Whenever you have some sort of medical condition or procedure, no matter how rare it may be, people pop out of the woodwork and say, "Oh yeah, I had that." Cataract surgery is in fact a rather common procedure, and now that I have had it, it seems to me that everyone I know over the age of thirty has already undergone it. The point of the procedure is of course to enable you to see the rest of the world more clearly, but one of the unanticipated side effects of the surgery has been an insight into myself, which, as I shall now explain, is a curiously appropriate consequence.
The surgery is designed to eliminate a clouding of the lens of the eye [that is what cataracts are] by removing the clouded lens and replacing it with an artificial lens [all in about seven to nine minutes of actual surgery time, believe it or not.] But the new artificial lens can be fashioned so as to give one 20-20 vision. Thus it is that for the first time since I was a teenager, I can now walk around and function quite nicely without glasses. I will still need glasses for reading or using a computer [or inserting an earring for my wife if she cannot do it herself], but not for driving or going to the movies or watching television.
A number of people have told me even after having cataract surgery, they have chosen to continue wearing glasses, even if that means getting bifocals that have plate glass for the distance part and corrective lens for the reading part. When I ask why on earth they would do that, they say, like as not, "I would feel naked and exposed without my glasses. I am accustomed to hiding behind my glasses."
But I am delighted not to have to wear glasses. I even allow myself the fatuous fantasy that it makes me look, dare I say it, more handsome [or at least less plain.] Why am I so different? Because, I now realize, all my life, whenever I wanted to withdraw from the world and become invisible, I accomplished this by taking my glasses off. I felt that if I could not see other people, who without my glasses were simply blurs, they in turn would not be able to see me. So it is that at a cocktail party or public gathering, when I felt oppressed by the loud voices and endless faces, I would quietly slip off my glasses and retreat into myself. It even seemed to me that the sounds diminished when I could no longer see anything at all clearly.
By having cataract surgery, I have forfeited this means of escape. Somehow, I have the feeling that putting on my reading glasses will not have quite the same effect.