Two years ago I noticed things were starting to look a little fuzzy, especially in one eye. When speaking to someone sitting in front of a window or back-lit in silhouette, I could not see their face for the white glare making everything cloudy. I thought that was normal for everyone, but during a routine eye check-up was told this was the development of mild cataracts. You have got to be kidding. CATARACTS? I am waaaaaay too young for cataracts.
My grandmother began developing cataracts at age ninety-five. My old dog had cataracts. I just could not believe it. So I asked “Can’t I wait until I am older to deal with this?” To which the ophthalmologist sagely replied, “You can wait as long as you want. It’s sort of like having a pebble in your shoe. It’s there and you know it and it’s annoying. The question is, how long do you want to walk around with a pebble in your shoe, and how much is it bothering you?”
So, annoying as it was, I decided I was going to just wait about thirty years or more. However, over the last eight months it has seemed to have progressed with rapid speed, mostly the left eye seeing fuzzy blurs and slight double vision. A strange phenomenon called “Second Sight” also occurred in that eye, which is where the cataract actually magnifies things close-up. So I could read and use the computer perfectly without glasses – an exciting little perk at a point where all my friends were needing reading glasses. Supposedly, the second sight is sort of a temporary fake-out which eventually stops happening, and the deterioration continues, leaving you seeing worse than ever. This kept me going for a little while longer, but the reality is that aside from that momentary bonus, I was only seeing fuzz out of that eye. Life was beginning to resemble a long drive on Highway 1 through Big Sur in the fog – precarious, tedious, and disappointingly missing all the gorgeous views.
So I went back to the ophthalmologist with my tail between my legs, sat in a packed waiting room filled with Very Old People shuffling in with canes, walkers, hearing aids and dark eye-glasses that made them all look like flies. Now, I want to clarify that being among Very Old People is relative. They were Very Old compared to me. There are times where that (pebble filled) shoe is on the other foot, but in this crowd, I was the junior. Even though I have hearing aids, they were acquired when I was much younger and so (by my rules) that doesn’t count. What I felt was a bit out of my element.
I got the work-up and appointment for cataract replacement with an intraocular lens (IOL), starting with just the worst eye, as the right one seems to be doing OK, almost overcompensating for the left one. The options rendered me fraught with indecision and anxiety over the process, because its not like you can choose one type of lens, have it done, and then change your mind later on and just pop it out. This is rather a permanent deal. It was between the standard monofocal lens, the Toric lens for astigmatism, and the new multifocal ReSTOR lens. Each has it’s pros and cons.
Being the type who needs all the details, I tried to hunt down everybody I knew who either had or knew someone who had cataract replacement. And this is where I started running into some problems. Everybody seems to have an aunt or a grandmother or a friend or a cousin who has had it done, but nobody could/would really tell me first hand what it was about. When I did finally find a few people and tried to pin them down with questions, almost universally, these are the answers I received:
How was the procedure?
“Fine, I guess”.
“I don’t remember what my mother told me”.
“My aunt never really said anything about it to me”.
“I was so out of it from what they gave me that they could have done anything.”
“My vision is 20/20 now!”
“One of the most routine of surgeries!”
“It is one of the most common and safest procedures!”
” Everyone is doing it!”
Everyone seemed OK, but not especially delighted. There were no horror stories (except on the internet). But I did not get the nitty-gritty from anybody. I went into it figuring if all these Old People are having it done, then how bad could it be?
So….I am going to be the one to tell you the nitty-gritty. Or my nitty-gritty, anyway. If you are squeamish at all (like one of my sisters, who really does turn gray-green, slumps to the floor and passes out when you talk about this kind of stuff), this might not be the post for you.
The morning of the eye surgery The Significant Other, who had to come along so he could drive me home, was taking his own sweet time. When it was time to leave, a forty-five minute to an hour drive, depending on traffic, I found him sitting in front of the television with one sock on, not having eaten breakfast and in no way ready to leave the house. This really set me off, because if you know me at all, you know that I vehemently hate hate hate being Late for anything. Especially this. So as he moved in slow motion, I became a caged panther, pacing the parameters of the kitchen and wiping the counters with pent-up anxiety and frustration. Nothing like being late for your creepy eye surgery to add a wee bit of stress.
We got there on time because I drove like a one-eyed maniac. Then I walked into the office and joined the cataract conveyor belt. Very Old People were shuffling in the door and up to the receptionist window before sitting down with their preliminary paperwork. More Very Old People were shuffling out from the back room with their fly-eyed dark glasses post-op. I felt very anxious.
Once into the back room I was put into a little curtained off stall next to a whole lot of other little curtained cubicles full of “operatees”. I was told they don’t usually give you any sort of sedation, although they start an IV line “just in case”. Apparently they just numb your eye and away you go. Well, I wasn’t having any of that, and immediately asked for something to take off the edge, deciding I was going to get as dreamy as possible. So I got some calming drugs, although I have to say they weren’t really all that impressive and I would not call it The Good Stuff, or maybe there just wasn’t enough of the good stuff, whatever the good stuff might be. The nurses kept coming by to periodically put in a few more eye drops, which burned. Eventually they stopped burning, indicating I was now one numb eye with a big dilated pupil. Then it was time to have the procedure done.
Now this part is where it gets a little bit “Ewwwww“, and my sister did actually tell me to stop, because she was going to faint right there on the phone if I kept on talking about it. So you are forewarned if you are one of those overly squeamish people. Once on the operating table, they drape your face so only your eye is showing. These little calipers get affixed to your lid and rim of your lower eye to keep the eye open. I don’t know what it looked like from their end, but on my end, envision the eye scene in A Clockwork Orange.
Next they turn on this blazing white light, which was sort of like looking into a square-shaped solar eclipse with a line in the middle of it. That was all I could see. Couldn’t see anyone working on me, couldn’t see any scary instruments coming at me, just the square of blinding white light burning into my retina.
I knew he was making an incision. Somebody is cutting into my eye. Although I tried to not think about that, visions of the opening scene of the eye from the surrealist movie An Andalusian Dog ( Louis Bunuel/Salvador Dali) kept flashing through my mind. If you aren’t familiar with it, Google it, read it and skeeve. (And here I wonder, if the drugs were a bit better, I might not have thought about this. Or cared). At least I couldn’t feel this happening. Thankful for that.
The doctor was explaining what he was doing, but I think he was explaining it to other people watching, not to me. Of course, I couldn’t see anyone, but I could feel the presence of others gathered about. Being not of the greatest hearing, I could not understand everything he was talking about anyway, but I caught some of it, which was not all in layman’s terms. Once he said “Look at the light, dear” (I guess that’s what they say to the Old Ladies), and at one point he did tell me I was going to hear a whirring noise. That, I believe, is the point where they blast out and remove your old lens. First he “got some of it”, and the “got the rest of it” (Ewww, ewww, ewww). The bright white square suddenly turned into a black square, which was a bit unnerving, as this was where I understood there was no lens in the eye at all.
Then he placed the shiny new lens in. As soon as that happened, BAM, we were done. They whisked off the drape, sat me up and led me back to the little curtained room, all finished in the course of fifteen or twenty minutes. I could not see a damn thing out of that eye, just bright orange, as if looking through a piece of Halloween cellophane. “Everything is bright orange!” I exclaimed, to which I was told “That’s normal”.
I was told to keep my eye shut for three hours, instructed to used three different kinds of eye-drops three times a day, given a plastic eye protector to tape over my eye at night when I went to sleep for the first week (very sexy), given some printed instructions and a pair of the dark fly-eyes glasses, and shown the door. I shuffled out like an Very Old Person past the throngs in the waiting room and we went home.
By evening the orange world had turned into one massive neon pink ball. When my eye closed, the pink spot would turn Chartreuse green. Everything was a total blur with little shimmering waves going on in the periphery. When the numbness wore off, it felt like there was an eyelash stuck to my eyeball. Ewwwwww.
The following morning I awoke to a pink world. Everywhere there was light, it was pink. The daylight from the windows cast its own neon dawn. It was like stepping out of the spacecraft and onto another planet. All very sci-fi and somewhat unnerving. I had my follow-up visit that morning, a forty-five minute drive and two-hour wait in the room of even more Very Old People, courtesy of not-too-thrilled-to-be-missing-work-for-this-again Significant Other. We were on time though. At the check up I was told all was doing well.
I think the hardest part during the first two days was having only partial vision and partial hearing. My “good” eye, the one with the lesser cataract, suddenly didn’t seem so great when it was the only one I was depending on. Because” hearing” depends so much on visuals for me, suddenly nothing was working. This disorientation has led to a tremendous amount of crankiness on my part. It has been an extremely crabby week for me. I have felt isolated and adrift, like Tommy.
A friend of a good friend kindly emailed me to say both she and her husband had both eyes done, it was a breeze and they are thrilled. That was good news, but neither of them experienced the pink planet phenomenon. I emailed my cousin, who had one lens replaced about a month ago and was one of the non-forthcoming people I had questioned. I asked him about the blurriness and pinkness. In few words, he told me he could see perfectly immediately following his surgery and only experienced seeing a few spots, which went away. Figures.
It is a week into it now and the fog has lifted. Every day I still wake up on the pink planet, which subsides as the day progresses. It is getting less pink now. I have that something-uncomfortable-is-in-my eye experience you get if you have ever worn contact lenses back in the days when you were not supposed to sleep in them but did anyway, after a wild party where you passed out and awaken the next morning to having something scarily plastered to your cornea. When I move my eye around, I feel some pressure. I also feel the way you sometimes do when you get a new glasses prescription – everything is a little warped, and off, and dizzying. I am
assuming hoping all this will settle out as time goes on.
Now for the amazing observations. The eye with the new, clear lens sees different colors than the other one! Zowee! Apparently as you age, your old lens starts to get yellow and filters everything through yellow light. You don’t notice it because it’s so gradual. With the new lens, everything has changed. I feel like a living Tide commercial – Blues are brighter! Whites are whiter! My bathroom vanity is not bone white – I have discovered it is actually an arctic white. The turquoise designs on my brown shirt now appear to be sky blue. The fluorescent light in my office is way more horrible than I had thought. The cool looking purple pants I have been wearing to work……..well, this now explains some of the looks I have been getting.
For the first time since I was sixteen years old, I can wear non-prescription sunglasses right off the rack. How cool is that? I am driving without corrective lenses now. Can I take that off my driver’s license? I keep reaching up to my face to adjust the glasses which are no longer there. I can watch television without glasses. I can see the clock across the room when I wake up in the morning (although it is pink at the moment). My new eye is now the “good” eye and the formerly good eye is now the bad one. I am very aware now that it is not up to par.
Unfortunately, I suddenly now need glasses for anything near. This is new for me, a major switch, as close up had not been much of a problem and distance had been the issue. Reading books and using the computer require glasses now. I am going to end up being one of those ladies who wears her reading glasses on a chain around her neck, I know it. I always said I would never do that, but here I am.
Tomorrow is the one week follow-up appointment. Things have drastically improved, but honestly, at this juncture of the eye adventure I feel like it’s just a different pebble in my shoe. They are going to ask me if I would like to schedule the other eye in a few weeks or months. I will tell them this – I am not scheduling anything, at least not for as long as I can hold out. My attitude post cataract surgery was similar to my response after having natural childbirth for the first time. Immediately after the first baby, I adamantly declared, “Never Again“. Actually, that is the polite version of what I said. Like childbirth, you probably forget because of those rose-colored glasses obscuring the past – causing you to do it all over again. Yeah, maybe it’s just like that.