Cataract Surgery: The Day of Reckoning

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.

X

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.

Ving & Bruce

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.”

Oh no.

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?”

“Austin.”

“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.

Cataract Surgery: Part I

The optometrist didn’t bother to ask my permission.  As soon as he finished the exam, he went straight to the front desk and told his receptionist to make me an appointment with the cataract surgery center.

It would have been difficult for me to argue with him, even if he’d given me the chance.  After being unable to read line after increasingly larger line of letters shown to me by the optician — who had trouble stifling her gasps as she neared what she knew would be the final, humongous O filling the entire screen — it was pretty apparent the time had come to be separated from my longtime cloudy companion, my congenital cataract that had been slowly robbing the vision from my left eye since I was in my early 40’s.

eyeball

It was a miracle I’d been able to get my drivers license renewed last year.  Only by the grace of Port Townsend’s DMV clerk was I able to squeak by, despite my admission that I couldn’t read a single thing on the left side of the vision test screen.  I don’t know if she was feeling generous that day or merely too bored and disinterested to bother but whatever the case, I was grateful beyond words to be granted permission to drive half-blind on the streets of Washington state.

I doubt the vehicular travelers crossing my path would have been quite so tickled, had they known.  Pedestrians and bicyclists even less so.  Yet in my defense, at my pre-surgery ophthalmological consultation, the doctor explained that because my right eye has been so busy doing the heavy lifting these past 15 years or so, my overall vision really wasn’t that horrendous.

Granted, he mentioned this not to ease my mind about any potential peril I’d been inflicting upon all who traversed the roads alongside me.  I hadn’t confessed to the doctor my poor performance at the DMV.   He was simply warning me that once my cataract was gone, my resultant vision improvement might not feel so dramatic as it does to those folks who have cataracts removed from both eyes.  Still, I chose to take it as affirmation of my decision — and that of my dear DMV clerk — to continue driving.

Come to think of it, though, the ophthalmologist obviously didn’t give one hoot about endangering myself or surrounding drivers, considering he sent me on my way that late afternoon (more like early evening) with fully dilated eyes and no one to chauffeur me home.  In the dark.  From Silverdale to Port Townsend, a nearly 45 mile trek.

After the front desk ladies cheerily handed me the packaged strip of black plastic that looks more like a roll of camera film than a substitute for honest-to-goodness sunglasses, I walked out to the car, took my place in the driver’s seat…and began to panic.  Already the traffic had built up to a frenzy — Silverdale is nothing but a maze of strip malls squeezed between zigging and zagging thoroughfares (my friend has aptly nicknamed the town Silverhell) and to make matters worse, I was in that godforsaken place at the height of Christmas shopping season.

I’d gotten so turned around trying to find the surgery center in the first place, I had no clue how to get back to the highway.  Add to that a thousand glaring headlights.  I slipped the black film under my glasses, hit the “Home” button on my GPS and waited for Nuvi (John’s and my terribly clever name for our Garmin “nuvi” model GPS) to coo her directives at me.

As soon as I pulled into the street, I yanked off that black film.  It’s bad enough to have blurred vision in a sea of headlamps — even worse when the background to all the bobbing, weaving lights is pitch blackness.  Without the piece of film obscuring what little focus I still had, I could at least make out the stripes in the road.  Blurry stripes, indeed, but stripes all the same.

It was a long, teeth-clenching drive back to Port Townsend.  Only a small fraction of the journey is divided highway; primarily the roads are two-laned, meaning a continuous line of oncoming traffic, each car’s lights boring straight into my enormous pupils, made it feel as if I were staring directly at the sun.

headlights

So I concentrated instead on those white road stripes (and held my breath at every intersection where the stripes disappeared) until finally — finally — Nuvi guided me through the entrance to our neighborhood.  When I turned at the stop sign on our street, Nuvi instructed, “Drive point three miles to Home, on left.”

Lovelier words have never been spoken.

To be continued….