Two Days After Cataract Surgery
It is exactly 49 hours and 40 minutes since my cataract surgery.
I've been chomping at the bit to write an article about the experience, but I needed to rest my eyes--both the right eye which experienced the surgical trauma and the left eye which has been stressed to a greater degree during this time. Besides, my vision was partially clouded for the first day.
There are three different kinds of drops that I'm applying on a regular regimen to my right eye to facilitate its healing while safeguarding against infection.
About three years ago, during an eye examination, I learned that I had a cataract forming in my right eye. The optician informed me that the cataract was still small and that surgery was unnecessary at the time.
Last year, while updating my vision prescription and purchasing two new pairs of glasses--a transitional trifocal for everyday usage and another pair for the hours of work I do in front of a computer screen. The cataract diagnosis was confirmed, and so was the advisory that the situation did not yet warrant surgery.
Then, about three or four months ago, I noticed increasing cloudiness in my vision accompanied by bloodshot eyes and eye fatigue. My wife told me about a personable optometrist in Walla Walla whose professional service had really been of great benefit to her and our adult son and daughter. True to my gender-specific denial and avoidance of doctors, I initially put up a fuss. In the end, though, because my online work was becoming more and more difficult by the day, I waved the proverbial white flag.
In hindsight (funny I should put it that way), I'm glad I did. The eye doctor said that he could see my cataract with his naked eye (wow! two eye cliches in the same paragraph!). He told me that it wasn't the usual kind of cataract. This one resembled spokes of a wheel that were invading peripherally and headed towards the center. He strongly recommended cataract surgery.
He added that my left eye had a cataract developing as well. That was a surprise! He reminded me that he wasn't an ophthalmologist, but to the degree that his level of professional expertise allowed him to opine, he did not think the left eye's cataract warranted surgery. Although his tests revealed that I needed a new prescription, he advised me that it would be wiser to wait until after cataract surgery to obtain yet another prescription due to the inevitable change in vision.
A couple of weeks or so later, I had a consultation with the eye surgeon. His office staff had me fill out the obligatory paperwork, and the optician ran the initial tests. I found the personnel to be very friendly and accommodating. My initial anxiety and hesitation soon disappeared, and my emotional state paralleled the sensation of landing in a perfectly comfortable easy chair.
Dr. G, the ophthalmologist, reminded me of Hawkeye, the tall, lanky, and witty surgeon on MASH. He even looked a bit like Alan Alda.
With an easy boyish grin, Dr. G showed me, with the use of a 3-D model, what a healthy eye looked like in contrast to an eye with a cataract.
The information was most interesting to me, and I remember pondering how very much I'd taken my eyes for granted.
Dr. G briefly went over the surgical procedure. Essentially, a couple of things happen during cataract surgery. First, the clouded lens is eradicated. Then, a clear artificial lens is implanted.
The surgical method the ophthalmologist would use on me was called phacoemulsification. In this procedure, the surgeon would make a tiny incision in the front of my eye and insert a needle-thin probe. He would then use the probe, which transmits ultrasound waves, to emulsify or break up the cataract and suction out the fragments of tissue. The backdrop of my lens would remain in place as a surface upon which the artificial lens would then rest. If things had gone successfully up to this point, there would be no need for any sutures.
The clear artificial implant is known as an intraocular lens. The IOL is made of plastic, acrylic, or silicone. (As I write this, I can report that I neither see or feel the lens. What's convenient is that it requires no care and becomes a permanent part of my eye.)
The IOL Dr. G used on me is flexible and requires no stitches. The eye surgeon folds this type of lens and inserts it into the empty capsule where my God-given lens used to be. Once inside the eye, like a butterfly emerging from a coccoon, the folded IOL unfolds, thus filling the capsule. In pre-operation tests, the eye is painstakingly measured to ensure a perfect fit.
The doctor then went over the risks of surgery, utilizing the same carefree and lighthearted delivery. Honestly, his upbeat mood lifted my spirits even as my anxiety level began rising like an out of control elevator.
Sensing my emotional agitation, the doctor simultaneously reassured me while providing me with the necessary disclaimer--"I'm a very good surgeon, but I'm not God." The fact that he said this, and the comforting way in which he said it, helped me to trust him all the more.
"Here are the risks," he added. "While these conditions are unlikely, I still need to go over them with you."
- Vision loss
- Persistent pain despite the use of over-the-counter medication
- Increased eye redness
- Light flashes or multiple spots (floaters) in front of one's eye
- Nausea, vomiting, or excessive coughing
As you may have guessed, I did ask a few questions about the last condition. Pretty much, it had more to do with complications that involved optically unrelated pre-existing conditions such as cardiovascular problems, difficulties with anesthiology, etc.
(I'm at Starbucks on Main Street in downtown Walla Walla as I compose this hub, and a trip to the restroom revealed a slight bloodshot tinge in my right eye. I'm thus compelled to bring this to a close. Normally, an abundance of these editorial comments detract from the core integrity of a well-written article, but I wanted my readers to receive as much of a real time, by proxy, experience as I could possibly present in this piece.)
On the day of surgery, I had to report to the Walla Walla General Hospital two hours prior to the procedure. I exchanged my aloha shirt for a hospital gown. I remember being thankful for the opportunity to keep my trousers and socks on.
The hospital staff were so good to me, bending over backwards to make my time there as pleasant and comfortable as possible. I thought it was pretty cool that the student nurse who took my vitals had been a fellow athlete on my son's basketball team at Walla Walla Valley Academy. The female RN who took inventory of my health history, current status, and miscellaneous information for the computer database had been a barber of mine twenty-five years ago. Administering a regimen of eye drops was an LPN who just happened to be my neighbor across the creek that serves as a natural boundary between our homes.The anesthesiologist present in the operating room (in the event that I needed more sedation) was the mother of a girl who had been a classmate of my son.
The OR assistant who wheeled me down the corridor was especially personable and comforting. He constantly tapped me on the shoulder or arm as he spoke to me during the trip to the procedure. The mild sedative that the LPN had administered under my tongue had started to give me a somewhat euphoric feeling. I didn't remember what the surgically gowned and capped gentleman said to me, but I do remember feeling calm and reassured by his kind words.
In the operating room, Dr. G, true to form, was full of levity and easy conversation with both his staff and me. While I honestly can't remember all that transpired, I remember that a sheet was placed over my entire body, even my face, and that a hole was made in the area of my right eye.
An oozy substance serving as a local anesthetic was put into my eye. All I remember from this point on were the following sensations or events:
- When asked if I was doing alright, I commented about the operating room ambience--"I feel like I'm in MASH !"
- Dr. G asked for my permission to pray with me, to which I responded with a hearty, "Absolutely!" (Earlier, the chaplain of the hospital had prayed with me in my hospital room. I really appreciated the spiritual aspect of my short stay there.)
- I was surprised to be conscious during the entire procedure.
- It seemed like I was looking at a cloudy tunnel with a bright light at the end. (I silently hoped that I wasn't looking at a portal to the afterlife.)
- Though I cringed during the procedure, I felt no pain whatsoever.
- The entire procedure seemed so short, like five minutes in duration, but that may have been due in part to my mild sedation. In reality, it may have lasted about fifteen minutes.
When I returned to my hospital room, I ordered a huge breakfast. After some last minute vitals were taken, a volunteer, accompanied by my wife who happened to be working on a different floor that morning, wheeled me across a short walkway to the doctor's office where an eye pressure check was administered.
My wife then drove me home and returned to work. I rested for a few minutes, placed some drops in my eyes, and remained calm and relatively inactive for a few hours.
In the afternoon, I caught a bus ride back to the office. Dr. G had a short session with me and then dismissed me. As I was leaving the office, the optician handed me a fruit basket, compliments of the doctor and his staff.
Wow! What a great experience!
Cataract surgery is the most common procedure in our country, if not the entire world. It is a relatively safe and complication-free surgery, and if one follows the regimen of eye drops and follow-up visits faithfully, the prognosis for successful and long-lasting healing is statistically outstanding!
In a couple of weeks, I get to go back and have cataract surgery in my left eye. Strangely enough, I can hardly wait!