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cataract surgery at 37

Today’s surgery was as easy as I was promised it would be. We went in at 7:30, and I was out,  filled with banana-walnut pancakes from Roxy’s, and home by 11. There was only one hangup, and I was expecting it.

Maybe in bigger cities this isn’t an issue, but the problem here is that no one expects 37 year old women to need cataract surgery. This is only relevant because I had to smile through a whole lot of “wow, you’re young, is that congenital?” and because no one remembers that I need a pregnancy test before they can give me anesthesia — it’s a New York Law. I ran into it with my shoulder surgery — had a seriously annoyed nurse who had to shuffle a bunch of things around so they could do a stick and a test before the anesthesiologist came in, and all I could do was say “but no one told me I needed bloodwork!” So this time I knew, and I was expecting it, and was prepared.

But cataract patients are old. So no one believes me on this surgery.

It started when I asked the pre-surgical coordinator at the doctor’s office. She didn’t know — that not only isn’t her job, but she doesn’t run into the question very often, if ever. She said I should ask the hospital pre-registration nurse.

I asked that nurse, and she said “Yes! Stop in the blood lab on your way up to the 4th floor.” Ok, great, a straight answer. Awesome.

Then I asked the scheduling nurse (who was telling me to go straight to the 4th floor for outpatient registration), and she gave me a moment of stunned silence before incredulously asking “How OLD are you?” before agreeing that, yes, potentially fertile 37 year old women do indeed need pregnancy tests before receiving anesthesia.

So today I get to the hospital, and go to the registration desk. She fits me with my stylish bracelet, copies my ID and insurance cards, and says, “Now go on up to the 4th floor.” I stop her, and say, “I was told to go to the blood lab for a pregnancy test first.” She consults her lab list, and says “You’re not on it.” I thank her and go to the lab anyway.

In the lab, the receptionist can’t find me on her list. I explain. She calls the 4th floor. The 4th floor reports I don’t need it. So I give up, and go to the 4th floor.

Where, half an hour later, my outpatient nurse, upon preparing to do my IV, says “And you stopped in the blood lab for a pregnancy test, right?”

*headdesk*

It turns out that someone named “Blair” who works on the 4th floor didn’t check my age or my chart when filling out the presurgical bloodwork orders, or when taking the phone call from the lab. Because I’m a cataract patient. I must be old. Old people don’t need pregnancy tests.

In case you’re curious, I’m not pregnant. I was also amused by the outpatient nurse’s followup questions:
“Did you have a tubal?”
“Nope.”
“A hysterectomy?”
“No.”
“Then why did they send you up? You’re potentially fertile! It’s a law!”
“I have no idea. I tried, I swear.”

So. In my case, this is no big deal: A competent nurse and an informed patient worked together to get shit done right. But I couldn’t help but think, as I waited for the surgical nurse and anesthesiologist to finish hooking me up and injecting me with cheerful sedation, that this is the kind of small screwup that can happen to anyone. Anywhere. And it won’t always be a missed negative pregnancy test. Sometimes it’s big. Sometimes it’s a real thing. And sometimes it has major consequences.

Don’t make assumptions. All cataract patients are not old. All things are not what they may seem. All categories are not homogenous. There’s a lesson there, in and outside medicine.

All of that said, the surgery was easy. Like, EASY. Light sedation, a good, efficient doctor, cheerful and capable nurses, and a great partner to ferry me around, buy me pancakes, put drops in my eye, and tuck me in for a nap.

And when Justin took down my eye patch so he could put my drops in at 3 today, I could see all the details on the wall across the room in high-def. 15 feet away.

That hasn’t been true since before I was 7.

At some point in this process, I’m going to break down and cry with the wonder and joy and gratitude of it all. But not yet. I’ve got another eye and a scrip for reading glasses to go before we get there. But I’m gonna get there.

15 Comments

  1. Elizabeth

    SOOOO happy it all worked out. I remember being thrilled when I could see 3D after my new lens was implanted. Fantastic that you’ll only need reading glasses–

    Reply
  2. Anna

    How are you feeling since then? I am 35 and diagnosed with a cataract in my right eye. Terrified of surgery. Terrified of long-term consequences. What if there is a treatment around the corner that will “dissolve” cataracts without the need for surgery?

    Reply
    1. Jenica Author

      They’ve been doing cataract surgery for decades; there are no known long-term consequences. And it’s, statistically, extremely effective and has minimal side effects. Perhaps some research into the medical studies about the efficacy of the surgery would help you?

      I had excellent surgical experiences, it was pain-free, fast, and immediately effective. It was the right choice for me, without a doubt.

      Reply
      1. Yvonne

        I am hoping to get this surgery done in January and I am also 37! I don’t have a cataract but I am very myopic and have recently developed a contact lense intolerance. I wondered if you had a monofocal or multifocal lense implanted? Thanks for posting as you have made me feel much better about the operation.

        Reply
        1. Jenica Author

          I went for a monofocal lens – I’m happy to wear reading glasses, but the ability to drive a car and do most household tasks without correction is a miracle. I can SEE without corrective lenses for the first time since I was 7.

          Reply
  3. DeAnna

    so, I was diagnosed with cataracts yesterday! As many 33 year olds I was in complete disoray. I couldn’t believe this! I first start noticing symptoms a few months ago while on the medication, Clomid. I’ve been trying to pregnant since first of the year, my doc gave me ONLY two symptoms to look out for..neither of them were vision related. Fast forward to this past July when I went to a fertility specialist who told me a side effect of Clomid was blurred vision.

    Im going for a second opinion, because frankly I still can not tell you anyone under the age of 60 having cataracts!! Blows my mind!! Im sitting here telling my husband I went from being 33 to 94 in 24 hours!

    I’m happy to hear you survived this horrific news, and even happier to know that I’m NOT a the only 30 something year old who has/had cataracts.

    Thank you for your story!

    Reply
    1. Jenica Author

      You are not the only one! Mine were caused by a reaction to steroids, and so were my mother’s. If you opt for surgery, it’s very easy — I hope you get good answers and a good solution, soon!

      Reply
  4. kasey

    thank you for sharing! i’m 35 and scheduled for cataract surgery in the left (monofocal because i need a toric and its not approved in the US yet) with the intent to LASIK the right to have them on a level playing field when all is said and done (right now the left is at -17 and the right at -10 / even though i’m wearing glasses for both at -10 since thats what the left was prior to this shift in vision).. so yes, i’m ready for it… one question though – my doctor recommends topical anesthesia which kind of has me freaked out a bit.. were you completely knocked out?

    Reply
    1. Jenica Author

      I wasn’t fully under — it was that dream state thing they do, where you’re immobilized but still a little conscious. I remember snippets of the experience — the bright lights on the ceiling of the operating room, murmured conversation from the doctor while he worked. But I was definitely not alert! It only took 10 minutes, though, so I’d say trust your doctor, combined with your instincts about how you’ll respond and react to the experience. Maybe they can give you something like valium to relax you?

      Reply
  5. Lauren

    I’m 35 too and have to have cataract surgery this Wednesday as a result from steroids of my eye drops. I’m so scared terrified! Been losing sleep. 2 years ago I had detached retina. I have -18 in both eyes but only right eye has the cataract. I’m worried because I also have some dry eye which I put restasis in. I just want and need this chapter of my eyes to close because tired of these problems and I hope to see after this. But at the same time I’ve had soany setbacks I’m terrified! I know I have to think positively. This hd helped me thanks everyone! I thought too that I was the only young person wth cataracts!!! Wow, glad to “meet” you all.

    Reply
  6. chakradhar

    I recently had this in my right eye,may be I was about 13 I discovered my right eye is out of focus and doctors told me its was because of squint it happend.we the error was -2 in rt eye for more than a decade.but later started increasing before surgery it was -6.25.the surgery went just fine and I am able to see bright and depth with two eyes .the joy of this matching 3D cannot be described.

    Reply

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