If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that age does sneak up on us. I feel lucky that I can still walk up and down hills every day and visit the gym three days a week. I fight osteoporosis. My mom shrank five inches in her 60’s and 70’s. But I must admit I do feel better on the days I work out in very different ways than simply trying to protect my height.
Three years ago I visited ophthalmologist, Dr. Laurence Chao, about getting the Lasik procedure on my reading eye. I had successful Lasik done on my distance eye in 2003, but I had begun having trouble reading in dim light. My original doctor passed away and Dr. Chao came highly recommended. I was surprised to learn Dr. Chao would not be able to perform Lasik because I had developed cataracts in both eyes. His cheerful consolation was to share with me that after the cataract surgery, I would be able to see clearly a few years down the road.
I think society associates cataracts with very senior citizens. I may be a senior, but not that senior. So, I took a mental trip down memory lane and recalled when my parents had their eyes done and realized that my dad was still in his fifties. He ended up with the Coke bottle eyeglasses – I still have them in a box. He was bed-ridden for several days and had to keep his head still. Torture!
My mom had her surgery in the early 1980’s and was able to have a lens implanted, but her activities were still very restricted. I remember that I took our oldest son with me to stay and help her and my dad through those days. She could move around, but couldn’t bend over or make sudden movements for several days.
Fast forward to 2013. I have been frustrated with the light issue – fighting glare with headlights at night and the sun on those beautiful California days. But in January, Dr. Chao gave me the news that my sight was poor enough to have the surgery. I thought, Hooray, I can finally get the lens. But then he said that I would also need laser surgery as well to correct the astigmatism in my right eye, which did not have the Lasik.
Medicare will cover the cost of some lens, which corrects distance and astigmatism, but not near vision. Dr. Chao said I would need readers to see a watch on my wrist. He recommended the Crystalens because it would correct distance. He didn’t guarantee I could avoid readers, but mid range, such as computers and my watch, should be clear. So, I opted for the more expensive, but hopefully still freeing choice – Crystalens and laser surgery.
I started eye drops two days before surgery – that was the only prep required besides a clearance checkup and EKG by my primary doctor. On the day of surgery I fasted after midnight. Since my slot was at 10:45 am, I spent the morning running errands so I wouldn’t eat. I didn’t exercise because I didn’t want to get myself dehydrated.
My husband, Pete, drove me to the surgery center and learned that it would be about 2 ½ hrs later that he can pick me up. Entering the pre-op area, they told me to keep on my clothes and simply place the hospital gown over them. I lay on the gurney and they covered me with the toastiest blankets ever. They started drops in my eyes and explained that I would have an IV for fluids. The anesthesiologist was to come and tell me what to expect in the OR. I waited about 45 more minutes while they continued to administer drops.
Finally, I was wheeled into the OR. Dr. Chao explained they would do the laser surgery first and then move the gurney for the cataract procedure. The anesthesiologist would administer some twilight anesthesia prior to the cataract surgery. The laser procedure would be done with only numbing drops. That shook me up a little, but I trusted Dr. Chao completely.
He applied a small circle to my eye which held the eyelids out of the way. I felt it only slightly. There were 4 bright lights that I looked at as he completed what he called “happy smile and sad smile cuts on the eye.” That took less than five minutes. Then they moved me a few feet and I was under another set of lights. I was completely awake and talking, but slowly my vision blurred. I saw clouds of white, shades of red to pink and shades of pale to darker blues. It was like an impressionist painting of a pale sunset. Then in the middle I saw a white object that peaked at the top with sides like a house with a roof. There was an arch underneath rather than a flat bottom. When I described it to Dr. Chao, he said it was the new lens. Amazing! Before I could come up with any other images, they were wheeling me into recovery. It had been about 20 minutes. I could open my eye and see my watch!
I described what I had seen to the nurses and they said that some patients likened it to a “trip from the sixties.” Having never taken any of those mind-altering drugs myself back then, I had to rely on their word. But then they asked me to close one and look through the other. What a difference! With my right eye and the new lens, everything was bright and whites were so much brighter. It startled me at first. Through my left eye, everything looked dimly yellow – through the cataract in my left eye. I laughed at the color difference then and continued to find more subtle differences.
Colors at home that had yellow in the hue looked much more yellowish with my left eye. But what a clear and beautiful true color I am blessed to see through my right eye. I realized that the dingy paint in my living room was really only my vision and we don’t need to repaint after all.
Recovery has been amazing as well. I was released to drive the next day and I was able to drive to a women’s conference in Los Angeles. Even though I could tell the difference in my eyes, no one stared at me like something was wrong. I was able to resume exercising the following day – just no swimming or long showers. It has been a week and my eye is completely back to normal.
I am fortunate that since I am a “younger Medicare recipient” I can easily read with the lens. My eye still has enough elasticity to adjust to the distance changes. In time I will probably need readers, but for now . . . . I can just look forward to getting the left eye scheduled so I can have one more tripping experience.
To learn more about Cataract Surgery and Safety Tips check out the following information: