The time had come. Like conjoined twins who share the same heart, on the day of separation surgery one of us would have to be sacrificed in order for the other to live a normal existence. Since I’m the larger of the two, I got to make the decision as to who goes, who stays. And because I’m writing this story, you already know which choice I made.
Yes, I’m still here. My dear cataract, however, the one with whom I’d shared my life lo these many years, is no more. Rest its weary, opaque soul.
It took maybe five minutes — enough time for one and one-half Christmas songs to be piped into the operating room — for the ophthalmologist to sound-wave my aged, cloudy, natural lens into a million pieces, vacuum it away like so many dust bunnies and cram in a clear, artificial lens in its stead. It was almost a letdown, really, after the bizarre business of cataract removal pre-op.
And hoo boy, is it ever a business. An assembly line, actually. It started when the doctor’s assistant led me into a large room to join many other patients, all of them in progressively different stages of preparation. I was instructed to put my personal belongings in one of the lockers lining the back wall, after which the assistant pinned the locker key onto my shirt as if I were a grade-schooler who can’t be trusted keeping track of her mittens.
She sat me down, slapped a name tag on my chest, and after confirming it was my left eye headed to surgery, took a black magic marker and drew an X above my left brow. The cataract patient’s version of the scarlet letter.
Soon after, a nurse rolled her blood pressure machine over to me, wrapped my arm and once again, asked which eye was to be violated that day.
“The left one,” I answered reluctantly, knowing nothing good would come of it. As I’d expected, out came her pen and with a dramatic whoosh whoosh, she slashed another X directly on top of my earlier branding.
Before I could ask whether they were using washable or indelible ink in those wretched pens, the surgeon walked up to introduce himself and shake my hand. He asked (you guessed it) which eye he’d be massacring — wouldn’t you think it was fairly obvious by then? — and again, upon my reply, I was hit with yet one more X. Tic Tac Toe, you win.
At this point, I had a little more time to take in what was happening around me. The woman to my left (X marked the spot above her right eye) was offered a slurp of some sort of anti-anxiety liquid and turned it down. Blasphemy! When the offer was extended to me, I latched onto that elixir-filled dropper like a newborn suckling piglet to mama sow. As I waited for the happy juice to carry me off to la la land, I observed the other patients who’d arrived ahead of me.
Each one was called individually into another room. When they eventually reappeared, it was on the arm of one of the nurses — by necessity since whichever eye was underneath the dreaded triple X’s had been covered with a most frightful apparatus: an orb slightly smaller than a racquetball positioned directly onto that eye by a strap wrapped around the patient’s head.
The nurse would then gently sit the patient down in one of two large lounge chairs, where they were hooked up to an EKG machine and yet another blood pressure monitor.
All I could think about was Pulp Fiction — and the fact that I was yet to feel a damn thing from the supposed anti-anxiety drink they’d given me. I started to seriously consider asking for a refill when…
“Jo? Come with me, please.”
The mystery room was dimly lit, with a reclining exam chair in the center beside which sat a diminutive man with a metal tray stand at his side. He lowered me into the chair and instructed me to stare at the photo on the ceiling (an idyllic country scene…as if that would be calming). He started with small talk — “Do you go south for the winter?” — then instantly interrupted with a warning: “This is going to pinch a little bit.”
He stuck a needle in the outer corner of my left eye.
And yes, it pinched.
“No,” I replied in a panic, every molecule of my being concentrating on the ceiling photo. “We’re new here.”
“Where did you move from?”
“Oh really! What did you do there?”
“We were organic farmers.”
“Wow, my nephew is an organic farmer in Illinois!”
Yeah, buddy, that’s fascinating. Now TAKE THAT FREAKING NEEDLE OUT OF MY EYE.
All right, I didn’t say that. I wanted to, but I didn’t. We continued with more inane chitchat until he abruptly pulled out the needle and just as abruptly ended the conversation. He sat me upright, strapped on the torture ball and handed me over to the nurse to stumble out to one of the lounge chairs.
I have to admit, I enjoyed scaring the new patients in the waiting room. Maybe the elixir was finally doing its thing.
After my cataract was ultimately obliterated and replaced I was sent on my way, a complimentary Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute gimme cap in hand. By late that evening, I could see out of my left eye like I haven’t seen in years and years. I was astounded and couldn’t stop telling John how clear everything looked, how vibrant the colors were.
I was eager to try out my new eye the next morning in the daylight. Know what I saw? Dust. Lots of it. The place looked like a haunted house.
Next, I made the mistake of looking closely into the bathroom mirror. I had no idea I have so much gray hair. Honestly, I was stunned. Why hadn’t anyone told me? I mean, John occasionally teased me about it but, you know, I thought he was just being silly. Turns out, it was the truth.
I wonder if there’s an institute somewhere that puts cataracts back in.