“Is it hard to see without your glasses?”
Almost every Thursday, Jeff (not his real name), the fifth grader I have mentored at Floral Avenue Elementary School for the past year and a half, begins our weekly lunch together by asking me if I am familiar with some video game or cartoon character.
The answer depends almost entirely on whether I have become familiar with the character through the games and movies my grandchildren enjoy.
I was impressed that Jeff, with his preoccupation with things that go Beep in the night, even noticed that I was not wearing the glasses that have been part of my persona since I was his age.
No, I explained, I can see fine without glasses, thanks to cataract surgery on my second eye. My distance vision — anything more distant than arm’s length — approaches 20:20.
My near vision is awful. I need a $25 pair of 2.50 strength readers to (are you ready for this?) read. Yes, it’s me behind those Foster Grants. With them, I can even read the tiny numbers that the pharmaceutical industry stamps on pills.
Like every other medical procedure I have undergone, from having my tonsils out as a small child to a neurosurgical procedure I had never heard of 15 years or so ago, I have discovered that every third person I meet on the street has had the same operation.
It is about as exciting as comparing Medigap plans.
But in case there is a cataract in your future (probably the way to bet if you are collecting Social Security), here’s what cataract surgery looks like from the inside looking out.
First, what is a cataract? It is a cloudy thing that makes your vision blurry.
In cataract surgery, the cloudy thing is removed and replaced with a clear lens. It is possible that your ophthalmologist may use more sophisticated terminology, but this is my story.
While the common reaction is that it makes colors more vivid, my first reaction was to ask Mary if she had put higher wattage bulbs in the kitchen light fixtures. She hadn’t.
Cataract surgery is commonly referred to as “painless,” a term used by advertising copy writers too young to have undergone it. But if you are as squeamish as I am about the thought of surgery on your eyeballs, it is arguably less uncomfortable than you probably fear.
It is done on an outpatient basis, and by the next day, you can drive. I wear a pair of industrial strength sunglasses for daytime driving, a giveaway from Larry Madrid’s Greenovative Homes open house. I feel that I look like what Buzz Lightyear would look like if he wore shades.
I still feel awkward driving or walking down the aisles at Publix without wearing eyeglasses. I have worn them daily since before the days of air conditioning, television, credit cards, and microwave popcorn.
And after years of taking off my trifocals to read and do close work, I find myself reaching for my readers instead.
I have been told that I look younger without glasses.
I am 73, an age I proclaim without embarrassment or apology. But if I look only 72 without glasses, I will accept that as a side benefit.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He recommends cataract surgery for those who need it, and mentoring for those who want another dimension of fulfillment. Last week, the fifth grade little girl his friend Mary mentors wistfully told her, “I wish I could have lunch with you every day.” That makes it all worthwhile.)