By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Lately, I have been celebrating my newfound freedom and discovery of a whole new world. My eyes used to be lousy. What I saw was mostly blurry, yellowish, dark, and distorted images. I couldn’t even read without glasses and I had to have the big numbers on my digital clock inches from me on an end table. I worried that I might lose my sight one day.
A miracle created by modern technology and medicine changed my life. Cataract surgery. No glasses. I still can’t believe it. It has nothing to do with vanity, but everything to do with my wellbeing.
And beauty lies in my eyes—everything is much clearer, brighter, sharper, and colorful, especially Seattle’s blue sky with wavy clouds and all greens, gardens, and forests. I have noticed things I haven’t noticed before, including the beautiful face of my friends, even though their imperfections can include wrinkles and brown spots, eyebrows that are too long or too short, foreheads too wide or too small, mouths too large and lips too thin, and baldness, or gray and white hair. These days, I enjoy having eye contact with people I know. It’s a joy to look them in the eyes that are so full of emotions.
I also found bugs on my window panels, and other stuff on my floor, scratches and dirty marks on my walls and kitchen floor. I don’t know how long they’ve been there. I see it all now because of my cataract small-incision surgery, that’s the proper term.
One relative, who also had cataract surgery, said, “Oh my, my house is dirty.” A friend said, “I wish I did my surgery 10 years ago.” I agree.
After wearing glasses for five decades, I felt like they were a part of me—my crutches—and my friend. One night, I misplaced my glasses. When I got out of bed, I felt like I was lost in a jungle and couldn’t find my home. What I didn’t realize was, the longer I wore glasses, the longer I was in a self-created prison—experiencing a fake world caused by aging. Why didn’t any of my doctors suggest cataract surgery sooner? Or was I too busy working, not studying the right information to take better care of myself? So what led me to have eye surgery? It was quite an accident.
“You better go to an eye specialist,” said an ophthalmologist. So I did.
“You are so nearsighted, it can cause retina detachment,” said the eye specialist. That means a tear into the space behind the retina, which could result in permanent vision loss. Whoa! The news frightened me.
I didn’t know what to do. Was there anything I could do? Not much. If it gets torn, I should have surgery right away, he said, but I couldn’t do anything before it happened. Otherwise, it posed a high risk to the eyes. If the retina gets detached while I traveled, I would be doomed. After my diagnosis, I was hesitant to go anywhere. A few months later, I decided, “That’s not the way to live life!”
Why should I let this fear stop me from doing things I love? I am surprised the ophthalmologist and specialist never suggested that I look into cataract surgery. Part of the reason, they said, was I had only minor cataracts that didn’t need immediate attention. Anyone over 50 can develop cataract problems. But my vision didn’t lie.
The medical equipment did not tell the full story of my eyes. I was both far and nearsighted with astigmatism. My thick glasses (even though I ordered light frames and glasses), weighed heavily on my nose and dented my nose bridge with dark circles.
Then my ophthalmologist retired and my family doctor referred me to another one, who is also a cataract surgeon. He suggested cataract surgery so I could deal with the glare at night from oncoming cars. It hurt my eyes so much that I gave up driving at night. He gave me a booklet about cataract surgery. I studied the information and learned more about the surgery from friends who had the operation.
Over the years, my eye lenses gradually grew cloudy, so slowly in fact that I didn’t realize how bad it was. One day, I told my editor about the sky in Vancouver, B.C. and that it was much bluer than Washington state’s sky. She said, “We have the blue sky here.”
Every morning, my husband and I exercise separately. He avoided the living room window, complaining that it was too bright, while I exercised directly in front of it.
Now that my eyes are fixed, I find that our windows are indeed flooded with sunlight in the morning. So pay attention to small things you normally wouldn’t. They are giving you hints about your health status.
Even with the operation in only one eye, the contrast between my left and right eye, was amazing. I could see so much better, even with one good eye.
At first, I was afraid of eye surgery. It’s scary. Yet, it’s less scary than heart and kidney transplant, I convinced myself. Cataract surgery is one of the most successful types of surgeries in the world.
The doctor cut open my eye with high-frequency ultrasound energy that broke up the cloudy lens into small pieces. They were then removed from the eye through suction. Then the surgeon inserted a clean intraocular lens, positioning it securely behind the iris and pupil, clearing up the clouds in your eyes. The surgeon completed the procedure by closing the incision in my eye.
The doctor operated on my right eye in late April, and in May, the left eye. It took me more than two weeks to prepare for each eye. Before the operation, I had to apply two different kinds of eye drops four times a day for about 10 days. Post surgery, three kinds of eye drops four times a day were required to prevent infection and inflammation.
On operation day, the nurse administered four different kinds of eye drops, including numbing and anti-infection drops an hour prior to surgery. An anesthesiologist injected me with anesthesia. But the actual procedure took about 10 minutes, and I was alert the whole time. I could feel the sensation of someone fixing my eyes. An interesting experience occurred. For a moment, I knew what it was like to be blind when my right eye saw colors of purple, yellow, and green for about a minute and then nothing else. My left eye saw only dark gray before the doctor replaced my old lens with a new one.
What was different between the left and right eye operation, was that I felt pain in my left eye after the procedure.
When I asked the doctor why I felt pain in my left eye and not the right, he paused for a second and said, “Luck.” When I went home, the pain was still present. I slept most of the day. The next day, I opened my eyes slowly when I woke up, anticipating pain. When I finally opened my eyes, it was sunshine and bliss. “I see, I see,” I shouted in my bedroom. I don’t need to wear glasses to see what’s in front of me. Thank you, thank you, God.
With new lenses, my astigmatism is gone. I don’t need to wear glasses for reading or working on the computer. I still need glasses when I drive or see a movie. That’s so minor. Since I am a senior now, the insurance covered most of my surgery costs. I did pay for the additional cost to insert lenses for my astigmatism. It was worth it.
Talk to your doctor about what you can do to protect or improve your eyes. You might discover a whole new world like me. Some friends threw away their glasses completely after surgery.
Cataract small-incision surgery is a remarkable science. It is a gift to win over aging. I am still astonished that I am one of the beneficiaries.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.