Surgery

On September 21st, I had my first cataract surgery. Can I just say "it was an eye opener" in more ways than one. I remember my mother's surgery, and my aunt's ... both had been put to sleep for the procedure. That was quite some years ago, and today the treatment procedures are different, at least with the Doc I had.

The pre-op began several weeks before the surgery. I had to make an appointment with my family doctor to have a physical and have my medical records (part of the pre-op paperwork for our hospital) updated (because I hadn't seen my doctor for over 2 years). The pre-op medical records sheet couldn't be completed any earlier than 30 days prior to the procedure so I had to have the form done sometime between August 21st and September 20th.

In the pre-op package were sheets that I was required to complete - my medical history listing any previous surgeries (for me that was many years ago and a stretch to come up with exact details), any allergies, bad experiences with anesthesia, drug allergies, family history of disease, etc. and a sheet for medical insurance coverage (ward, private, semi-private) in case (there was an emergency during the procedure) I had to be admitted. There was a sheet of instructions from the hospital (no food after midnight, clear fluids only up to 2 hours prior to surgery, nothing in those 2 hours), and a sheet of instructions from the ophthalmic surgeon (2 types of drops 4 times per day in the surgical eye for 2 days prior to the surgery) for pre-op and for post-op (3 types of drops 4 times per day for a week after surgery, then stop using one of the drops but continue with the other 2 for another 3 weeks). And a prescription for the drops.

The day before the surgery (in my case, 3 days before since surgery was on a Monday, I had to call on the Friday) I was to call the hospital (a number was given to call after 1:30pm) to get the time I was to arrive at the hospital. On Sept. 21st, I was to arrive at 11:00am.

Once I arrived, I handed over all the forms and was whisked into a change room to put on a hospital gown. Thankfully, one can remain fully dressed from the waist down, including shoes. I was not required to remove earrings or my gold chain either. (Note that one should not go fully decked out - remove what you don't really need before leaving home, and don't wear makeup or put any creams on your face that might run.)

Once I was changed my stuff went into a plastic labeled bag that I carried with me. I was adorned with a hospital bracelet with my details and sent to the waiting room. Shortly after that I was called into the interview room, went through the medical forms with a nurse, had my blood pressure and temperature taken and recorded, arm bracelets checked, and an IV stub inserted in the back of my hand.  Following that it was the waiting room again, though I didn't have to wait long before they called me into the pre-op room. I got on a cot and they checked the arm band again, began dosing out the pre-op eye drops to dilate the pupil in the correct eye. (Oh that was another thing ... the nurse confirmed with me that I knew which eye was being done, checked her notes, and then put a large arrow over the eye to be done with felt marker.)

I don't really know how long I waited in the pre-op beds. It was a bit like an assembly line. I was
third or fourth in the row. The bed closest to the door was taken out (to surgery) and the rest of our beds were moved one space closer to the door. I was told the procedure usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes. When my turn came I was wheeled down several hallways and parked outside the OR.

They tell me (because I don't remember) the OR nurse came out and once again went over the medical information with me, checked my arm band, confirmed the eye to be done on her notes and went back into the OR. I did see the doctor come out and he waved hello and he motored on down the hallway (bathroom break?). Apparently (also don't remember this) the anesthesiologist came out and spoke with me about what they use. It's basically something that just relaxes you, and doesn't put you to sleep. In some cases when it's necessary, there can also be a needle in the eye (I hoped to god I didn't need that), and in very rare cases, they can put you to sleep (I'd have just preferred that).

Shortly after I was wheeled into the OR and readied for the surgery. More freezing gel in the eye (no biggie), but then some metal contraption that holds your eye open. Felt that a little, but it wasn't really noticeable. Then, what felt like a shroud with a hole in it was put over my face, and the hole positioned over the operable eye. That I found ... confining even though it was only sitting lightly over my face. It wasn't tight or fitted closely, and it was just barely opaque - you could see light and shadows through it.

Still, I was trying not to panic at that point. I think I'd have been okay if it weren't for the shroud. I could hear everything, which I found more disconcerting because I couldn't see it. I heard the machines as they worked, and some machine yelling out "chop, chop" every so often. In my slightly heightened nervous state, it sounded much more like "shock" than "chop" and that actually scared me a little since the blood pressure cuff went off and on frequently, and I was hooked up to a heart monitor. Another machine grated out "cortex" ... and I associate that word with a lot of not so good things, like the cerebral cortex.

I don't know what the anesthesia was or how much they gave me of it - I couldn't see my arm with the IV plug, but they said they gave me some. The procedure itself ... well you could see bright light and total blackness, but that bothered me much less than the noise of the OR machines. A few times I could feel what they were doing too - not what you'd call painful, just pressure I guess.

It's quite difficult to keep your eye still when you can't actually tell where you're looking, and because the eye is frozen, you can't feel whether it's moving either. I could hear the doctor talking to me, and could respond to him. It did hurt a little when they implanted the new lens but from what he said (when I told him I could feel that) he said it was because my pupils were so tiny and he had to enlarge that a little for the lens. A few seconds after that was in, the surgery was done.

The most painful part (which I wasn't prepared for) was the removal of the metal eye clamp ... it was like "hey, owww". The doctor said it wasn't the first time he's heard that.

Overall the procedure for the first eye was not what I'd call painful, but it was a little disconcerting. I haven't had a surgical procedure since the late 1970s, and then I was asleep (emergency caesarean when my youngest was born). I guess I've been lucky.

The second eye was done on November 2nd, and the procedure was mostly the same, up until the time I got to the OR. This time I do remember the conversation with the OR nurse, who asked me about the first surgery. I told her everything I remembered, and she seemed rather surprised. She said she hasn't had anyone who remembers that much of the time in the OR. Then the anesthesiologist came out (I feel like I know him, but not from any surgery I had, and not from the last eye surgery as he said he didn't do my surgery last time) and again I was asked what I remembered, so I went through it again. I did mention I found the most disconcerting thing the sounds of the machines.

Shortly after, the doctor came out himself and wheeled me into the OR. The procedure was basically the same, but I was more relaxed. Whether that was a result of the different anesthesia, or more of it, or already knowing what would happen, or the fact that the machines were suspiciously quiet this time (I'm guessing they turned the sound down for me) I don't know (maybe it was a combination of all of those) but even the "shroud" seemed less ominous this time.

After each surgery, you go back to the pre-op room where they offer you a drink (water, juice, pop, tea, coffee) and some extra strength tylenol.  By then, I just wanted to go home, so I signed the paperwork and took the post-op care sheet and left without a drink or tylenol. To be honest, I didn't need the tylenol at any time. I didn't experience any pain from the eye afterwards. A little itching, and it's very hard to resist rubbing, but you must! You can't rub it or anything to relieve the itch. Those times were short, and didn't happen often so it's quite manageable from start to finish.

Was it worth it? You bet. Dr. Hillson and his team gave me back my sight.

From nearly completely unable to discern faces or details, to 20/20 vision. What was most incredible was how bright the world has become. Previously, my world was shrouded in darkness. In a 10' X 12' room I had 3 lights with 100 watt bulbs, and to me it was still too dark to see well enough to sew on a button, or read a book. Those two things I could do, but only if I had on powerful glasses and held them about 1" from the tip of my nose. Now, I can read my computer screen from 2 feet away with the screen text set back to 100% (instead of having to have my nose almost touching it and the text set at 200%). I can read the text on my TV screen (7' away).

Literally, I can see again. The world was so bright and the colours so intense it hurt for the first few days, but things are beginning to settle back into normalcy. Although it's still bright, it doesn't hurt anymore. Once the left eye has healed fully, it will be just fine.

There are things I didn't notice before. Like I can't read small print still on packages, like the ingredients list, or on medications, and I can't read the newspaper unless I hold it at a distance further than my own arms will reach.

Beyond the 7' distance of the tv, text is blurry. My old glasses work for that, but none of my glasses worked for the close-up problems. Where the computer screen now sits (2' away) my vision is the sharpest ... being a photographer I tend to equate that with the "sweet spot" of a lens, where it's focal distance becomes the sharpest, and falls off closer or further away. I picked up a pair of magnifying reading glasses, and they work fine for the close up stuff, so hopefully, that's all I'll need for those times.

I've got to set up an appointment to have my eyes tested to see whether or not I need to get new glasses. I'm pretty sure I can't handle bifocals, so I'll end up with 2 pairs if I need prescriptions.

I guess this pretty much the end of this particular journey. I'm off to live my life again!