A Month of Surgeries

This was published last month of the Huffington Post

When asked how my eyes were recovering after surgery, I’d point to each eye and reply, “They’re like the current political landscape—the right, Trump, is doing surprisingly well. The left, Clinton, is experiencing some unexpected challenges.” The joke was always received with a chuckle or a smile.

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In December 2015, I learned I’d developed a huge, fast-growing cataract in my right eye, requiring surgery to remove it. Per the advice of my ophthalmologist, I also had the slow-growing cataract in my left eye removed, and I underwent Refractive Lens Replacement Surgery (RLR) to correct my 20/1200 vision. During RLR, the lenses in my eyes were replaced with corrective ones. The surgeries were scheduled two weeks apart. I have Systemic Intolerance Exertion Disease (formerly called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), which causes immune system dysfunction. This results in longer than normal recovery times whenever I have medical procedures. So when the eye surgeon informed me I’d require only a few days to recover, I knew from previous outpatient surgeries that I might need twice as long. I made my peace with this potential outcome and prepared accordingly

After each surgery I needed a full week at home before I could return to work. My left eye became inflamed, slowing the healing process and necessitating many additional follow-up appointments.

I learned several important lessons from my surgeries and the month of recovery. First, even though friends offer to help during tough times, they’re human, and they might be distracted or cranky when the time comes to assist. I couldn’t drive for three weeks after the first surgery. Six friends provided me with twelve rides to pre-op and post-op appointments. One of these friend was in the middle of a real-estate transaction when she picked me up to take me grocery shopping, and I couldn’t tell if she was annoyed with me or simply stressed and preoccupied with her own issues. A few days later she explained she’d been worried about her business affairs, and I was relieved that no harm had been done to our friendship.

At other times, I stood on the receiving end of random acts of kindness. Fearful that I’d exhausted the good will of my friends, I took one thirty-five-dollar cab ride to a follow-up appointment. My cab driver offered to wait for me for the return trip. Once back in the cab, I told him I needed to go to a pharmacy instead of home. When I said I’d walk the two miles to my condo to save on cab fare, he took me to the pharmacy, waited for me, and refused to take payment for the last leg of the trip. This experience reminded me that the world is filled with beautiful people.

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After the first surgery, my eyes were so out of synch I punched out the lens of my glasses over the post-operative eye, covered it with a black patch, and wore glasses over it so I could see through the remaining lens with the other eye. This made me the subject of countless pirate and parrot jokes. I chose to respond to the jokes in kind, often exclaiming “Aargh” when someone inquired about the location of my parrot or pirate ship. I could have done without the pirate jokes, but I chose to roll with them in an effort to be a good sport.

Once I could drive again, I became a kinder, gentler road warrior. I’ve rarely felt road rage, but with 20/30 and 20/40 vision (legal for driving), I wanted to be both magnanimous and cautious behind the wheel. At stop lights, I waved everyone ahead of me. I never ran through yellow lights, and I carefully watched my speed. I began to think maybe I should drive this way even after my eyes healed. I enjoyed being generous to fellow drivers, and I continue this practice today.

When my grandmother died at eighty-nine, her housekeeper commented to me that Gerry (I called my grandmother by her first name) ran her dishwasher every night, no matter how small the load. After my surgeries, I appreciated the wisdom of this practice. Saving my energy became more important than frugality. Usually I wait to run the dishwasher or washing machine until I have full loads. But folding laundry or unloading the dishwasher was exhausting during my month of surgeries, so I temporarily jettisoned this practice and instead followed my grandmother’s lead, running small daily loads. This helped conserve my physical energy for other essential tasks.

I gradually adjusted to a fuzzy world. I could see, but not well. In good health, I go to the movies every week. During my first foray to the Cineplex after the surgeries, the blurry screen shocked me. Although compromised, I remained in my seat, and I returned weekly. For now, a slightly blurry movie is good enough.

It’s been over two months since the second surgery, and my eyes have healed well. They remain at 20/30 and 20/40. My ophthalmologist has cleared me for Lasik for each eye, during which my surgeon will use a laser to reshape my corneas. Lasik should leave me with 20/20 vision except when reading. After a month of surgeries and recovery, and three months of additional healing, I’m eager to see the world clearly again.

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