March 12, 2015

A Division of Color in the Post Cataract World

I recently had a cataract removed and an intraocular lens implanted. I took it as something of a minor miracle of science that the vision in my left eye could be restored in such a way. The only trouble with the implant was that I noticed a dramatic change in color vision, unfortunately not in a good way. Green pine trees now looked a dull greyish blue. Light yellow turned to white. Blue in the ultramarine range turned to teal. Golden yellow turned to pink. To make matters even more disconcerting, I would sometimes see a split color field...normal out of my natural eye on the right and unusual on the left. Looking at a golden oak door, for instance, gave a split image: golden on the right side and red on the left. The door looked like it was made from oak on the right and from cedar on the left. Several weeks went by. A month went by. The colors stayed the same.

To add to the craziness of this new split color vision, I was told that I was the only one who experienced this kind of color distortion. A recent test for color blindness determined that I was not color blind in my left eye. I wondered about that. As an artist I have always been not only sensitive to colors but to tonality as well. Therefore, on a color blindness test, although the colors were muted and grey with my left eye, I could still detect forms because they were slightly lighter than the background dot pattern. I remember my color blind brothers being able to decipher forms that way by concentrating on the tonality.

When I told the doctor who examined me that I cannot see yellows, greens or blues accurately, he explained that my intraocular lens had both blue and yellow light filters in it which would change color perception. That may explain why the world suddenly changed with what must be a permanently implanted pair of sunglasses in my eye. The doctor assured me that some years down the road, when I get my right eye "fixed" everything will look the same, so not to worry. I imagined a world where daffodils look pink, spaghetti sauce looks like raspberry sorbet and green grass is slate blue grass - out of both eyes instead of just one. It was not exactly comforting.

Something a painting conservator told me came back to be in my current pink daffodil world. He once said to beware of painting techniques, media, and pigments designed by scientists rather than artists. He said that painting restoration was best left to people with art training who are sensitive to colors and understand the use of paint. The painting formulas and media invented by chemists don’t really work on a practical use basis, he told me. I understand this better now with regard to the new intraocular lenses. The scientists who designed the ones with yellow and blue light filters did so as a means of protecting the eye against UV light and hence, macular degeneration. (The jury may still be out on whether or not they really afford the patient the professed protection). On a practical basis, the resulting vision appears thus far to be tantamount to looking through sunglasses - functional but not exactly pretty. So science had in mind people whose livelihood and/or quality of life does not depend on accurately discerning colors - and that would be most people - design for function but not finesse.

For a painter, it is a loss, and rather disconcerting to see a different hue out of each eye -an annoyance that would be perhaps like what a musician might experience if he heard a different pitch out of each ear! But to be camp about it, the lens was a replacement part. And as I age there are likely to be mounting replacement parts. And despite the best endeavors of science and medical breakthroughs, a replacement part is never the same as what nature gave us. Considering the alternatives, functional is good enough for now.

as I used to know it in my left eye.

The painting of the daffodils above was painted purposely yellow on the right and slightly pink on the left, to reflect the new world. When looking up different types of color vision, I came across a web site which depicts how people see a yellow flower and how a butterfly sees it. The top photograph depicted a yellow flower. The "butterfly eye" photograph below that showed a flower that was slightly pinkish purple. I closed my right eye and looked at the two photographs with my artificial lens eye. They were both identical to the bottom version. So the mystery has been solved. I have been given a butterfly’s eye. Makes me think of Zhuang-zi’s butterfly dream.

1 comment:

Lee Malerich said...

Wonderful positive way to look at your changing vision. It seems the color manufacturer problem is akin to the flaws in color theory when mixing impure paints instead of light.