Cataract patients singing clinic's praises
Stabroek News
February 3, 2004

Related Links: Articles on health
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Besides being sexagenarians, Sahodra Parag and Mohan Badal have something else in common. Both of them now have a new lease on life. They were virtually blind until they had cataract surgery done at the Georgetown Public Hospi-tal Corporation Eye Clinic.

Parag, 63, of Mahaica and Badal, 61, of Enmore, had their operations done by Ophthalmologist Dr George Norton and are now singing the praises of both doctor and hospital.

Parag had an operation on her left eye on June 11, 2002 and she is very grateful for what the surgery did for her.

The woman told Stabroek News that she has had problems with her eyes for a while and it was very hard for her since she lived alone. "But now a get the operation I can see better in me one eye. It is not to the best but it better than before. It was hard fuh me. I ent had nobody to cook me lil food and wash fuh me."

She had cataract in both eyes and it is expected that the operation will be performed on the right eye soon. "A very grateful and when deh operate on the other one I hope to see much better. But now I can do things fuh myself so a grateful to Dr Norton and the hospital."

Badal is also appreciative after seeing the results following the November 17, 2003 operation on his right eye.

The man said in 1991 he started having problems with both eyes and he visited an optician who recommended spectacles. From then until 1999 he changed several pairs, to no avail. It came to a point where he could not see at all. When he visited the GPHC he was told that he had cataract in both eyes and would have to be operated on. "After the operation I could see now like when I was 40 years old," the man said praising the doctor and the hospital.

Badal said he was a dragline operator and was forced to leave his job when he lost his sight. He is hoping that after his other eye is operated on in the next three months he will be able to return to his job since he is not ill.

The Eye Clinic at the GPHC offers cataract surgery free of cost - quite a saving considering the more than $100,000 required at a private institution.

There are three doctors in the department which is headed by Dr Norton, who recently told Stabroek News that the reason the surgery is so expensive when done privately is because of the high cost of equipment and instruments.

On any given day the clinic has a number of patients and most of them suffer from cataract which is the clouding of the lens of the eye. The lens is normally clear and light passes through easily, but if affected by cataract vision becomes hazy or blurred. The current treatment is the surgical removal of the lens and its replacement with a man-made lens.

Dr Norton said after a successful cataract operation patients might no longer need to wear spectacles.

He has been at the hospital in the Eye Department for the past 16 years and said cataract surgery was being performed since then. However, the technology has been improved over the years allowing greater control and as a result an improved success rate. "Of course we are not on par with the technologies found in the world as a whole. As a matter of fact we are a far way behind, but it is still living up in terms of the recuperation of vision, practically it is the same result as the up-to-date technology."

It is because of the improved technology in the eye clinic that Dr Norton and his team of doctors can now perform five surgeries a day. They operate five days a week so at the end of the month at least 25 persons would have been operated on.

The number of cataract surgeries done may decline at times since quite often other surgeries also have to be done.

Dr Norton said patients are scheduled for cataract surgery depending on different circumstances and not just because of the intensity of the cataract, as the accompanying condition has to be considered also. Should a patient have another ailment, which is not under control, an attempt would be made to deal with that before proceeding with the cataract operation. And, he noted: "If a patient is a computer operator and their cataract is not as dense as somebody else, we might have a tendency of operating on them before somebody who is just sitting at home in a rocking chair."

Usually, though, the system is one of first come, first served. Most times the actual surgery lasts for just about 15 minutes.

Dr Norton recalled that when he started out at the hospital they performed intra-capsular cataract extraction, removing the cataract from the eye in the capsule. The patient was forced to wear huge spectacles that were very uncomfortable. With advanced technology, the hospital now performs the extra-capsular extraction. Doctors take the cataract out of the capsule and it becomes like a bag, which is cleaned out. They then plant another lens into the capsule.

Patients are awake when the operation is being performed but they feel no pain as anaesthetic is used around the eye. They even do not have to be admitted and they are able to walk on their own when leaving the clinic.

In the past, a patient would have had to remain in the hospital for a whole week. "But now we are a far cry past that," Dr Norton remarked.

He described cataract surgeries as being very rewarding: "I have seen persons who came to the hospital and actually didn't know where they were and they left the hospital mending their clothes with needle and thread. When they came they didn't know they were wearing torn clothes... I have seen persons who have been completely blind and are now working as security guards. Only recently a 21-year-old came to see me blind in both eyes and he was looking like 40. We operated on him and he is now enjoying youth, you know, dressing like a 21-year-old."

But there have been negative situations where they operated on persons who had other complaints they were not aware of and instead of making their eyesight better it became worse.

Dr Norton has heard stories about him making people go blind. "And certainly it does not make you happy at all... Sometimes you remove that cataract and you end up with a dead optic nerve and you would not have known that until you operated on that person."

According to Dr Norton, at one time, Guyana had been one of the leading countries in terms of cataract operations in the region. The hospital was doing more than in any other Caribbean country and was then a model for such operations. "But then what happened we fell right down to practically the last."

He said that was so because from time to time they have been forced to suspend operations because of the absence of materials and malfunctioning instruments.

He said at present they are not doing surgeries because of the absence of a particular knife (blade), which is needed to make life easier and improve on the quality of the surgery.

When contacted Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the hospital, Michael Khan, told Stabroek News that the blades had been ordered since last December and it was unfortunate that they have not arrived as yet. He said that it was only Dr Norton who suspended surgeries because of the absence of the blades as other doctors were still operating.

Asked about other incidents when things do not arrive on time, Khan said that it really depends on the department and how soon they inform the authorities.

He acknowledged that in the past operations had to be suspended for a while because of the absence of certain items but declared that is not occurring anymore.

Meanwhile, Dr Norton is hoping to have cataract outreach programmes to attend to cases in other regions. He said he has interested social partners on board, but some of the organisations are requesting inputs from the government. He said there were some outreach programmes in the past but without any follow-ups.