The Big Issue : Edition 458
THEBIGISSUE9–22MAY2014 21 Living in Australia has countless advantages. Access to clean water is one. Education is another – our kids can go to school, no matter how poor we are. And let’s give a round of applause for a democratic framework that, despite its problems and the inequities it perpetrates, still promotes and delivers a higher standard of living and autonomy than most. Arguably the greatest product of that framework is our public health care system. Whatever its faults, it is a system that can look after the most vulnerable members of our society – the sick and disabled – regardless of their ability to contribute to the cost of their own care. Despite being on a lower-than-average income, as an Australian citizen I am still entitled to benefit from the efforts and resources of the collective. And so, after waiting for several months, I found myself being wheeled into surgery for a procedure that would restore not only my sight but also my ability to contribute to society and help support the system that was now supporting me. After half-an-hour in pre-op, which included two rounds of drops and some comforting words from my partner, the anaesthetist numbed my right eye with an injection and threw a green plastic sheet over my head. Although I had cataracts in both eyes, only one eye is operated on at a time – presumably to minimize the risk of complications. The surgeon was a thin, dignified man who looked like he had been to Hell a few times and enjoyed the experience. He took up a laser probe in his left hand and used it to break up and suck out my old lens. The machine sounded like R2D2 (from Star Wars) after one-too-many pints of Astro-Oil – burbling, bleeping and whining as my vision filled with swirling patterns of blue, dark green and red that one could only describe as psychedelic. The surgeon then filled my eye with a saltwater solution and floated a new, artificial lens onto my eye. The operation was over in just 30 minutes. I don’t think I will ever forget the next day, when my partner helped me to take off my eye patch for the first time. The light flooded in like a wave crashing across a sandbank, carrying the gift of glorious, crisp, luminescent colour. The months of bumping into tables and being unable to work were now over. I could see once again. And it was glorious. OUR EYES ARE beautiful, remarkable things. Some people think they are so miraculous and intricate that they must be proof of an intelligent designer. In other words, conclusive evidence that there is a god, and he or she is a mighty fine god at that. But clearly the eye isn’t a perfect piece of engineering, as some would have you believe. It’s an imperfect product of evolution, random mutation and natural selection, and as such, has many quirks and flaws. The human eye is blind to most forms of light, for example. We can’t see ultraviolet and infrared. We can’t see very well in low light, like many other species. The eye has a blind spot, too, and is susceptible to many conditions and diseases, one of which is cataracts. But our knowledge of these imperfections does not take away our appreciation of the eye, nor our gratitude for being able to see. It has led to a greater understanding about the eye and how to prevent and treat many of the diseases that affect it. That work has allowed people, like me, to lead fulfilling and productive lives. The work goes on to cure global blindness. Some people, like me, are luckier than many others. But if there is one thing the world needs right now, it’s more people who can see, and more people who appreciate that simple fact. » Richard Parker is an Adelaide-based writer.