Sandbags, Sticky Tape, and Shrink-Wrap

Apr 23, 2011 | 6 comments

The H.A. Espys On Their Fiftieth – 1947

       As I lay on the operating table Thursday morning, minutes before my cataract surgery, my thoughts automatically flew back in time to my grandmother, Helen Espy, and to 1948.  It was a Big Year in our family.  It was the year my grandmother had her cataracts removed. Not only was this cutting edge surgery successful for her, it marked the first year in several dozen that she could see.
     Cataracts and glaucoma had robbed my Oysterville Granny of her sight by the time she was 50 and, now at 70, she was destined to have six glorious years of that most precious of all senses.  She and my grandfather had flown to New York where she had spent ten days in the hospital after each eye was done, sandbags on either side of her head to prevent movement while healing took place.
     On their way back home they took a detour to California to visit us in San Rafael.  I remember the glow of excitement when she described seeing the Golden Gate bridge from the air.  She and my grandfather had courted in Muir Woods and on Mt. Tamalpais in the 1890s in the days when traveling across San Francisco Bay could only be done by boat.  And I remember her delight in seeing the faces of her grandchildren for the first time, and of seeing her own children as fully formed adults.
     Now, all these years later, no sandbags in sight.  One long piece of sticky tape secured me to the table and within a half hour the surgery was completed and I was sitting up comfortably eating a bite of breakfast.  The only restrictions:  no straining or heavy lifting and no eye-rubbing.
     My doctor gave me a great explanation – one that even I, an anatomical idiot, could understand.  Pointing to a chart showing a diagram of the eye, he equated the lens to an M&M with a nugget at the center.
     Using that analogy, he said that he had peeled away the front of the M&M shell, sucked out the chocolate, and inserted the toric lens which is naturally a bit sticky and has adhered in place.  For the next month, my body will be producing a sort of “shrink-wrap” which will permanently lock the in the lens.  At that point, I can lift, strain, rub my eye as much as I want.
     Wouldn’t my grandmother be amazed?  Starting with M&Ms and shrink-wrap, it’s a whole new world! 


  1. Jim Courtnier

    Congratulations Sydney! I know from my personal experience that I certainly value the gift of sight far more than before my surgery. I’m also amazed at the refinement of technique that has occurred in the last few years.

    I assume they did only one eye. Are you scheduled to do the other?

    I suppose that the next great advance will be stem-cell therapy, but that will probably have wait for the next generation.

    I wish a fast and complete recovery for you and Nyel!

    • sydney

      Thanks from both of us, Jim! I’m happy to report that, as of yesterday morning less than 24 hours after my surgery, my vision was already at 20/30 and the doctor says it will be a perfect 20/20! It is truly miraculous! I am scheduled to have my left eye done on May 26th and I have every reason to think that the results will be equally amazing.

  2. Stephanie Frieze

    Wow, Sydney, you should have come up to Tacoma to the place where my mother had hers done. No operating table, just a big chair. It was over lickety split and she got sunglasses and a vest as parting gifts. Best of all, her insurance covered everything but $30! Glad you’re in recovery mode!

    • sydney

      Sounds like she had standard cataract surgery which, of course, mine wasn’t. (Sometimes I wonder if anything I do is “standard!”) My surgery was for astigmatism correction as well as cataract removal — a whole different process and pretty much brand new. As I understand it, no insurance picks up the cost of the toric lenses necessary with this surgery, but everything else should be covered. So far, I’m totally pleased with the Casey Eye Clinic out of OHSU and thankful that they now have a branch in Astoria — and with a surgeon reputed to be in “the forefront!”

  3. April Michael

    Very glad to hear that it went smoothly for you! Let me know if you need help with anything.

  4. April Michael

    P.S. Lovely photo of your grandparents. Very neat to see a picture of them after having read Willard’s and your books 🙂


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