Cataract Surgery 3 of 3: True Colors

The usual big disclaimer: For goodness sake, this is not medical advice. This is just one person feeling her way along, not an endorsement of cataract surgery or a prediction of anybody else’s results. This does contain an opinion about the color of my favorite breakfast bowl in my cabinet, but you could already pick out your own dishes and fix your breakfast without my say-so.

In these weeks after surgery, it is still a surprise to wake up and look outside the window. For years, the houses in this complex were turquoise blue. Now after surgery those same houses are heron slate gray. My favorite breakfast bowl was tangerine golden-pink. Now it’s pure pale rose. Those true colors, those slate houses and rose dish are new acquaintances, fresh every morning.

Of course the main dramatic change is sharp visual acuity. All day every day it’s amazing to live without prescription eyeglasses. (Of course, without eyeglass frames it’s easier to see how tired my eyes look, and how sensitive they are to light. But plain tinted safety goggles cover that pretty well.) After three years of wearing a Covid mask, it feels much safer to maneuver without the fall risk of steamed up lenses. (Stepping into a grocery store or library or clinic, I pull up my mask. Then to avoid the steaming I still reach up to take off glasses that aren’t there.) It is amazing to just type on a computer and tell the time on a wall clock and identify my books by title instead of topic order and binding color. Before, on the street corner there’d be buses materializing in the distant traffic, and I’d be there with glasses on bobbing and weaving and shading my eyes trying to figure out what the route number was, worried that if I flagged down the wrong bus and then had to wave it away the driver might be upset. The other pedestrians, the other deer in the herd, they didn’t seem to stare into the headlights at all; when a bus appeared blocks away they could just instinctively sort themselves out by stepping closer to the curb or by backing away. Now I was finally starting to catch on to the same hat trick and could blend in better with everybody else. So that’s all a marvel all day.

Next month the eye clinic team will run some tests and figure out new ideal corrective lenses. Now, the focus going forward is good care and prevention for any potential retina issues. Unfortunately, that is a risk after cataract surgery. (During recovery, resting alone in the dark, that possibility caused my melancholic mind to dredge up the “Flowers for Algernon” dilemma, and if your 8th grade curriculum didn’t make you read that then for sure don’t read it now.) One night it scared me to view what seemed to be a new internal black floater shooting across the visual field; what a happy relief to find it was a spider zipping across my monitor screen. But instead of fretting about the future, it is far better to research and learn all the symptoms of retina difficulties, to be vigilant, and to keep communicating with the care team. So, there’s an Amsler Grid taped to the bathroom wall for frequent vision tests. There’s a retina checkup in two months, and regular checkups after that from now on. This week I alerted the team to report a subtle vision glitch — an early warning? (The surgeon wrote right back, giving the phenomenon a scientific name and explaining that this was a normal short-term illusion and ought to resolve soon. He was right. It did.)

[Memory interlude: That same surgical team did a brilliant job of repairing a retina tear years ago. At the time I told my health-care colleagues in our medical department, “I need to be out of the office for emergency surgery. My retina is detached! They have to re-attach it again. Will report back in a few days.” My cubicle mates made a point of welcoming each other back from any medical time off with get-well cards, flowers, balloons, and cake. But for my return from retina surgery? Nothing. Not a soul asked how I was, or whether they could help. They even avoided looking at me. Finally, a an old-school high-level physician days from retirement stopped by my desk after hours. Looking around and clearing his throat, in gruff but obvious concern he said “So… how’s the rectum now?”]

Another rumination during rest days in dim light has been awareness of shame. It’s a lifelong tension, like chronic hyper-vigilant armoring in muscles and nerves. Some of it comes from being a failure at vision improvement exercises taught by inspiring authors like Meir Schneider. (When Mr. Schneider came to town I joined a large group for a two-hour workshop. He was an outstanding nurturing teacher. He would have been the first to say to me “Whoa, you’d better get a cataract exam.”) Mostly, shame is the memory of people’s frustration and ridicule, their assumption that near-sighted behavior shows stupidity or disrespect. It was the Sister of St. Dominic who used to comically mimic the gobsmacked look on my face when I strained to read the chalkboard. It was grownups warning “Stop squinting; you’ll get wrinkles,” or “For God’s sake come on, look alive!” or “Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses!” (I didn’t know what a pass was, and didn’t even want boys to throw a football at my head.) Now even after surgery, people still say “You were crossing the street at the WALK sign, and when you stepped in front of my car I honked but you didn’t wave!” (No, I was too busy fleeing the path of some yabbo leaning on his horn.) Last week I ventured out at night, wearing wraparound black goggles against the glare. I had to scoot two blocks from bus to train in a crowded but moderately distressed neighborhood where people run about with guns, knives, and tazers. A chipper neighbor (who knew all about my surgery) charged right up behind me on the dark street. He looked forward to how happy I’d be once I realized who he was. When he lunged at my head I spun around with a skewering combative stare, recognized him, and stared even harder. He burst out laughing, backed off, and hurried away. Later he said “Hey!! Even after you saw it was me, you STILL gave me an angry look!” (This behavior must be a vestigial artifact in the deep reptilian brain: Act like an apex predator. Tamper with a woman’s friend-vs.-foe meter. Laugh uproariously at her reaction. Fortunately it’s a gag that most men set aside once they discover Play-Doh.)

On the first day after surgery #1 and the checkup next day, I left the house without my eye shield. Still feeling tired and chilled, I bundled up in a long heavy dress with trousers and high boots and sweater and black hoodie sweatshirt and head scarf and cap and black goggles. I walked very slowly, looking into the distance up ahead, to let the brain balance the new left and right visual fields. For a quiet pleasant route I walked around the block bordering the golf course, an exclusive little cul-de-sac with a security guard inside a booth who waves back when I wave at him. Taking small steps, enjoying the fresh air, I suddenly heard a sharp thwack. Oh no! A golf ball! I’d only been near the golf course at sunset or at dawn or on moonlit nights, never a weekday afternoon. That called to mind the sign posted right at the entrance:

Yike! I shielded the goggles with my hands and ducked my head. Listening hard for any more thwack activity I turned my back to the putting green and walked sideways for the next three blocks, one foot at a time, slowly fleeing for the exit. Soon a little maintenance cart came putt-putting by. The course worker peered at me, and we exchanged waves. Then another little cart came by with two workers, conversing with each other in Spanish. I hollered “Hola Señores. Qué tiempo lindo! Tengan an buen día!” [Wait, where are the upside down exclamation points on this keyboard?] The men hollered back. More handwaves. Another cart. Waving, smiling. The carts kept circling around and trailing along behind me. It looked like a Shriner parade without the fezzes. Maybe the security guard contacted them on walkie-talkies? “Slow-moving intruder. Spanish-speaking granny moves off-kilter, difficulty walking forwards on pavement. Monitor scene. Hover while she heads toward exit. Keep waving.” Finally I sidestepped to the gates, and with more waves the friendly convoy doodled off and back to work and I went back to bed.

This has all been an amazing life adventure.

And just maybe some day the Goodwill housewares shelf will have a dish in a genuine shade of my lost tangerine. I might just buy it and bring it home.

About maryangelis

Hello Readers! (= Здравствуйте, Читатели!) The writer lives in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and the English and Russian languages, working in an archive by day and writing at night. Her walk in the world is normally one human being and one small detail after another. Then she goes home and types about it all until the soup is done.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Cataract Surgery 3 of 3: True Colors

  1. wendyrud says:

    Hi again,
    I forgot to say in my earlier comment how helpful your accounts are/will be for anyone needing cataract surgery.

  2. wendyrud says:

    Hi Mary,
    There are so many things I love about this piece of writing and how you brought in so many emotions—wonder, fear, joy, happiness, anxiety, gratitude, and humor, especially humor— loved the part about the walk on the golf course during golfing hours! Humor has been both life- and sanity-saving for me. Your golf course walk reminds me of my planning a weekend in November in a nearby state forest I’d never been to, so I could walk/hike and soak in nature (my favorite thing) in the chilly weather. Then I read more about it and found the info on wearing brightly colored clothing. I had not factored into my plans that it was the middle of hunting season in Texas! I feel like I (literally) dodged a bullet!!!
    🙏 Wendy

    p.s. I love how you, in your stories, notice and recount the kindness and goodness in others and also imho show how to offer kindness to others.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.