I struggled to read the third line of the eye chart with one hand over my right eye “F O C..no, P D O..no, I can’t do it” I almost cried.
It wasn’t too much better with my glasses or the little apparatus with the holes in it. The other eye wasn’t much better. I cleaned my glasses, blinked as the nurse instructed and finally sat still for eye drops and a long wait to see the ophthalmologist. I had been coming for a check-up every four months for many years. I had read several novels, New Yorker back issues and almost completed a screenplay waiting in one of his examination rooms.
“The time has come Dr. R.” I announced awaking suddenly as he entered the darkened room. “I’m ready for cataract surgery. I can’t read street signs or drive at night and I couldn’t get below line 2 on the eye chart test and I can’t wait until I’m in a car accident or fail the driving test.Is that you, Dr. Rayasich?”
He moved in with one of his many machines for a closer look at my blooming cataracts. He was in total agreement. We were ready. That would be the last I would see of him until the surgery. An assistant stepped in quickly to discuss the surgery briefly and what Medicare and my secondary insurance would pay and suggest because of my astigmatism a special lens that would take the place of glasses and cost an additional $2000. I opted for glasses remembering what my dental hygienist said when I told her I needed a face lift. “Get your teeth whitened and a new pair of glasses” she suggested.
After the assistant had me sign several papers, I was led to the financial office for scheduling the surgery, releasing my credit card information and signing more papers that filled an entire folder with pre-surgery instructions and dates for more examinations and lens fittings and primary doctor approvals. The surgery, I was told, would take fifteen minutes, but the getting ready would take weeks of additional exams.
I had the physical, the blood tests, and approval of a primary physician. I arranged for rides after the left and right eye surgeries spaced three weeks apart. I didn’t eat or sleep the night before the scheduled first surgery at 7:45 AM in a building next to Valley Presbyterian Hospital.
My first impression of where I was going to have this minor eye surgery was smaller and shabbier than I expected. The room I was ushered into did not look clinical. It had dim lighting, leather recliner chairs and imitation Tiffany lamps sitting on mismatched tables that are sold at garage sales.
I hardly recognized Dr. R. in his plastic shower cap, surgical mask and rubber gloves, as he greeted me in passing. The nurse led me to a seat where she had me sign another stack of papers releasing this strange place of any responsibility if I didn’t survive or was blinded for life. All my friends who had the surgery told me there was nothing to worry about. It was simple and painless.
But, what if I were the one person in 10,000 who had the complication and was blinded because of the doctor’s heart attack or an unscheduled earthquake. I also worried about high blood pressure, a blood thinner and an irregular heart beat and an overdose of anesthesia. But I initialed everything without question.
Then came the eye drops which blurred my vision for the rest of the day. The nurse took my book and purse and glasses and blouse and locked them up. I emerged from the bathroom wrapped in a hospital gown that opened in back, another bathing cap, and paper booties on my shoes, and wrapped in a blanket.
I was next, because I was sitting near the door to the Operating Room which I hoped didn’t have a chintz covered settee for the patient. “No, I’m not diabetic. No allergies I know of” I answered. I had no watch and saw no clock but it seemed that the person behind the door was there longer than fifteen minutes. I heard no screams and was relieved.
A very kind nurse..they were all very kind and comforting..assured me I was next and it would be soon. The magic door then opened and she led me inside to what my blurred vision determined was a real hospital-type room with all the nurses dressed in blue, masked and eager to make me comfortable and relaxed, which I wasn’t.
I became especially uncomfortable when the nurse couldn’t find the vein in which to insert the shunt for the anesthesia. She poked three times and I suppose was then successful because the next thing I saw flashing in my mind were bright neon rainbows of color and then I was awakened and told it was over. I was helped off the table and into the recovery room and a different leather lounge chair and a different nurse taking my blood pressure periodically and giving me the post-operation instructions. Eye drops four times a day for a month. Ugh. Rest for one day. Then resume normal activities, but avoid strenuous athletic activity and eye makeup for a week.
My dear friend, Maureen, drove me home and told me once again about her cataract surgery at Kaiser but I believed her the second time. I rested for the day watching old movies and inserting eye drops. No flowers or get well cards arrived. Everything was still a little blurry and I was lightly sedated for the rest of the day.
No tennis, or weight-lifting or water polo scheduled for the next day. Just a walk around the block with the dogs. I opened the front door and gasped. I felt like Dorothy having just landed in Oz.
I expected to hear munchkins singing a song “On A Clear Day Seeing Forever” or finding something to rhyme with Phacoemulsification surgery “no stitches…No hitches.” The Jacaranda trees were in full bloom. The bougainvillas in glorious shades of pink and. fuschia. Everything was in technicolor. I went to Ralphs market and was awed indoors by the colors of the produce…purple, lavender, vermilion cauliflower. I even took a picture of their smiling faces.
AND THEN…I returned to a lighter mid-morning bathroom for more eye drops, and looked into the mirror. I recoiled in horror. Every line, wrinkle, discoloration, and vein looked back at me not happy.
How could I possibly look this old and not have my friends tell me. I must warn any elderly suitor prospects to not change a cataract for me. I’d rather they not see. The only comfort is that my friends have all aged too.
There is only one person I wish would have the same surgery. You know her name and her slutty fame and her distorted vision of me……..Frances Peach.