If you’re as nearsighted as I am, you’ve probably fantasized about getting rid of your glasses or contacts forever. Many people choose Lasik (laser surgery to reshape the cornea), which takes care of their nearsightedness. Lasik is great if you’re in your 20s or 30s, but it does nothing to address age-related presbyopia-the condition that forces most of us to wear bifocals or trifocals in middle age and beyond.
When I was in my late 30s an ophthalmologist recommended Lasik but added, “Of course, you’ll still need to wear glasses to read or work on the computer.” I guess he wasn’t paying attention when I told him that I make my living as a writer and editor. I spend most of my waking hours reading and working on the computer. Why would I pay thousands of dollars for Lasik surgery if it meant I would still have to wear glasses most of the time?
I have never felt attractive in glasses. When you’re very nearsighted, the lenses make your eyes look smaller. I wore contact lenses from age 18 to 40, but around my late 30s I began to notice that my eyes would turn red every time I put in my contacts. My eye doctor explained that I had “thin tears” that didn’t form a good buffer between the contact lens and the surface of the eye. I decide that bloodshot eyes were even less attractive than Coke-bottle lenses, so I gave up on wearing contacts.
Then a few months before my 49th birthday I interviewed an eye surgeon for an article in a local magazine, and he told me about another option for nearsighted people in middle age and beyond: refractive lensectomy. Simply put, this procedure is cataract surgery before the insurance company will pay for it. Instead of replacing the natural crystalline lens of the eye with a monofocal lens (to correct nearsightedness or farsightedness but not both), the surgeon inserts a multifocal lens. Multifocal lenses (with trade names like ReZOOM, ReSTOR, and Crystalens), provide good vision at a variety of focusing distances.
Of course, there’s a downside. The biggest drawback of refractive lensectomy is the cost: about $4500 per eye, which is 2 to 3 times the cost of Lasik. But after 40 years of wearing corrective lenses (I got my first pair of glasses at age 9), I was eager to get rid of glasses and contact lenses forever. I wanted to rediscover the freedom of life without glasses. I divided the total cost by the number of days in 41 years (because I fully intend to live until I’m 90) and decided 60 cents a day was bargain for a spectacle-free lifestyle. As an added bonus, I would never have to deal with cataracts in old age.
One week before my 49th birthday I had surgery on my left eye, and two weeks later my right eye received its new ReZOOM lens. I was nervous before the first procedure but calmer the second time around because I knew what to expect. I kept a blog to preserve a detailed account of my surgery, recovery, and adjustment (see the first URL in the resource box).
Almost two years have passed since I got rid of my glasses and contacts forever, and I believe the results are well worth the expense and anxiety involved. I can drive my car and see my computer screen well enough to distinguish between a comma and a period in 9-point type, and I can read small print easily with the aid of a Verilux desk lamp or strong sunlight. Trying to read low-contrast print (yellow on a white background, for example) is hopeless, and so is reading in dim light. Threading a needle is a little tricky, but I can do it by the third try. I’m aware of a few more vitreous floaters than I noticed before the surgery, but they’re not bad enough to interfere with my quality of life. Overall, I’m completely satisfied with my new “bionic eyes” and would recommend the procedure to any nearsighted middle-aged person who wants to experience the freedom of life without glasses.