Overcoming the fear of age-related cataract surgery

by Len Lear
Posted 5/11/23

I never needed reading glasses until I was 50 years old. I was foolish enough to think that perhaps I would never need them at any age.

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Overcoming the fear of age-related cataract surgery


I never needed reading glasses until I was 50 years old. I was foolish enough to think that perhaps I would never need them at any age. However, like everyone else over 50, my eyesight did get worse, and I had to get a stronger prescription every few years. 

But then about five years ago, during our annual eye exams, our ophthalmologist, Dr. Edward Gerner, to whom we had been going for about 30 years, told me I had “baby cataracts,” lenses that get more and more cloudy and opaque. It happens to almost everyone over the age of about 65, he said, give or take a few years.

He told me that I did not need cataract surgery at the time but that after a few more years, I most certainly would. When I asked for a stronger eyeglass prescription, he said that the prescription I already had was as strong as they come. (I even sought a second opinion from Dr. Jamie Brosof at Pennsylvania Optometrics in Roxborough, and she said the same thing as Dr. Gerner.)

Of course, the “baby cataracts” did turn into adults, you might say, and my eyesight continued to deteriorate. This last year was particularly difficult. It got to the point where I could not even read some of my own articles in the Local (depending on how dark the print was). I had to stop reading Philadelphia Magazine because the print is so small, and even some books. I began using a magnifying glass to read menus in restaurants, cartoons in the Inquirer, and even my own interview notes at times.

Although I was wearing my “distance” glasses while driving, I could no longer make out street signs or the address numbers in front of people's houses. When looking for a house on Crittenden Street to do an interview with a Chestnut Hill author, I had to stop and get out of the car four times to get right next to the street signs and walk up people's front steps to get about a foot from the address numbers.

I knew I needed cataract surgery, but I had been putting it off because of fear. “The last thing I want is somebody cutting into my eyes,” I thought. “I know that millions of people have had this surgery successfully, but I will probably be the one where the surgeon's hand slips.”

The last straw, however, was when the words on the computer screen began looking blurry. I knew there was no way I could keep working on articles for the Local if I could not even read emails that people were sending to me, or the results of a Google search. 

So I contacted Dr. Gerner, who is now retired, and asked him to recommend a local surgeon. He gave me a very enthusiastic recommendation for Dr. Robert Bailey, who is affiliated with Wills Eye Hospital and has an office in Plymouth Meeting. Not satisfied, I reached out to old folks like myself whom I know and asked about their experiences with cataract surgery. Everyone I contacted urged me to have the surgery.

I also posted a notice on the Mt. Airy/Nextdoor website, asking for cataract surgeon recommendations. In the following week, there were about 40 replies. Several eye doctors were recommended by numerous patients, among them Dr. Bailey. Some of the comments were absolutely rhapsodic, which helped allay my trepidation and convinced me to contact Dr. Bailey's office.

It took a while to get an appointment because Dr. Bailey had so many patients, but I finally had the surgery in my left eye and two weeks later in my right eye. I had to take three different eye drops several times a day for one month, and the surgery itself only took about 20 minutes. I don't know how they do it, but the surgeon takes out the lens you were born with and replaces it with a plastic, artificial lens. It took several hours after the operation before things came into focus on the operated eye, which was scary, but once they did, it was like being 30 years old again!

I should have done it sooner. I had to get a pair of 2.5 magnification "readers" at CVS for $15 for reading books, and newspapers. I don't need glasses for driving, or watching TV or movies. Just for reading. Unlike hip or knee surgery, you only need cataract surgery once, according to Dr. Bailey. The artificial plastic lens lasts a lifetime. My vision is literally 100 percent better! It really is a miracle. You could even say that Dr. Bailey is now the apple of my eye.

According to Mr. Google, cataract surgery has a higher rate of patient satisfaction (over 90 percent) than any other surgery. We have Medicare and Keystone 65 insurance, but it still cost $3,200 out of pocket for the surgeries and $290 for eye drops. A bargain. I would urge anyone losing vision because of old age to have cataract surgery. You'll be very glad you did.

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com