Shattered Life: Engineer Left Blind for Three Years Awaiting 20-Minute Operation

Posted: Aug 26, 2009 10:27 AM

...unfortunate, but necessary to shed light on these tragic examples...

...from the National Center for Public Policy Research's new book, Shattered Lives: 100 Victims of Government Health Care, authored by Amy Ridenour and Ryan Balis:

Engineer Left Blind for Three Years Awaiting 20-Minute Operation

 According to Britain’s state-managed health service, cataract surgery is a “common” and “straightforward” operation that usually should last between 15 and 20 minutesBut such a quick turnaround would have been news to Richard Adams of London, who went blind in both eyes while waiting three years for cataract surgery.

The 85-year-old retired engineer and award-winning dancer began losing his vision in 2004.  That year, doctors diagnosed Adams with cataracts, but an operation to remove them was not scheduled until March 2007.

His excitement in 2007 at the prospect of getting his sight and livelihood back was short-lived because doctors cancelled the surgery.

“I was over the moon when I found out I had an appointment in March [2007] but when it was cancelled I just went downhill,” Adams said at the time.

Stuck in a wheelchair and suffering from asthma as well as kidney stones (also left untreated by the NHS, he said), Adams had difficulty performing everyday tasks.  “I never cook anything,” Adams explained then.  “It always has to be cold things like sandwiches or salad.  I can’t go to the shops because I can’t see where I’m going.”

In despair, Adams said his life was “being wasted”: “I have all these ideas in my head but I can’t see to write and I can’t see to draw.  All I can do is sit in my house and listen to the TV.  I can’t see it and I have to turn up the volume because I can’t hear well.” 

Spokesman Mark Purcell of Ealing Hospital, one of several hospitals that refused Adams treatment for his eyes, offered no sympathy. “If [Adams] has a complaint about the standard of care he has received he should write to the chief executive of the Ealing Hospital Trust.”  Whether this bureaucratic solution, which asked a blind man to write, was intentionally or inadvertently cruel is unknown.)

Adams was scheduled to receive treatment in late May, but this was little consolation for him.  “I’ve been waiting for three years but they don’t seem to care. I think they’re just waiting for me to die or something,” Adams complained.

Finally, after Adams’ plight received attention from the British press, doctors removed the cataracts in one of his eyes in June 2007.

“He was really pleased with the result of the operation,” said Roger Woolsey, a family friend.  “When I went to visit him he would raise the eye-patch and say: I really can see again.”

Tragically, four days after the procedure that restored his sight, Adams died.  He had a heart attack after developing blood poisoning in the hospital.

Purchase or download a free PDF of The National Center for Public Policy Research's new book, Shattered Lives: 100 Stories of Government Health Care, for more on the way waiting lists affect the lives of people living in countries with government-run medicine.  You can download it today for free at