“I think its time for this cataract to be removed.” This observation by my optometrist did not come as a surprise! I had known for some time that I had cataracts in both eyes, and that the one in my right eye was considerably worse than the left one, but they were not posing any problems. YET!! Over the past year or so I had begun to notice changes in my right eye. My vision had deteriorated dramatically, to the point that I was unable to read the print on the TV screen, and my optometrist had to change my contact lens script every few months. Night driving had become increasingly difficult, the headlights of oncoming cars too bright, and haloes appearing around street lights and other lights. My left eye could compensate to some extent for activities such as reading and computer work, but distance vision had become a strain, even when I was wearing glasses or contact lenses. Reluctant as I was to have eye surgery, I was forced to agree with my optometrist that the time had come to make an appointment with an ophthalmic surgeon.

Doctors have their individual styles, protocols and procedures for running their practices, and this was my specific experience with my particular ophthalmic surgeon, which may not be the same for another one. After taking a detailed health, family and vision history, she conducted a comprehensive eye examination. She started with a visual acuity test to measure the clarity of my vision with each eye. I am shortsighted, so my vision was not clear without my contact lenses, but my right eye was worse with and without the contact lenses, due to the cataract. A test of the pressure inside my eyes was done.

Using a slit lamp, the surgeon examined the structures of my eyes under magnification, looking for any problems in the cornea, lens and iris. To determine peripheral vision, a visual field assessment was done. In order to see the retina at the back of my eye clearly, the ophthalmologist needed to dilate my pupils by putting drops in my eyes. Apart from the dense cataract in my right eye (as well as the beginnings of one in the left), all was well, and the doctor calculated the measurements for the intraocular lens she would implant in my eye to replace the lens that would be removed. A date was set for the cataract surgery.

A week before surgery, I needed to collect forms from the ophthalmologist’s receptionist. These included a consent form for the surgery which needed to be read and signed, a quote detailing the codes required by my medical aid so that I could obtain authorisation, the hospital admission form which I took to the hospital a few days before the surgery, the anaesthetic form with questions regarding my general health, and a prescription for eye drops to be used before and after the surgery. These detailed instructions giving me information about the procedures to be followed helped to lessen my anxiety.

Most people I had spoken to about cataract surgery commented on how easy and uneventful the experience had been. In spite of this, on the day of surgery, I arrived at the day clinic feeling quite nervous. My blood pressure and temperature were taken, and I changed into the hospital gown. Drops were inserted into my eye at regular intervals to dilate the pupil in preparation for the surgery. The anaesthetist came by to introduce herself, and explain that I would be awake but sedated during surgery. A short while later I was wheeled into the waiting area of the theatre, and was then taken into what looked like a laboratory, where the ophthalmologist examined my eyes, checked that the pupil was dilated, and confirmed the measurements of the intraocular lens. Then into the theatre. Once the microscope had been positioned and the sheet draped over me, I felt the prick of the needle in my arm as the sedation was administered. I don’t remember much of what happened during the surgery, which I am told took about 40 minutes. All I remember clearly is being wheeled back to the ward and having a patch over my right eye.

Having not had anything to eat or drink since 10.00p.m. the previous night, all I wanted was a cup of tea. In the ward there was a tray of breakfast, including a pot of tea. The eye patch affected my vision, and the first thing I did was to knock over the jug of milk! By the calm manner in which the nurse dealt with it, I thought she had probably dealt with this situation before! I had my tea, got dressed, and was home half an hour later, feeling absolutely fine. The only discomfort was the disorientating sensation of the eye patch.

The next morning the ophthalmologist removed the patch, examined my eye and assessed my visual acuity. The vision in my right eye was 20/20. We were both delighted! With instructions to continue inserting the drops and to return a week later, I left the doctor’s room feeling on top of the world. Being shortsighted for as long as I can remember, I have never been able to see clearly without glasses or contact lenses. In fact, when I received my first pair of glasses at age 11, I looked out of the window and commented to my mother that I didn’t know people could see individual leaves on trees from that distance. After my cataract surgery, my daughter’s first question was: “Do the trees have leaves, mom?”

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