THE KITCHEN — Elderly Chinese gentleman: “I am going to have an eye operation.” Questioner: “Do you have a cataract?” ECG: “No, I have an Oldsmobile.” (Bob Hope, circa 1955) You can’t tell ethnic jokes like that anymore, but in fact, I did have a cataract, and it is no laughing matter. My story began when I noticed my eyesight was getting fuzzy, so, obviously, I went to see my doctor. He happens to be an endocrinologist, but that’s close enough for medical work, and maybe he could prescribe something. He prescribed another doctor, an ophthalmologist, actually several. They seem to specialize: retina, pupil, eye lid, eye lash, left eye, right eye, bull’s eye.
After I visited most members of the AMA, the docs decided I had a nuclear reincarnation or maybe it was a miscalculated degeneration in my left eye. (Hey, I flunked out of pre-med. If I hadn’t, you wouldn’t be reading these magnificent words.) And I had cataracts in both eyes. So the cataract doc decided to operate on the right eye and then the left. I was prepared for a small inconvenience. “It’s a nothing operation,” a friend said. “I drove myself to the doctor the next day for a post-op checkup.” Said another: “I had both eyes done one afternoon. Went to work the next morning.” I returned to the clinic a week later and visited several eye machines I got to know from previous visits. “Put your chin here, close your left eye, now close your right eye. What do you see?” I replied, “Nothing.” I may have been a medical first.
After seven nurses — or maybe it was 72 virgins, I couldn’t see that well — prepared me, the Chief Doctor came in, he looked about 18, and went to work digging into my eyeball. One thing I noticed is that today’s drill presses are really very quiet. He was good, quick, steady and didn’t make jokes about “by your pupils you will be taught.” (“The King and I”) In a minute or so he told me he had deropped the right melgin and transmuted my optic-fiffel. “Your vision will be a little foggy for a while,” he warned.
That turned out to be like saying, “You might miss your left leg at first.” The week went by and I was not doing so well. Actually I was walking around with a white cane and a tin cup. The second week I was in the kitchen saying, “It’s around here somewhere. Third drawer from the stove. Just open it and get out my beer opener and…OUCH! It seems I have cut off my finger.” It’s easy to mistake a knife for a beer opener. On my next visit to the eye doctor, he said I was coming along nicely. “I guess I am getting better,” I agreed. “Excuse me,” he replied, “but I’m over here.” Incidentally, I am detailing my experiences to save you a lot of time and money on yourself or on your family so they will know what to expect after a cataract operation. For example, don’t ask me to drive a car. “But Officer, I know I was on my side of the road.” “Does your side include the curb, median and toll booth?” Avoid using terms such as: “Now see here,” “It’s as plain as day” and, “Would you close the blinds?”
As a good investigative journalist, I looked into what causes cataracts so as to avoid them in the future. According to the Mayo Clinic, a lot of things. “Most cataracts develop when aging or injury changes the tissue that makes up your eye’s lens.” Other causes include genetic disorders, i.e., you inherited bad vision which I didn’t, “other eye conditions,” diabetes and long-term use of steroids. Thanks a lot, Mayo. You’ve been a great deal of help. On my next visit to the eye doctor, he suggested he not operate on my left eye until the right eye was clear. I figured that would be in time for the next Olympics – summer, not winter. Receiving such bad advice from friends earlier that I would be seeing clearly within a day or two, I asked how long my fuzzy eyesight should last. The doc zeroed in: “That depends.” My mother always said I was her slow one, but I didn’t know that included recovery from dueling with a drill press.
A major problem with the inability to see clearly has nothing to do with needle-point sewing or repairing watches. It’s about reading. Yes, I could watch TV although I kept mistaking the Rockets for the Cowboys. Is it Rachel Maddow or Chuck Todd with the beard? Listening to music was a (excuse the cliché) no brainer. I read everything: books, magazines, newspapers, billboards, the ingredients in Ritz crackers (“Protein less than 1g”) and my neighbors’ mail when it’s misdirected. But I can’t read newspapers’ fine print, just the headlines. “Group Slates Meeting.” “Man Bites Dog.” “Trump Demands Recount of Recount.” The sports section is no help: “Cats Bag La-La Land With Walk-Off.” Huh? Then there are those news headlines which raise more questions than they answer: “Texas Legislature Bans Women’s Health” and: “White House Annexed by Trump Tower.”
Suspicions develop. I am not absolutely certain, but I think my children are re-writing my will including something about “an ice floe.” A TV bulletin across the bottom of the screen called for my ouster from America and banishment to Waco. They say (“they” being either Google or Facebook) that when you lose one sense, the rest become even stronger. That’s true, because I can hear people talking about me. I am not paranoid, but I distinctly heard my family say, “Hit and run,” “I know the combination” and “ice floe.” This is now week six and I can see much better. Even my driving has improved, although it is still hard to spot an Oldsmobile.
Ashby leads the blind at email@example.com