Thursday, May 30, 2013

Saving Sight: An eye surgeon's look at life behind the mask and the heroes who changed the way we see

In his new book Dr. Andrew Lam says so many remarkable things about human eyesight that I believe all writers and readers should put this on their must read bucket list. I, for one, have read it twice. First, because it I found it so well-written and second because as a writer my eyes are the primary tool of my existence. 

Lam's narrative covers the lives and inventions of doctors who have literally changed the way we see -- but not without extreme difficulties. 

It wasn't their invention, generally, that troubled them. It was its reception. 

I always thought critical reception was hardest on visual artists and experimental writers. Wrong. I didn't dream that doctors with ideas that run contrary to current medical opinion had it much worse than Vincent Van Gogh or Mr. Poe. 

Take the case of Harold Ridley, knighted at the age of 93, after a total lifetime of opposition in the medical field. The knighting came a bit late but at least it came along with the other honors that he deserved for his groundbreaking surgical technique and his invention of the intraocular lens. 

Ridley's discovery began with the injured eye of a WWII fighter pilot, who had bits of plexiglas from a shattered airplane window lodged in his eye. What Ridley found curious was that the human eye had made peace with the plexiglas. This led to Ridley's invention of an artificial lens made of the same material. After this, cataract surgery was not the same. It was, and is, quick and effective.  

Dr. Lam has written what I would like to call a "medical thriller" wherein we learn just how hard it is to advance inventive science. As an extra bonus he cites his own behind the mask experiences that are often edge of the seat mini-dramas. There is a world of wonder in this informative book about the men of science who would do almost anything to overcome the complacency of a tradition that accepts illness as a given.