Cataracts can sneak up on you like a horror movie monster

Posted by Al Boyle
On December 10, 2023

Legendary TV producer Norman Lear passed this week. He gave us All in the Family, Sanford & Son, The Jeffersons, One Day at a Time, and so much more.

And he did it in only 101 years. That’s hustle.

Thanks for the many laughs over the years, Mister Lear.

On with the show…

“So, you play pretty good for a blind white boy.”

 

Dalton, to his friend Cody, blind guitarist and lead vocalist at the Double Deuce
Road House (1989)

For at least the past year, I’ve found it harder to drive at night. I’d heard it happens as you age. I hadn’t heard it could be cataracts this early.  I’ve just done my best to adapt.

Then, my wife and I are at the movies. We’re back row moviegoers because my wife likes some distance from the screen and I’m still rebelling against the alphabetical order that doomed me to sit near the front of every class as a kid.

We’re watching the previews, which today collectively run as long as a short film. 25 minutes. I timed it because I knew I’d write about it someday, and today’s the day.

I spent each of the first 24 minutes waiting for the picture to come into sharper focus before I whispered to my wife, is that picture grainy to you? She replies, No, with a wariness suggesting my mental stability is no longer a given.

Looks like my eyeglass prescription needs updating, I say, and make a mental note to book an appointment.

Later that day, we’re streaming a show and we have the subtitles on due to the thick accents. I tell my wife they’re blurry, and my prescription really needs updating.

Appointment day…

My optometrist asks, as she always does, if I have any concerns or changes in my vision of late. For the past umpteen years, I haven’t. And I’ve had minor but consistent prescription updates over the years.

I share my experiences. She listens and says, let’s have a look. She moves the contraption’s panels so they’re in front of my face. She peers through her end of it, then says something I don’t catch. I ask her to repeat it.

She separates the contraption’s sides so we can see each other and says, “cataracts.”

I stare in stunned silence. I had a clean bill of health last year, and now I’m Mr. Magoo?

She goes on to explain they can come on fast (yup) and they’re easy to fix. All I can think is, I’m going to have surgery on my eyes.

Will it be like Riddick in Pitch Black, or Chief John Anderton in Minority Report? How did I even reach this point?

Everything I read online says no one knows for sure. At least that isn’t hard to read.

I went through two consultations. Both involved more than an hour in the surgeon’s offices, eye measurements, a battery of tests, and pupil dilation.

The battery of tests use graphics that look like something straight out of a 1980s video game. A 1970s Kodak Viewmaster would be a massive improvement.

The drive home is brutal. Though my prescription eyeglass lenses transition when exposed to sunlight, my dilated pupils could see bats in a cave.

I felt like I’d marched straight from solitary confinement to an interrogation room with a single-setting spotlight: supernova.

I can’t help shifting my gaze to the console for self-preservation purposes. The glorious, glorious console. You so get me.

I force them back to the highway because I anticipate my DIY driverless car is otherwise destined for a catastrophic driving record.

My eyes haven’t watered like that since The Notebook.

“Him-Me? Me-Him? Him-Me?”

 

The Roxbury Guys’ skit with Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan pointing to each other and themselves before the frustrated female gives up and turns tail

Saturday Night Live

Though I may have wondered which eye they might fix first, my surgeon wasn’t. The right eye-the one with the worst vision, is leading off ,and the left’s on deck.

“Then you got to get sent to a slam, where they tell you you’ll never see daylight again. You dig up a doctor, and you pay him 20 menthol Kools to do a surgical shine job on your eyeballs.”

 

Riddick, describing how he got the ability to see in the dark.
Pitch Black (2000)

Right eye

Pre-op

To reduce the risk of infection, three days prior to the surgery, I start putting drops in my eye. One drop three times per day.

It burns for several seconds every time. They tell me that’s normal.

That’s not the vibe I’m getting.

“Abby…. Normal.”

 

Igor, telling Dr. Frankenstein which brain he fetched for implant into the seven-and-a-half-foot tall “monster”
Young Frankenstein (1974)

Still, if it helps keep me complication-free, I’m in. Burn, baby, burn.

Surgery

The surgery involves sedation to the point where I’m awake, but I don’t care that a scalpel is doing mean things to my eye for its own good.

Lasers can do this, too, but too many stories about post-surgical dry eye tipped me into Camp Scalpel.

Before the blade makes its special guest appearance, they pour a gel into my eye that feels like they stole it from the Ghostbusters movie set.

Fifteen minutes later, the procedure’s complete. My surgeon tells me it went well. I’m thrilled to hear it while my left eye strains for a peek behind the right’s eye shield.

Post-op

I go straight to the surgeon’s office so they can test my eye pressure and vision. Pressure’s normal, and for distance vision, I’m rocking close to 20/20.

I can remove the shield tomorrow when I shower. They tell me not to get water directly in my eye. What they may not understand is, aside from the eye drops, my right eye won’t be accepting any visitors.

The only question is whether my 20/20 distance vision will hold once my recovery is complete.

Recovery

One drop three times a day for four weeks.I set reminders in my calendar.

The light sensitivity still gets to me, leaving me with a migraine. My vision also clouds like I’m looking through a white shower curtain or fogged window.

All are gone the next morning. I return to work, wearing dark sunglasses until sundown. Because, fool me twice…

I go for post-op checkups at the two- and four-week marks.

20/20 distance vision it is.

Way. To. Represent!!

Left eye

Pre-op

The left eye’s had a front row seat to the right eye’s trial, so it just wants to get it over with.

Three days prior to the surgery, it feels the burn for the first time. Even gets its own bottle of drops; no hand-me-downs for this orb. You’re special, too, my little friend.

Surgery

“Yeah, baby, yeah!”

 

Austin Powers, to Mrs. Kensington when she says her husband doesn’t like her modeling for Austin
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) 

Doc’s on a roll. Fifteen minutes and done. Went well. My right eye high fives me.

Hi-ho, hi-ho, to the surgeon’s office we go

Post-op

Eye pressure normal, between 20/30 and 20/20 distance vision.

Recovery

Wake up the next day and the fog runs from the top left to the lower right.

That’s different, so I call the doctor’s office.They remind me this is normal. I’m hoping she’s not crossing her fingers.She can’t tell me when it’ll clear.

I manage to return to work the next day. My vision clears on Friday, four days after the procedure.

Whew.

With the coast clear, my right eye brings its trash-talking “A” game to my left eye. I have to keep them separated.

Four weeks after he second surgery, the verdict is in: 20/20 distance vision in both eyes.

“We are the champions, my friends…”

We are The Champions
Queen
Album: News of the World (1977)

Looking ahead

Though I could make do with readers, that’d mean I’d need four pairs of glasses:

  • Reading
  • Computer
  • Reading sunglasses
  • Sunglasses

So, I’m going back to prescription glasses. That’ll cover reading, computer, and sunglasses outside of the car. I’ll need non-prescription sunglasses inside the car.

Costco offers “panoramic” style reader lenses for computer work and reading. I’m giving that a shot to see how beneficial I find them.

Either way, I’m grateful. I see better than I can remember at night, and driving without glasses isn’t risky, it’s optimal.

My optometrist told me cataracts are the most easily treated condition that can afflict the eye. The sooner they diagnose you, the better. Some conditions are harder to detect than others.

Case in point: My cataracts were a 3 on a 1-4 scale. The higher the number, the worse. This, despite no sign of them last year.

What’s eye-opening (ha!) is, (1) I didn’t have them last year and (2) Despite them coming on fast, the change was still gradual enough it took me that long to notice.

Don’t underestimate the value of your annual checkups. Period.

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