When I realized my vision was no longer as sharp as it had been, I didn’t worry. After 50-odd years of myopia and astigmatism I’d lost count of the number of times I’d needed to upgrade my eyeglasses. But on my next visit to my ophthalmologist I got a surprise. I was told I needed cataract surgery.

This may sound odd, but I had forgotten I had cataracts. I had the idea that cataracts were a milky film over the front of the eye, like white curtains. My eyes looked fine. But cataracts, as my ophthalmologist Dr. Robert Daly of Portland’s Eyecare Medical Group explained to me, are actually inside the eye, and are a clouding of the lens.

At birth the lens is totally clear. As we grow older it hardens and becomes cloudy. Nearly everyone gets cataracts eventually. Symptoms include blurred vision, trouble seeing at night, and perceiving colors as dull instead of bright. In the early stages of cataract development a change of eyeglass or contact lens prescription can be sufficient to restore good vision. Surgery may not be necessary for years.

I was a bit young for surgery, but my cataracts had “ripened” early due to years of medication for an autoimmune condition. Cataracts, left untreated, can lead to total blindness but thanks to the remarkable progress made in ophthalmic medicine, the worst can be avoided. While all surgery has potential risk, modern cataract surgery is fast and comfortable.

Both Daly and Jonathan Day, a certified ophthalmic technician, answered all my questions patiently. Preparation for the surgery was easy. I was given a neat little blue bag containing different kinds of eye drops to use in the three days preceding the surgery, and instructions on how to use them. On the big day I was driven to the outpatient surgery center by a friend, who then relaxed in the waiting room for the roughly two hours I would be inside.

Since my right eye was in worse shape, that cataract was scheduled to be removed first. More drops were put in my eye. The anesthesiologist asked a few questions and explained what drugs he would be giving me. An IV was started. I was given paper clothes to cover my street clothes, and led into the operating room. There I was settled in a recliner-like chair and covered with a blanket.

Then came the fun part. (You might want to skip this if you’re squeamish.) Daly made a small incision in the side of my eye and used an ultrasound device to break up the cataract, which was then suctioned out. A new lens formulated to my prescription and folded in half — “like a taco” as Dr. Daly described it — was inserted, opened, and tucked into the spot where the cataract had been. And that’s it!

The incision is self-sealing; stitching is usually not required. The whole operation took about 15 minutes, and though I was awake I didn’t feel a thing. In fact I was so peaceful I could easily have fallen asleep.

Afterwards I was taken back to the pre-op/post-op area and settled in another recliner. A nurse brought me juice and a muffin, and made sure I was comfortable. About 45 minutes later I was given another little blue bag with eye drops, instructions, and sunglasses, and sent home. It was the easiest surgery I’ve ever had. There was no pain, no discomfort, and every staff person took great care to make the experience as pleasant as possible.

My recovery was rapid. There is no restriction on visual activity after cataract surgery, and by late that afternoon I was reading and watching television. While some people feel a sandy or scratchy sensation, I did not; my eye felt completely normal.

But what thrilled me most was the change in my vision. Before surgery and without glasses all I could see out of my right eye of someone standing next to me was a big blur. After surgery I could not only see perfectly without glasses, but with astonishing clarity. I became enthralled by the smallest, silliest things, like water running out of the faucet, amazed at its brilliance.

I also realized how poor the vision was in my left and allegedly good eye. Everything seen through that eye had a yellowish cast I had never noticed before. I couldn’t wait to get that eye operated on as well. After several follow-up visits to be sure the right eye had healed properly (it did), I happily repeated the whole process for the left eye.

What a joy it is to no longer need prescription eyeglasses! Thanks to those implanted lenses I have perfect distance vision, and all I need for reading are inexpensive magnifying eyeglasses that can be purchased at any drugstore. My “new” eyes are so miraculous that I wish I could have had cataract surgery decades ago!

One last bit of information I found interesting. One of the technicians mentioned that they see a spike in cataract surgeries during the summer, due to “snowbirds” winging home from points south and hunters getting ready for the season. Maybe this describes you.

If you need cataract surgery but are worried about the procedure, please don’t be. There are many fine ophthalmic surgeons in the Portland area who can give you better vision than you ever thought possible.

 

Kathleen Connelly is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.