I know a few readers of this blog are considering undergoing cataract surgery, so I have decided to write a post on my experience, so far.
About four months ago I had conjunctivitis which left me with one very pink left eye, and not so pink right eye. It cleared quickly but I was worried it might have damaged my eyes. Instead of talking to the doctor about whether this could have occurred, I started examining my eyes by closing one eye when reading and I noticed that my left eye had a foggy patch, like I was wearing scratched glasses, right in the middle of the eye. I also noticed that the print of whatever I read became clearer when I closed my left eye.
My mother had just had cataracts removed so I immediately thought, I must have them too, either that or macular degeneration, which was being heavily publicised at the time on the television. I had to wait two weeks for an optometrist appointment. He quickly confirmed that I had cataracts, in both eyes, which came as a surprise as I could not see them on the right eye. He made an appointment for me to see the one ophthalmologist in Wangaratta a month later.
With as much dread as one who knows that someone is about to recommend that I let them cut into my eyes, I turned up to the ophthalmologist. He added to my tension by keeping me waiting for an nearly an hour, before his assistant measured my eye lenses. She had a lot of trouble measuring the lens in the left eye, having to use an ultra sound machine, after the first machine failed to get an accurate measurement. It was then back out to the waiting room for another half hour.
When the ophthalmologist finally saw me, he told me the chances of successful removal of my cataracts was less than normal, and there was a chance that the operation could leave my vision just as bad or even blind an eye. This freaked me out and I didn’t really listen to why. It wasn’t until a second appointment that I heard the membrane between the lenses of my eyes and the rest of the eye was thinner than normal, due to my parent’s genes. He said if the membrane ruptured, then he would perform a second operation to repair it, but there were chances it would not be successful. I had asked him the odds of successful cataract removal when I walked in, and he had refused to answer. In the end he said that it was 400:1, and I had two eyes to do.
An appointment had already been made for two weeks later to get the surgery done in Benalla Base Hospital, so all I had to do was arrange a week off work for each eye (with three weeks between operations) and then wait. But an infection in my mouth caused me to cancel the first operation.
Last Monday, at 8am, I arrived at the Benalla Base Hospital, feeling ready for an adventure. I was directed to a waiting room that slowly filled with people twenty to thirty years older than me. I tired to finish reading the last 40 pages of Jack Maggs, as I listened to one of the elderly patients espouse his views on everything from Aborigines - they all got pregnant when the baby bonus came in, to Gough Whitlam - he nearly sent the country bust and Rudd’s just as bad, to global warming – it doesn’t exist. Perhaps his cataracts made it impossible for him to read a newspaper, but then he said he had a lot of time for the views of Rupert Murdoch, another person lost to the dross of the Murdoch press.
After about 40 minutes the anaesthetist’s assistant came around and took me to her office and asked me a few questions, weighed me (their scales had me two kilos lighter than the ones at home), and got me to sign my life away. I then went back to the waiting room. Fortunately the Rupert Murdoch fan had left, so I sat back and tried to finish the last 30 pages of Jack Maggs before I lost my eyesight. Twelve pages later a nurse called my name.
I was taken into a room with two other patients, both sitting in wheel chairs. Eye drops where put in my eye, which made it hard to continue reading, so I had to converse with them. One remarked that I appeared young to have cataracts. Another said that her daughter had had them and blamed being out in the sun playing tennis for them. I told her my cricket theory: if excessive sunlight caused them then we would hear about cricketers having problems with cataracts, as we hear about their problems with skin cancer.
The nurse wheeled one of them out and soon came back with the empty wheel chair for me, and then put some more eye drops in my eye. It seemed that most of the patients, like me, where getting their left eyes done. Our conversation had dried up, as worries took hold, and I tried to read some more of Jack Maggs, only to be interrupted by the nurse, who relieved me of my back pack, watch, glasses and book. So all I had to do was worry. Fortunately, they did not keep me waiting too long as the nurse returned to wheel me down the corridor, commenting that it felt like the tires where flat.
She pushed me through the swinging doors of the operating theatre where an anaesthetist’s nurse and a curtain barrier waited. I thought the operation might be done sitting upright in the chair, so I asked the nurse and she told me that shortly I would be transferred to a surgical bed. She asked me a few questions as we waited. Every now and then she would peek around the corner of the curtain. I heard no groans or panicked rushing. About ten minutes later, the ophthalmologist appeared and put a texta mark over my left eye.
I then waited a few more minutes before the curtain was pulled back. -no blood stained floors, no worried faces – and wheeled into a side room where I clambered onto a bed. I was then asked the same series of questions again, like have I had an allergic reaction before. I amused the anaesthetist with a story about a trip to the Wangaratta Base Hospital where its anaesthetist had taken four attempts to insert an intravenous drip into my hand. This one inserted it first go. More eye drops and then a light weight, wrapped in cloth, was placed on my left eye.
If you are thinking of getting your cataracts removed you might what to skip the rest of this paragraph. The sedating drug going into my hand was doing a great job because the anaesthetist then inserted a needle into the corner of my eye. Just a slight sting. The weight was removed.
I was then pushed into the operating theatre and told to close my eyes. Some sort of glue was brushed over my face and then white plastic wrap applied. I watched as something pushed against the plastic and then cut though it, but not into my eye. A light was shone through the gap and into my eye, making it impossible to see anything. Something was then attached to the eye lids to keep them open. The ophthalmologist then told me to watch a light, which I dutifully did as he moved the laser around. I felt nothing. After about ten minutes he stopped and inserted something, the plastic lens I guess. He then removed the device holding my eye lids apart and the plastic from my face and taped a plastic shield over my eye. He told me everything had gone well.
I had survived.
I was wheeled out of the operating room and into an enclave where another nurse took my blood pressure a few times before. When she was satisfied that I had survived, I hopped into a wheel chair and was wheeled to a tea room for a cup of tea and sandwiches. After about half an hour the nurse came with a bag of goodies: Panadol, and three different eye drops with instructions to use them only if I was in pain. The package contained a note saying patients could do their normal activities, like lawn bowls and golf, but no swimming. I also was told I had an appointment to see the ophthalmologist the next day at 8.35.
I managed to perch my glasses on the end of my nose to finish reading Jack Maggs while waiting for a bus home.
There where no problems overnight, just the feeling that I had a slight lump in the eye. I slept okay, but woke up too early for the appointment. I showered, but kept my head out of the water, as instructed. Off to the clinic.
For the first time the ophthalmologist did not keep me waiting for an extended period. He removed the shield and I immediately noticed that colors where much more vivid and black was no longer greyish but black. The world had more texture and wasn’t as smooth as it had appeared before.
He checked my eyes and said everything was fine. I was given the eye shield back and told to use it for the next three nights. I was then told to put two lots of eye drops in my eyes four times a day, on rising, lunch, dinner and before bed. When I got home I put the first lot in, they stung a bit, and then five minutes later, as instructed, the second lot.
I went into the bathroom to examine my eye, very red and surprisingly bruised. I could see my freckles again, every strand of my beard, and every other blemish. I turned on my computer, the colors where so bright and the text a black, but a bit blurry, so I took off the spectacles I usually wore when using computers and put on an old pair. Much better.
I picked up a newspaper and found its print much blacker and I could read it easily with my ex-computer glasses, which at one time had been my close reading glasses. I could see the effect on my vision of the remaining cataract in the right eye. My vision is clearer still, when I close the right eye. The floaties in my left eye, don’t seem as noticeable too, I hope the same happens when the cataract is removed from my right eye.
Over the past few days my eye has become less red and the bruise has faded. The only hassle has been putting in two lots of eye drops, four times a day. My eyes sting when I put in the Chlorsig, and it seemed to be getting worse. Unfortunately, it came with no information, so I logged onto the internet and found some which said if you have a burning sensation after using it, call your doctor. I did, but of course it was just after hours. Fortunately I had his mobile phone number, I rang, he answered and said it wasn’t a problem, I just had dry eyes and should buy some tear drops.
The next day I did, interestingly the droplet’s packaging listed seven causes of dry eyes, including swimming (I swim three times a week), computer stare and air conditioning (it has been 35 or more every day this week so the air conditioning has been getting a good run). I have had no stinging since I rang the ophthalmologist.
Occasionally it feels like something is rubbing against the eye and I am getting the occasional flash of light into the left side of the eye, but that seems to be settling down today.
I got all this mail yesterday including: the hospital bill of $245, artificial lens bill of $310, ophthalmologist bill of $1100. I had been quoted $950, but upon ringing his clinic I was told his charges went up at the beginning of November, at the same time as the Federal government cut back the medicare rebate from $626 to $416, so I am out of pocket considerably more then I had hoped. And I am still yet to get the anaesthetist’s bill.
I have another appointment with the ophthalmologist next Tuesday to see how it is progressing.