Wednesday, July 20, 2011, 7:40 AM
“Are you pregnant?” The admitting nurse questioned as she whisked me back to the holding room.
“What? No, of course not. I’m forty-nine years old.”
“Do you still have a period?”
“Yes,” I glanced down at my hands and for a moment thought about counting the age spots. Surveying the room filled with patients waiting to have their vision restored to pristine standards, I did, for the first time in many years, feel like a baby lamb in a room full of sheep. “But I had my tubes tied years ago. I’m not pregnant, I guarantee it.”
Unconvinced she barked at me, “pee in the cup please.”
I did as I was told, and left the warm liquid in the bathroom to be inspected for signs of an unwanted, unwarranted pregnancy. Nurse Ratchet directed me to take a seat in one of the reclining chairs available. The place was hopping. At this early hour victims were all over; lined up to have surgery, resting after surgery, and one in the glass-walled operating suite in front of me having surgery at that very moment. Without a word she put booties over my shoes, a cap on my head, and shoved a thermometer in my mouth. I fully expected her to pinion my hands and ask me what I wanted for my last meal.
“Huh,” she eyed me suspiciously. “Are you sick? You have a temperature. Wait here, let me get the anesthesiologist.”
I made eye contact with a woman to my right. She was slowly sipping orange juice from a pleated paper cup. She looked pale.
My stomach lurched. It had taken all the courage I could muster to get myself to this point. Four years prior my optometrist found I had cataracts in both eyes. At the time neither one obstructed my vision, so I ignored them. This is the basic tack I take with most issues in my life. But then the one in my left eye became noticeable and was causing me eyestrain, which lead to headaches.
It was during my pre-op appointment that I noticed a shift in my attitude towards all things medicinal. I was asked to sign a waiver, which stated complications could occur, up to and including death. Who dies from cataract surgery? "I can't sign this," I told the woman who handled the admitting paperwork.
She eyed me over her purple progressive lens glasses, which were held around her neck with a dainty gold chain. Her southern drawl dripped with a charm her clipped response did not match. "It's just routine policy. If you don't sign, you can't have surgery."
"But it says death, death, who dies during cataract surgery?"
"Oh, now hon, they have to put that in there." She said, more sweetly now.
"But it means someone DID die." I explained.
"No one died. If anyone was going to it would be someone really old, but it could happen so they have to put it in there."
I could see this was leading nowhere. I was never going to get her to admit thousands of patients had died right there at this very facility during their procedure. Against my better judgment, I picked up the pen and signed my life away. I booked my surgery for a month down the road and figured somehow my eye would miraculously heal itself between now and then, therefore, I would escape that death trap of a cataract surgery center.
3 weeks later it was time to begin my pre-operative medication. I'd become increasingly afraid to take any type of medicine in the past few years. I’d long had a precarious relationship with antibiotics after having an allergic reaction to them in my 20s. I was always very careful when prescribed anything; however, my newfound fear bordered on hysteria. To get myself to administer the required eye drops prior to my procedure, I had to call my husband at work and have him stay on the phone with me for a half an hour. I deemed that that was the amount of time it would take for me to know if I was allergic or not. I had no idea what I thought he could do for me had I been. But I guess I figured if my throat began to close up he could call the paramedics, and at the very least he would know of my impending doom. I cried as I held the bottle over my eye, dropper poised above, readying to dispense the medicine. In the end, I did it, but the struggle zapped my energy, and a pattern of thought was emerging that would derail the future me.
So now there I was, waiting to have surgery since my eye healing miracle did not materialize. I continued to assess the wan woman, trying to read cues into my own outcome. I thought perhaps my fever was a sign for me to forget surgery.
A tall, good-looking, middle-aged doctor interrupted my reverie. He appeared as if he belonged at a country club with a bottle of Grey Poupon mustard, exchanging pleasantries with an upper crust accent. “Mrs. Meyers?” he inquired, knowing full well who I was. “I’m Dr. Fisher, looks like you have a fever, 99.9. Have you felt sick lately?”
“I did have a really bad sinus headache a few days ago when my husband and I were driving back from California. Maybe I have a sinus infection. Or allergies. The weather change and all.”
“Do you feel sick now?”
“No. But I haven’t had a fever in like twenty years. Maybe I shouldn’t have the surgery,” I said, waiting for him to agree and let me off the hook.
“Your vitals look good. Let’s get you sedated.”
“Are you positive it’s okay?”
“I think you'll be fine. Up to you. If you prefer to reschedule you’ll have to get medical clearance first," he said. Looking at his watch, it was clear he had other patients to put out of their misery.
I glanced at the woman next to me once more. If I just do it, it'll be over with. I can move to California with two good eyes. But what if something goes wrong? There's a reason I have a fever, it's a sign, I shouldn't do it today.
“But I haven't had a fever in forever. I think I better wait. I’ll come back after I make sure everything is okay,” I said.
Jumping up from the recliner I pulled off my booties and cap, and made a beeline for the waiting room where my surprised husband and son waited. With the pressure of surgery no longer looming over my head, I suddenly felt perfectly glorious.
Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, agoraphobia was about to giveth, but first, it was about to taketh away, beginning with my eyesight.