I had a cataract operation on my eye recently.
What happens is the lens becomes cloudy, so they remove it and put in an artificial one.
It’s a common operation, but there was a problem.
There was a swelling at the back of the eye, distorting the retina.
They said I’d have to have cortisone injections in the eye.
I thought that must just be a technical term.
They wouldn’t really stick a needle in my eye.
Not like Bunuel’s ‘Andalusian Dog’, not really.
So I went along to Moorfields Eye Hospital.
I lay down and watched the ophthalmologist fill a hypodermic syringe.
And I’m thinking “Surely not.”
And I watched him coming towards me with the hypodermic.
From that angle, perspective takes over.
The hypodermic is quite small, but the tip of it looks like an approaching tunnel.
And the needle actually goes into my eyeball.
And I’m still thinking “Surely not.”
And he starts to push the plunger down.
And forcing liquid into my eye feels like a bicycle pump blowing up a tyre.
“Try not to blink” the opthalmologist said, squeezing the needle.
He says I should come back in a month for another injection.
So that’s something to look forward to.
And then I read about Claude Monet.
Nowadays, cataract surgery is quite a common operation.
But it wasn’t like that in Monet’s day.
Monet was the founder of the Impressionist school of painting.
What they primarily painted was light, and the impression it made.
But Monet began to lose his sight to cataracts.
And in Monet’s day there was no such thing as lens replacement.
Just lens removal.
So that’s what Monet had done.
He had the lens removed from his eye.
So that light could get into his eyeball, but there was nothing to focus it on the retina.
So he couldn’t see any image at all, just a blur.
The partial remedy was to wear a massive glass lens in front of the eye.
A lens as thick as a huge magnifying glass.
And that’s how Monet spent the rest of his life.
And he carried on painting like that.
The fact that we now have an alternative treatment is down to an eye surgeon called Harold Ridley.
What he did illustrates the difference between an insight and an idea.
During World War Two, Ridley treated lots of RAF aircrews.
They had all kinds of metal splinters in their eyes.
Some of them also had splinters of Perspex in their eyes, where the cockpit had shattered.
Ridley noticed that their eyes didn’t reject the splinters of Perspex.
Not the way they’d reject any other foreign body.
That was Ridley’s insight.
And it might have stayed an interesting insight, but for what Ridley did next.
He turned the insight into an idea.
He thought, if the eye doesn’t reject the Perspex, it might be possible to make a lens from that material.
Then we could replace the lens that that we remove due to cataract.
So he began experimenting.
And in 1949 he performed an operation to place the world’s first replacement lens in a human eyeball.
By the 1960s, it became accepted procedure.
And nowadays it’s virtually a walk-in, walk-out experience.
Apparently there are over a hundred million operations a year.
We think nothing of it.
But I did.
I thought about Monet and The Impressionists.
I thought about all the RAF pilots with splinters in their eyes.
I thought about hundreds of years of people walking around with no lenses in their eyes.
And I thought how lucky I was that Harold Ridley turned an insight into an idea.