Life can be dazzling. The two days of my life, spanning seven decades, that dazzled me the most were 60 years apart.
At age 11, I saw a new world of brightness with my first pair of glasses. At age 71, I saw a new bright world without glasses – after cataract surgery.
In between were many years of wearing glasses, beginning with bulky ones with thick, heavy lenses and frames that frequently broke at the nose bridge.
Regardless of the design or weight, my glasses over the next 60 years were my lifeline to the world. Without them, life was a disorienting blur.
The day after a new lens was inserted into my right eye last August at the University of California, Davis Eye Center in Sacramento, I could see, for the first time in my life, billboards and street signs clearly without glasses. It seemed I could see the individual leaves on far distant trees.
I saw this clarity with only one good eye. It would be three weeks later before my left eye would have its lens replaced. But my right eye dominated the left, and my brain chose the image of the stronger eye.
The world in front of me on a sunny day was now so bright I needed dark sunglasses to temper the brilliance. It reminded me of the early days of television, when with a turn of a knob I could dramatically increase the brightness and contrast.
At night my eyesight was also better, but in a different way. The biggest problem I had before cataract surgery was the glare of oncoming headlights, preventing me from seeing clearly, especially when I was making a left turn past two lanes of oncoming starburst lights. Now the glare was greatly reduced.
My ophthalmologist at UC Davis said I would know when to ask for the cataract procedure. For me, that moment came when I could no longer tolerate the almost blinding conditions when driving at night.
There was one post-surgery drawback. Reading lenses were now required for books and computers. For the first 71 years of my life, the one gift of nearsightedness was reading fine print up close without glasses. Now that was gone.
My ophthalmologist told me the focal point of my new lenses was almost infinity, great for seeing things far away; useless for seeing things up close.
Until my eyes settled and I could be prescribed bifocals, I needed to purchase, at my local drug store, a $15 pair of reading glasses. Without them, life close up was as disorienting as it had been far away.
My wife Sandy helped by providing a heavy string with loops, so my reading glasses could hang around my neck. For several weeks they were ever-present, dangling below my collarbone as I read a newspaper or a text on my phone. I would need to clean them often, because bits of salad or drops of spaghetti sauce often landed on the lenses during meals.
Meanwhile, I used effective but bulky sunglasses, perched on my head indoors, until I bent down and heard them come clattering to the floor. I longed to wear “full-time” glasses again, the kind that transitioned from light to dark in the sunshine and had bifocal lenses for reading.
I was never so glad to see Scott, my optometrist, as I was for the appointment to get new post-surgery glasses. I ended up with a simple pair of bifocals with transition lenses and anti-glare coating.
I was elated when the glasses arrived and went into the office for the fitting. The glasses needed no adjustment; they seemed tailored for my head.
It might seem strange that I prefer glasses to the freedom without them. But I had become accustomed over the decades to wearing them. For me, glasses were part of my personality, my identity. Without them, I almost didn’t recognize the old man in the mirror with naked eyes.
I encourage anyone my age or older who is contemplating cataract surgery to strongly consider it. From my experience, it’s relatively quick and easy with limited risks.
Cataract surgery will open a new world of clarity and brightness. And, if you’d like, you can still wear glasses.
John Spevak is a resident of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.