The shuttle car drops me off in front of the Shiley Eye Institute, part of UCSD Healthcare. I’m getting a clouded, natural lens removed and a clear, acrylic one put in. Even though cataract surgery is one of the most common procedures in the aging population and I have Dr. Robert N. Weinreb—the best possible surgeon—doing the operation, I am anxious.
After checking in with the person at the front desk, I am told to wait. I barely sit down when my name is called. A nurse takes me to a curtained cubicle and gives me a gown to be tied at the back, nonslip socks, and a lovely blue bonnet to cover my hair.
I lie down on a bed, I am covered with a warm blanket, and the sides are put up. Is it so that I don’t roll out or so that I can’t escape? A series of nurses come and go, and I’m given numbing drops in my eye. Dr. Weinreb comes by in surgical garb to tell me I must wait half an hour for the drops to take effect. I assure him that I am retired and not going anywhere.
In the meantime, I observe his interactions with his staff: there is a feeling of colleagueship, camaraderie between the various doctors, nurses, and technicians and Dr. Weinreb. He is among the best-known glaucoma doctors in the world and the head of the Shiley Eye Institute. It is a teaching hospital, so he is a boss, an instructor, and a mentor. He told me what an incredible group he has working with him. The credit for this is of course due to the relationships he has established and interactions he has with his team. There was palpable warmth in the surgical unit and evident caring from staff to patients.
An anesthesiologist comes over to talk to me. I say I only want local anesthetic, I want to be fully awake and not given Versed (midazolam), the drug that makes you forget everything that happened during the operation. I want to be there and remember it. He is glad to oblige. It is so important to feel trust in the people in whose hands we place our lives.
I am wheeled into the operating room, and a cloth is put over my face with an opening for my left eye. More drops are put in, and, as I am happily chattering, Dr. Weinreb says, “Don’t move and don’t talk.”
I have no pain but feel some pressure on my eye. I see blue squares; round, shiny objects; a bright light; and floating things. I am both participant and observer. I hear the surgical-team members exchanging information on how the procedure is going. I don’t understand what they are saying, but I do hear Dr. Weinreb saying to me, “We are halfway there.” I feel relief. Then, “Three more minutes,” then “We’re done.” I am now post-op.
I am wheeled back to my cubicle and given juice. Dr. Weinreb comes over to tell me that my operation was difficult, but successful; he is pleased.
A nurse comes to give me post-op instructions: Do not bend down and do not lift heavy objects. I’m given two prescriptions for drops. One must be put in every hour to decrease inflammation; the other is four times a day, an antibiotic.
Someone calls a taxi to take me home to my retirement community. Everything is blurry, I can’t read. At dinner my friends all look young and wrinkle-free, like aging movies stars photographed with Vaseline on the lens.
That evening, the TV is a bit blurry. I sleep wearing a plastic shield over my eye for protection. The next morning, my vision is clear, and my friends all have more wrinkles. By the end of the day, they look older than they were before my surgery.
I see Dr. Weinreb the next day, he is pleased with the way things went and takes the time to explain what was entailed in the procedure. Apparently it was challenging as I have a genetic defect (pseudoexfoliation) which makes my lenses prone to dislocating. It didn’t, due to his skill, I know. Another appointment is scheduled for in a week. Two days later, I see better without my old glasses, and I am writing this column.
At no time did I feel any pain. We here in La Jolla—in California—in the U.S.—are privileged to be living at a time and place where the top medical procedures are not only available, but are safe and are the best the world has to offer. I am grateful that I live in such a place, where operations are affordable and where there are such excellent doctors and staff to provide outstanding care for their patients.