When priorities come into focus
A scene from Vernon as seen through an online cataract simulator.

When priorities come into focus

‘If I have learned anything, it’s to prioritize my own health over all else. As we age, doing so becomes even more important.’

VERNON — Nearly a year of frustration and uncertainty, plus a pandemic, mixed with a huge dollop of hope - and all of it is my own fault.

I had not gotten an eye exam in six years, and over a year ago, my wife, Sue, began noticing that I was getting less than attentive behind the wheel. Nighttime driving was becoming a problem, and at her insistence I scheduled an appointment with the eye doctor. The ongoing pandemic made the initial appointment a three-month wait.

The doctor's prognosis in early January: cataracts in both eyes, with the left one more severe. Less than a day after the appointment came the announcement that Brattleboro Memorial Hospital had cancelled all elective surgeries because of a spike in the COVID-19 pandemic. I could not get in to see my ophthalmologist until late June.

The earlier diagnosis was confirmed, and by then all my left eye could see was a world that was way out of focus.

Frustration set in with more bad news: It was likely I would not see the inside of the surgical suite until year's end. But a couple of weeks later, some good news: Because of cancellations, my procedures were rescheduled earlier, in late September and mid-October.

* * *

I've been in the public eye most of my life, first as a broadcaster and now as a town clerk and town moderator. I'm patient with lots of things, except with myself. I'd reached 65 years of age during the wait, and the dark thoughts had crept in.

Part of me wondered: Will my vision ever improve? Will I need to retire earlier than I had wanted? Will I permanently lose the freedom of being able to drive?

I made a point of keeping busy, using larger screen sizes and double- and triple-checking my work to make sure my writings did not resemble the eye charts I so struggled to make out. Moderating the Annual Town Meeting was also a challenge. Thankfully, my wife, my coworkers, and the residents of my town were very understanding.

The day came for procedure number one, with the doctor later calling my cataract one of the worst he'd ever seen.

With a regimen of daily eye drops, it took three days before I could begin having a semblance of vision with just my left eye.

A week after the procedure, things were getting better. The biggest challenge to date has been trying to make sure the eye drops, several per day, actually find my eye.

The second eye was done three weeks later, and four weeks after eye number two came some good news!

My far-off vision is nearly back to 20/20, though my ophthalmologist says I still will need reading glasses, because of a condition known as astigmatism, a common and generally treatable imperfection in the curvature of the eye that causes blurred distance and near vision.

* * *

If I have learned anything, it's to prioritize my own health over all else. As we age, doing so becomes even more important.

According to WebMD, which does not replace a real doctor, these are the screenings which become more important as you reach and pass 60 years of age:

• Blood pressure

• Weight

• Colorectal cancer

• Prostate cancer

• For women, a breast exam and mammogram

• For women, a pelvic exam, pap smear, and HPV test

• Vision

• Hearing

• Bone density

• Cholesterol

• Vaccinations

• Abdominal aortic aneurysm

How do we stop from being our own worst enemy? For the past year, I've been obsessed with declining vision, and I had not been able to resolve it to my satisfaction. It took Sue to tell me something was wrong, as I was starting to make mistakes at the wheel.

Sue has been my worst critic and my best friend through all of this. From the moment I couldn't drive, she was my go-to for work, appointments, and even the Sunday drive to a secondhand store. I can't imagine what this last year would have been without her.

I've accomplished a lot in this past year, but it could have been more if my own stubborn attitude didn't hold me back. I think my biggest achievement has been my keeping family in mind and being aware of things that are larger than a paycheck. I've been helped by co-workers willing to overlook my grumpiness. In turn, I've been more sensitive to the needs of a new assistant with a large family and a constant stream of doctors' appointments.

Retirement is drawing closer, even after cataract surgery on both eyes. And the roses are smelling sweeter, when you realize they were right under your nose.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates