From Cataract to Accomplishment

by Maribel Steel

Sometimes I get the feeling that we are meant to meet certain people in our lives or be in a specific place at a specific time – even though we don’t quite understand why.

Getting a Diagnosis

Twenty years ago, when my many roles included being a wife and mother, a care-giver to my elderly mother-in-law, a midwife to a menagerie of farm animals and the secretary to our family business, the cloudiness of my vision had become disturbing.

The diagnosis of Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) had been a part of our lives for several years but the constant haze as if looking out from behind a foggy windscreen obscuring vision was getting worse. It was time once more to pay a visit to the ophthalmologist. I was aware he couldn’t do anything for my RP but at least we could discuss my concerns.

The ophthalmologist examined my eyes and said,

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

“Cataracts?” I wasn’t expecting this diagnosis.

A Simple Procedure

The specialist went on to explain how an operation to remove cataracts was relatively simple. As he described the intricate procedure, fear pulsed through my veins. He seemed unperturbed by the fact that the patient remained awake during the surgical operation. Personally, I was planning my escape route from the whole procedure. I couldn’t share his optimism that the operation was a pain-free experience and worried for several weeks how I would allow my entire body to surrender to the process. The more I imagined the surgery, the more I fretted.

maribel and three children

As the mother of three young children at the time and living on a rural property, there was an added concern. We had a five hour drive to the hospital, which meant leaving my little ones in the care of their grandparents. How would they cope? (My parents, that was.) Would they still be alive on our return? I prayed my children would be angels in our absence.

A Red Circle Seals My Hope

Entering the corridors of the hospital, the antiseptic tang rose to greet my hyper-sensitive nose and 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 confined space, as I tried to find an object of distraction.

Over on the far wall, an array of perfectly spaced frames caught my attention. Edging closer to view them in more detail, I peered at the white pieces of paper under glass and stared at embossed red seals carrying the proud stamp of my surgeon’s history of 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: one day, I would like to have an official certificate with a red seal of competency too.

When I was called to speak with the eye surgeon briefly before the operation, I couldn’t help but tell him how seeing his certificates of accomplishment had inspired me to hope I could obtain one too. His kind words of reply, “I’m sure you will,” were a touching moment of genuine encouragement.

No Pain, Much Gain

Half an hour later, I was reclining on a trolley while being wheeled into surgery. As I took out a miniature radio from my pocket and unwound a set of headphones, my surgeon moved close to my side and laughed, “Are we quite comfortable?”

“Yes, thank you.” I said, gripping the portable radio and turning up the volume to drown out my fears. Any moment now and I’d be dying 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 from view. Every now and then, the surgeon tapped on my headphones, lifted them slightly and asked, “How are you going there, enjoying the music?”

I smiled, relaxing into the humming music and with a grateful heart, feeling no pain at all.

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 Aroma therapist and Masseur. Here in my hand, my fingertips traced two embossed red seals on white paper.

Maribel holding certificate

A tear broke free with the realization that my dream had become a reality. Two years of persistent study and dedicated training, and now I officially had a new career.

In celebrating the joy of small miracles in Cataract Awareness month, please share your experiences and thoughts…

Further relevant reading, of a remarkable man’s vision:

The Fred Hollows Foundation