Seven years ago I was told that I had the beginning of cataracts. When they became “ripe” I could have them removed. I wanted to think of myself as a bottle of wine, aging gracefully, and reaping the benefits later. People I knew that had had the surgery were pleased with the results: no more prescription glasses, unless they were needed for reading; waking up in the morning and seeing everything around them.
I could hardly wait. And that is what I did: I waited, and waited, and waited for the damn things to “ripen.” I no longer thought of myself as a “bottle of wine”; rather I thought of myself as an aging old woman. I found myself not willing to drive at night because of the halo’s of oncoming headlights; I couldn’t see the street signs in the dark and I was afraid that I might not see the bike riders along the streets in Ocean Beach.
Every year I would make an appointment to see my optometrist and ask the same question: “Are they ripe enough yet?” and every year I received the same answer: “Not quite ready.”
Until this year! Finally, after waiting for 7 long years, Dr. M. said he thought I was ready for the surgery. But not so fast. Dr. M. doesn’t do the surgery! I had to make an appointment to see Dr. Linebarger and have him concur that the “ripening” had occurred. That was on March 15th! The first available appointment to see Dr. L. was June 15th – two whole months away. (I could have had an appointment with another ophthalmologist in the same office, but my husband had had Dr. L remove his cataracts five years ago and the surgery was so successful I wanted to duplicate those results.) I was afraid that the wait for the surgery would be a long one, but he said I was “ripe” and there was a cancellation for June 25th and it was mine if I wanted it! You bet!
So just what is a “cataract’? In layperson’s terms it is:
“ . . . a clouding of the eye’s naturally clear lens. The lens focuses light rays on the retina to produce a sharp image of what we see. When the lens becomes cloudy, light rays cannot pass through it easily and vision is blurred. There are no medications, eye drops, exercises or glasses that will cause cataracts to disappear or to prevent them from forming. Cataract surgery involves removing the cloudy lens from the eye through a surgical incision. In most cases, the natural lens is replaced with a permanent intraocular lens (IOL) implant.”
Surgery for cataracts is usually performed in an “Out-Patient” setting. Mine was done at Sharp’s Out-Patient Pavilion. I was to report in at 9:30am and surgery was scheduled for 11:00am. I was told that someone could pick me up about 12:00pm! You’re kidding, right? Surgery was at 11:00 and I was ready to go an hour later? I was a nervous wreck leading up to the surgery. I even went so far as to change one item in my Last Will and Testament. I changed the caregiver I wanted to take my dog Buddy in case I didn’t come out of the surgery!
Man Oh Man! I was so nervous that I had a fight with my daughter over a misspoken word; I was so nervous that I snapped at Buddy for not obeying a command; I was weepy; I missed my husband so much because he wasn’t going to be here to take care of me like I was to take care of him, and because I couldn’t have anything to drink for hours before the surgery I was thirstier than I ever remember being in my life.
I was six minutes late getting to the Out-Patient Pavilion. I was so fearful that they would cancel my surgery. (I am usually early to appointments so to be late really freaked me out.) I was met at the elevator by Rachel, a happy, smiling lady that set me at ease almost immediately. She checked me in; took me to see Ophelia – who collected my money – who sent me to Nancy who walked me to the prep room – who turned me over to Kathryn who put in 4 sets of 4 drops in a short time and had trouble inserting the I.V. needle. (By the way – that was the WORST part of the entire procedure!)
From Kathryn I was turned over to Diana who wheeled me into the operating room and she turned me over to Gail who became “my” nurse for the procedure. She introduced me to Dr. Perkins, the anesthesiologist that put in the I.V. on his first try. (I wasn’t too nervous to realize what a nice looking man he was and if he needed to practice inserting I.V. needles my arm was available.) And while this was going on, Dr. Linebarger came in to discuss the procedure one more time. I looked at his able hands and hoped that they were not too big to do a good job. (Check out the picture.) I was asked my name and date of birth so many times I practically stumbled when asked the last 5 times. Then “do you know what the doctor is going to do to you?” Gad, I hope he is going to remove the ripe cataract. “Yes, but on what side?”
My blood pressure had dropped from 177/74 – I said I was nervous – to a more normal 124/64 and we were ready to begin. I told the surgical staff that I was writing my experience for the the blogs and websites I write for so they better treat me extra nice and make no errors. I reminded them of the “power of the press.”
I was told that I would be covered with a sterile gown and only my right eye would show. It had some adhesive-like material on it to keep it from moving around and Gail told me I might have a bruised eye when the sheet was removed. (I didn’t.) I laid very, very still, (I was thanked for being so still by Dr. Perkins and Gail) and in less than 10 minutes it was over. Ten minutes! I worried for days about this surgery and it was over in 10 minutes!!! I was wheeled back into the recovery room and was told that I could call my ride to come and get me. (It wasn’t even noon yet!)
I had a plastic patch put over my eye taped to my forehead and cheek; had my blood pressure taken to make sure I was ok – it remained low – and was asked, “where’s your ride?” (Fortunately he was standing right behind the nurse.) I was given a hot cup of tea and four graham crackers.
The instructions at home were simple; no lifting over 20 pounds; no bending or stooping; drops 4 times a day until all gone; gently resume normal activities. I was to wear the patch for 24 hours and then when I sleep, be it a nap or at night for the next two weeks. That’s it. Over. Done. Go Home! Remember to go to your post-op appointment tomorrow. (Rachel called me on Tuesday to remind me of the appointment.)
I was watching the news before I went to bed and as I turned off the light I said to myself “take off your glasses.” Glasses? What glasses? I was watching television and could see it perfectly without any glasses! Oh my!
So I went to Post-op today. And because I was feeling so good I brought along several of my jars of jams to thank everyone in the office for putting up with me. And my vision – 20/25 – but expected to get better as the swelling goes down. The patch was removed and I don’t have to use it anymore during the day.
And the colors! The vibrancy is absolutely blinding. The deepness of the blues and greens. Never in my imagination have I viewed colors like that. I have to wear my sunglasses in the house because things are so bright and crystal clear. And only one eye had the cataract removed. There was never any pain associated with the procedure. Well, except for Kathryn and the I.V. (But I have already forgiven her.) Honestly. There was no pain before or after the surgery. I hear that many women fall in love with the O.B. after having a baby delivered. I think I may have fallen in love with my Ophthalmologist . I can hardly wait for the left eye to have its ripened cataract removed. Oh yes, I have an appointment for that already. July 16th – just a scant three weeks away.