Olivette Shaw

Color photo of Olivette ShawFor Olivette Shaw of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, life was exactly where she wanted it. She was approaching 50, had a rewarding career, and was an avid reader and traveller. But then she developed cataracts. As her world grew increasingly blurry, she underwent surgery – and her vision was restored. “It felt miraculous,” she says today. “After surgery, I could see better than ever.”

Dark Days Behind

It was 1999 when things were at their worst for Shaw. As the supervisor in the dietary department of a hospital, she oversaw a large staff contingent, managed a caseload of her own, and did a lot of work on her computer. But just before she turned 50, her vision had begun deteriorating, and for the last four years it had been getting progressively worse. It was as if she was looking through glasses that had grease all over them.

Her ophthalmologist diagnosed her with cataracts, but was reluctant to schedule her for treatment. Although cataract surgery is one of the most successful procedures in medicine, Shaw had always been extremely nearsighted, increasing her risk of complications.

So instead, she waited.

“Everything seemed to be getting darker. My eyes started seeing two and a half people. Sometimes a person would have three legs – it was bizarre,” she says.

At work, Shaw had to sit extremely close to her computer to read the screen. She put 100-watt bulbs in all of her light fixtures at home. She decided to stop driving and sold her car. She had been an avid traveller, but now she travelled less and stayed home more. She got to a point where she could hardly read – a lifelong passion. And she began to feel very scared. What if she couldn’t do her job one day? She was barely managing as it was.

Around this time, she went to CNIB. An employment specialist came to her office and helped her to set up her workstation with adaptive equipment. It helped.

But then one day Shaw went into her ophthalmologist’s office and she couldn’t see the letters on the eye chart at all. Her quality of life was far too compromised compared to any risk. It was finally time for surgery.

A New View in Sight

So in December of 1999, at the turn of a new millennium, Shaw went in for day surgery on her right eye. She was sedated for the procedure and felt no pain. Using an instrument called an ultrasonic phaco probe, her doctor broke up her cloudy natural lens and removed it with the same instrument. Then he replaced it with an implanted, artificial lens.

When the surgery was done, she had a bandage over her eye and was given an appointment the next morning. Her sister had taken her to the surgery, and the next day, she took Shaw back to see her doctor.

When he removed the bandage, it was incredible – she could see again. “Everything was really bright and colourful,” Shaw remembers. “I don’t think I’d seen that clearly in years.”

By January 2000, she was back for treatment on her left eye. Typically when patients have cataracts in both eyes, they are treated in separate procedures scheduled a month or so apart. This time during surgery, Shaw was aware of the room she was in from the periphery of her vision, but she couldn’t see anything else.

“You realize ‘Oh my God. He’s going to take out my lens!’” Shaw says. “I remember my doctor bending over me and being very reassuring. He told me it wouldn’t take long.”

After the second surgery, she experienced floaters and some pain, but the same remarkable transformation had occurred. She could see again – no more darkness, no more dull colours. For a while, she didn’t even need glasses, and she had worn them all of her life.

“To be all of a sudden not needing them was odd,” laughs Shaw. “It was like leaving my house without my underwear.”

Eventually, Shaw needed glasses again, but they were never as thick as the ones she had worn most of her life. She also found she needed to wear sunglasses more often, because her eyes were sensitive to all the light she was now able to see.

Light Up Your Life

Today, Shaw’s life is once again exactly where she wants it. After continuing to work at the hospital for almost a decade after her surgery, she retired last August.

It took her a while, but she did buy another car. “It was important to me to say I can drive if I want to,” she says.

She can see her family members again, including her grandkids (who no longer have three legs). With cataracts she used to be tired a lot, likely from eyestrain, but now she has lots of energy.

Long divorced, she has now remarried. She’s reading voraciously. And she has travelled extensively since her surgery – visiting the Cayman Islands (twice), St. Vincent, the Dominican Republic and Vancouver. Next she’ll go to Egypt.

Her advice for other people considering cataract surgery?

“Don’t put it off,” she says, without hesitation. “Why go through a murky existence when you don’t have to? It is something that really lights up your life!”

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From time to time, we reach out to Canadians for donations to ensure that CNIB is on hand for individuals who are searching for the services and support necessary to enjoy a good quality of life while living with vision loss. Please give generously.