By Rev. Sue Ostrom
Last fall, my eye doctor informed me that my cataracts had developed to the point that surgery was a good choice. He noted that I had met my deductible, so he urged me to try to get them taken care of before the end of 2020. I had great visions (pun intended) of ending 2020 with 20/20 vision for the first time since early childhood. Mistake number one.
I managed to get the surgeries scheduled for December 1st and 29th. Usually, when both eyes are operated on, it’s best to do them a couple of weeks apart, but these dates were the last two available appointments for the year. Mistake number two.
I chose to pay the extra cost not covered by insurance for multi-focal lens implants. These would allow me to see both up close and at a distance and free me from corrective lenses, which I had been wearing since the age of ten. Paying the extra came close to draining the savings I had built up in my Health Savings Fund, but I felt it would be worth it.
After the first surgery, the difference in my vision was so significant that I was off balance. My glasses were no longer of use, my vision was blurred, and I had no depth perception. It was pretty funny to watch me trying to extinguish Advent candles. COVID precautions aside, I finally had to take off my mask and blow them out. The worst complication was that I was unable to drive.
Still, I held onto the hope that after the second surgery, I would see clearly and return to life as usual. Mistake number three. While the second surgery helped, I still could not see clearly enough to drive.
By now, I had somehow made it through Advent and Christmas with impaired vision. Fortunately, I live close enough to the church that I usually walk anyway, and due to the pandemic, I didn’t have to drive to meetings or visits, and my blessed husband was willing to chauffeur me when needed. Nonetheless, it was not fun to have to rely on him for transportation.
The ensuing months brought several follow-up visits to assess the problem. Secondary cataracts? Most people get those months or years later, but mine came right away. The wrong lens implants? Lenses off by just a micron so that vision is not perfect? Just like COVID’s ever-changing guidelines, the answer changed with each appointment. As time passed with no definitive answers, I got grumpy and impatient.
Finally, my regular doctor gave me soft contacts, which improved my vision enough to drive. I had laser surgery to treat the secondary cataracts in early June, but I will always need corrective lenses. The good news is that I also had stents put in to correct my glaucoma with the cataract surgeries so that I no longer need eye drops. I also do not need bifocals, which makes the contacts an option.
My doctor offered me the option of Lasik or PRK Lasik to tweak the lenses, with the potential to improve the vision. In the end, I decided that I was not willing to try more surgery. Most people get better results with cataract surgery than I did, so I didn’t trust that further surgery would be worth it.
My husband notes that expectations are premeditated resentments. My expectations for cataract surgery were sky high, and my resentments ran deep when I did not get the results most people get. I have reminded myself that other people have much bigger problems, be they long-term complications from COVID, the epidemic of racism, or so many different social ills. I have tried to celebrate not needing glaucoma drops and not needing bifocals. I’m still disappointed I didn’t get the miracle I had hoped for. But when I chose to live with wearing contacts and not try for more surgery, I felt a sense of freedom. I was able to trust my instincts and regain a sense of control over my situation.
The lessons I learned through this experience were to temper expectations, think about responsibilities at church before scheduling something optional, and remember that there are no guarantees. Most of all, keep problems in perspective. After all, there’s more than one kind of vision.
Rev. Sue Ostrom serves as pastor of Mill Plain United Methodist Church in Vancouver, Washington.