Greetings, Faithful Followers!
I’m sorry this post has been so long in coming. I’ve had a lot to process since the surgery (read on!), so I’ve been slowly working on this for the past couple of months. Now, here it is:
As many of you are well aware, I recently underwent eye surgery to remove cataracts from both of my eyes. I’m only 39 (well, closer to 40), but I was told I had the eyes of a 70 year old man! Of course, this was little surprise to me, as I am no stranger to the “mutant eye club.” I have astigmatism in both eyes, the right eye is lazy, I’m an ocular albino, and I’ve worn glasses my entire life – since the first grade, anyway.
In the end, it was the ocular albinism that got me. Somehow, it made me more susceptible to getting cataracts; and, in fact, I should have developed them in my 20s. Thanks to healthy living and lots of vitamins, I didn’t start having serious issues until just last year. By the time I was able to get the problem fixed, I was already legally blind in my right eye and the left one was quickly following suit. If it hadn’t been for the kindness of all of you, I would have been completely blind by my 40th birthday.
Now it’s all over and done, and I have a brand new set of cyborg eyes to see through.
To be honest, I was kind of floored by the entire process. At first, I was told by the doctors (and pretty much everyone else) that this kind of surgery was a piece of cake – no more difficult than getting a cavity filled. Just five minutes (per eye) and I’m out of there, and I’ll suddenly be looking at a whole new world of visual input I never had before.
But that didn’t happen. In fact, no one even slightly prepared me for some of the realities of eye surgery…
Now, before we get on with all the funny stuff, let me make one thing perfectly clear: the surgery was an astounding success. I’m not blind! Cataracts were nixed. That was the main goal, and it was met. Plus, I do actually see better now than I ever have before. Unless I have to read, I don’t even wear glasses now. So that’s a win as well. Have no doubt whatsoever that I am thrilled by and thankful for the results of the procedures. However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t some details involved that no one thought to mention, such as:
1. The Surgery Wasn’t the Cakewalk They Promised
Don’t get me wrong, having eye surgery doesn’t even make it into the ballpark with the worst torture I’ve endured. Plus, it really did take them about 5 minutes, so the ordeal was brief regardless of how it felt. But, well, take a look at what eye surgery actually looks like:
Yep, that’s pretty much what it looked like. Except here you don’t see the instruments being shoved under the pupil! And, yes, you get to be awake for the whole ride. You are given an IV sedative, but you have to be awake so they can tell you where to point your eyeball during the procedure. Fortunately, from where I lay I couldn’t see the torture porn I was suddenly starring in. I could only feel it – which was basically like getting poked in the eye real hard for several minutes.
But that wasn’t the hardest part, at all. In fact it was really quite bearable when compared to the real torture device: a set of three small lights, each one about as bright as the sun. Those lights are inside the laser cannon they aim at your eyeball, and you have to stare directly into them – unable to blink or look away, throughout the entire surgery!
Most of what I remember of the surgery is the doctor telling me, repeatedly, to look back into the bright lights. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever forced my body to do. (Remember I’m light sensitive to begin with!) I squirmed around so much on the table they had to double up the sedative!
As far as the actual surgery went, that was pretty much the worst of it. I don’t want to ever have to do that again – but I’d take it in a heartbeat over something like, say, a kidney stone!
When I went back for the second surgery (my left eye), they doubled up on the sedative right at the start. (They told me the older patients they usually work on are knocked loopy by just one dose, but my being a younger guy means I needed more drugs. Hallelujah!) I was told afterward that they gave me another dose during the procedure too. It must have done the trick: I have one memory of the doctor telling me to look back into those accursed lights, and the next thing I can remember is getting out of bed in the recovery room. LOL
But, then there were some things I didn’t expect about the aftermath either:
2. After Surgery, I Didn’t See a Whole New World
The first surgery (on my right eye) was just about removing the cataract. Afterward I could see through the eye again, but not any better than I had before the cataract. It was my left eye that got the super high-tech cyborg lens to correct my astigmatism and negate my need for glasses. I was sure I would open that eye after the procedure and see a whole new detail-filled world for the first time ever. I was frankly nervous at the prospect of seeing things like I never had before – and so was my wife.
However, in one of the most anti-climactic moments of my life, I discovered that the surgery had not given me any kind of super-vision. In fact, it didn’t really enhance what I can see at all. I would say that I’m seeing the world about as well now without glasses as I was seeing with them before. That’s pretty much the definition of success, but it doesn’t result in having 20/20 vision.
But I do get to go out without wearing glasses now. Scratch that, I get to go out wearing sunglasses now! That’s a big deal to someone as light sensitive as myself. Before, I had “transition” prescription lenses – and let me tell you transition lenses suck out loud. And I couldn’t afford to have prescription sunglasses, especially not when they are more likely to get lost. So, I usually just went outside, squinted a lot and got headaches from the sunlight. Now I can wear shades – which is both good for my poor eyeballs and makes me cool.
But there is one exception to this “need no glasses” experience:
3. I Still Need Glasses to Do Anything Up Close – Which Means I Still Need Glasses for Everything…
Yep, even after the whole ordeal, I still have to wear reading glasses. And not just for reading! If I want to see any details of anything at all – reading and writing (and how often do you think an author does either of those things?!), working on the computer, using my smartphone, eating food, etc, etc – I have to get up close and put on the “cheaters” (as some folks call them). It’s like I’ve assumed the archetype of an old guy before my time.
And what does everyone invariably say when I tell them about this condition? They say it’s because I’m “getting old!” As if I hadn’t just come from the lab of a mad scientist who waged a Star Wars laser battle against my retinas. And now I have to carry around a set of glasses – constantly worried about losing them, forgetting to take them out with me, and constantly juggling them out of my pocket and onto my face when it comes time to look at…. anything. Then, of course, they have to come off anytime I look up from my work, or the whole world is blurry. Frankly, it was much easier when I just put the damned things on my face in the morning and took them off again at night.
And that leads me to my final thought:
4. Going Without My Glasses is Not as Wonderful as I Thought it Would Be
When you tell a person who has been stuck with glasses his entire life that he can finally live without them, he’s going to dance and rejoice. At first. Then as he tries to go on with his daily life sans glasses, he’s going to find himself facing all sorts of psychological hurdles he never saw coming.
That’s what happened to me! I have worn glasses since the first grade, and that means I’ve had a lifetime to develop habits and unspoken assumptions about my life as a glasses wearer. Suddenly take the glasses away, and a little kid inside me starts to panic and scream “where are my glasses?? I’ve lost my glasses!!”
Years of getting in serious trouble if I lost them, years of waking up and immediately reaching for them, years of protecting them from rain, from scratches, from falling off… all of that indoctrination just runs screaming into a brick wall. And there is nothing you can do to calm that inner little kid down! So, it is pretty psychologically taxing to go through this change.
And it seems to affect those around you, too. More than one person told me it wasn’t easy to get used to seeing me without glasses. My family said that every time they looked at me they thought I was getting ready to lay down and go to sleep!
Thankfully, this part of the experience has gotten easier over time. New habits are starting to replace the old ones, and my inner child has stopped throwing a tantrum. But every now and then I still reach for glasses that aren’t on my face. Or, even more fun, I catch myself wearing my reading glasses around, wondering why the hell everything is suddenly so blurry!
On one of my follow-up visits, I had the doctor write me a prescription for bifocals. That way I can just wear the damned things when I’m working and not have to worry about the constant on-and-off, or setting them down and forgetting where they are, etc. I haven’t got the bifocals yet – so that’s still on the agenda.
And so, as with many things, this experience has not been exactly what I expected – it has downs as well as ups. But let’s not allow that to distract from the basic truth: You guys saved me from going blind. You saved my writing and teaching career. You kept a modern-day wizard on active duty. And for that, I will be eternally grateful.