Through my mid-40s, I had 20-20 vision. While so many of my younger family members and friends wore glasses, I could see near and far without them. But when I turned 45, I began to have issues. The first tip off was trying to read film times in the newspaper. (Remember when movie theaters ran ads, including when films would be screened? Seems like ages ago!) During my next eye exam, the ophthalmologist, after having me read letters and numbers, confirmed my fear – I would need glasses.
The first pair I got was just for reading. They were very large and had tortoiseshell frames. I carried them with me and put them on whenever I needed a little help reading, whether on paper or on my computer. (At that time, a very large IBM one.) Subsequent visits to the eye doctor resulted in glasses with lenses to help my distant vision. These progressive lenses aided me whether I was trying to read, drive, or see far ahead on a morning run.
As the years went by, the lenses got slightly stronger. I also opted for transition lenses, eliminating the need for sunglasses, as well as a coating that would minimize glare when working on the computer. Since I was now wearing glasses all the time, I took more care selecting the frames. Designer frames were all the vogue and I loved selecting ones that made a fashion statement. I had black frames with silver trim, bronze ones with latticework, Betsey Johnson standouts – one purple with hearts, the other burnished orange with flecks of brown.
All of this, of course, was not cheap. But I rationalized the cost with the thought that I wore glasses all day and into the night. I took good care of them. I never sat or stepped on them. Never lost them. And constantly cleaned them.
Although the lenses darkened when I went from indoors into the sunlight, that didn’t happen inside a car. So to help avoid glare when driving, I bought prescription sunglasses. It meant carrying another set of glasses, but worth it to avoid squinting when behind the wheel.
After being fully vaccinated in March, I began to catch up on doctor visits, including the ophthalmologist. He wrote me a prescription for new lenses, but he also issued a warning. My cataracts were getting worse and soon I would need the surgery. Cataracts, the cloudy area in the lens of the eye, develop slowly as we age. Nine in ten people may be diagnosed with cataracts by age 65.
Over the next few months, I thought about his advice, that it was better to have the operation now, while I was younger and in good health. By August, I made the decision to have the surgery. But there were other decisions to be made. During the procedure, the surgeon makes a small cut in the front of the eye, either with a “blade,” or using a laser. My doctor recommended the laser, saying it sometimes took longer for the eye to heal if the blade was used. Whichever method is used, the next step is to break up the cataract and gently suction it out. Then a new lens is inserted.
No matter which lens patients opt for, vision will improve. But the newest lenses that have been developed are so powerful, that the patient can see near and far without glasses. With the other lens, distant vision would improve, but I would still need glasses for reading.
I looked at the new glasses I had just bought a few months earlier. I realized that after all this time, I liked wearing glasses. They had become part of my identity. I don’t think I’m alone. Oprah, who seems to prefer large, colorful ones, is a celebrity who has made glasses stylish and popular.
Everyone I spoke with, including my family, thought I was nuts. Give up glasses? Why wouldn’t you do that? Improve your vision? That’s a no brainer.
Unfortunately, most insurance companies and Medicare will not cover the cost of either the laser or the new lenses, so the patient must bear the cost. It meant tightening our budget a bit, but this was my eyesight, something worth investing in going forward. I decided on the laser and the new lens.
Cataract surgery is done on an out patient basis, one eye at a time, two weeks apart. Three days before the procedure, I needed to put two different drops in my eye. When I got to the surgical center, more drops were applied by the nurse, one to numb the eye in preparation for the laser. An anesthesiologist explained that I would be made comfortable, but not be put to sleep, because the surgeon would need to speak to me during the procedure. When the laser was lowered onto my eye, I was told to watch a red dot that appeared. The destruction of the cataract began and, all I can say, is that I felt like I was inside a Star Wars video game. It wasn’t frightening, but fascinating. I was then wheeled into another room where the lens was inserted.
After the surgery, I was offered something to drink (I couldn’t eat or drink anything after midnight before the surgery). A clear patch was placed over my eye and I was told not to bend down or lift anything when I got home. A nurse walked me out to the parking lot where my husband was waiting for me.
When I got home, I removed the patch on my right eye and was shocked at how much my vision had improved. Not only could I see near and far without my glasses, but everything seemed brighter, almost like a white hot light was illuminating everything around me. When I looked out of my left eye, what I saw was much different. Rather than white, my living room blinds looked tan and everything was still blurry. The doctor had told me not to wear my glasses, to give my right eye a chance to take over. If you’ve ever gone with one contact lens, you’ve probably had the experience of feeling slightly off balance and dizzy. For two weeks, until the second operation, that’s what I felt. And, by the end of the day, my right eye was worn out with having to do all the work. I was exhausted and found myself taking an afternoon nap, something I never do.
Fortunately, that struggle only lasted until I went in for the second surgery. That one went as smoothly as the first and, because I knew what I would face, I was more relaxed. Both eyes are now well on their way to being healed, but I’m still getting used to my new vision. The world outside is clearer and brighter, sometimes so bright I need to wear the drug store sunglasses I bought. But I no longer need glasses to read or see far ahead.
I still, however, find myself reaching for my glasses at different times during the day. And the last time I saw Oprah on TV wearing large, bright blue glasses, I sighed. Old habits die hard.