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Cataract Surgery
by Lionel E. Deimel

For years, I was told that I would eventually need cataract surgery. I accepted this prediction, though it wasnít obvious that my vision was being degraded by cataracts. I was frustrated, however, by the fact that my optometrist had not given me a new prescription in quite a while.

Since my eyes were being checked every six months, one of my tasks upon moving to Clifton Springs, New York, was to find a new eye doctor. As it happened, an ophthalmologist had an office just down the street from my new apartment building. On my first visit to his office on May 17, he recommended cataract surgery. Although I considered that this might be the ophthalmologic equivalent of ambulance chasing, I was primed for the eventuality and accepted the advice I was offered.

I quickly learned that the convenient office location was only so convenient. My doctorís primary office is in Rochester, 35 minutes or so away by car. My next visit was to that office on May 20. I was examined and scheduled for surgery and follow-up visits. In preparation for the procedure, I was asked to fill out a medical history form online.

After that visit, I received two text messages from my pharmacist telling me that prescriptions for two eye drops were waiting for me. (The doctor failed to alert me that I needed these medicines.) One of the eye drops cost well over $100. Upon consulting with the pharmacist, I discovered that the cost could be reduced to about $69 using either an AARP or GoodRx card. (I have no idea how these cards work, but they sometimes score a price below that available through my Medicare Part-D insurance.)

Surgery on my left eye was scheduled for June 5. I needed someone to drive me to and from Rochester on the 5th and 6th for my surgery and follow-up appointment. Apparently, my driving with only one eye and in an uncertain medical condition was considered a questionable prospect.

Being new in town, I didnít have lots of local friends who might offer transportation between Clifton Springs and Rochester. As luck would have it, however, my grandson was born on May 18, and my son was off work on paternity leave. When I asked if he could drive me, I didnít know he would not have to get off work to help, and I was delighted to discover that he was willing and able.

On the day of the operation, August picked me up at 5:30. I wasnít too keen about the time, but I had to be at the surgery center by 6:30. We arrived a bit early, and I spent a few minutes talking in the car before I went inside.

I checked in, presenting my driverís license and insurance cards. After a short wait, I was told to take the elevator to the second floor, where I was ushered into a pre-op area. My vitals were taken, a line was inserted into my arm, and sensors were attached to my chest. Conveniently, I did not need to undress, having been advised to wear a short-sleeve shirt that opened in front. After a brief talk with the anesthesiologist, I was wheeled into a spacious operating room.

I needed to reposition myself on the gurney, and I was given a pillow under my knees. Iím a bit hazy about what happened next. I was aware of something going on in front of my left eye, and I waited for the procedure proper to begin. However, it was all over.

I soon found myself in a recovery room and was given ginger ale, my drink of choice. My eye was bandaged over, so I could not see out of it. My son had been called to pick me upóhe had been rock climbing at the gym to pass the time I was being attended toóand I was soon released to his ministrations. I felt fine and capable of driving myself home, though, of course, I was not used to navigating using only my right eye.

It was suggested that someone stay with me for 24 hours. This seemed unnecessary, however, and August would be less than 20 minutes away if I needed him. He dropped me off at my apartment, and I proceeded to fix breakfast. (I had not been allow to eat or take my morning medications after midnight.) I had no difficulty performing daily tasks, though I was tired from having received a short nightís rest. I was wearing my glasses despite the patch over my left eye, and I could see reasonably well with my right eye.

The next morning, I removed my patch and bandages first thing after I got up. This was harder than I expected; I was taped up quite securely. Tuesday was a day of happy discoveries. I could see at a distance quite clearly. My close-up vision in my left eye, though, was pretty fuzzy. I quickly realized that I shouldnít be wearing my glasses, as doing so made my left eye pretty useless. I was delighted by my newfound acuity. It seemed ironic that I was now farsighted in an eye that had long been nearsighted. It actually seemed odd that moving text closer to my eye did not make it easier to see.

I was particularly astounded when I logged into my computer. The monitor was suddenly much brighter than I was used to. White backgrounds had become bright white. When I closed my left eye and used only my right eye, everything looked as though I was viewing it through a yellow filter. I then realized that I really did need cataract surgery.

Without my glasses, my distance vision was rather good even though my right eye was blurry and dimmed. The right eye degraded my distance vision somewhat, but my brain seemed to compensate by favoring the better eye. Close up, although the left eye offered blurry vision, the right eye seemed to be favored, and reading was possible, though not completely comfortable.

Mercifully, my follow-up appointment in Rochester was at a civil hour. August again played chauffer. Little happened at this appointment. I was given a perfunctory vision test and was scheduled to have surgery on my right eye. Happily, my son was present for the scheduling. At first, it was suggested that my surgery be done in July. There were two problems with this. First, given  my example of my first surgery, I was eager to fix my other eye. More importantly, my son would be back at work in July. Fortunately, we were able to schedule the second surgery for June 19, which was the earliest possible date. (Surgeries were done on alternate Mondays.) This meant that August could again provide transportation.

My next appointment was nothing more than a quick check in the Clifton Springs office.

I was beginning to get used to not wearing glasses, something I had not experienced since high school. This was convenient, of course, but a bit disorienting. I was used to cleaning my glasses in the morning but realized I neednít do that. When I washed my face, I tried to remove the glasses that werenít there. If my eye itched, I instinctively acted as though I needed to reach behind my nonexistent lenses.

My right-eye surgery on June 19 and the follow-up appointment the next day were largely duplicates of my experiences a fortnight previous. I was somewhat disappointed that my distance vision in my right eye was not up to the quality of the left. Nonetheless, my vision at a distance was better than I could ever remember, with or without glasses. Alas, my ability to read was pretty terrible. I found myself using a large magnifier whenever I had to see something close up.

I felt no need for glasses most of the time, but I did want to read comfortably. I checked around the village for reading glasses, but they seemed unavailable in Clifton Springs. I then took a trip to Geneva to find readers in Walmart. I selected a pair of reading glasses that were, in retrospect, too powerful. They worked well for reading, but distance objects were very blurry. Moreover, moving my head was very disorienting.

On July 28, I again saw my ophthalmologist in Clifton Springs. I expected that I would be offered glasses with a new prescription. I was thinking of bifocals with correction for my right eye and close-up correction for both eyes. The doctor said I could have plain glass for distance vision, but suggested that using readers when necessary was all that was needed. I couldnít quite decide if I was disappointed.

I did return to Walmart to find less strong readers. Although I planned to use then only for reading and perhaps for working at my computer, I was happy to find that they did not so destroy distance vision that looking up from a book left me virtually blind.

The good news is that, most of the time, I need not wear glasses. The bad news is that I really need to carry reading glasses wherever I go. I usually carry the glasses in my shirt pocket, though I have discovered that too few of my shirts actually have a pocket. I may have to fix that.

I am still using eye drops for another two weeks. I may decide that I need even weaker reading glasses. I have another appointment with my ophthalmologist in September. I'll see how Iím making out by then.

 

ó LED, 7/4/2023

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