpected miracle! When I covered my left eye and looked with only my right eye, things appeared as what had become my normal. When I covered my right eye and looked only with my left eye, things looked bright and “clean.” I realize now that through my right eye, which still has a cataract, I see things with a very slight cyan cast.
But, it is the overall brightness everywhere that is so beautiful and so amazing to me. I did not know I would see such a drastic change.

After the Surgery, Color

Five days after the surgery, I repeated the Munsell Color Test. These were the results:

visual tale
Color hue discrimination test after surgery_3_11_2017

Quite a change from February’s results.

I repeated the test the following day:

visual tale
Color hue discrimination test after surgery_3_12_2017

I will not repeat this test until I get my right eye done next month. But I will note, yesterday in the gym I realized some of the balls that I had always considered green were actually turquoise. I want to stress that I had not been aware of color changes, and I have done some work with color deficient vision in other people.


Two days after the surgery I knew I was seeing distance as well without glasses as with my prescription glass. Less than a week after the surgery I was out driving with my prescription glasses, and realized they were interfering with good vision. “Get.These.Off!!!!” Those glasses are history! And that is after surgery on only one eye. I’m getting along quite well with reading glasses for close work, and no glasses for everything else.

I saw, and am continuing to see, the light. It was such an unexpected gift. I just wanted to be able to drive at night. πŸ™‚

Country gospel is not usually part of the rotation of my playlists. But since that first night, sitting in my family room and watching it getting brighter and brighter almost by the minute, this old Hank Williams song keeps running through my head. We may assign different meanings to light, but we share the pure joy.

12 Replies to “I Saw the Light, A Tale of Vision”

  1. Susan, I have been told I need cataract surgery, and I have been putting it off. I also can’t drive at night. You have given me a lot to think about today! Thanks so much, Carol

    1. Hi, Carol. Nice to see you. I know everyone is different. But, speaking for myself, this is unquestionably the best thing I have ever done for myself, and I certainly did not expect it to be.And I’ve only done one eye so far, and my whole world is different!
      Good luck to you in whatever decision you make in dealing with your cataracts. Keep me posted. ~Susan

  2. Congratulations on the fantastic results. As I had mentioned the eye doctor told me I was starting to get cataracts, probably from the chemo. I just the the test twice. Scored 2 on one and 19 on the other. Something seems whacky there.

    1. Hi, Tim. You were one of the people I was thinking of. In my case, the prednisone was considered a contributing factor (on top of old age and living in the light), and I know you are aware of that, too. I’m still in awe of what my world looks like to me 9 days out. It just keeps getting better.
      I cannot explain your test differences.
      If and when you need to do something about cataracts, I’ll be right there repeating how the surgery worked for me. Not only am I not scared about the second one, I just want to do it!!!! I do not expect such drastic results, but I’ll be glad to have a tiny bit more light and to be rid of that cyan cast from my right eye. πŸ™‚
      It is still unbelievable to me!

  3. Susan,
    So glad you had a marvelous result. As I may have mentioned before, a neurologist-watercolor artist friend of mine had her cataracts removed and was “gobsmacked” at how brilliant the world around her became. She wished she’d done it sooner.
    On the same note, it’s interesting to see the works of painting artists, both famous and not, as they age. those with untreated cataracts will start to use much more red in their paintings. Eventually, it becomes quite un-natural and jarring to see their paintings, especially if there are figures in the painting with strong red skin tones.

    Best wishes for the next one.

    1. Hi, Barbara. Thank you!
      That’s really interesting about the increasing use of reds among painters with untreated cataracts. I’ve certainly been using a lot of red in the past couple of years. Maybe that will change, I don’t know. I have noticed that “Blue Hour” both at dawn and sunset is a much clearer blue to me now and really gorgeous in a way I don’t remember noticing in my entire life. With warmer weather now, I may be experimenting with those blues a little more.
      And I have been (currently continue to be) as “gobsmacked”by the brilliance of the world as your friend who wished she had done hers sooner. It’s the best thing I have ever done for myself.
      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment.

  4. Congratulations, Susan! This is a great result, and I am glad to hear about this type of surgery from your perspective, as I also have developing cataracts. Very slight at this time, but down the road they will need fixing.

    1. Hi, Lavinia. Thank you! I’m learning now I know many people looking at this issue somewhere down the road. I had no idea.
      My mom had hers done after she moved here, but all she ever mentioned was what a pain it was to use the eye drops for the next four weeks (I do not find it a problem at all) and that the only difference she noticed was seeing better at night. That is why I was so surprised when my regular doctor told me I would love the light and color. I’m learning my mother’s response (a non-response) is the exception rather than the rule.
      Getting this done has made such a positive change in my life, that I recommend it to anyone who is having vision problems because of the cataracts.
      Nice to see you today. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I’m so glad you’ve had such a good result with your cataract removal, Susan! Here’s to having even better vision when your other eye is done. Thanks for sharing, and all the best.

    1. That’s great news that you can see distance and color so much better Susan. I hope it continues when you get your other eye done. Juanita

      1. Hi, Juanita! Thank you so much. I’m not expecting a lot of difference with the second surgery, but I’m very hopeful it will reinforce what has already been changed. I still find myself looking first with the right eye, then the left, then the right, just to see the color shift between the two. I don’t ever want to forget that. Even though it is very minor, it still cements that bond between my father, son, and me.
        Thinking of you and Jack with that beautiful grandbaby! πŸ™‚

    2. Hi, Mel. Thank you! I think this is turning out to be the best thing I have ever done for myself. I had no idea the difference the surgery could make. I’m still walking around, dancing on air. πŸ™‚

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