Those strong reading glasses weren’t helping much anymore. When people would visit, I could see the shapes of their heads but hard pressed to see the details of their faces. Going for walks was no longer a pleasure. Using a cane because of nerve damage in my legs and feet, I was now using it more to feel my way around uneven sidewalks and curb drop offs. The goal on those walks was not to fall down and break my hip.
All of this was bad timing. Living in Westwood, I was preparing for a move to Covington and didn’t want to deal with whatever was going wrong with my eyes. I told myself I would address the issue after the move.
I kept the eyesight problem to myself except for that last visit to the Kroger on Ferguson Avenue in Westwood. I was buying a few groceries before the move to Covington, and because of a smartass cashier the frustration with my eyesight came boiling over.
After scanning my groceries, the cashier simply stood there not telling me how much I owed. I finally had to ask him.
I don’t know what kind of look he had on his face, because I couldn’t see it, but he pointed at the screen over the cash register and said, “You mean you can’t see that?”
“No,” I said, becoming angry. “If I could see the fucking thing, I wouldn’t have to ask you now would I?”
He told me how much I owed, and while giving him the money I stared at the face I really couldn’t see. I felt like killing the bastard.
After the move to Covington, I put off doing anything about my eyes. Friends told me I probably just needed stronger glasses, but I knew it was more than that. Being afraid of this bad news kept me mostly at home and not venturing out much. Finally in early January, with the insistence of family, I went to an eye doctor.
The problem was cataracts.
I was a little too young to have them, but nonetheless that was the problem. My right eye was horrible, my left eye almost as bad. The doctor didn’t know how I could see much of anything. She said I was legally blind.
We scheduled surgery with the Cincinnati Eye Institute for March, the soonest we could get in. Between January and mid March, there were a lot of eye doctor appointments, eye dilating and eye testing to determine the right procedure. It was all draining. Even more draining was trying to live a productive life until the surgery.
On the rare occasions when I went out without family and friends helping me, it was scary. Everything was pale, cloudy and blurry. Counting out change for the bus was difficult. I rubbed my fingers against the rim of quarters and nickels to tell the difference — same thing with dimes and pennies. I relied on strangers to help me get on the correct bus.
Wherever I went, wherever I walked, I always tried to take the same route. If I had to detour from it, I would get lost. It’s a frightening feeling not knowing or seeing where you are.
Writing this column took hours. I increased the page size on my computer, enlarged the font and used a magnifying glass to proofread my words. Then I had to send it to my editor at CityBeat through an email attachment. Sometimes that took longer to figure out than writing the entire column.
I was depressed a lot during those weeks, but what kept me going was March 12, the first go-around of my cataract surgery. The eye surgeon would be doing my right eye first.
On that rainy, Monday morning, my son took me to the Cincinnati Eye Institute in Blue Ash. I was nervous but ready. I was given some kind of valium drip through my left arm to keep me relaxed. My right eye was numbed, and with Country Music playing in the operating room the “eye team” started the procedure.
It’s hard to describe it. The doctor and nurses were right there in my right eye, but outside of a little pressure at times, I felt nothing. I saw blue strokes, red strokes and then white dashes. I heard what sounded like a tiny drill but I don’t know if that’s what it was. I remember wanting to clear my throat but being afraid to move.
And after 10 minutes or so, it was over. They wheeled me to the recovery room. My eye was mostly swollen shut, but I could tell something was different almost immediately. What once was pale was now shiny.
I wasn’t in recovery all that long and my eye continued to open. In the car on the way back home, I kept looking at my son. Finally he asked why.
“When did you grow a beard?” I asked. It had been so long since I’d really seen his face.
I didn’t know the carpet in my apartment has a pattern in it. Same thing with my curtains. The plants I have seemed so green. As the days and weeks passed, everything I looked at in my life was so detailed, so colorful. I would get up early in the morning — sometimes two or three o’clock — simply excited to see the things around me.
While adjusting to my newfound eyesight, I kept asking myself why I waited so long. Why didn’t I address the problem sooner? Of course fear was the reason. It got in the way of living my life.
Two weeks later, the left eye was done. My vision got even better. There are no more shades of pale and now almost a month later, and with both eyes cataract free, I find joy getting up in the morning anxious to see everything.
I can read books again. I can see the numbers on my cell phone. I can walk to the store without fear of falling. I can see those tiny cooking instructions on frozen dinner boxes. I can see the trees starting to grow leaves. I can see the beautiful flowers and I can tell the difference between a quarter and a nickel.
Sometimes with this returned eyesight, I feel a bit cocky. I’m thinking about that Kroger cashier.
If I ever do go back to shopping in Westwood, I’ll tell that smartass to keep his mouth shut as to how much I owe him. I’ll tell him I’ll read that grocery screen over his register all by myself.
I can see, damn it. I can see. I’ll never take this gift for granted again.