Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Cataract Surgery: Day 1

My son Joe's cat, Boots. His eyes look so bright now!!
I started writing this at 10 am after my cataract surgery this morning. Vision in my right eye is very blurry, but I’m not having any trouble seeing my computer with my dominant, left eye. 

Monday and Tuesday, I had to put antibiotic, anti-inflammatory eyedrops in my right eye four times each day—I’ll be using those same drops for two or three more weeks now that surgery is done. When I arrived at the surgical center at 7 am, I had to put on a hospital gown over my clothes, a cap over my hair, and coverings over my shoes. A nurse took my blood pressure and set me up for an IV. Then she started putting in eye drops, one or two at a time, but ultimately a whole slew of them, anesthetic and antibiotic drops as well as drops to dilate the pupil—those were strong enough that my pupil may remain dilated for a couple of days.

After the pupil was all the way open, the nurse led me to the room where surgery would take place. I got up on the surgical table with a pillow under my knees and my head cradled very comfortably in place. The nurse anesthetist put a warm blanket on me and started the light sedation through the IV. My ophthalmologist told me exactly what she was doing all along—it was very interesting. They put some sort of cover sheet over my eye, held in place by a very delicate adhesive. Then they cut out an opening to work on the eye, added more anesthetic drops, and used a weird contraption that I couldn’t see to hold my eyelids open. The light set up to illuminate the eye for surgery looked strange—it glowed brilliant pink and blue, with the rest of my field of view a swirly silver. My ophthalmologist said different people see different colors, and sometimes the colors appear different when the second eye is done—I’ll check that out in two weeks. I’d never before had any kind of procedure done on my eyes except regular exams. This all felt weird but not at all uncomfortable, much less painful. 

And now it was time for the actual surgery. My ophthalmologist made a tiny incision in the cornea and inserted a needle-thin probe into the lens. That probe transmits ultrasound waves to break up the cataract-ridden lens—I wasn’t wearing my hearing aids, but I don’t think I could have heard it even with them. Then she suctioned out the fragments. Again, I didn’t feel any of this. For a minute or so, I had no lens in my eye—the pink and blue from the light stayed the same color only now with very soft, amorphous edges, the swirly waves everywhere else in my field of view moving about as if a silver satin sheet was being rippled about. Then she inserted the new lens, which was rolled up, through the teeny tiny incision. Now the swirls moved even faster for a moment, and then suddenly the lens was in place, the pink-blue light clear again, the silvery swirls steady.

And that was pretty much that. When the light went out, the pink and blue disappeared. They had to take off whatever it was holding my eyelids open, take the protective sheeting off my eye—the adhesive was strong enough that it was like taking a bandage off—and unhook the IV. I mostly squinted with the right eye—it was blurry and uncomfortably bright as the nurse brought me back to the room I started in. She put a couple more drops in to prevent swelling and infection and to keep the eye numb longer, checked my blood pressure, and gave me a few more minutes for the effects of the light sedation to disappear. One of the things in the kit my ophthalmologist gave me was a very protective pair of sunglasses—what with both the new, bright lens and the wide open pupil, that was essential. We were home by 9:15 or so, just 2 ½ hours after we left.

Vision out my right eye was extremely blurry at first, but even with that, from the moment I walked outside, I could see that the sky was a brighter and truer blue with my right than my left eye, and the clouds much whiter. The first hour or so, it looked like there was a clear translucent film covering my eye. But hour by hour, the blurriness was dissipating. As I write this now at 9:00 pm, I have only a trace of blurriness left, and except for that, I can focus better at a distance than I could yesterday with my glasses on, and everything is much, much brighter, colors not just more vivid but more true. Without my having had any idea of it, that yellowish brown cast had impacted my color perception. I’m thrilled to see what colors really look like now.

Vision out of my right eye is both badly out of focus and very blurry when I look at my laptop screen—I have the monofocal distance lens, so I fully expected it to be out of focus till I get reading glasses, but the dilated pupil seems to exacerbate the blurriness of everything at close range right now. But one really weird thing—my brain is letting my left eye focus on the screen but letting my new cataract-free eye set the color. When I look at my word processing program with just my right eye, it’s a blurry mess, but the background is very white. When I look using just my left eye, it’s very well-focused, but dingy off-white. When I use both eyes, I get the best of both worlds—all the clarity from my left eye and all the brilliance from my right. I have no idea why this is happening, but it’s an unexpected delight.

I won’t be taking pictures until the Christmas Bird Count in ten days, but tomorrow I’ll adjust my binocular diopter adjustment to the temporary difference between my eyes and will check out how well I’m seeing my backyard birds. Meanwhile, so far so good!