Cataract Surgery: Practicing What I Preach

Cataract Surgery: Practicing What I Preach
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My colleagues leapt into action after I walked into the metal doorframe of the nurses' station on the psychiatry ward at work. One nurse gave me an ice pack for my face, while another offered a Band-Aid for my bleeding hand. After I'd iced my face into numbness and the bleeding stopped, I informed my supervisor of the accident, per hospital policy. He sent me to the Occupational Health Department, where a third nurse asked me to contort my face to ensure that I hadn't suffered neurological damage. Then I returned to work thinking I'd had the stupidest accident imaginable. My face was sore for a month.

At home a few days later on a Saturday, I noticed blurry vision in my right eye. I called my doctor's office and spoke to her on-call physician, who instructed me to immediately go the emergency room. One CAT scan and four hours of emergency care later, no findings could be made about my impaired vision. Instead, the ER doctor recommended I consult an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.

My eye doctor is a great guy. He travels all over the globe on humanitarian missions as an Air Force Reservist providing eye care to the needy. Dr. B. has informed me that my prescription is in the ninety-ninth percentile of complexity, but he seems to relish the challenge of meeting my optometric needs. Once, he required a full year to perfect my glasses. A few days after my ER visit, he examined my bad eye and promptly announced that a huge cataract had appeared since my check-up seven months ago. I'd collided with the metal doorframe because I hadn't seen it. He could address the cataract by changing my prescription. However, when I picked up my new glasses a month later, I'd lost two more lines of vision on the eye chart. The cataract was growing so quickly, I needed to have surgery as soon as possible.

My friends and family were all puzzled by this fast-growing cataract. "Isn't that unusual?" they asked. (I'm 56.) "Aren't you too young to need cataract surgery?"

Yes, and yes. "I'm a freak of nature" I replied. To complicate matters, I needed two surgeries, not one. Dr. B. urged me to have Refractive Lens Replacement Surgery (RLR) to correct my 20/1200 vision. Since I'll be undergoing laser surgery, I decided to have as much treatment as possible and undergo the RLR. After the first operation, my eyes will be out of synch. Normally I'd wear a contact lens in the left eye to get my eyes to work in unison. But my astigmatism is so severe, I can't wear a contact lens in the left eye. I know -- I've tried. If I could wear contact lenses, I'd be using them instead of glasses.

I've always feared losing my eyesight. Most of the things I care about in my life -- reading, writing, my job, movies -- all require vision. Cutting both of my eyes, even by a state of the art laser, scares me. In the past, my impaired immune system has gone into overdrive after even minor outpatient procedures, resulting in complete exhaustion. Prior to sinus surgery a few years ago, my wonderful ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor repeatedly assured me it would take only a week to recover.

"Even with an impaired immune system?" I asked repeatedly.

He remained confident in his assessment, and I went into surgery equally confident that I'd only be off work for a week. Instead I required a week of constant sleep and another to become marginally functional. It's scary to contemplate the possibility of the same immune response again -- and twice.

But it's pointless to project negativity into the future. I always urge my mentally ill patients to manage their health one day at a time, or one hour at a time if a day is too big an increment to handle. The eyesight in my right eye is fading fast, and I need surgery. As of this writing, driving makes me nauseous. So I'll prepare for the surgery per my doctor's instructions and hope for the best. If my recovery becomes complicated or takes longer than expected, I'll practice what I preach and deal with it. And when it's over, except when reading, I'll be free of corrective lenses for the first time since I was eleven years old. No matter what transpires post surgeries, that will be wonderful.

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