I am fully dressed, lying flat on my back with some sort of paper bag over most of my head, discussing cataract surgery operations with Dr. Herbert Knauf of Eye Site of Clearwater.
“How many do you perform in a year?” I ask.
“About 800,” he replies casually.
“All by laser?” I ask, showing off.
“Actually, by ultrasound,” he says. “It breaks up the cataractous lens. I aspirate the fragments and then insert this plastic lens through a tiny incision. No stitches. The eye heals itself.”
What makes this conversation bizarre is that the doctor is operating on my right eye as we talk. I feel no pain. In fact, although my eye is open and his scalpel is in play, I see only a pleasant bluish light, uninterrupted and benign.
Thirty minutes before, a nurse had anesthetized the eye with a series of drops. An hour from now, I’ll be home. Tomorrow I’ll do everything I normally do except swim. In three days, my focus back, I’ll see better and brighter and sharper than I have in years.
Cataract Surgery Growing (Affecting More Seniors)
According to an analysis conducted by iData Research, it was found that about 3.8 million cataract surgeries were performed in the United States in 2017 and this number is expected to keep growing. Cataracts affect over 24 million Americans who are 40 or older and by age 75, about 50% of people suffer from this degenerative eye disease.
Like senior discounts, ear hairs, and senior moments, cataracts come with age to three of every four of us. They tend to grow until our vision is so impaired, especially at night, that we must seek help in spite of our common deep-seated fear involving anyone messing with our eyes. Fortunately, due to the growing rates of people with cataracts, procedures to fix them have become much safer and cheaper.
History of Cataract Surgery
When I first identified my cataract – and, like a fog ball in the middle of your vision, you can’t ignore it – I harked back to my mother-in-law’s cataract operation some 40 years ago. Following her procedure, she was confined to bed for days, her head braced uncomfortably. And for the rest of her life, she was forced to wear Coke-bottle glasses.
Even that was a breeze compared with cataract surgery in ancient times. In the 5th century BC, physicians crudely pushed the cataract to the back of the eye, enabling the patient to see brighter, but unfocused since they had no corrective lenses. Did I mention that they bound the patient, head to foot, prior to operating?
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology:
- Which of the following may cause cataracts: a) diabetes; b) long-term exposure to sunlight; c) steroids; d) eye injuries; e) all of the above.
- How many Americans wear corrective eyewear? a) 100 thousand b) 150 million c) 950 thousand d) 300 million
- Where do most eye injuries occur? a) bathroom b) bedroom c) work d) playing sports
Once my cataract was diagnosed, I had nightmares about anesthetizing injections being administered to my eye with a needle the size of a turkey baster. My heart would clench as I envisioned someone cutting into my eye. I watched, horrified, as the blade approached, the pointed edge dripping with blood. (Eye blood?!?) It was a vision worthy of Edgar Allan Poe.
NO PAIN, LOTS OF GAIN
I feared the operation almost as much as I feared blindness itself. So it is for you who know this dread that I write this now.
The operation is, in the words of the lady who had her procedure just before mine, “A piece of chocolate cake.” No pain, lots of gain.
Colors are like summer now, reading is effortless, and night driving is no longer tedious; it’s like having a brand new eye.
Best of all, Medicare pays for most of it. And once removed, cataracts do not grow back.
As a bonus, the large plastic eye patch I wore at bedtime for a week frightened the grandkids. I looked for all the world like a Borg out of Star Trek.
For more information on what’s got to be the most painlessly effective medical procedure this side of childhood inoculations, talk to your ophthalmologist or visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology website at www.aao.org.
THOSE ABOUT TO GET CATARACT SURGERY…
AN OLD FRIEND OF MINE NAN RAMSEY WROTE THE FOLLOWING IN NOVEMBER 2006:
I read your column about cataract surgery and thought I’d pass on some information about mine and Crystalens.
Did you have the new “accommodating” lenses”?
I did, and so far, I’m delighted with them. I’m attaching a copy of a letter to my sisters after the first eye was done (easier than trying to explain it all again). The second one’s done now and working beautifully. The surgery was early enough so that we made it to McDonald’s for breakfast.
I had the big shield on my eye and a bandage on my nose where the surgeon had removed a small blood tumor. An old guy stopped at our booth and looked at me, then looked at Wally and said, “Well, why don’t you have a black eye?” Guess he thought Wally had won!
Here’s the promised summary – so far. I know I’ve told each of you bits and pieces, but I wanted to get it all together, partly for my own edification. Fran, it may be helpful when you get to the point of making a decision, and Laura, the cataract monster will probably catch up with you, too, eventually.
What to Expect After Cataract Surgery
The first thing I noticed, of course, was the vibrancy of colors. Things I had thought were white before, like the refrigerator, had actually been yellowish, and became bright blue-white. The whites were the most noticeable, but all colors became brighter. That was due to the removal of the sick old lens and doesn’t affect focus. I was expecting this, so it didn’t surprise me, but it’s really great.
I had been expecting perfect distance vision, but it’s not. It’s good, and better than legal for driving, for the first time in my life. I guess you know that ever since I got my first license at 16, I’ve had a “corrective lenses” restriction on it. I think, and hope, that after the 2nd surgery, it will be even better, since the two will be working together.