Living Columns & Blogs

Life’s perspective can change with post-cataract surgery clarity

My great-grandson is 4 years old. I have taught him many valuable lessons. I can’t recall any of them just now. He taught me how to watch him play games on my smartphone, how to stay out of range of his Nerf gun and how to slide downstairs on my bottom.

This last is a valuable skill and is much easier on the knees than the usual way. I am tempted to do it all the time, but his grandfather, who was once a 4-year-old himself, now seems decidedly uneasy when I slide into the living room feet first. Some people just have trouble adjusting.

This holiday season has already required a lot of adjustment.

Thanksgiving Day, spent feasting and trying to get in touch with my Inner Seahawk, was closely followed by the big winter storm in which a record-shattering quarter inch of snow fell on our community. It disrupted traffic and required our condo landscapers to blow snow off the leaves before they could pick them up.

The eye-opening event for me has been that I’ve had long-awaited laser surgery to remove cataracts from my eyes. (Notice the little play on words there.)

The surgery went well. I’m delighted to enjoy even the mundane daily miracle of being able to clearly see the pull date on the milk carton and the mold on the cottage cheese. Before this, I thought that green stuff was basil.

Every day is a revelation of seeing things I didn’t know were there.

I don’t understand, though, why no one warned me that one thing I’d be able to see most clearly would be each and every one of my wrinkles. What once appeared to me as a few charming laugh lines now look like the end scene of “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”

“That’s all right, Mom,” my son soothed, “We could always see them. You’re the only one who’s surprised.”

I should have been better prepared after I met an old friend at a party recently. He seemed to be crouched behind a potted palm.

“I’m hiding from my wife,” he said with refreshing frankness. “I just had cataract surgery,” he explained, gloomily peering between the fronds of the palm.

“Didn’t it go well?” I asked, preparing to offer sympathy.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “My vision has been restored to 20/20. But now that I can see all of my friends, I’m in shock. You know, I thought we were holding up pretty well, but they’re really old far — uh — old fellows, and my wife,” he went on, dropping his voice slightly, “I had no idea she had so many wrinkles. I liked it better when I couldn’t see them.”

His voice trailed off.

“I suppose,” he finished despondently, “it would have been better if I hadn’t told her that.”

Probably. Apparently he hadn’t yet looked in a mirror.

Three million Americans undergo cataract surgery each year, with a success rate of 98 percent. But there can be complications.

“The piles of dust,” one friend said promptly. “I thought the house looked quite respectable, but there are piles of dust and cobwebs everywhere.”

My new, clearer vision brings some other surprises. It turns out that what I took for a large bruise on my grandson’s arm is an elaborate tattoo. His little boys wrote their names on his arm and he had the names tattooed along with their hand prints. It’s very sweet and touching, but I miss the days when we just hung the children’s art on the refrigerator door and changed it occasionally.

As I wrestle with these changes, I’ve found myself remembering a poem I read long ago. I don’t know the author, and the editorial staff at Seventeen magazine where I first read it are trying to trace her for me. I’d like to find her because her poem changed the way I look at life.

This is what I remember:

“I will not be old even when I am bent and wrinkled

“Where time has touched me.

“When the first snowflake means only trouble,

“And Christmas is just another day …

“Then, I will be old.”

It’s never the number of days you’ve lived that matter or counting wrinkles or fretting over how things change. It’s all how you look at it.