Six things not to worry about before cataract surgery

This is the first in a three-part series about my experience with cataract surgery. While the procedure is pretty common place in my demographic (old-ish), I know each experience is different. Some of you might be interested in mine—whether you are still contemplating or have already gone under the knife.

Hello! Nice to see you again. Really. I probably haven’t seen you clearly in close to twenty years. Now, two months after two cataract surgeries, I cannot quite describe the profound changes in my vision. More on that later. But first, some background.

1 Calculating risk vs benefit For years my long-time optometrist has been telling me my cataracts were growing. Granted, the dim light and soft focus improved my aging complexion, but other aspects of my life were growing more troublesome. I could no longer drive without glasses. And even with glasses, completing my daily crossword puzzle or reading a medicine bottle was a challenge. My world had grown dim and blurry. How much was I missing?

When he finally gave me the go-ahead last December, I’d already decided to do it. However, at seventy-one–and during a pandemic–I would wait until I was fully vaccinated. Cataracts were not going to kill me. COVID just might.

2 Choosing the doctor While I waited to be vaccinated, I researched the names of several ophthalmologists my optometrist had recommended. With the help of my super-smart local nurse daughter, I selected one and scheduled my first consultation.

The doctor and practice and I chose is quite an operation. Several ophthalmologists, two optometrists, with an affiliated surgical suite across the hall. Full service. Efficient. Professional.

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3 How long will this all take? My initial consultation—testing my vision and meeting the ophthalmologist–took well over an hour. That was the first of a total of eight appointments needed to complete the process. Another round of eye measurements, two surgeries, next-day post-op appointments with their optometrist, followed days later by two with my own optometrist.

Fortunately, the practice’s dedicated scheduler set up all those appointments in advance. She then printed out a schedule with associated instructions and additional information, including what eye-drops to use when. She also gave me a large envelope with sheets detailing the options for lenses and procedures along with their associated costs.

4 Which procedure do I choose? The options vary from basic—covered by Medicare and my supplemental insurance–to several thousand per eye for lasers, robots, and multi-focal lenses. Talk about information overload!

Between my doctor and Sierra Eye Consultants, all my questions were answered. No worries.

Nonetheless, my optometrist had kindly offered to answer any questions, so I called for a phone consultation.  When I asked him which he would recommend for me, he told me what I needed to hear. “Because you don’t mind wearing glasses, just go for the basic.”

He’s right about liking glasses. I’ve needed reading glasses since my early forties but quickly tired of the whole on-off-on-off and where-are-my-glasses routine. I started wearing bifocals (with very little distance correction) full-time in my mid-forties. One of my first pairs were red—think Sally Jessy Raphael—in the 1990s. I also like the bit of camo and distraction they offer for my growing crop of wrinkles.

With that decided, I could relax and await my next appointment. Lubricating eye drops four times a day for a week helped me prepare for the painless mapping and measuring done by series of high-tech devices. 

One thing I chose not to do was to Google videos of the actual procedure.
Definitely TMI. I didn’t think those images rolling around in my subconscious would be helpful. I understood the basic idea which was plenty for my little brain.

5 What if I can’t read? Once that was accomplished, my worries moved on to what my vision would be like between the two surgeries, scheduled nine days apart. My old glasses wouldn’t work. And readers might not work because my two eyes might be different. As an avid reader, not being able to read for weeks (!) troubled me. It also shows that there is always something to worry about. My solution? I downloaded a couple of books for Audible as a hedge.

6 What should I wear? Even armed with all that knowledge, in the days and weeks leading up to the surgery, other worries popped up. I worried that a new medication I’d recently begun taking might interfere with anesthesia. I called the surgery center. The meds were fine, but since I had them on the phone, I asked two last questions.

Me: What should I wear?

Nurse: Something comfortable. Short sleeves and a button up shirt maybe, to accommodate the monitor leads and the IV.

Me: So I won’t be gowned?

Nurse: No, no gown. You won’t need to change.

Nothing more to worry about, right? Someone in the know had answered all my questions. I was prepared as I could be for the next step. Left eye. April 12, 2021, 6:30 AM.

In the next post, I’ll tell you how it all went.  Stay tuned.

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