The Eyes Have It

Near is far, and far is near. Here's why that's true and not a poor attempt at poetry.

My opthamologist of three decades retired this year. He is soft-spoken and courtly, and I imagined we'd be partners for another few decades. Years sneak up on you.

His successor, whom I met in August, is a man of likely late 40's, tall and nice-looking with a friendly, slightly hurried manner. Possessing impressive credentials, he told me he had worked with the retiring physician for some time. His office grew busy quickly.

After doing several exams, the new doctor threw a surprise: that i needed cataract surgery on both eyes. "Have you noticed a change in your vision?"

"Yes, actually."

The new man is a surgeon and would do the surgery. He encouraged using a recently-approved lens that promises great results. While in surgery, he said, he would be able to correct astigmatism in both eyes and perhaps implant a stent to offset glaucoma. Sounded good to me.

The young woman who just schedules surgery--it is a busy place!--made dates for surgery No. 1 two weeks hence, handed me instructions to follow and prescriptions for drops to be take before and even a few weeks after surgery. She made sure I understood it all.

I began using three different drops the day before surgery, and on a Friday in September presented myself at the huge Eye and Ear Infirmary on 14th St. in Manhattan at 8 A.M. After filling out papers, answering questions, some twice, I rode up to the fifth floor and was told to disrobe from pants up and (against my better wishes) entrust my watch and keys and cell phone to a locker.

Nurses and aides and volunteers, a lot, scurried around. One marked my forehead on the right side- - let's be sure to do the correct eye! -- and asked more questions to determine that I was not senile. "What's your name? Why are you here?" I was tempted to tell her that I knew, and wondered if she did.

Finally, I got wheeled down to floor No. 4, where the temperature is frigid, helped on to a gurney and moved to a hallway waiting area. The doctor appeared in his scrubs. "I was hoping I'd see you here," I said, hoping to lighten the mood.

He looked at me as if I was crazy. "I'm here," he said.

An anesthesiologist stuck needles in my arm, and I got one more ride, this into the o.r., where the serious stuff happens. The sedative didn't seem noticeable, since I was awake and aware of bright lights flashing in my eye for the half hour or so that ensued. That done, the doctor congratulated us that all had gone absolutely well.

I was transferred back to the fifth floor and deposited in a room alongside others who, wearing an eye patch, had probably undergone the same experience with a different doctor. Apple juice and a muffin were offered, and to check on matters, I covered my left eye. It seemed to me that, sure enough, I saw better through the newly-groomed eye on the right. All had gone well.

The doctor appeared after a while and shone more light in my right eye. "That was easy," I said, trying yet again to throw some levity his way.

"For you," he replied in a manner maybe humorous, or not. Anyway, he pronounced the surgery a success.

Retrieving my belongings and throwing on sunglasses, I exited with the friend who had come to escort me (hospital requirement), and we went for a deserved lunch on 14th St. The whole procedure had taken only about five hours.

I was faithful to the regimen of drops and on Monday returned to see the doctor who did a quick exam and nodded in an affirmative manner. (I withheld further jokes.) Surgery on the second, left, eye got scheduled and took place three weeks later. That was ten days ago, same place and scenario. Same reported success and follow-up doctor visit.

Now, what most of my life was a blurry distance, is clear. I can read the grocery store sign across the street sans glasses. I turn off the TV and reach to take off specs and discover I'm not wearing any. Everything that the light catches seems shining and bright. All to the good. Less good is that everything up close, that used to be clear, is blurry. I acquired reading glasses, as the doctor recommended. "l.5 magnification should do it, and come back in six weeks."

So I use glasses to read, something I usually didn't need before. Outside I go either with plain lens sunglasses or face naked, a feeling sometimes unnerving. In awe I sit of how medicine can sometimes adjust what nature gives free.

Switching glasses, trying to avert blurriness, leaves me rather unsettled. I'd like to be able to revert to one pair of transitional lens glasses for every occasion, seeing Monet at the Met and the young guy sitting forward on the bus. I hope that lies ahead. I'm calling the doctor to ask, fingers crossed.

Stanley Ely includes medical issues in his new memoir, "Life Up Close," in paperback and ebook.