Seeing Clearly

31 January 2023

Trigger warning: Some surgery description at the top; then more philosophical as it goes on.

At this time last week, I had 20/20 vision out of my left eye, while the right eye had to work hard to see the biggest letters on the eye chart. My walking gait had changed from forward motion to a careful side-to-side, an old man’s waddle. Last week, I was halfway through cataract surgery to remove the lenses from both eyes and replace them with new lenses. By the time they finished the surgery on Wednesday, I had 20/20 or better in both eyes and was noticing distant radio towers at the top of the Santa Monica mountains, a sight that had eluded me for the past ten years. Bionic vision.

The most scary part of the procedure was preoperative. I watched the ceiling as they rolled me into the operating room on a gurney, one fluorescent light moving into view, then passing out of vision, then another replacing the first. I’d seen this view many times in movies, the patient’s POV as they went into surgery. It often had scary music to go with it and didn’t always end well. I’d never had surgery before. I was scared. The thing itself, like so many things themselves, was just a weird light show, purple blobs and white snowballs, and a little red light that danced around that the surgeon told me to track. I did what he said. He knew what he was talking about and had won my trust from the first meeting.

Now that I can see a lot better, my brain has new work to do. Colors are brighter and truer, more blue than yellow-tinged like they used to be, and I can see the tops of mountains and into my partner’s and son’s eyes with great detail and a sense of gratefulness than seems fuller than before.

I can read the smallest print on the eye chart, because I have superior instrumentation. But it’s not all about instrumentation, I’ve learned. Tracking a tennis ball in a game on Sunday, I could see the seams on the ball as it was incoming, the brand name, the number on the ball, the fuzz, and still l swung too late. Afterward, I was exhausted.

If you’ve ever read anything by Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett, you’ll know that no matter how good our instrumentation is, it’s up to the brain to sort out the input. I can see amazingly well, but my brain is still getting used to the absence of nearsightedness, and it’s working hard. The colors bolder, the sun stronger, faces more expressive, and it’s all coming at me really fast. Taking a break sounds good, so I do it a couple of times a day. I’ve got my old walk back, but I have to remember to do it, walking ahead, head up, seeing far.

(c) Lee Schneider 2023. Take care of each other. Subscribe.