I went to the eye doctor recently because, well, I turned 65. Medicare. Time to fix all the things. Tick tock.
My ophthalmologist, Dr. P, is a young man in his 30’s who tends to say “Okay then, my friend” as he holds his laptop with one hand like a tray of hors d’oeuvres and shakes mine with the other. If I had to guess, Dr. P is a staunch Game of Thrones fan, and has perhaps occupied a few school lockers against his will in his youth.
Instead of making eye contact with you, Dr. P looks at his laptop. A bedside manor foul for anyone who chooses a doctor based on Yelp reviews, but it’s okay by me. I actually prefer doctors, especially surgeons, to be a little preoccupied and on the nerdy side. In my experience the best surgeons are at best a little remote and at worst arrogant assholes. I would SO be the latter if my day job was to slice open a fellow human, do a little zip-zop-life-saving repair, tell some masked minion to “close” and go hit the driving range on the way home to my 4th Street Berkeley loft. Oh yeah, being a surgeon would go to my head “stat” and I’d be completely insufferable. Ask my wife. If I diagnose and fix a leaky faucet on Saturday, you can’t live with me for the following week. If I had the power to save a human life. I’d be divorced, completely alone and have 6 Facebook friends…all of them other asshole surgeons.
Fortunately Dr. P, the guy who will be slicing my right eye open in a few weeks to remove and replace the failing lens, seems to be in full control of whatever megalomaniacal tendencies he is no doubt harboring.
So yes, I need cataract surgery. The word ‘cataract’ sounds like a thing too big to be in a human eye and more like a weapon used in the Peloponnesian War, but in fact, cataracts are tiny proteins that cloud the lenses in your eyes as you age and if they get really bad, the world outside your face can look like a tobacco-stained Kodachrome slide of the L.A. basin c.1955.
According to the pre-op DVDs which I watched alone in a small, dark room prior to my consult with Dr. P., “everyone gets cataracts as they age”. This was comforting on one hand. As a rule, you always want to have a disease everyone gets as opposed to one hardly anyone gets. Those diseases rarely end well. On the other hand, I now have a thing only “aged” people get. Like I need another reminder that mother nature has pretty much kicked me to the curb. On that note…
I’m really trying not to be “that aging writer guy”, but I confess that I sense an increasing compulsion to engage in age-related self reflection, which announces itself every time I write the phrase “as I get older…”, which I seem to do in knee-jerk fashion whenever there’s keyboard and 30 minutes of free time in front of me—even though, empirically—I don’t fit my own stereotype. I’m 65 but not retired (not even close, and probably won’t ever be), not in failing health (little setbacks like cataracts not withstanding), and while I qualified for Medicare and became a grandparent within 2 months of each other last year (two major milestones on the road to elder statesmanship) and except for the tendency to “take stock” every 10 minutes or so, I still feel like the same “young hippie upstart trapped in a man’s body” I’ve felt like since late adolescence. I’m just as curious, impulsive, and occasionally reckless. If anything, my politics have become more radical. I ride a Vespa scooter to Whole Foods and just bought an electric ukulele for crap’s sake. I’m certainly no Lewis Carroll but I regularly think of, okay maybe not six but at least two or three impossible things before breakfast. How old can I possibly be? Answer: apparently old enough to get cataracts.
But I digress. But intentionally, not in an old, forgetful kind of way.
Back to the consult with Dr. P…I thought it amusing that I was watching these informational DVD’s on a 15-inch, lo-def, RCA TV from the Bush era, and as this was probably their 10,000th spin through the attached DVD player, the text was so crunchy as to make it nearly illegible. Like seeing your migraine doctor at a nightclub.
I did, however, learn several useful things from the “*actor (not a real doctor)” in the videos: 1) that a condition called Presbyopia was NOT the fun thing I hoped it was—the inability of some people to actually see Presbyterians. Or in that same vein, that Presbyopia might be closely related to other ecclesiastical eye disorders including (but not limited to) Methodystopia, Episcopopia and the much rarer but often fatal Southern Baptystopia for which an Atheostomy is the only known cure. Turns out Presbyopia means you can’t see up close regardless of religious affiliation. Needless to say my mind wandered a bit while watching the DVD’s. Not an aging symptom, though maybe a little adult onset ADD.
Thankfully, my cataracts are not “1955 L.A. basin” bad yet—only bad enough to be operable in one eye. I first noticed them a few years ago when I started seeing halos around the full moon and if I moved my eyes quickly to one side a semi-opaque, amorphous blob floats across my field of view. I’m resisting the urge to convert “amorphous blob” to a Donald Trump joke right now in the interest of staying on point.
At one period of my life I would have blamed this optical phenomenon on a combination of very bad drugs and very good Pink Floyd but as I’ve been a very boring sober person for many years now, I experience semi-spiritual visual phenomena much less frequently. The exceptions are: too much Peet’s coffee followed by cycling up a hill too fast or watching any Washington political news coverage on an empty stomach.
So my left eye will remain untreated for the time being. However my new and improved halo/blob-free eye will be working like gangbusters almost immediately after the surgery, but will require a patch for a few days—and I won’t lie— I’m very excited about that and have already explored my options on Amazon.
Delightfully, eye patches come in many flavors these days, including disco colors, glitter accents, “crazy eyes” and skull and crossbones, but I think I’m more of a classic “Carl” from The Walking Dead, standard black, pirate eye patch kinda guy. And I’ll be wearing glasses over it anyway which effectively sucks the cool factor right out.
After a few days the patch can come off (or not), but I’ll still need to wear glasses with one lens removed for around 6 weeks until everything heals and I get an updated prescription. So my dilemma is I can manage the one lens missing thing for regular glasses but…sunglasses with one lens missing? I’m sensing unacceptable negative fashion consequences ahead. Dr. P says, “Don’t worry, my friend, they’ll give you a pair of those sunglasses that fit over your current glasses.” Suffice to say, my imagination is not vast enough to concoct a scenario in which I’d wear those in public. Which may sound vain…but…as I get older…I really need to conserve what little coolness I have left. And other than my black, low top Converse All-Stars and midnight blue Vespa scooter, my prescription RayBan Wayfarers are pretty much all I’ve got in my inventory. Oversized “fit-over” sunglasses may get me a senior discount at the cineplex but would evaporate my strategic cool reserves faster than than you can say, “you kids get off my lawn”.
I had other choices to make from the a la carte menu of surgical options:
a) I can have a human surgeon (Dr. P) perform the surgery
b) I can pay about $1,500 extra to have a laser-equipped robot do it
It was clear after watching the side-by-side comparison animations in the DVD that Option b) was being favored. On the left it showed an incision being made by the Opthalmus Prime 4000 (my name—copyright pending) and of course that incision was a perfectly smooth oval into which the new lens was precisely and effortlessly seated. No muss, no fuss, shorter recovery time, done, check, thank you very much.
Need I describe the human surgeon example? Think drunk toddler with an Etch-a Sketch.
Of course no health plans cover the Opthalmus Prime 4000, so I opted for Plan because well, danger’s my middle name. But, Dr. P assured me that he performs hundreds of these “manual” surgeries every year and not to worry. And I don’t and I’m not.
Truth be told, 3.6 million cataract surgeries are performed each year in the U.S., 20 million world wide. It’s the oil change of surgeries. Someday it’ll be something you can get at a CVS drive-through along with a free pair of oversized sunglasses and an automatic membership to AARP.
So with my degree from Cataract U. and ala carte menu items selected cue the risks and disclaimers. Dr. P rattles these off with the enthusiasm of a 7th grader reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
So to sum up, there are a lot of possible age-related conditions I could be writing about and I am seriously grateful that this relatively benign eye condition is the most serious thing I have to deal with after six and a half decades of life on the planet. This procedure definitely constitutes a tune-up, not an overhaul. Lord knows, I have friends and relatives, younger and older, who have endured and are enduring the latter, and honestly…it’s mainly what informs what’s in my refrigerator and gets my butt out the door and onto my bike seat.
At the same time, seeing the world clearly has taken on a new importance to me in the last few years. Primarily, my livelihood depends on seeing (and thinking) clearly. But as of November 20, 2017, there’s also this precious little package of pure joy named Lainey, who is only 13 weeks old as of this writing and she and I have just started to get to know each other. So while right now there’s just lots of babbling and making goofy faces (which she also does) there are just some things in my life, and very small people, I’ll really need to see with 20/20, crystal clarity…as I get older.
But part of me will miss seeing halos around the moon.