I mentioned awhile back that one of the things that kept me from blogging through this last spring was that I’d had surgery on both eyes in June. It wasn’t really an elective surgery, either — I had cataracts in both eyes.
It was an interesting moment in my life — for one, it was the first time I’d had surgery of any kind since I was six. At the other end of the spectrum, though, I’m only 41, and cataracts tend to be a problem for people much older than I. So I was revisiting memories from my childhood while at the same time being forced to greet the specter of old age as he stopped by for a brief visit. Kind of surreal.
Given all that baggage, having the surgery (well, surgeries) must have been an important if not cataclysmic experience for me, right?
Eh, not as much as you might think.
Part of why it wasn’t was my thought process going into the whole experience — an experience that, if you include everything that went into it, lasted over three months. It started back in early April, when I went to my ophthalmologist needing new glasses. I had to start wearing bifocals in 2009, because my eyes (which have never been good — not even from birth) had gotten that bad. So when my eyesight started really going downhill late last year, when I found that I couldn’t make out any sort of small print, I figured it was just more of the same. The doc looked at my eyes and told me that a new pair of glasses wasn’t going to help at that point, because there appeared to be cataracts clouding up both eyes , mostly my right eye. He wasn’t qualified to fix that, so he had to refer me to someone who could.
But note my thought process there — my goal was to read small print. I didn’t really care how that goal was achieved — I just wanted to be able to crack open a paperback novel and read it without having to squint my way to a whopping headache.
So I went to the other eye doctor, who confirmed the diagnosis — yep, cataracts, both eyes — and scheduled me for laser surgeries (they do the eyes separately, so you have at least one working at any given point). I got lots of reassurances from my friends, who told me that the procedure was real easy and the recovery was quick and their mom/uncle/grandparent had gone through it and it was a breeze. It was a bit disconcerting that all of these friends telling me this are older than me, and it was someone from the generation above them that had it done … but still.
So on June 2 and again on June 9, I had a friend drive me over to the surgery center; wait while I got drugged insensate, zapped, moved elsewhere and piled high with eye drops; and drive me home. Everything went according to the medicos’ plan, though for me it was a bumpy road. For one, I don’t exactly know what drugs they blitzed me with, but apparently I’m Steve Carell-level hilarious while under local anesthesia. (Wish I’d been there.) For another, my eyes are so sensitive and my eye-related reflexes so powerful that using eye drops are a very finely-honed form of torture for me. After each surgery, I was instructed to bang six drops per day per eye for three weeks apiece. And all of them hurt like blazes, like I was squirting my eyes with vinegar. So that’s a lot of self-inflicted pain there — and I can confess that I didn’t stick with the whole three-week regimen, because I just don’t like pain that much, and even if I did, I’d indulge it in a more practical manner like hitting myself with a hammer or listening to Katy Perry.
There was another complicating factor: while they were in there playing Galaga with the cataracts, they decided they might as well correct my horrible nearsightedness. But they overshot. So I went from 20/400 nearsighted to about 20/30 or 20/40 but dramatically farsighted.
Now remember my goal. I wanted to read small type in comfort again. I go through two surgeries — and now my reading ability is WORSE! For the eye doctors, hey great, destroyed the cataracts, vision closer to prime — winning! For me, yeah, lovely, the cataracts are gone, but otherwise, epic fail, guys with letters after their names! (No, I didn’t actually say that to them. I do have some sense …)
All this meant that I was still going to need glasses — still going to need bifocals, to be precise — but that I had to re-adjust in subtle ways how I use my eyes. I’m not sure how to define that last part, except to say that I’d find myself trying to focus on something, either close or far away, and have to take two or three tries to get my eyes to do what I wanted them to. The muscles had to be used differently, I had to consciously think about how I was doing it … it was a literal pain, that on top of those stinging eye drops. Imagine driving a compact car with an automatic transmission your entire life, then climbing into the driver’s seat of a longbed pickup with a stick shift and a hemi under the hood — and getting mild migraines if you drive for more than fifteen minutes. That’s kind of what it felt like.
So there I was, with my two new eyes, that from my brain’s point of view didn’t work right. And I couldn’t get new glasses immediately — not until my eyes finished settling down, the doctors pronounced me fit to go and sent the paperwork to the original ophthalmologist (remember that poor guy?). But I still couldn’t read, due to my brand-new farsightedness — and for me, a day without reading is like a week without sunshine. So I whip down to Walgreen’s and nab some +3.25 (strongest magnification they had in stock) Foster Grant reading glasses to get me by until I can get a “real” pair.
Problem temporarily solved? Not exactly, because there’s a distressing gap. With the Foster Grants, I can focus on anything within a foot. With no glasses at all, I can now mostly make out anything three feet away or farther. Anything in between is … imprecise, shall we say. And what’s between one and three feet from my eyes? My hands, and almost anything I do with them besides reading — cooking, eating, working on the computer, mixing Sean’s meds, you name it. You can just imagine how fun that was for a month.
You’ll be glad to know that in mid-July, after three-plus months and another eye exam, I finally got a new pair of bifocals, which I am wearing as I type this. Everyone in the medical profession that was involved with this was very excited about how much lighter my new glasses would be, what with my new prescription and all. Everyone that was me couldn’t care less, as I’d worn thick, heavy specs since I was five, so I was used to it. I wasn’t concerned about how much my glasses weighed — I wanted to read small print again! So yeah, they’re lighter, whatevs, who gives a rip. (Again, I didn’t tell them this — why kill their buzz?) The important thing to me was getting my nose back in a book.
And now, if it’s really small print (like on the back of a bottle of window cleaner or something), I’ve got my new glasses …
… and I still can’t read it. I have to break out the $19 pair of Foster Grants AND squint, too.
I honestly believe all the eye doctors were doing the best they can. I have no doubt about that. And I’m thankful to them that I’m not going to lose my sight anytime soon. They did what they could with what they had to work with (i.e., my screwed-up peepers). So this isn’t a rag on them; it’s just the way things worked out. I guess, from an objective point of view, I’m better off at 20/40 than at 20/400 — but it hasn’t really improved my life in any way I can figure. I know that laser eye surgery can be a transformative experience for many people, but it wasn’t one for me. It was a season-long pain in the temples that pretty much left me back where I was a year or two ago.
Oh well. Life is a journey. Sometimes it takes you in a circle, is all. Best to just enjoy the scenery as you turn … even if you have to squint at it.