It seems like Mr Beast is trending on Twitter again. For those who are unaware of what goes on Twitter, Jimmy Donaldson, aka Mr Beast, is a streamer who got into some hot water this year for raising money to treat what he described as “curable blindness”.
This came in the form of paying money to fund cataract surgery for the legally blind. He’s drawn criticism for using charity as a way to gain clout for himself and make personal profits as a result.
I’ll be completely honest, I’d never heard of Mr Beast before any of this controversy. But I am a legally blind person, and I’ve had the very same cataract operation he was raising money to buy people. My op was funded through the UK’s National Health Service, rather than Mr Beast, but I can discuss what the experience of having a cataract removed is like with some authority, and so I’m here to tell you all that you’re probably imagining how useful this operation is incorrectly.
Not only that, but even though the hospital considered it a success, getting a cataract operation actually made my vision WORSE than it already was. How is this possible? Well, strap in.
Often when sighted people think of blindness, they picture total blindness. The picture they have in their head is of someone who cannot see anything, carries a cane, and has a guide dog. These things are not always entirely true of blind people. In fact they’re often not true. As an example, I drew this, by myself:
A question I’ve often heard throughout the course of my life is “what can you actually see?” I’m afraid I can only say that I could ask a person with 20/20 vision the same question. I was born visually impaired and have absolutely no frame of reference for what ‘normal’ vision looks like. At this point you may be reminded of the prominent themes of a certain comic book I wrote.
But as a frame of reference my doctors tell me I have a visual acuity of 6/60, which means I have the same clarity at 6 metres (about 20ft) as most would have at 60m (almost 200ft). In addition I have nystagmus, which means my eyes have a tendency to move around more than the average person’s. I have high eye pressures, putting me at risk of glaucoma. Finally I also have no irises: because all of the aforementioned conditions are linked to a genetic form of something called aniridia.
Anyway, we should now talk about what a cataract is and why removing it might help your vision improve. Cataracts are a murky film that gradually forms over the natural lens in your eye. If they deteriorate enough they can cause 100% blindness, in extreme cases. For most people who develop cataracts this will not become a problem until old age. This will often affect people who, for most of their lives prior, were not blind.
That’s not to say that elderly blind people don’t ‘count’, but if you were thinking the majority of the people who need the kind of operation that Mr Beast was raising money for were born totally blind and suddenly got 20/20 because of his efforts: I’m afraid to say that’s probably not the case.
The operarion works by obliterating the cataract on the natural lens of your eye with sonic vibrations. However, the natural lens the film forms on is destroyed in the process as well. You NEED that lens for your eye to focus between long and short sight, so they put in an artificial one to replace it. Except the artificial lens doesn’t switch between long and short sight: it focuses to a specific, set distance.
When most cataract patients end up needing this procedure done, the muscles which contract and expand that natural lens have worn out enough that the elderly patient will most likely have begun to lose the ability to focus at long distances already anyway. Therefore, elderly people don’t really notice the downsides to having an artificial lens put in.
But if you’re a rare case that needs the op when you’ll still young (like me) the lens still works. That means you lose the ability to focus for either short or long sight, and you get to pick which range you want to keep. Unless you’re as unlucky as I was…
Rember when I mentioned I had nystagmus before? The fact that my eyes move around so much outside of my volition means that the operation couldn’t be done under local anaesthetic, like it usually is. The hospital is MEANT to discuss losing your natural lens with you and ask what kind of lens you want (what distance you’d like it to focus to) before you get the op.
But they’d already knocked me out before they remembered that. They put a a “long” lens in my short sighed eye and robbed me of short sight. Now if I want to read or write or draw (things you may recognise as being quite important to a comics creative) or anything like that, I need an extremely specific set of prescription glasses which only the dedicated eye hospital can provide. A regular opticians can’t get them in stock because they’re too specialised.
Also this “long” lens helps me see clearly out to a distance of about one and a half feet. I wouldn’t call that “long” at all. I’ve only had one cataract removed so far (they do it one at a time, in case something goes wrong), and if I close the eye that has no cataract I can see how the vision in my other eye looks cloudier. The eye with the artificial lens doesn’t really allow me to see anything I couldn’t see before at long range, and since my other eye used to be my ‘far’ eye, I’ve been left with functionally worse sight overall.
But the eye hopsital’s lab results say my eye now has better vision, despite the actual practical ramifications of the operation, so I guess my feelings don’t matter.
Oh, also? Getting this operation done was delayed over and over to begin with. First they scheduled me in for an operation on a day when the surgeon who was supposed to performing the operation was on annual leave. The next time I came in the surgeon who was working that day took one look at my medical records and decided he wasn’t experienced enough to operate on someone with my unique circumstances. At one point someone told me they were going to give me some eyedrops which would dilate my pupils (I don’t have any irises: my pupils are as dilated as they’re ever going to get!)
After the operation I had several things I needed to do to keep my eye from getting infected, including wearing a shield over my eye at night and using sanitary eyedrops. The nurses at the hospital carefully explained all of this… to my partner, like I wasn’t even there: as if I were a child.
So to conclude…
If you’re skipped to this section, I’m guessing you want the dirt. Do I hate Mr Beast? Do I loathe everything he stands for?
Not really. I researched him for this article and I still barely know who the dude is. My goal in writing this was really just to inform people about what a cataract operation was for one, but also challenge the typical “cane and guide dog” stereotype of a blind person.
Calling this operation a “cure” is extremely lacking nuance. In truth, outright ‘cures’ for disabilities are rare. Am I just being bitter and pedantic? No. Disabled people routinely have the legitimacy of their disabilities called into question and that causes real harm. Stuff like motorists with legitimate accessibility requirements having their cars vandalised by onlookers who decided they didn’t ‘look disabled enough’ to be using a disabled parking bay, benefit payments which people have every right to claim being denied to them, and a general rise in hate crimes against disabled people.
Able bodied people regularly dismiss disabled people as faking their disabilities or complaining about nothing: we’re not.
So regardless of the purity of Donaldson’s intent, I feel that I can at least take issue with the unnuanced way he presented blindness, and the ‘cure’ for it. Cataract surgery would be better labelled as treatment than cure after all.
Whenever disability is discussed, it’s important to remember that even two people with the same condition may be capable of totally different things. This does not make them any less disabled. The popular perception is that a disabled person is either totally helpless, or else they’re faking it. By simplifying cataract surgery as a miracle cure that will restore the sight of those who have never had any vision Mr Beast is, even if unknowingly, feeding into that perception.
Of course, learning a bit about blindness (and disability at large) and ensuring that you don’t fall into the same trap is far more constructive than piling onto one guy on Twitter. Unfortunately, I fully expect everyone to forget their sudden concern for blind people’s opinions the second that Mr Beast’s name is no longer trending. But if you’ve read this far, here’s hoping you aren’t one of them. If I’ve done my job well, this article might even contribute to changing harmful assumptions.
If you found anything I had to say about blindness interesting, you should know that I wrote a comic book which uses superheroes as an analogy for disability. It’s inspired by my real life experiences, and so if you liked this article you should really consider visiting my Kickstarter page and opting yourself into being notified on launch.