June 11, 2012

Cataracts: Why I Can See Clearly Now

I had cataract surgery recently. My ophthalmologist recommended it, while saying that I was "certainly younger than my typical surgery patient." I suspect it was the word "younger" that endeared me to him and sealed my decision to have the operation.

The vision in my right eye had become cloudier over time, and the last major upgrade in my eyeglass prescription hadn't helped.  And since I had cataracts in my left eye too--although slower-growing ones--it made sense to operate on that eye as well.

My experience of the surgeries, two weeks apart, was hugely positive. Just as my doctor had promised, there was no pain during the procedure and little post-surgery discomfort. And the improvement in my vision was virtually instantaneous: I no longer have to wear glasses to read or drive. In fact, according to my doc, I'm a model for successful cataract surgery.

And yet…

My "new" eyes require me to hold what I'm reading closer than I'm used to: I can no longer read regular text at arm's length. Same with my computer vision: I either have to bring my laptop screen too close to be able to type comfortably or I have to wear glasses specifically for this activity.

I didn't like these adjustments. I didn't like that I had to hold the newspaper closer to my eyes. I didn't like that I had to stand very near the bookshelves at the local library to read the titles clearly, or that a close-up was necessary to see the nutritional content of cereal at the grocery store. And I definitely didn't like that I'll need glasses to work at my computer (even though my ophthalmologist assures me that it's a one-time investment).

I was cranky. For days.

The Buddha said that one of the major causes of human suffering (a/k/a "dissatisfaction") is an aversion to impermanence--to the reality that things change. Some of us resist change more than others, of course, but as a rule most of us want to hold on to what we're comfortable with, what we know, what we think "should" be.

This resistance gets smack in the way of our ability to see what's going on without the emotional baggage of shoulds and shouldn'ts. "I should be able to read exactly the way I used to!" and "I shouldn't need to wear glasses for computer work!" was blurring--like my cataracts, come to think of it--the appreciation of my great good fortune in having this terrific medical technology available to me when I needed it.

Lucky for me, it took only a few days of being cranky and annoyed with my perceived state of things before I finally reached the obvious conclusion: "You're kidding, right?"

That I can see the world around me in gorgeous detail and bright color sans glasses is amazing. That a routine 10-minute procedure made this possible seems miraculous. That I resisted letting go of old habits when new ones would serve me so much better is, well, puzzling. Still, it's not surprising. Changes don't automatically get easier with age.

Why is it so hard to embrace change, even when it's obviously for the better?

Image by Pascal B. on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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