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Recovering My Blues

After having cataract surgery, Barbara Beckwith got much more than just sharper vision. (Taro Taylor/flickr)
After having cataract surgery, Barbara Beckwith got much more than just sharper vision. (Taro Taylor/flickr)
This article is more than 5 years old.

I had no idea what I was missing — until I found it again. I only knew that over the last few years, the world kept getting gloomier. My city looked grayer; the countryside seemed muddier. I wondered if my outlook was the result of New England’s weather, or the era's politics.

So when I noticed what looked like halos surrounding street and car lights, I rationalized that the city must have installed lower-wattage bulbs, and that those damned SUVs must be aggressively using their high beams.

My doctor told me otherwise. Those halos, he said, were a sign of cataracts: the thickening of the lens behind the eye's pupil, which dulls the sight and can lead to blindness. The result, he surmised, of too many years of too much sun — as a teen on the beach, and later as an adult hiking in mountains sans hat or sunglasses.

'But,' I protested, 'everything's so shiny, so glittery!' That's the way the world is, he informed me. 'You just haven't seen it in 10 years.'

I'd have to live with my cloudy sight, he told me, until the lens behind my pupil thickened to the proper degree: he called it “ripening.” That was okay with me: I was not eager for a laser beam to slice my eye or to exchange my natural lens for an artificial one, my first replacement part. Like a good New Englander, I would just "bear up" and, for safety's sake, drive slower.

But when I drove through city intersections at dusk and discovered that the sun's glare would erase oncoming traffic like a blizzard whiteout, I got worried. And after I drove over — on top of, actually — a highway divider that I couldn't see in the low-lying afternoon sun, the $500 repair bill persuaded me: I was ripe.

The operation was fast, if not fun. As is customary, they gave me local anesthesia plus an “indifference drug.” Which meant that my body and mind stayed nonchalant despite flashing lights, the pooling of red at the bottom of my eye and the surgeon remarking at one point: “my scope doesn't work — could someone re-boot it?”

Shooed out of the hospital soon after I entered, I returned home with what looked like a tea-strainer clamped on my face. I was told to remove it next morning. But by that time, the indifference medication had worn off and I felt belatedly vulnerable.

So for my post-op check-up the next day, I arrived with a black patch over my poor eye. “Take that thing off!” the doctor demanded. “But,” I protested, “everything's so shiny, so glittery!” That's the way the world is, he informed me. “You just haven't seen it in 10 years.”

The next day, I wore a blue shirt, ate blueberry ice cream and bought a book I'd already read -- just because its cover was cobalt blue.

My brain, he assured me, had to get used to the brightness. So I went outside, bare-eyed, and wandered around my newly sparkling town to reacquaint my brain to its glimmer.

Mostly, I gloried in the blues that had gone gray over the past few years without my realizing it. I stared at my neighbor's royal blue recycling bin. I paused to admire the pale blue of a dropped handkerchief. I spent long moments gazing at the sky-blue plastic sheet enclosing a construction site. That night at a lounge, I turned away from conversation to glory in a brilliant Bombay Sapphire gin bottle behind the bar.

The next day, I wore a blue shirt, ate blueberry ice cream and bought a book I'd already read — just because its cover was cobalt blue.

My indifference drug had worn off. But I was considerably cheered, having recovered what for so long I hadn't known I'd lost — my blues.

Barbara Beckwith Cognoscenti contributor
Barbara Beckwith writes articles and essays on topics ranging from white privilege and prejudice, to body basics, bliss and blues.

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