What to expect with cataract surgery

My experience with cataract surgery

In my early 60s, a few months after getting a stronger prescription for distance viewing, I noticed that my right eye vision was no longer clear. A return visit to the optometrist showed my right eye vision had deteriorated and was now -11.5 diopters. Though my right eye steadily deteriorated over the years, my left eye had remained at -6 for many years (I have records going back 22 years showing that my left eye was not getting worse). With such a huge difference in vision between my two eyes, the optometrist suggested I see an ophthalmologist to see if it was time for cataract surgery.

Ophthalmologist visit

At the ophthalmologist office, after about 52 million different types of test on my eyes, the doctor said that I would benefit from cataract surgery. He explained my intraocular lens (IOL) options, including the option to have one eye set for distance and one eye set for near or intermediate vision. I selected the most common route (and what my health insurance would cover), which was to have each eye fitted with lenses for distance viewing.

The ophthalmologist said many people receiving new lenses through cataract surgery achieve perfect vision (20/20) or almost perfect distance viewing. He added that I would probably need glasses for reading.

Cataract surgery scheduled

I was provided guidance on preparing for surgery day, which included two different types of prescription eye drops administered five minutes apart, repeating four times a day. The drops were an antibiotic and an NSAID to block itching and inflammation. Other than not eating after midnight the night before, there were no other restrictions for me.

Cataract surgery day


The operation was performed on my right eye first, a selection made by my ophthalmologist because that eye was the worst of the two. The surgery was performed in a hospital and I was required to disrobe and put on a hospital gown and socks with little rubber grippers for non-slip walking. The only walking I did after disrobing was to the bathroom. I placed my shoes and clothes in a hospital-provided plastic bag. They said I could either give the bag to a family member or I could have the bag placed in a locker. I chose the latter option.

I climbed up onto a narrow gurney and was provided a lightweight blanket. An anesthesiologist visited briefly.

A nurse inserted an IV into the back of my hand for a drip of sodium chloride. A heart monitor was attached to my chest. A nurse commenced instilling antibiotic eye drops and corticosteroid eye drops to relieve/prevent inflammation, redness, and irritation. Those drops were repeated three times at five minute intervals. Drops were added to dilate my pupil. Lidocaine eye drops were used to numb the eye. My temperature and blood pressure were checked. A blood pressure cuff remained on my upper arm through recovery time. After all these tasks were finished, which took 20 to 30 minutes, my husband was brought to my "cubicle" to wait with me until surgery time.

The ophthalmologist came into my cubicle and placed a mark on my forehead over the eye that was prepared for surgery. That was reassuring to know that the correct eye would be operated on, a concern I did not have before. A surgery nurse came in to administer a light sedative that she gave me through the IV connection on the back of my hand, and she placed an oxygen line on me. A blue disposal cap was placed on my head.

After a wait of 10 to 15 minutes, I was rolled to the operating room on the same gurney. I was directed to reposition myself so my head was closer to the end of the gurney where there was a headrest. My husband returned to a waiting area across the hall.


Someone (I assume the doctor) said "look up." I was aware that something lightweight was draped over my face. I know from reading about cataract surgery that the doctor would use a device to block my eye open; however, I felt nothing. I was aware of a small, non-bright light shining at my eye. I had no problem keeping my eye focused at the light. Here's the most shocking thing about the surgery—I felt nothing as he performed the surgery, cutting into my eyeball. In fact, I was not aware that doctor had even started. We were chatting during the operation!

The surgery took less than six minutes, the drape over my face was removed, a clear plastic shield was taped across my eye, and I was wheeled back to a cubicle for the recovery time.
After surgery

My husband was brought back to my recovery cubicle. I let him know that I felt no pain in my eyeball but I had a horrible headache. Even then, just out of surgery, I could see through the operated eye. A nurse checked my blood pressure. After about ten minutes, the nurse returned to check my blood pressure again and informed that I would not need to wait much longer to go home.

The nurse returned about five minutes later and brought my clothing bag. She checked my blood pressure again, and then proceeded to remove the blood pressure cuff, heart monitor, and IV. My husband signed my release paper (supposedly, I was not allowed to sign because of the "joy juice" they had given me). An explanation was provided regarding use of three different types of eye drops four times a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime), to wear the plastic eye shield when sleeping, and to refrain from vigorous activities until the doctor says it is okay to resume normal activity.

A large pair of protective sun glasses, an additional plastic shield, a roll of tape, and a card with specific information about my lens implant were placed in a small bag for me. I was told to get dressed and wait to be taken out in a wheel chair. My husband was told to bring the car around to the front door of the hospital. The entire time at the hospital, from registering with administration until I was back inside the car ready to go home, was two and half hours.

Once home, I took ibuprofen for my headache. At lunch time, I removed the plastic shield to start the four-times-a-day series of eye drops. I put the plastic shield back on each evening; removed the shield in the morning.

After surgery, ophthalmologist office

The morning after surgery, I had an appointment at the ophthalmologist office. My eye looked fine and my vision in my operated eye was 20/20. Even with eye glasses on, the best that eye was before surgery was 20/40. I told the doctor that my eye was very sensitive to sunlight and that I had a horrible headache immediately over my eye brow. He said those side effects of cataract surgery are common and they will go away. The headache had something to do with affected nerves in/around the eye. He directed me to take Tylenol for the headache and to wear sunglasses. The headache continued severe for a couple of days and then gradually went away. The light sensitivity improved in about two weeks, but I still need to wear sunglasses on a sunny day.

I returned to the ophthalmologist one week after the operation as directed. He told me I could stop using the plastic eye shield and that I could resume all activities. I mentioned to him that I periodically see waves of light out the corner of my eye. He said that was normal and should subside as the eye continues to heal. About two weeks after the cataract surgery, I no longer saw waves of light. Surgery for the second eye could have been scheduled for two weeks later but due to a person schedule conflict, the surgery was scheduled for three weeks later. 


Things to consider before cataract surgery

The need for glasses. The need for reading glasses goes beyond reading. If you choose distance lenses, you will most likely need glasses for close viewing (like doing your nails) and possibly intermediate viewing (like seeing a computer screen).

Some difficulty viewing daily tasks with surgery on only one eye. I suppose it depends on what your current prescription is, but for me, I struggled learning how to "see" things for the three weeks between eye operations. I thought I could simply take the right lens out of my glasses so I could see clearly with both eyes while wearing my glasses, or at least be able to read with my left eye using my glasses because of the progressive lens. Where I found that I could read using my left eye and my glasses, woe, the vision experience I had trying to do that with my "fixed" right eye was crazy. It was borderline nauseating. Initially, I closed my right eye so I could use my glasses to read using my left eye; then took the glasses off to view distance with my right eye.  I gave up on that approach (stopped using my eye glasses) and changed to a pair of cheap reading glasses to use my right eye to read. I really looked forward to the second eye surgery because having one eye perfect vision and the other eye very near-sighted was a difficult experience.

The cost. Health insurance did a good job covering a lot of the expense of cataract surgery and eye drop prescriptions. Without insurance, the full price of cataract surgery for both my eyes would have been around $10,000 for hospital expenses, $900 for the anesthesiologist, $4,000 for the ophthalmologist, and almost $240 for the eye drops. Pricing is from 2016.

Additional observations

  • I have worn glasses for almost 60 years. The frames usually had nose pads that support the glasses on each side of the nose. Those nose pads left divots on my nose that are still visible three weeks after I stopped wearing glasses.
  • Colors are so bright! A cataract has a yellow or brown tint. Once the cataract is replaced with a clear lens, all colors are more vivid. For me, everything had a yellowish tint. I had no idea that the colors I saw were not true shades. I've discovered that room paint colors in my house are not what I thought they were.
  • You might (or might not) want to watch a video of an actual cataract operation. Curious as to what was going to happen to me, I Googled "cataract surgery video" and watched an internet video on what actually happens during the surgery. The video was fascinating and frightening at the same time. 
 Questions? Contact me at barbara@viewsfromthegarden.com