Modern microsurgery saves vision

If you are reading this post without giving a second thought to whether you can see it clearly, count your blessings. Most of us, even if we wear glasses, take for granted that an occasional update in our prescription is all we’ll ever need.

It can get more complicated than that, however, and I’ve been on a bit of a vision roller coaster since the first of the year. My first eye surgery, a dual procedure for both cataract (intraocular lens implant) and glaucoma (non-penetrating trabeculectomy), was January 9. That day, in one hour, I went from decent vision (with glasses) to not being able to see well enough to drive. The operated eye was so blurred it was almost useless, and it was two weeks before it cleared enough for me to drive. Still, the other eye was functioning, so I could watch TV, work on the computer, etc.

The lingering double vision in the eye didn’t clear up until the last two (of six) stitches were removed seven weeks after surgery. (Stitches put tension on the surface of the eye and can blur vision.) Suddenly the gimpy eye was the better eye. It was like having a new HD TV. My video games never looked better. It was amazing. With the addition of new glasses, my distance vision was sharper than it had been in years.

That lasted about three weeks. Then yesterday I got the other eye done. Now, suddenly, for the first time in my life, I can’t see up close. I can’t read how long to nuke the frozen dinner. I can’t read the date on my watch. I can’t read the labels on my meds, including the three different kinds of drops I’m having to put in the eye four times a day (now I understand why each prescription eye drop has a different colored top). In a few weeks I’ve swung from not being able to drive to not being able to read.

I’m at the beginning of another seven-week period of waiting for all the stitches to come out and then getting another new pair of prescription glasses.

It’s crazy. Since yesterday morning, I’ve been watching TV without glasses, something I haven’t done in 40 years. I’m quite confident I could drive to the store tomorrow if I wanted to — without glasses (which raises an interesting question about the eyeglasses restriction on my license). The trade-off is I’ve abruptly joined the ranks of those whose arms aren’t long enough for reading. Until now, I’ve never needed glasses for close work. Now I can’t read without them. This will be my new normal and it’s permanent; the implanted lenses are for distance only. Unnerving. Blindness of a different sort.

Reading this screen is a struggle right now and I don’t know how much I’ll be reading or writing for a while. I’ve been given some advice about choosing some drugstore reading glasses, but I don’t know how much they’ll help. It’s probably going to be another frustrating seven weeks.

By the time all this is over, it will have been a very long spring — but worth every minute. Cataracts gradually blur and dim vision and glaucoma leads to blindness. But modern microsurgery can do wonders for both. I am grateful to be living in the 21st Century.

28 comments

  1. Having been near-sighted since I was a teenager, the idea of seeing things better that are farther away has always seemed so alien to me. And even though I have bifocal lenses (which I hate), I actually still prefer to look over the damned things when I’m reading rather than look through them. Of course, that has the serious drawback of giving me a terrible crick in the neck when I’ve stared at my monitor for too long!

    Anyway, as I said on an earlier post where you talked about this: my fear of having surgery on my eyes is surpassed only by my fear of going blind. I’m really glad to hear things appear to be working out for you. Coming through all this with just the weird “distance reversal” as the one remaining issue sounds so much better than the other possibilities!

    1. Complicated eye surgery is legitimately terrifying but beats blindness by a mile. Remember that, if you ever reach that point. It occurs to me I’ve lost one of my favorite social crutches. Being very shy, I’ve never really been able to look someone right in the eye when talking to them, so I’d take off my glasses and hold them in a thoughtful pose while looking directly at a face I really couldn’t see! Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

  2. Hope you heal quickly! I’ve been a victim of severe nearsightedness my entire life. LASIK solved that in 2001, but now, eyes are getting old. Some traces of macular, glaucoma, and cataracts. But, luckily, no sign of MS affecting my eyes – not yet anyway.

    1. I know virtually nothing about MS, but there lots of options for the eyes. I guess you know that, having had LASIK. It’s wonderful to not be relegated to the medicine and techniques of 50 years ago. And new techniques and treatments are coming on line all the time. Take care of those peepers. The limit is 2 per customer.

  3. Congratulations on your newly-found visual acuity. Brava!

    In my experience, cataract surgery is life transforming. Unlike you, I chose to keep my near-sightedness in both eyes. After years of whipping off my glasses to see things up close, the habit is so embedded that I felt no need to retrain myself. Dr G thought that I was a bit nuts, but allowed as how he would give me what I wanted. I’ve not been sorry.

    BTW: Thanks for the education concerning the surgery for glaucoma.

    1. You’re welcome. (Drop me a line if you ever want more details.) Most people seem to have a general understanding of cataract surgery, but know much less about glaucoma techniques.

      I can certainly understand your keeping your near-sightedness. After all, that’s what you and I have dealt with all our lives so doing it makes perfect sense. In fact, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been the better choice, considering the difficulty I now have trying to see clearly enough to get all those drops in my eye. The first attempt, with my near vision gone, was laughable. I wavered between dropping liquid on my cheek and poking myself in the eye with the tip of the bottle.

      It think it will probably be best if I don’t try to trim the cat’s claws for the next couple of months …

      1. Thanks for the laugh – at the picture of you with your eyedrops. The eyedrops were of no difficulty for me. For some years, now, I’ve had “dry eyes” at night; thus, I “awake” (but not enough to remember the next morning, sometimes) to use eyedrops at least once or twice during each night. It is automatic and requires no vision at all for me to insert eyedrops.

        I think you will be happy with being able to see at a distance. There is always a trade-off. My eye surgeon had told me that “binocular” lenses were available for implantation; but, that they have some draw backs. He felt that, with my being an engineer (used to precision), I would not be pleased with them. As you well know, some people opt to go one way with one eye and the other with the other. That would drive me nuts as even 1/4 diopter difference in the corrected vision of my eyes has always bothered me.

        Take it easy on the cat – lol.

        1. Those variable focus lenses weren’t an option for me. The pressure changes with glaucoma make them very problematic. If precision is a drawback, I’d have really been unhappy with them anyway. Editors need precise vision for the same reasons engineers do.

          How I envy your being able to pop drops in without a mirror! I’ve never mastered that, and I’ve used artificial tears for years.

        2. I failed to specify that I don’t even sit up or turn on a light. I keep the bottle of eyedrops on the table next to my bed where I can easily reach it. I cup the thumb and first two fingers of my left hand around my eye (which, of course, can be done by touch) and then brace my right hand, with the bottle, against the cupped fingers. This pretty well centers the bottle above my eye and I just need to squeeze a drop or two out. Eezy-peezy.

        3. I assumed you were doing it in the dark. What a talent. But on second thought, maybe I could do that since I couldn’t see the drop coming … I’m such a wus.

  4. Ohmygosh, I hope you can get the near-vison thing under control. I have to wear bi-focals (actually tri-focals) and they drive me nuts. I usually just push them down and read over the top. I am so sorry you have to go through all of this and I wish you a speedy 7 weeks!!!

    1. I read that first as “rear-vision thing”! Now wouldn’t that really complicate things! I’m confident glasses will correct whatever remaining problems I have after everything has healed, and since I’ve worn glasses for almost 50 years, I’m used to them. I expect this seven weeks to go much faster than the first since I can already see to drive and even better, I’m much more comfortable. The doctor put in a “bandage contact” this time (don’t know why he didn’t the first time) and it makes a huge difference. Thanks for the good wishes.

  5. It has been 31 years now since I had a bout of “recurrent corneal abrasion” in one eye. It would happen randomly every few days or so, the cornea would tear and the pain was so severe that I couldn’t drive or really function until it healed. (Fortunately I found that the cornea is the fastest-growing tissue in the body and it would heal in a day or so.) We lived in Boston in those days and I went to the world-famous Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary for it. They tried simply patching it at first and when that didn’t work they tried experimental thin contacts as a kind of bandage over it. That didn’t work either, and I went back to patching the eye. They said they were out of ideas, but that the condition, cause unknown, usually (usually!) went away by itself. It did – about 6 months later.

    I never found out a cause for the condition but to this day I am very conservative and defensive about any messing around with my eyes. But my wife, Mollie, as I told you once before, had lenses inserted in both eyes and had an excellent result. Me, given my history, I would have to think long and hard about it.

    There is an existential aspect to this eye thing. We think of ourselves as being fully aware of our environment at all times, but the truth is that a human being is a brain with sensory inputs and those sensors can lie to you. We see only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum for example, but there is much in the infra red and the ultraviolet that we do not see. I recall an experiment detailed in an old Life magazine where people wore special glasses that changed the image top for bottom and after a while their brains actually re-inverted the images! Then there is the “phantom pain” phenomenon that amputees experience. They feel the missing limb and sometimes it even itches. That’s got to be frustrating. Interestingly, cases of pain in a missing limb have been “cured” by tricking the brain. In one case a man felt his missing hand was clenched and cramping all the time. They placed a mirror strategically so that he could unclench and move his other hand while watching its mirror image and imagining that it was the one that was missing. Amazingly, after only a few sessions the pain disappeared!

    You are a brave gal, PT. Medical science has advanced in the last 31 years and I’m fully confident your eyes are going to be just great. Hang in there. Please keep us updated on your progress.

    1. As I’ve probably said many times, I don’t consider it brave when the only alternative is eventual blindness, with compromised vision in the meantime. But it’s nice to have so many friends here in my corner. Thanks.

  6. Have never had the surgery due to three things:
    1. Don’t care that my eyeball won’t feel pain. Just too damned scary seeing a needle coming that close to me eye.
    2. Even with corrective surgery age will still affect your vision. I’m 50, have worn glasses (and/or contacts) since Jr. High and said surgery will not last long enough to make up for the horror of reason Number One
    3. I look hot with glasses. Not so much with contacts. Only wear them to ski. Damned goggles.

    You ARE the bravest in the land! So happy that the procedure worked out so well. I DO miss peripheral vision, which glasses do not afford.
    -APPLAUSE TO YOU!-

    1. Oh no, no seeing needles! Horrors! I forgot to mention that part I guess. I’m not brave like you and Jim maybe think. I’m a devout coward. Yellow to the core. All this was done under general anesthesia. None of that “you’ll be so relaxed that you won’t care” crap. No way. I know how my mind works. Stark terror. I’d die a thousand deaths before the doctor ever touched me. I told them up front that if I wasn’t completely out, if I saw or felt anything, nobody would get out of there alive! The only needle I ever saw was the IV needle.

      1. OMG PT, you had me rolling for a minute there! I once had a series of recurring nightmares, of being trapped in a “waterfall” of pins, needles and fishhooks, that had been inspired by watching the stitches I’d ripped open in a very delicate part of my anatomy being repaired. I’ll spare you the gory details and simply add that I was 15 – well past the age when such surgery is normally done, and the nurses in attendance were very cute! 😯

  7. Wow! That is quite a change. I confess to some envy, though: When you’ve fully recovered, your eyes will be excellent for birding! We’d be a heck of a team.

    You: Look at that bird.

    Me: Where?

    You (pointing to the brush): Right there. The one with the brown tuft on the back of its neck.

    Me (with binoculars): That bird is half a mile away!

    You: What is it?

    Me: Let’s check the Sibley’s Guide. According to this, I think it’s a chestnut-collared longspur. What do you think?

    You: Hold the book up.

    Me: There?

    You: Back up. And watch out for the cliff!

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