I thought cataract surgery was a simple matter of scraping the cloudy goop out of your eye and putting in a clear lens. It’s not—particularly if you have extra added attractions like I do with macular degeneration and monovision. This is, ultimately, a success story, so don’t be alarmed. But, boy, did I have a lot to learn.

The first ophthalmologist I went to was an award-winning, arrogant ass-hole. When I told him that I had never worn glasses because of my monovision, he told me “You’re old now. You’re going to have to wear glasses. You’re just vain.” As I walked out of that session, I saw an enormous photo of this guy running with the bulls. That did it. Nobody who runs with bulls is going to touch or cut into any little delicate part of my body. I left and never returned.

The next place I went was a large organization that was recommended by a neighbor. I gave them all the medical history stuff, had a lot of exams done by nice nurses, spent five minutes with the doctor who had good creds, and was sent to the woman who sold me the choices of lenses that I could get. I had no idea there was more than one. The basic one is covered by Medicare. The slightly better one would cost me some three or four hundred more. And then they went up—way up—from there. I chose the slightly better one. What did I know?

The day of surgery, my friend Marilee went with me. I was finally ushered into the pre-op room and was stunned to see it was literally crammed with people lying on cots wearing blue caps. There was barely enough room for the nurses to maneuver between beds. It was a cataract removal assembly line. I put my little blue shower cap on, stretched out, and waited. And waited. Finally, it was my turn. I stood up. The nurse started to tell me what was going to happen. “You’ll go in and they will put Betadine in your eye….”

I stopped her right there. “Wait a minute. I told them I was allergic to iodine.”

She looked startled. “Oh? Um, well, a lot of people think they’re allergic, but they really aren’t. I’m sure it will be fine.”

“Whoa. Hold on. When I used Povidone iodine on my leg a couple of years ago—a lot of it—my leg went red from my knee to my ankle and was bumpy and itchy.”

She called another nurse over and they discussed it. I was pretty sure I didn’t want to do anything to endanger my eye, so I whipped off my little blue shower cap, handed it to them, and walked out. My friend, who was waiting, was relieved. She thought it was a factory too.

Later, I got a call from them and the woman tried to tell me that I had not declared my iodine allergy. I didn’t argue, sue, or cause trouble. They didn’t charge me anything. Another one bit the dust.

I did some research and discovered that putting Betadine in the eye is the “gold standard” for cataract surgery. That’s what they use. Good luck. So I sought out an allergist. The sweet young man (had I been 40 years younger!) spent an hour and a half with me. He said that he didn’t have a test for iodine, but he called an ophthalmologist friend of his in New York and talked to him for a half an hour. His advice: get a bottle of iodine and do some home tests. I did. No reactions. He said that I would probably be fine.

Now that I knew that this surgery wasn’t just the scrape-it-out-pop-it-in process that I had assumed, I started combing the Web for information. I found out that I could retain my natural monovision. And, not only that, these days it is often created artificially with people who are not born with it. That was news to me, because, when I was a kid, my eye doctor was alarmed by monovision and tried to correct it—not quite as drastically as some doctors tried to cure, say, homosexuality back then. I was given glasses that gave me whopping headaches. So, I too, declared myself normal and natural, threw away the offending spectacles, and went through life seeing just fine.

Next ophthalmologist. I decided I wanted a woman. I asked a lot of people. I got a recommendation. Looked her up. Lots of awards. Small office. Everyone very friendly. She was warm and promised to take care of me. I felt reassured. She said she could put in lenses that would maintain my monovision. It was all set. Then, she went away to do some teaching or something.

A month or so later, I went in to choose my lenses and the saleswoman showed me the ones recommended, but I would lose my monovision. I requested to see the doctor again. When she came in to talk to me, this initially compassionate woman turned suddenly into Godzilla. Angry and forceful, she tried to tell me that we had never talked about monovision. “I got two people in the waiting room right now!” she growled. “They had it done artificially and now I have to fix ‘em!”

“But I grew up seeing close with one eye and distance with the other,” I protested—stunned at this change in her.

Finally, she agreed, and because she was so highly recommended (not to mention my third attempt), I let her do my left eye for distance. The after-surgery was not good. My sight was blurry, my eye hurt, had a pulling sensation, and I felt like something was stuck in my eyeball. When it wasn’t any better after four days, I cancelled the surgery on my right eye.  The next week, my vision finally cleared up, and I went to her for a follow up.

When I said, “My eye still hurts,” she got pissy.

“You blaming me?!” she barked.

“No. I just said ‘my eye still hurts.’”

“Well, I’ve done all I could.” She turned away from me. “I’ve done my job. You’ve got 20/20 vision.”

I didn’t go back there.

After months, my eye started to feel normal and hurt less, and the vision was really 20/30 but that was pretty good. I decided to find someone to take care of my near-sighted right eye.  

After all I’d been through, I dreaded the prospect of going under the knife again. I did a lot more research. When I found Dr. Cathleen McCabe at The Eye Associates in Sarasota, I had a feeling she would be excellent. She had umpteen awards, and I liked her from the short video I watched.  When I showed up for my appointment and she came into the exam room, I said, “You’re so young and gorgeous.”

She smiled. “You haven’t had cataract surgery yet, have you?”

I’m sure she has said that line many times, but it’s a good one. I found out later she’s not so young, has five children and a stay-at-home husband. A goddess in my estimation. We talked. She agreed to give me the lens that would maintain monovision. My friend, Marilee, who was there and had been with me through all the trials and tribulations, felt just as I did, that this was the surgeon.

The deed was done two days ago. During it, I was calm and confident. (You are only lightly anesthetized because you have to be awake enough to hold your eye still. It sounds scary, but it’s not as bad as you’d think, and it only takes minutes.)  I was surprised to note at how different the process was from the first time. Even the drops I am using afterwards are not the same. I’m not sure how the first cataract was removed—maybe Dr. Jekll used a hammer and chisel—but Dr. MCabe did it by laser. Clearly, this is not a standard, paint-by-the-numbers procedure.

After it was over and the numbing wore off, my eye hurt and burned and teared a lot. My vision was blurry, but that was “to be expected” according to the pamphlet I was given. I wasn’t worried. That night a couple of Tylenol handled the pain, and when I woke up yesterday morning, my eye didn’t hurt at all, and I could see clearly. Wow. What a difference from my poor left eye’s experience. Dr. McCabe not only handled the cataract but the astigmatism as well. I had paid extra to get good lenses put in both eyes, and the result is nothing short of miraculous to me.

Now, when I type this, words and pictures on my computer look bright, crisp, and colorful. And when I look out my window, the palm tree and hibiscus bush look bright, crisp, and colorful. My wonderful brain decides which eye to use without any direction from me.

So, my advice: if this surgery, or any surgery for that matter, is in your future, do a lot of research and follow your instinct.