I remember being told by my eye doctor, “I’m going to refer you for cataract surgery.” The next six months were filled with anxiety, visits to the surgeon’s office, and lots of eye drops, in preparation for surgeries to remove cataracts in both eyes. Despite information from the surgeon’s office, I felt left out. Some of my questions were never answered; some questions received two or three answers, any one of which could be the right answer. Part of my problem was I was so terrified of the idea of surgery I couldn’t think straight. I felt as though my brain shut down and I didn’t know what questions to ask. That experience led me to write this heads-up to anybody told he needs surgery.
Ask questions. Be persistent, keep asking until you get the information you need to know. Here are some questions to consider asking:
- Why are you recommending evaluation for surgery?
- Is there a non-surgical treatment available?
- What does the surgery involve?
- What are the risks of surgery? What are the risks of not doing the surgery? (Ironically, for me the risks for either one were the same: going blind in one or both eyes.)
- Will it be inpatient or outpatient surgery?
- If inpatient, how long will I be in the hospital?
- If outpatient, how long is the recovery period in the hospital?
- Is there pre-operative care involved? (In my case, I had lots of eye drops to put in, to cut down on the chance of infection.)
- What post-operative care is involved? (I had lots of eye drops, a month or more per eye.)
- Will there be any restrictions on diet or activities? If so, for how long? (In my case, I could not bend down for a week; I had to sleep on the opposite side of the eye operated on for a week; I needed to be careful when I went out into bright sunlight, even with sunglasses on.)
- Are there any side effects that could happen during/following surgery? (During surgery on my left eye, the surgeon nicked a tiny blood vessel. When I removed the eye cap and bandage the amount of blood in my eye was alarming. I called the surgeon’s office, was told what happened, and that the body would reabsorb the blood in about a week.)
- Is there a possibility I would need other procedures following this one? (I was not told until after my surgeries that there was a good chance I would need laser surgery for secondary cataracts later on. I was upset; neither my regular eye doctor nor the surgeon had informed me about that possibility.)
- How much will it cost? ( In answer to this question, the office staff just smiled and said, “We’ll turn it into the insurance and see what they say.” This was not enough of an answer for me. I was raised to pay my bills, but before I can pay them, I have to know how much I owe.)
- What are my copays? (This caused considerable anxiety for me. I was told by the surgeon’s office that the hospital providing the facilities would call. The hospital did–one day before the surgery. The copay was $450. If I did not pay, I could not have the surgery done. I needed more notice than one day. Lesson learned: Don’t assume the provider will give lots of notice. The surgeon’s copay was nearly $1,000. That was due in ten days.)
- What will the outcome be? ( I got three different answers for this one. When I first went to be evaluated prior to the first surgery, the woman who did the testing said, “Oh, you may not even need to wear glasses any more.” The surgeon told me I might need to wear reading glasses. A technician told me I’d probably still need to wear bifocals (huge bummer for me). The technician was right. It was upsetting to hear three different possible outcomes on a matter so important to me. I wished they would have kept quiet, until after the surgeries and post-evaluations.)
To sum up, it’s your body and your life, so ask questions and keep asking until you get answers.