One week ago Monday, on 12/12/22, I had cataract surgery on my left eye. And today, on this shortest day of the year–Winter Solstice–I’m thinking a lot about vision and what we can see in life if our eyes are working. Personally, whenever I get to that point of my life flashing before my eyes it’s going to take a while because I have seen a lot of things. A lot. (This image of my mismatched eyes, by the way, has all the filters so do not be alarmed. But, the day after surgery, my left eye was still dilated, so that part is accurate.)
That’s it. End of story.
Just kidding, that’s never the end of the story. While I’m certainly of an age (58) to have cataract surgery just because my eyes are aging, mine was more of a follow-up to the eye surgery I’d had in March of 2021. That first surgery was to remove an epiretinal membrane from my left eye which had developed due to information from COVID which I first had in March of 2020. What can I say? I’m an early adopter and a virus over-achiever. That weirdness, also known as a macular pucker, resulted in the vision in my left eye being warped, bubbling out, and generally very unnerving.
The first surgery removed the membrane but it never entirely corrected my vision. The removal of the membrane, however, meant there was nothing left pulling on my retina, so still a solid win all around. I like my retina and would like to keep it, thank you very much. But it also created a scenario whereby a cataract could develop more rapidly than normal. Et voilá, that’s what happened. Apparently, my right eye won’t need cataract surgery for probably another ten years, if ever. But old lefty got a jump on things.
Today, a week out, I’m still functioning, essentially, with one eye. I’m squinting my left one shut to stay focused. Basically, my right eye is as it always has been: needs some correction for distance and now also some help with reading for any length of time longer than a round of Words With Friends or my daily practice of Spanish on Duolingo. More than that and my right eye gets tired and things go blurry. My left eye, however, is somewhere in limbo. I can actually see much clearer at a distance now with my left eye, but the close or medium range is still loading. Still loading. Refresh screen, still loading.
It’s also, apparently, having a party because it’s bobbing a tiny bit, like walking in a bouncy castle and there are definitely some disco lights happening in there. Jumpy, seizure-inducing dance lights. Fine, I’m exaggerating. I don’t think I can even seize up from my own eyeball dancing, but, just to be safe, I’m keeping it closed. In short, I still can’t see properly.
One of the steps for the cataract surgery was that one stares into a laser which looked like four circles that focused into each other and then scattered, as if four bright red roses with yellow edges, became one and then suddenly were blown apart with the petals floating about in a pond that is, I suppose, my eyeball.
That was some weird sci-fi shit.
After the roses, I waited for about ten minutes (maybe less) until I was wheeled into the operating room for the cataract cleanup and lens insertion. During that time, however, I realized that I couldn’t see ANYTHING out of my left eye. I registered movement beyond me, and maybe some shadows on my slate of grey, but that was it. I immediately thought of my father who endured macular degeneration and for the last twenty-something years of his life, had progressively decreased vision in both eyes. He was legally blind. And yet, that never stopped him. The man walked from his home, across the street, and to church every single day with his wonky-ass eyes. I guess his faith really did guide him.
Always a voracious reader, he quickly shifted to books-on-tape, the precursor to audiobooks. Like him, I’ve also shifted to audiobooks and have discovered an entirely new form of consuming literature. And it is wonderful. You should try it. (My memoir comes out as an audiobook on January 3, 2023, narrated by yours truly. Just sayin’.)
And I’ve also thought a lot about sound beyond audiobooks and how we tune into noises to keep safe and stay grounded amidst our surroundings. I’ve lived in my building for fifteen years and I’ve heard its changes over the years. I guess we’re aging together with all of our creaks and hisses and groans each time the weather shifts.
Oh yeah, and touch. That, too. With my eyes off-kilter, I have to rely more on my sense of touch so, for example, I don’t waste eye drops that just roll down my cheek if I don’t aim properly. I have to feel my way through the process since my eye can’t do that work just now. Or when I’m gauging distance, I have to depend more on my non-visual senses so I don’t fall down flights of stairs or walk into walls. Let me give a quick shout-out here to my mom who insisted I learned to touch-type which allows me to keep writing even if I can’t really see the keyboard or screen as before. Pre-COVID, I’d taken all of this for granted.
It’s all quite tragic really, except that it isn’t. My vision should right itself in another six to eight weeks, thanks to excellent doctors and technological advances in science and medicine. But not everyone is so lucky. Not everyone has access to health care or lives in a place where cataract surgeries are routine.
So, today, on this shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere, I count my blessings that I can see at all. Particularly after–however briefly–experiencing blindness in one eye and for these past few years of distorted vision on a daily basis. I’m grateful for my doctor and the extra work my right eye has been doing to keep me fully functional in the world.
Tonight I will rest my eyes during our longest night marking the Winter Solstice and look forward to the days getting longer again–starting tomorrow–and my vision improving so that I’ll again be able to see more and more of the world around me.
Examine something beautiful today, with or without your eyes, and take a moment to reflect on the miracle of surviving this past year.
See you soon! 😉
Martina Clark is the author of My Unexpected Life: An International Memoir of Two Pandemics, HIV and COVID-19 which is available everywhere books are sold. The audiobook version will be released on Audible, iTunes, and Amazon on January 3rd, 2023. She narrated the book using just one eye but all of her voice.