The nurse wore a bonnet over her hair and a mask over her nose and mouth. A long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and long pants completed her scrub ensemble and served to further conceal any distinguishing features.
I rose to my feet and took one last look at my wife. “I’ll see you soon. Hopefully.”
I kissed her and she gave me a hug. “I will be waiting for you. You are going to be alright.”
“Thanks.” I looked over at Harry and Sally. “It was a pleasure to meet you both.”
Sally smiled. “Remember what I told you. You are going to love the colors. Your photography will take off again.”
“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”
I took a few tentative steps to try out the pre-anesthetic that was in my system. Not too bad. I was stable enough to walk and push the portable IV stand.
As I approached the door of the room Sally shared one final thought with me. “Whatever you do, don’t worry about the liquid.”
I stopped mid-stride and turned back to my right. “Wait, what?”
The nurse gently took me by the arm and guided me back toward the hallway. “We need to get to the operating room now, sir.”
I twisted my upper body back around as I crab-walked forward, “Tell me about the liquid. Please? Sally, what liquid?” My words trailed behind me as a male nurse joined us, put a hand in the middle of my back to turn me around and propel me through the doorway, across the hall, and into the surgical suite.
Ten years ago I had my first cataract surgery.
I go for routine vision checks on a yearly basis and back in the early “oughts” my Optometrist was keeping a close eye on some developing areas in both of my eyes. Sure enough, in 2007, he referred me to an Ophthalmologist for cataract surgery.
Dr. G examined me and gave me the news. I needed to have cataracts removed from both eyes in separate procedures. Because of my job at the bridge and the risk of infection, I would have to have 3 weeks off after each surgery. No bending at the waist or heavy lifting would be the order of the day. My post-op job would be to administer several drops of multiple medicines in the affected eye every few hours each day throughout the time-off.
Let me make it clear at this point that I can’t stand anything coming into/at my eyes, whether it be medical instruments, eye-drops, puppies, or fingers. It took me some time to accept the idea that someone would soon be using a knife on my eyes, much less while I was awake, albeit professionally anesthetized.
If there was a saving grace, it was the fact that cataract surgery was an outpatient procedure that happened thousands of times around the world every day. That was of little compensation to me because it was my first time and I was scared.
My father’s mother was blind and as a young child I marveled at her ability to maneuver around the kitchen and cook delicious meals. She knew where everything was located, including me, and somehow kept track of the cooking time for each component of the meal.
Truthfully speaking, when I thought about the upcoming surgery, hers was a skill set that I did not want. The possibility of going blind was unacceptable to me. I knew that given the time I could learn to adapt to it, but I didn’t want to. I wanted two good eyes.
The turning point for my level of acceptance came to me at the bridge on the afternoon before my surgery. My boss was driving the two of us to the North end to check out an electrical problem with a gate.
He asked me a simple question, “What does the world look like when you have cataracts?”
“I don’t know.”
“Whaddaya mean? Does it look fuzzy? Is it blurred? Is your peripheral vision affected?”
“I can’t give you a good answer. I think it’s like boiling water, you know. It starts out as a gradual buildup until all of a sudden, bam, it’s a problem. I’ve lived with it so long that I don’t notice the difference any more.”
“Which eye are they doing first?”
“My right eye.”
“Alright, close your left eye and tell me when you can read that sign that’s coming up.”
I did as requested. “I don’t see the sign yet.”
I could hear the hum of tires on pavement and the sounds of cars passing by.
“We’re past it now.”
“I, I, I didn’t even see it.”
“It’s four feet square and you didn’t see it?”
“No. I saw the windshield, the bridge, the headlands, but no sign.”
“It’s a good thing that you are having that surgery, bud.”
There it was. Absolute proof that this was a serious problem, times two. I had been hearing more car horns than usual in the past 6 months. Maybe it wasn’t rude drivers after all. Perhaps I had a huge blind spot in my right eye. And maybe I had another one brewing in my left eye—the one that I thought of as the “good one”.
I accepted the fact that it was worth whatever I had to go through to correct my vision, in both eyes. I also made a vow to be extra careful while driving until both eyes were repaired.
I spent the week leading up to the surgery asking myself the question: If I was to lose the sight in my right eye, other than The Lioness, what would be the last thing that I would want to have a memory of? Since my operation was scheduled for late-morning, I got up early and drove down to Sausalito to watch the sun rise over San Francisco Bay. It did not disappoint.
I returned home and woke The Lioness, as requested. We drove to the hospital, checked in, filled out numerous forms and took seats in the waiting area of the lobby.
After a very short time we were taken upstairs where I was hooked up to an IV and attached to a monitoring device with wires and leads. Once prepped for the operation, I was taken to a beautiful room that looked like it was transported from an up-scale hotel. Two sofas were at right angles around a coffee table and two upholstered chairs were situated across the room on either side of an armoire that contained a flat screen television.
A nurse followed along behind me pushing the portable IV stand with my meds hanging in bags from the top hooks. “Would you like to sit on the couch or in a chair?”
“The couch will be fine, thank you.” I sat down next to my wife, my good arm across her shoulders for comfort.
“We will be back for you when the operating room is ready. It should only be 10 or 15 minutes.”
“No rush. Thanks.” My attempt at humor took a nose dive onto the tiled floor. The nurse gave me a well-practiced smile and left the room.
The Lioness and I made small talk for a few minutes and then we sat in silence, lost in our thoughts.
A loud voice came from the doorway. “Hellooooo, company’s coming.”
I turned and saw a new nurse pushing an IV stand behind an older gentleman who was also prepped for a medical procedure. They were followed by a woman who appeared to be about the same age as the patient.
“You are going to have some company until it’s time for your surgery.” The nurse helped the new couple get situated on the adjacent couch.
“Hi, my name is Harry and this is Sally.” Harry sat down and arranged the plastic tubes that connected him to the IV bags.
We introduced ourselves to them and the nurse said, “If either of you needs anything, push the red call button and a staff member will be here to help you.”
Harry broke the ice after she left, “So, what are you in for, Kid?”
I laughed—it had been quite awhile since anyone had called me “Kid”—and given the difference in our ages, Harry was well within his right to do so. “I’m having cataract surgery. How about you?”
Harry raised his right hand palm-out, shoulder high. “Meh.”
“That good, huh?”
“It’s a biopsy. We’ll see what happens.”
“I hope that it turns out ok.”
Another half-hearted salute and, “Meh. Thanks.”
Sally kept the conversation alive, “Is this your first cataract surgery?”
“Yes ma’am. I will get the other eye done in a couple of months.”
“Well, I have had cataract surgery in both of my eyes and it has been absolutely fabulous.”
“That’s so nice to hear, thanks.”
“I am an artist, mostly acrylics and watercolors, and the difference in the colors. Oh, my. The difference in the colors that I can see is dramatic compared to before the surgery. It changed my whole outlook—literally—and the difference in my work is amazing.”
“That’s right, Kid, the difference is measurable. In dollars. Her work started selling like hot cakes again.”
As I listened to Harry, and watched Sally, I realized that money was not an issue. They had a genteel air about them. One where money was a given, not a hard-sought prize. The more Sally talked about being energized and creative once again, the more Harry relaxed and enjoyed listening to his wife.
“Do you do any painting, Kid? Artwork? Got a hobby of some kind?”
“I used to be a very serious photographer. I had my own darkroom and made my own prints, mostly black and white. Color was a problem for me.”
Harry smiled and turned to Sally. “Go ahead. Tell him.”
Sally moved to the edge of the couch. She was a schoolgirl trying to contain her enthusiasm. “Once my first eye healed I did a little experiment throughout the day. I alternated opening one eye and closing the other. I looked through each eye and compared the difference. The colors were so clear and bright in the eye that had the cataracts removed.”
Our conversation was cut short by the arrival of the surgical nurse.