So yesterday, I had one of my cataracts fixed – a novel experience. B had his cataracts done a couple of years ago and assured me it was a cakewalk – just a minute or two and it would be all over.
Er no, for me it wasn’t.
Three or four years ago, I had humoungeous problems with rotting teeth and gum infections, needing lots of sessions of extractions and fillings. The first session ended abruptly when I had a panic atttack and bolted; not wanting to live with my teeth problems any longer I went to Doc G and explained, he prescribed some Valium. I took one before each trip to the dentist and sailed through everything she could throw at me – in fact, before the final session I forgot to take the pill, but sailed serenely though nevertheless. I kept the remaining pills just in case of another trip to dental hell.

Despite B’s reassurances, I was nervous about this op, sleeping very badly the night before. So, belt and braces, I took a valium on the way to the hospital. Good foresight, it turned out.
Sitting in the waiting room, B pointed out the Mission Statement on the wall – the usual three paragraphs of corporate bafflegab. “Wonder how much they paid for that?” he murmered. “If you actually need a mission statement WE WILL DO WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO DO surely covers everything.”

Then it was prepping, with the usual three-times-repeated safety check of name, date of birth, organ/body part to be operated on (just to be absolutely and totally sure, a big mark was inked above my right eye). Then onto the the operating table. A sterile mask went over my face (with a cheery “Don’t worry, we’re piping in oxygen to you.”) and an eyehole was cut out. Then came the bombshell.
The surgeon addressed me. “I’m afraid this will take some time – twenty minutes, perhaps thirty…”
He explained; I have a problem eyeball – it’s small, a little misshapen, and left nearly immobile by the operation I’d had as a child to correct severe astigmatism. Plus the lens was unusually thick. So I could forget about the quick ‘pop the old lens out, pop in the new one’ routine that B had gone through. Inserting my new lens would involve extremely careful slicing and stitching.
Oh well, only thirty minutes at most, I can do that….
There came the familiar scratching of Anxiety at the cellar door and the mask suddenly felt claustrophobic. Valium quickly stepped in; Anxiety was menaced into silence, I relaxed a little. And the op began.
The first few minutes were fine. I didn’t feel worried. At all. Until the lens was lifted out. Without a lens to concentrate the image, there was nothing for the retina and optic nerves to make sense of. It was just a flood of photons. With the overhead light pouring in, everything went a sort of indigo-gray interspersed with sharp-edged, flickering irregular black shapes. Like lightning flashes in negative. This must have been the surgeon, working with his instruments. Abruptly, I felt unreasoning terror – I was blind! That eye had never been much cop before, but at least it had bought me colours and shapes, however fuzzy and indistinct. Anxiety was pushing through the door, with Panic screeching right behind.
Then Valium stepped in again, fulfilling its Mission Statement quite magnificently. Both Anxiety and Panic were efficiently cudgelled into silence, kicked back down the cellar steps and the door firmly bolted. I could still make out a faint whimpering from the depths, but I felt safe again.
The operation went on, with lots of prodding, poking and, eventually, beautiful flares of colour as the lens was slid on and painstakingly stitched into place. I was relieved to (literally) see the end of the greyness – the shapes of the surgeon and nurses came into view behind explosions of pink, blue, yellow and white. Then it was finally over.
Faint and shaky, I had to be helped off the table. My years as a life model meant that I can stay rock-still for any length of time; but art classes don’t have people poking sharp pointy things into your eye! So it had been quite a strain.
When I stumbled/floated back into the waiting room, high on relief and my eye taped up, the next patient was already waiting. She had been chatting with B. and he had been reassuring her, as he had reassured me. “Yes!” I told her brightly. “It’s easy-peasy! No problemo! Just so long as you don’t have a bollixed-up eye like mine!”

B hustled me out rather quickly.