Cataracts: My Personal Story 

Maribel sitting in front of an electronic magnifier (CCTV)
Maribel sitting in front of an electronic magnifier (CCTV)

by Maribel Steel

Editor’s note: June is Cataracts Awareness Month. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), more than half of all Americans who are 80 or older either have cataracts or have had surgery to remove cataracts.

This image is licensed as U.S. Government Works, see https://www.usa.gov/government-works. NEI Graphic Showing Doubling of People with Cataracts Between 2010 and 2050
NEI Graphic Showing Doubling of People with Cataracts Between 2010 and 2050

My Story

During my teenage years, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP). After a time of learning to manage the bitter and sweet of vision loss, life marched on. A decade later, I embarked on my first career – motherhood. As a wife, and the caregiver to an elderly relative, I also cared for a menagerie of pets while being the secretary to our family business. 

My visual impairment was a natural part of family life and having blurred vision was part of that process. However, I began to notice a cloudiness obscuring my ability to see, with a constant haze, that seemed to be getting worse. 

I was aware my ophthalmologist couldn’t do anything for my RP, but at least we could discuss my concerns. In the consultation, he probed my eyes with a special torch and said, 

“I’m not surprised you’re having difficulties seeing. You have advanced cataracts in both eyes.”  

“Cataracts?” My mind whirled. What on earth did that mean? 

Removing Cataracts – a Simple Procedure 

The specialist gave me an Introduction to Cataracts and Cataract Surgery. He explained that a cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens effecting vision. Cataracts are more common in older individuals, and although I was in my thirties, an operation to remove my cataracts would be relatively simple. 

He described the intricate procedure while fear pulsed through my veins. He seemed unperturbed by the fact that the patient remained awake during the surgical operation. Visions of torture filled my mind’s eye. I couldn’t share his optimism that the operation was a pain-free experience. Naturally, I had to go ahead and book the surgery, but I worried for several weeks how I would allow myself to surrender under a scalpel. The more I imagined the surgery, the more I fretted. 

There was an added concern. As we lived on a rural property, we had a five-hour drive to the hospital, which meant leaving our young children in the care of their grandparents. I was worried about how my parents would cope and prayed our children would behave well in our absence.  

My Hope Sealed in a Red Circle 

Entering the corridors of the hospital, my skin crept with dread. We took a seat, along with several other patients, in the surgeon’s waiting room. My visually impaired eyes roamed the space, as I tried to find an object of distraction. 

On one wall, an array of perfectly spaced frames caught my attention. Edging closer to view them, I peered at the white pieces of paper under glass and admired the embossed red seals displaying the stamp of my surgeon’s success. 

The deep red circle carried such a story of determined effort, of persistence and of triumph, that it had a profound effect on me. My thought was, “one day, I would like to have an official certificate with a red seal of competency too.”  

When I was called in to speak with the eye surgeon briefly, I mentioned how seeing his certificates of accomplishment had inspired me to hope I could obtain one too. His kind words, “I’m sure you will,” was a touching moment of encouragement. 

No pain, much gain 

Half an hour later, I was reclining on a trolley and wheeled into surgery. As I took out a miniature radio from my pocket and unwound a small set of headphones, the surgeon lightly tapped my arm, asking, “Are we quite comfortable?” 

I nodded, gripping the portable radio tighter. I turned up the volume to drown out my fears. Any moment now I was expecting to die with pain.  

One tiny little prick from a needle and then, nothing. No pain. It was incredible. I was awake for the entire operation and all my eyes could see were very dim shadows coming and going. Every now and then, the surgeon slightly lifted my headphones to ask, “Enjoying the music?” 

I smiled back and relaxed into the soothing sounds. I felt so grateful not to be in any pain. 

Signed, sealed and delivered 

A few years later, a large envelope from Health Schools Australia arrived in the post. I knew it meant only one thing. I had achieved my credentials as an Aromatherapist and Masseur. 

I sat quietly while my fingertips traced two embossed red seals on white paper. Tears broke free with the realization that my dream had become a reality. After two years of persistent study and dedicated training, I officially had a new career with a “red seal of competency.” 

Today, I continue to be enrolled in the school of life. Being a writer is still my passion and I have self-published a book. However, I branched off into a new direction 12 months ago. Be sure to read my story of attaining vocational trainer certification as a person with a visual impairment. 

Learn More  

Cataract Surgery Can Be Beneficial for People with Retinitis Pigmentosa: My Experience – VisionAware 

What Causes Cataracts? – VisionAware 

How Is Cataract Surgery Performed? – VisionAware