cataract story, part one

I have a cataract. I’ve seen six doctors about it in the last three months and they all agree: it shouldn’t have happened. Usually, I try to come up reasons to blame myself for misfortune, but not this time. It just happened.

One day I realized that it is annoying to drive and made an appointment with an ophthalmologist I’d seen a few months earlier, on recommendation by my (incredibly amazing) optometrist. He told me that I had a cataract and referred me to a specialist. I cried and walked home in shock, not sure if I should believe it or not. There are no statistics for people under forty, people like me.

I’ve always been afraid of going blind. I think everyone has a low-grade background fear in the back of their head; mine is going blind. I don’t know where it came from, perhaps it is that I am at high risk of retinal detachment. Still, it is there, and it has always been there. This is reassuring in a way: my vision is reducing but in a way that modern medicine can address. Maybe it won’t be so bad.

The first ophthalmologist referred me to a second, a corneal specialist. She called it a brown cataract. I tried to get a sense of urgency from her, she said it might get bad by Christmas. She thought my optic nerve looked a bit thin so she had the office take a photograph (not fully covered by my insurance) and send me to a different specialist. I complained that driving was annoying so she had the office schedule me to take a vision field test as well. Around this time, I stopped bothering to pretend that I was doing okay and started covering the bad eye while I drove. The bad eye’s image was doubled and blurry and would sometimes meander into my field of vision then back out. Work was fine was still things would move around at work and I had to sit at the front of the meeting rooms to be able to see.

I love stained glass. At night, the cataract makes driving annoying unless I cover it – all of the headlights and streetlights shine brightly, a starburst of light. Stained glass does the same, the light is brighter and it fills my eyes with incredible beauty. I can’t photograph what I see anymore but I want to save the intense beauty of stained glass.

By the next appointment, I had to frequently rest my eyes at work and splash with cold water to remove the bags under my eyes. They get so tired since they were trying to use the bad eye, still. The vision field test was also not fully covered by my insurance and each appointment took three hours and ended in dilation drops. This doctor wanted me to get an MRI in order to rule out MS. I have frequent body pain problems, so I was willing to believe that MS could be a thing and spent the next two weeks obsessing over multiple sclerosis.

I had multiple piercings in my ear and I cried after I had them taken out. I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t. I have poor dexterity so I can’t put them back in. When I went in for the MRI, my bra strap caused interference. I lay in the tomb, meditating, existing. After he injected the contrast agent, my mouth filled up with drool. I left, in a daze. Was this real? What is real anymore?

My father was the first person I told, a day or two after the initial diagnosis. He is really good at bad news – he is hard to faze and is always able to come up with something neutral to say. It’s so nice to have a supportive but neutral response, while I work my way through my own emotional response. My mother has age-onset cataracts right now. She wants to come out for my surgery and has been very interested in all of my appointments. Almost nobody else has given me a response that was in line with where I thought our relationship was; people I thought were close have actively avoided my crisis (and, since it consumes me, avoid me) and people I thought I’d fallen away from have been incredibly compassionate.

The MRI results were normal. So I was referred to a cataract surgeon. The second doctor also performs cataract surgeries, so I didn’t understand why, but by this point I was tired and just moving along through the process. Does it matter? Does anything matter? Why is everything so hard?


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