Friday, 5 March 2021


The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion
(Tintern Abbey)

I had hesitated over having cataract surgery for a long time. After all, I could see well enough to get by. Why would I replace  my natural lenses with a couple of bits of plastic? Besides, it would be quite literally a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

I wondered what my cataracts had to do with Wordsworth’s  cataracts, the waterfalls that haunted him as he recalled his wanderings in the Lake Distict. Were my cataracts like waterfalls over the eyes?

Yes, it seems. From the Latin word cataracta, meaning waterfall, comes the middle English word "cataract". A second meaning of "cataract" was "portcullis", the medieval gate that descended quickly over a castle entrance, like a waterfall. From this obsolete meaning likely came the name of the medical condition, not that cataracts descend quickly. So that the use of the word for a portcullis was a figurative meaning of “cataract”, and then the medical term was a figurative meaning of the word for a portcullis. It is interesting how the word “waterfall” prevailed over “cataract”, a good example of how old English words are preferred to latinisms.

By the way, note that the surgeon, Dr. Dragicovich, whom I commend, replaced my original lenses with plastic ones, that is, he substituted plastic lenses for the original ones. I mention this only because at a restaurant on the day before my surgery, I noticed this statement on the menu:

Subsutitute fior di latte with Natural Pastures mozzarella di bufala 3 or Cultured Nut dairy free Mozzarella 2 side of grated Parmesan 2, side of hot honey 3

Baffling, even without the misuse of “substitute”. But the server took my correction kindly, and I will return to see if the item has been changed. (See also Substitute and Replace)

Along with the removal of my cataracts, the restoration of my vision has been nothing short of miraculous. I look out to sea at the islands, and all is crisp and clear and bright. 

By the way, I opted for the basic lens covered by our marvellous health service, for which I once again give thanks. Had I paid $1,000 per eye for a special lens, I would not need glasses at all. With the standard lens, I need them only for reading, and the 1.5 magnification reading glasses, costing, appropriately, $1.50 at Dollarama, are quite adequate.

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