Cataract surgery painless miracle

  For the past 30 years the frames of eye glasses have docked on the bridge of my pug nose and hugged the sides of my head behind my ears.
   The style of frames has changed over the years to accompany fickle fashion and the lenses have progressed, literally, from single in my teens to trifocals shortly after I hit 40.
   When I first began wearing glasses I did so only when they were really needed. I never lost a pair, but they weren’t constant companions. Later in life they became the first thing I reached for on the bedside table in the morning and the last thing I took off before slumber.
   While annoying, at times, they were somewhat of a comfort.
   Today, I feel utterly naked.
   I no longer need the accessory that donned my face for 30 years; I’ve had cataract surgery – the lenses God gave me have been replaced by man-made sight givers.
   It all started last February when one Sunday morning while getting ready for church. I told my husband, Glenn, that the sight in my left eye was fuzzy. I administered over-the-counter eye drops and thought it was probably just from the fatigue that plagues writers, editors and constant readers – I’m all three and, while staring at words for long stretches of time can do in the eyes, it is a habit I cannot break.
   I was even more concerned as the week went on and the vision in my left eye became worse. I began to think of a minister in a city where I once worked who announced from the pulpit one Sunday that he was going blind from macular degeneration. And he was only 45! Panicked, I called my local optician who was back home in Ireland on holiday. I went to an optometrist who diagnosed a fast growing cataract.
   “Come back in six months and we’ll go from there,” she said as she wrote me a new prescription for the reading range of my trifocals. That helped for a couple of days, but as the weeks stretched on, I was clearly losing what sight I had left.
   I then made an appointment with my beloved ophthalmologist on Grand Cayman who confirmed the cataract and assured me that it was not the ‘old age’ kind. That it would grow, and fast. And that it did.
   Unfortunately my doctor’s office here couldn’t accommodate the needed surgery and I was literally going blind.
   While in Tampa for a birthday jaunt in September, some friends told us about St. Luke’s. I called and made an appointment and within two weeks was back in Tampa, undergoing a series of eye tests and making an October appointment for surgery.
   “Patients living in the islands typically will have a higher rate of cataract development at an earlier age due to sun exposure,” Dr. Pitt Gill told me. “It is important for people living there to wear UV protection to protect their eyes from sun damage.”
   While at the clinic I saw three other people from Grand Cayman.
   In fact the friends who had told me about St. Luke’s are originally from Cayman Brac.
   As I pulled my keys out of my purse and donned my prescription sunglasses in preparation to leave the Tampa clinic, the receptionist cast a wary eye at me.
   “You’re not driving,” she asked. “Yes,” I replied, to which she grimaced. “You know you can’t see out of your left eye and your right one isn’t so great either,” she said.
   I knew my vision had been failing miserably. I didn’t know I was legally blind and a road hazard to boot.
   As the day approached for lens replacement surgery, I did as much research as I could. I wasn’t worried, but I didn’t know exactly what to expect despite the briefing I had received at St. Luke’s.
   The day arrived for Glenn and me to leave Grand Cayman and head back to Tampa and then to Tarpon Springs for the surgery. My left eye was done on Monday and the right on Tuesday.
   Most cataract surgeries are spread out two weeks. I got the special treatment because we were coming from another country, which is not unusual at St. Luke’s; they treat patients from across the world.
   
The day of surgery
   St. Luke’s treats hundreds of patients a day and the experience is almost like being in a factory assembly line. Most of the time is spent on additional testing, if needed, and prepping for the surgery.
   “Your safety and comfort are our priorities. We recommend anaesthesia according to each patient’s need, so their experience is as pleasant as possible,” states St. Luke’s website.
   Gill decided to operate on my left eye first because that is my dominant eye. My eye was numbed with topical drops combined with a special numbing solution, a technique Gill developed.
   My blood pressure was a little high that day, but the nurse said that was normal because of anxiety. And I did have anxiety.
   Again, the large chunk of time involved in cataract surgery is prep and waiting. After receiving a Valium for my anxiety I was presented a lovely yellow cloth cap in which to stuff my tresses and a green hospital gown, complete with the neck to knee slit. Fortunately they let you keep your clothes on during cataract surgery. I then joined about a dozen others in a clinical waiting room – all of us sporting the fashion of the day – as nurses checked vitals and searched for veins on people’s hands to insert an IV.
   At long last I was ushered into the operating room where a team of three got me ready for Gill. The exercise included putting a tent over the eye to be operated on, strapping my head to the table and threatening me if I dared blink. “But I’m a blinker,” I protested. “More tape for her head,” the nurse replied.
   The room is dark and there is a single light shining into your eye as more drops go in.
   Then comes in Gill who says hello and asks how I’m doing. “Great,” I reply. The Valium certainly helped.
   Now for the amazing part: Gill explained each step of the process and he was finished within a blink of an eye, literally; well almost.
   He has the art of cataract surgery down to about six minutes per eye.
   He used an instrument to make a tiny, bevelled self-sealing incision, which allows the eye to heal without stitches. It works because the eye’s internal pressure holds the incision tightly closed.
   Cataracts form inside the lens capsule, which is like an elastic bag that holds the lens in place. To remove the cataract, Gill carefully opened the front portion of the lens. Then he inserted a tool called a phacoemulsifier through the incision. The phacoemulsifier gently breaks up the cataract with ultrasonic vibrations and then removes it out of the lens capsule. He was careful to leave the lens capsule intact so that my new intraocular lens implant could be inserted into it.
   I could see bright reds and yellows and white light as he did his work because my eye was being held open by some annoying device. It was fantastic and painless.
   I had to choose which kind of lenses I wanted for my new eyes before surgery. I chose the premium ones because I’m really too young to have cataracts. I chose ReSTOR premium lenses because they would restore all of my sight – near, intermediate and far vision. While insurance paid for its portion of the operation, it would not pay for the premium lenses. Most insurance companies do pay for the non-premium lenses, but patients who choose that option will usually still have to wear eyeglasses.
   Seven hours later Glenn and I were walking out of the clinic and I was sporting clinic-issued sunglasses. Our first stop was to the nearest pharmacy for prescription eye drops and a fancier pair of sunglasses without the huge side panels. The clinic issued glasses come in one size only and it’s pretty big.
   Then it was off to find something for lunch. I opted for Crabby Bills.
   It was absolutely amazing. I could see out of my left eye again and without glasses. But my balance was off a bit because, while I could see out of my left eye, my right one still had a cataract. No worries; that was going to be taken care of the next day.
   The only part of the process I found annoying was taping an eye shield to my eye when I slept. It kept coming off, so we made a trip to Walmart after the second surgery to buy a pair of safety goggles. I would have to keep my eyes covered while I slept for two weeks. This was so I wouldn’t jab my fingers in my eyes or scratch them on the linen or pillow. Uncomfortable, but not unbearable and I was doing anything to protect my new eyes.
   It’s a good bet that exposure to sun played a part in my cataract development.
   All of the doctors I dealt with through this ordeal asked me if I wore sunglasses when I was younger.
   “Certainly not,” was my reply.
   I didn’t wear them because I couldn’t see without my regular glasses and there was a time when I couldn’t afford prescription sunglasses. Also, I was vain. I didn’t want to have racoon eyes, which result when sunglasses are worn and the skin around the eyes doesn’t tan with the rest of the face.
   Dr. Elaine Campbell of Tropical Optical on Grand Cayman strongly suggests that everyone wear sunglasses.
   I’ve learned my lesson. I now own several pairs and wear them religiously.
   Cataract surgery is performed on Grand Cayman all of the time. It’s a safe surgery and the eye doctors here are well trained and knowledgeable. In fact I won’t be going back to St. Luke’s for my checkups. They can be done here on Island.

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