What is Cataract Surgery Actually Like?
What to Expect, Step by Step
If you’re my age, you might be looking at cataract surgery in the near future. Rather, you might be trying to look at it — everything is so blurry these days that, really, you can’t see a damn thing.
Having a cataract removed is quick and easy. And your doc can even insert a lens during the procedure to improve your vision!
So naturally, when I developed cataracts, I rushed to schedule surgery.
Uh… no. I put it off as long as I could. First, I couldn’t see well enough to drive at night. Soon I couldn’t drive during the day either. I had to switch to large print books. And forget about reading a menu.
But when friends began to hum the “Mr. Magoo” theme song as they watched me squint and stumble through my day, I knew I had no choice; I scheduled surgery to remove the cataract in my right eye. (You have to do them one at a time.)
So what’s cataract surgery actually like?
First, I had to pass a routine physical, and an EKG. Then, after a pre-op visit with my ophthalmologist where my eye was examined and measured, surgery was scheduled at a nearby outpatient clinic.
Cataract surgery means learning whether there’s anyone you can count on to devote 24 hours of their life to taking care of you. Your Cataract Surgery Companion has to bring you to the clinic, take you home afterwards, then stick around for another day, just in case.
If they also enjoy administering eye drops, that’s a plus.
Cataract surgery is all about the eye drops. I was prescribed different three kinds (in tiny color coded containers), which I began using several days before surgery, and will continue to need (up to nine drops daily) for weeks.
The day before the procedure, I got a call from my doc’s office: “You’re scheduled for 9:30. Get to the clinic an hour early. And remember not to eat or drink anything after midnight.”
An hour later, the outpatient clinic phoned to deliver the same message. Great! I love redundancy, especially when it comes to medical procedures.
Then, at 8:00 that night, Dr. Greenbaum himself phoned to repeat this information. Terrific! But also, to an anxious person like myself, a little troubling. “Why is he still working at this hour?” I fretted to my Designated Cataract Surgery Companion. “He’d better go home soon and get a good night’s sleep.”
Surgery Day! I woke up (desperately missing that morning cup of coffee I wasn’t allowed to have), showered, donned comfortable, loose-fitting clothing, and was driven to the clinic.
Paperwork completed, I was escorted by a friendly nurse to the pre-op area. I stretched out on a gurney. My doc, in scrubs, turned up to touch base with me and put numbing drops in my eye.
He’d be performing half a dozen procedures that day, but was reassuringly bright-eyed and alert. (Of course, I’d checked out his rep with the local docs I knew. “A real pro,” I’d been told, “with good, steady hands.” )
From the moment I’d arrived at the clinic, I was asked one question by every staff member I encountered.
“You’re having the right eye done today?”
“It’s the right eye?”
“We’re operating on your right eye today?”
Yup. You bet. Yes. The right eye is indeed the correct eye. Thanks for asking.
The pre-op nurse started an I.V, and covered me with a warm blanket. Then? More eye drops! Over the next 15 minutes, as far as my right eye was concerned, it was raining eye drops. My doc circled back a number of times to peer into the eye and add more. My nurse got into the act too.
The anesthesiologist turned up to tell me about the drugs I’d be on during the procedure. “We’ll be heading over to the O.R. in a few minutes,” said Dr. Greenbaum.
“How are you feeling?” asked the nurse.
“Anxious,” I admitted.
“Don’t you worry. We’re about to give you a sedative to take care of that.”
I was wheeled down a corridor into the Operating Room, positioned beneath a large round white, then given that promised sedative.
And the fun began!
The instructional pre-op video had informed me that my doc would be making a small incision, breaking up the cataract, then removing it and placing a corrective lens in my eye. This was something I’d anticipated enduring, not enjoying. To have somebody poking around in my eye, no matter how sedated I was? Yuck.
But, for me at least, cataract surgery was an oddly pleasant experience.
As I gazed up into that big round white light, ornate patterns began to form, reform and move slowly about. Fascinating! I knew the lovely drifting patterns were being made by doc breaking up and removing the cataract, but I didn’t care. They were so beautiful! Eye surgery? What eye surgery? I just lay there, happily enjoying my own private light show.
It felt as if I were inside of a fabulous kaleidoscope.
Moments later, I was in the recovery room, with a clear plastic disc taped over my eye. And with a few post-op instructions, we were out of there.
Total elapsed time between arriving at the clinic and leaving again, sans cataract? Two hours.
I’d been warned that I could feel some post-op pain, but I didn’t need a single aspirin. (The most painful thing about the whole procedure will undoubtedly be battling with my insurer to get them to fully cover it.) And by day’s end, my right eye could see clearly, without glasses, for the first time since I was a kid.
Cataract surgery? It was amazing. I can’t wait to get the other eye done.
So for all my peeps who need to get their peepers fixed? Go for it! You won’t regret it. Good luck! (And enjoy the light show.)