9 May 2013

The Bionic Science Writer

I am old and until recently I wore glasses with very strong progressive lenses- better known as “trifocals”. Without glasses I was myopic meaning I could not see things far away.  I was also hyperopic, meaning could not see things close up. And I had astigmatism, meaning my oval shaped corneas gave me blurred or distorted vision.  I couldn’t see my fingers if I held them at an arm’s length from my body. I could not walk across the room without my glasses. Even with glasses, my eyesight was so bad I begged my husband to buy a 70 inch TV so that I could see the screen from 10 feet away on the couch.

When I saw my friendly ophthalmologist, for my yearly exam he informed me that due to many years of reading books, while sitting in the sun, I had damaged my already bad eyes to the point where they had developed cataracts. Really, I’m practically blind and now I’m going to be even blinder? Thank you so much.

Cataracts are a very common, and not the worst thing that can happen to your eyes as you age. Your eyes have a lens, and it works like the lens on a camera. Basically light comes into the eye through the cornea. Behind the cornea is the lens which focuses the light on the retina. This results in an image being sent to the brain. A cataract clouds the lens, which in turn cuts down on the light and images being sent to the retina. If you want to know what a person with cataracts sees, smear a thin layer of Vaseline on a pair of 3-d movie glasses and walk around the house.  You’ll get the idea.

When you have cataracts the world is a strange looking place.  Snow white colored objects appear to be ivory and bright colors are dull.  Your life looks like a laundry detergent commercial, where clothes fade. Not only are colors not the same, but everything is just slightly out of focus even if you are wearing prescription glasses.  You  don’t want a person with cataracts to drive you anywhere after dark. It’s downright scary as night vision is a problem.

If you’ve ever seen a person or even a pet that has a milky colored eye, you are probably looking at a cataract. The clouding is sadly just a part of growing old.  While it is a common problem for people in their 60’s, you can develop cataracts at a younger age.

If you wear glasses with transitional lenses, the kind that change color in the sun, these glasses are not dark enough to keep you from getting cataracts.  You’d have to have frames with very dark colored UVA, UVB, polarized lenses that wrapped around your face and kept all light out in order to have some level of protection and even then, it might not be enough. Most doctors believe that to shield your eyes and skin from the harmful rays of the sun the appropriate face wear is a welder’s helmet.

My doctor said that having cataracts wasn’t bad news because he could fix my sight while he was scraping out the clouded lenses.  Now this is the interesting part: he wasn’t going to laser my eyes, but was instead going to put in intraocular lens or IOL.  Let’s put that in more layman terms: implants.

Those of us of a certain age might remember the 70’s series, The Six Million Dollar Man and his girlfriend, the Bionic Woman.  After the surgery, that would be me! I would have bionic eyes. My husband was very excited when he learned that I was going to have implants.  He was very disappointed when le learned they were those kinds of implants.

If you are faint- hearted, you might want to skip the next few paragraphs.


The doctor schedules operations so that you have your left eye done on say, a Monday, and your right eye done a week later.  The waiting room is full with standing room only. The operation is about 10 minutes, meaning they can move 50 people through in a morning.   Based on the number of people in the room, cataract surgery is very common and very popular.

The admitting nurse asks each patient to describe their level of anxiety.  Wizened old ladies with canes, calmly replied, “I’m fine, deary.” When they asked me I told them I was having an anxiety attack and that I wanted to run from the room screaming.  They offered me a 5 mg or 10 mg Atavan. I asked for both. They gave me the 10 and as it is fast acting. I immediately discovered that 10 mg was a bit too much for a woman my weight.  I proceeded to pass out.  The nurse caught me and put me into a bed. I woke up to find they had put ice packs on my head and neck, and they were taking my vitals, while putting stinging drops into my eye. The doctor walked by, took one look at me and said, “She’s just a drama queen, bring her in next.”

As they are wheeling me into the operating room, the nurse starts squeezing ice cold gelatinous goop into my eye. I’m still having an anxiety attack, but now am too stoned to be able to run from the room. I have to lie there as they position a light strong enough to reach from earth to the moon over my eye.  Next the doctor puts a thick white sticky diaper over my face, presses into place and cuts a hole into it over the eye on which he is operating. He puts more goop into my eye. They now start pumping oxygen under this shield to keep me from passing out again.

 If you’ve ever had a cavity filled at a dentist, you are probably familiar with a rubber dental dam they clamp onto your teeth.  The surgeon uses something similar on your eyes and it’s very Clockwork Orange in feeling.  So now I’m wide awake, still filled with panic as the doctor begins to cut a slit in my eye.

Dr. F, only cut a tiny opening in the eye and used a delicate instrument to scrape away or remove the clouded part over my lens. I know it was only a small cut but it felt like he was removing my eyeball from the socket. And he wanted to have a conversation while he was doing this.  The reason you are awake for the procedure is that you have to try to move your eye into different positions and not roll it back into your head.  Good luck with that.  After the cataract was gone, the doctor inserted an artificial lens through the slit and placed it behind my iris.

Safe to read now

I have an Acrysof  IOL tm multifocal lens in both my eyes. Thanks to these lenses I can now see everything perfectly. I can read the newspaper without glasses. I can drive without glasses. I can use my computer without changing the font to 14. I now can wear fashion sunglasses, which I have never been able to do for lo these 50 years  The downside is that I am still very light sensitive so I wear said fashion sunglasses all the time, even when I’m at the movie theatre or while I’m in a meeting.  Driving at night is not wonderful and all lights have a large “halo” around them. When the light hits my eyes at a certain angle, I’m told that the implants “sparkle”.. No idea if that’s true, but apparently it looks really interesting.


1 comment:

Paula said...

Thank you for writing such a detailed description of the surgery! I actually feel less nervous now about the cataract forming in one of my eyes. Big help!