For several years I had been told I had the beginnings of cataracts forming in my eyes, but that it was much too soon to do anything about them. In recent months, however, I noticed I was having more and more difficulty reading on my phone, and distinguishing numbers on cards when playing an online solitaire game. I also seemed to be tripping on curbs, rocks, and roots more often.
For most of my life I have had very sharp vision, but I began to use off-the-shelf reading glasses with fairly low magnification sometime in my late forties or early fifties. When I worked in a school library, I upgraded to graduated lenses to avoid constantly taking glasses on and off while switching between reading call numbers on spine labels, reading aloud to children, and looking at them.
However, in recent months I began to feel that even my prescription glasses were not working as well as they should. To my great surprise at my eye exam in early October, which I scheduled despite wishing to avoid unnecessary appointments during the COVID pandemic, the optometrist suggested it was now time to do something about the cataracts.
It took two months to get an appointment with the ophthalmologist, whom I saw for perhaps five minutes on December 11. I had done some reading ahead of time and decided that although I noticed my loss of visual acuity most while reading, I’d opt for the distance intraocular lens implant. Surgery was surprisingly quickly scheduled to take place during the December holidays.
Although I spent only brief minutes with the surgeon, the interview with the surgery scheduler and the waiting time took close to an hour. I was given an appointment for December 23 for additional eye measurements, filled out additional questionnaires online, and answered additional (and many of the same questions) via telephone. Because of Covid, my husband was not allowed to accompany me to any of the appointments, although he was required to be available to drive me. Because the waiting rooms were closed, he waited outside in the car.
I was understandably nervous on the morning of surgery, and even more so when I awoke to find snow on the ground. We arrived early and were admitted to the building after facing more questions and a temperature check. We were assigned to positions marked six-feet apart in the hallway, where we waited for at least half-an-hour, perhaps because we were a bit early.
We joked with another couple in line ahead of us. When we were admonished to stay close to the wall because people would be passing down the center of the hall, I felt like I was back in elementary school. “Line up neatly, children!”
When we were finally invited into the intake office, we again had our temperatures taken. I handed over my insurance card once more, and more paperwork I’d been asked to complete. I was allowed to wear my wedding ring, but turned my scarf, wristwatch, folder with instructions, and my phone over to my husband. He departed and I sat in the nearly empty waiting area, where an old Perry Mason show played on the TV (fortunately quietly and with captions). A Santa Claus wearing a mask decorated one wall. The woman who had been in line ahead of me and a man I hadn’t seen before were both called into the next area ahead of me. I probably waited another half an hour to 40 minutes in this empty Twilight Zone. A monitor listed perhaps ten patients, identified by numbers, showing which were in recovery, which in the operating room, which in pre-op, and which were waiting. For a long time there was only one waiting: Patient G3. That was me!
Finally, I was called and guided into the pre-op location, where I was told to lie down on a gurney. I hesitated to put my shoes on the clean white blankets but did as I was told. I must say that all the people who came to administer various procedures were warm, friendly and caring. Since we were all masked, and since I cannot hear well if I can’t see, they were very patient with me, repeating themselves until I could understand them. They put a needle for an IV on the back of my hand and slapped an eye patch over my left eye, after verifying more than once my name and which eye would be operated on. They put various drops in my right eye, one of which stung (they warmed me!) and told me keep my eyes closed. A sticker was pasted on my forehead over the right eye — the one to be operated on. Various sticky things were stuck onto my chest and waist (I’d been told to wear a shirt that buttoned — not my usual winter attire), then I had to push myself up to the top of the bed, which got my clothes a bit out of arrangement and left me with what felt like a log under my back. The helpful attendant adjusted the bed to be more comfortable and at my request reached under my shirt and pulled the slipped bra strap back into place. A cap covered up my hair, the wisps were swept out of my eyes, and then I was swaddled tightly in the blankets, arms at my side. I’d been a bit fearful about getting cold, but I was not.
I was, by now, completely immobilized, swaddled tightly, a patch covering one eye, and required to keep the other eye closed. I was unable to see, move or hear much while the bed was pumped up to a higher level and I was wheeled on a bumpy ride to the operating room (so they told me). Suddenly I sensed bright lights overhead and managed to peek a bit. The doctor came, made sure I was me, put his hand on my arm, which was reassuring, and again made sure it was my right eye needing attention. I felt cold running through my hand from the I-V needle and must have lost consciousness shortly after. Someone mentioned pulling on my eyelashes, and I could feel that. Then I heard, saw and felt nothing else, except two things, which I may have dreamed. I had been imagining what it would feel like to have something cutting through my eye, (thinking of that Bunuel/Dali movie) Un Chien Andalou (careful, this is really gross!). I had really hoped to see what was going on. At one point during the procedure, I thought I saw broken brownish pieces like glass shattering in my eye, and shortly after I felt something cold slide over or into my eye.
The next thing I knew, a nurse was introducing herself, my right hearing aid (which had been removed) was returned to me, along with the dark glasses I’d purchased. These things were hanging in the black glasses pouch, along with my sweater, on a hook at the foot of the bed. I was helped into a wheelchair, handed the glasses pouch, and wheeled out to the door where I was happy to see my husband waiting beside the car. Instructions for post-op and a card signed by all the people who had been part of the whole process were in the pouch.
I think I was still sedated and a bit wobbly, because I don’t remember much of the ride home — for a change I didn’t tell my husband where or how to drive. I took his arm for the walk from the garage to the house. Looking through my right eye was like looking through heavy fog. We had breakfast, as I hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink for twelve or more hours.
I checked my email, then lay down in bed to read, where I promptly fell asleep for more than an hour. (I hadn’t slept much the night before). I put in the required eyedrops, and the eye felt O.K., maybe just a little scratchy. I was able to attend a Zoom meeting of the photography club that evening.
The next day my husband drove me again for the 24-hour check-up. My vision was still hazy but continued to slowly improve. I was told my vision had improved already and would improve still more. I was a little worried about when and if that would happen. Now, five days since the surgery, I can see better with my right eye than with my left. The light is brighter. I have no discomfort whatsoever. Although the lens is for distance, I can even see to read my computer screen without glasses, especially if I cover the left eye.
It feels like a miracle. I think how for centuries getting old often meant losing one’s sight. The technology has changed amazingly quickly. I have been walking, birdwatching (adjusting my binocular lens for my “new” eye), taking pictures, going about my usual activities, and even cooking dinner and a cheesecake for my husband’s New Year’s Eve birthday.
I was very nervous before the surgery, having had little previous experience with any kind of surgery, but now I’m hoping that even though the left eye is not too bad, I will be able to have it done, too.
I’m writing this because I thought others who may be going through cataract surgery, or who are considering it, would find reading about my experience helpful and interesting.
I did some reading. There is lots of information available on cataract surgery, its history and recent, rapid, and ever-continuing developments. I am amazed and pleased that something is right these days, although I cringe to read that older, less successful methods of surgical treatments for cataracts are still being practiced in much of the world.
Here is a link to one reliable, if somewhat technical overview:
I’d love to hear about experiences others have had.
2 thoughts on “Cataract Surgery: One Patient’s Perspective”
I’m so glad your surgery went well. I haven’t heard anyone tell of the swaddling you had, though! I hope Kent was able to stay warm, sitting out in the car! (Do you hear the song, “I can see clearly now, the rain has gone…”playing over and over in your head?) Stay well.
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Excellent description, Linnea! If I were in line for cataract surgery, reading this would certainly ease my fears. I often joke that I wish I would get cataracts so then my vision could be made better. But, it doesn’t work like that given the problems I have with my eyes! I’m happy for you, too, that you were able to get this surgery scehduled. So many surgeries are on hold now. And I’m mostly happy for you that it was a success!