Two surgeries. Five surprises

This is the second in a three-part series about my experience with cataract surgery. Despite all my planning and preparing, a few unexpected things popped up as they popped out my cataracts.

In preparation for the twelve-hour fast before my 6:30 AM surgery I cut back on my daily coffee consumption from three cups to two in the week leading up to it, hoping to head off the caffeine-withdrawal headache. I also enjoyed an extra-large dinner and dessert the evening before. Yes, I could have up to 16 oz of water—or black coffee–two hours before I checked in. My back-up was a caffeine tablet taken with morning meds. Like I said, I like to plan ahead.

Surprise 1

I was awake before 4:30 AM, so I quickly–and gratefully– drank one large cup of black coffee.

After reading a little online news and checking my email, I showered and dressed– without makeup. I’d been advised not to wear make-up, especially eye makeup not only on the day of surgery, but for weeks after. This would reduce the risk of any foreign bits getting into my eyes. My naked face hasn’t been out past the mailbox in decades. Yipes. On the bright side, masks were still required in public places.

Hubs dropped me at the surgery center and drove off to begin his day. My super-smart, concerned nurse daughter would be my ride home. She wanted to be sure of my condition and any pertinent after-care instructions. Yes, I am both lucky and grateful.

Surprise 2

Once inside the surgery center’s reception area, I was asked for my medical history. Seriously? I’d filled all that out weeks ago. Across the hall. And no one had told me I’d need to do it again. Now I was expected to remember every medication, surgery, illness, injury, and procedure in my 71 years? And without breakfast?!

Good thing I had my glasses and my phone because I keep a memo there with a list of my meds. But surgeries? The only surgery I know the date of off the top of my head is my tonsillectomy in 1958 when I was eight!

My left wrist was banded with an ID bracelet—reminding the team which eye they were doing today. Left wrist, left eye. I waited a few minutes before a nurse called my name. I walked back into pre-op and climbed onto a gurney.

In the pre-op—a room with six or eight beds–a nurse asked about a medication I had neglected to note on today’s improvised form. So, they already had my info! I felt like I’d just failed a pop quiz.

From then on bevy of bustling nurses moved in an efficient and well-choreographed dance of IVs, leads, dilating eye-drops, more questions, and warm blankets. More eye-drops were applied every few minutes with instructions to keep my eyes closed. I listened to others being readied. I seemed to be third in line. I practiced calming, rhythmic breathing, and repeated the mantra, “All will come to a happy end.”

Surprise 3

I overheard a nurse calling my daughter to inform her that I’d be ready to go in fifteen or twenty minutes. Wait a minute, I hadn’t even been given sedation yet! But sure enough, moments later, the anesthesiologist introduced himself and shot a little cocktail into my IV. A nurse checked my pupils, pronounced them “good enough.” She then dosed me with anesthetic drops, taped my head to the bed, and rolled me into the OR.

From then on I only remember brilliant flashes of light during the procedure. No pain nor discomfort at all. None. Even with whatever little device they used to keep my eye open.

Surprise 4

Wow! That was fast! Soon I was being given some huge sunglasses and handed off to my daughter. She’d brought the comfort food I’d requested–a huge coffee with cream and a peanut butter and grape jelly Uncrustable.

Surprise 5

The first thing I noticed when I got home was that all the light bulbs in our house had miraculously changed from 75 to 100 watts! Everything was brighter and whiter. Of course, some of that was because my eye remained dilated for the rest of the day. So much so in fact, that I continued to wear those big sunglasses inside the house. But some of it was due to the windows (my cataracts) being cleaned.

Over the next few days, my eye felt alternately scratchy and goopy. There were flashes and flutters as the little arms of my new lens settled into place and my eye adjusted. I applied both medicinal and lubricating eye drops as directed. In fact, it became my new part-time job.

As the days went by, I noticed a profound difference in light and color between my new and old eyes. Old eye showed everything (including our white plantation shutters) with a slightly yellow or sepia tone. New eye–bright white. I continually closed one eye and then the other to see. Hubs probably thought I was winking at him.

Nine days later and beyond

During yet another pre-op appointment, the optometrist told me my new left eye was now nearly 20/20 and gave me the okay for the second surgery.

An eye speculum

Right eye went much the same as left, but this time I asked the surgeon to see the little gizmo that held my eye open. Again, I still have no memory of it being inserted. Such are the effects of Versed and the anesthetic eye-drops used.

The healing and adjusting continued. Every day my vision cleared. The little flashes and glares lessened. For weeks afterward there were little “ghost glasses” in my peripheral vision. And I grew somewhat accustomed to seeing my face without glasses and makeup. And as my Irish grandmother had exclaimed when she had her cataracts removed, “When did I get all those wrinkles?!”

On the bright side, I could indeed get by with just reading glasses, so I embraced my inner granny and ordered several pairs of half-moon cheaters with accompanying lanyards to keep them handy. My long-time optometrist teased me good-naturedly about joining the “chain gang.” I also bought over-the-counter bifocal sunglasses. Thank you, Amazon.

So yes, I could see. I could drive. I could read, even in the sun and in the passenger seat of the car. I could do my daily crossword puzzle.

Life is good. No surprise there.

Come back again for the final post in this little series. New glasses and a new appreciation for good vision insurance.

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