I almost went blind. Vision in my left eye started clouding about two months ago. After waiting too long, I went to my eye doctor. Dr. David Sutton diagnosed a partially detached retina, and the next day Dr. Lanny Odin in Springfield operated. Now I’m almost back to normal vision.
The retina coats the back of the eye, changing light into electrical signals sent by the optic nerve to our brain, which forms pictures of reality. With age and chronic near-sightedness, the liquid that fills the eye can begin to dry up, peeling the retina away from the eyeball. It looks like a dark curtain covers the field of vision. When it all peels off, the eye is blind.
Until the 1960s we could do nothing about that. As more people lived beyond age 65, millions went blind in one eye, some in two. By the 1970s doctors had developed a remarkable procedure that fixes the retina and saves vision. Here is what WebMD says about the vitrectomy: “the surgeon inserts small instruments into the eye, cuts the vitreous gel, and suctions it out. After removing the vitreous gel, the surgeon may treat the retina with a laser (photocoagulation), cut or remove fibrous or scar tissue from the retina, flatten areas where the retina has become detached, or repair tears or holes in the retina.”
Poking around in my eye for an hour, Dr. Odin reattached my retina with lasers. He also injected a bubble of gas. I had to look down all day for 10 days, keeping the bubble floating at the back of the eye, so it would properly press the retina in place. Now the bubble has been absorbed and I can see again.
The day before, when he first examined my eye, Dr. Odin offered me a choice. I could let him perform a vitrectomy as described above. Or I could go blind in that eye. He offered no guarantees. His diagnostic belief that he could fix it might be wrong. Although operations are very safe, they still are not completely predictable.
I didn’t understand half of what Dr. Odin proposed. I remembered the models of the eye in my optometrist’s office, incredibly complex organs depending on a series of biological, electrical and physical processes to allow me to see the world. How could someone poke around in there and restore my vision?
In our daily lives, we often must rely on the advice of experts. From doctors to electricians, insurance agents to plumbers, we need help to understand our complex bodies and a complex world. The experts, Drs. Odin and Sutton, were in agreement about my eye – I had a detached retina and it needed to be fixed right away, or it might peel right off. Their consensus would cost me money and cause me inconvenience, a lot of both. I would have been a fool to ignore these scientific opinions.
Yet that is exactly what millions of American voters are doing when they vote for Republicans who ignore the expertise of the world’s climate scientists. You can get a second, third, or hundredth opinion about whether we need to do something now to prevent future environmental disasters, and they would all agree.
Our National Climactic Data Center offers a variety of evidence about air temperature, ocean temperature, rising sea levels and glacier shrinkage. The warming of the Alaskan Arctic threatens a way of life dependent on fishing, hunting, and ice. Our National Academy of Science and the British Royal Society have produced a booklet which answers basic questions about climate change. In May, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said, “We are past the point of debating climate change.”
But we’re not. Why do people in responsible political positions assert that the experts are all wrong? Why do so many Americans say the same thing, more than in other industrialized countries? Why are those voters and politicians who don’t believe in the need to deal with climate change so overwhemingly Republican? I think the answer is fear.
I was afraid when my doctors talked about cutting into my eye. I once fainted when an eye doctor described how a cataract operation was done. If I had given in to the fear, I could have created lots of rational-sounding explanations for why I was ignoring the experts. I might have searched until I found someone who might be labeled an expert who would say I didn’t need an operation. But I would have been a fool.
Conservatives are afraid that if they admit that global warming is happening and that we can do something about it, that would mean more public spending, more public regulations, the American public operating through our government to save the future of our society. That is correct, unless they can develop workable non-governmental methods to accomplish the same goals. They don’t think they can, so they close their eyes and repeat “la-la-la-la” as loud as they can.
I’m happy I didn’t go blind. Why are they embracing blindness?
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, June 24, 2014