“You have cataracts. Thick ones. In each eye. You need surgery.”
That was the glum assessment handed down by a popular ophthalmologist I have known for all of his 61 years. His name is Dean, who happens to also be my younger brother. (Um, Doctor Glaros to his adoring public at Johns Hopkins University’s renowned Wilmer Eye Institute; he also oversees a satellite office in nearby Columbia, Md.
Honestly, when Dean, um, Doctor Glaros, is out of the office – typically during vacation or when he’s watching one of his daughters play Big 10 lacrosse for the University of Maryland – the waiting room is a ghost town. You could amuse yourself by bouncing a cataract against the wall. My guess is the bevy of receptionists and medical staffers take four-hour lunches in the lakeside park. Dean’s that much in demand, although he’s not “on demand”, like Netflix, tap water or Trump’s tweets. Is cloning a thing yet?
But back to me. At first, I was gripped by the mere mention of eye surgery. What would become of my windows into the soul? Our spiritual essence needs a view room with a view, right? Then there is this: When I fly, I don’t want to see the pilots. Do they look like a couple of middle school kids? Do they tower above average sea level or do they look like the munchkins from “The Wizard of Oz.”? That’s how I want my surgeons. Anonymous. Amorphous. Invisible.
“It’s pretty common,” Dean announced, which comforted me. “We will all get them if we live long enough,” he said, before adding: “the technology has advanced dramatically during the past decade.”
Moreover, Dean wouldn’t be the guy slicing and dicing my eye. That job would go to his associate, Yale and Harvard-trained Dr. Yassine Daoud, who, when I met with him, reported he had done 55 cataract surgeries the previous week! That’s an average of 11 per day. If things slow down in the eye-care world, he could score a job at Jiffy Lube and on a Saturday and rack up those numbers before quitting time. Talk about being a rock star!
When I told Dr. Daoud I was 65 “and Medicare-ready,” he scoffed. “I just operated on a 95-year-old man,” he said. “Ninety-five! You were a baby when he was your age.”
What do cataracts look like anyway, I asked Dean. “They look like M&Ms’,” he said flatly. He was being serious.
If cataract surgery was that common, I could see Wilmer hoisting a huge red neon sign, like McDonald’s, advertising they’re performed 1 million of them since cataracts were invented by an obscure traveling milkshake-machine salesman named Ray Kroc. But I digress.
While the surgery went well, I would be remiss if I didn’t introduce another vitally important character into the narrative. She is Mary, my Greek-American wife of 38 years. If she wanted, she is smart enough to have gone to medical school and become a doctor.
Once most of my blurred vision disappeared, she gave me the green light to drive alone. I didn’t push it much beyond the Dunkin Donuts, about three miles from our condo. It made me feel like I was 16 again, nervously requesting use of my parents’ battered station wagon.
“Do not go beyond the coffee shop,” she ordered, her Kalamata-olive eyes gleaming in the noonday sun.
Knowing her, she’d already surveyed the precise distance from door to door. Obviously, it was her stoic, Spartan roots bubbling up. I had learned to do as I was told – most of the time. On the whole, though, it displayed the stark contrast between the mainlanders and my chill, time-for-my-siesta Aegean island ancestry.
Anyway, I made it to Dunkin fine. I even splurged on a blueberry muffin to go with my extra-large brew. Finding a spacious table in a far corner, I hunkered down for a few hours. Alone. Solo. Solitary. Quality me time spent in a well-earned, makeshift man cave. Precious time amid rich hues of orange and auburn that identify one of America’s most iconic chains, pretending to ignore the shelves brimming with sugary treats that cardiologists label toxic.
Less than an hour passed. I looked up with my spanking new eye lens. She had exited her red Toyota and was headed in my direction. What was she doing interrupting my solo act? Breezing into the shop, she saw me, my head hunched over a newspaper.
“Hi,” I exclaimed, looking up, unable to find words that were more creative than that. Then the hammer fell.
“You forgot your eye drops,” she shot back, choosing to dispense with the pleasantries and looking annoyed.
“Sorry,” I replied, unclear on what to expect next.
“Forget it,” she said softly, before reminding me that I had Adult Attention Deficit Disorder. “It’s just how your brain is wired. You can’t help it. Tilt your head back.”
Following her direction, I tilted. First, though, I checked to see if there were any customers or employees watching this early matinee. It’s not every day that you see a wife bursting into a Dunkin, prescription eye drops in hand. Once she had completed her mission of mercy, she was on her way.
The next day, we went to IKEA to scout patio furniture. In the cafeteria, steps from displays of Sylt lingonberry jelly and college dormitory-perfect lamps, she whipped out the eye drops.
“Sorry to have to do this, but…” Then, mid-sentence, she caught herself. “On second thought,” she added, “it’s your turn. My coffee is getting cold.”
Admittedly, I was taken aback by this sudden change of heart. But it was time to emerge from all the man caves I had hibernated in during the week and, um, be a man.
“Pull your lower eyelid down,” she instructed, “and hold the container over the eye. Be patient. Try not to spill any of it.”
I did what she said. Bull’s eye! It wasn’t hard. And I spilled nary a drop.
The next best thing we could do was break out in simultaneous laughter. She pretended to excuse herself in order to get back to her route.
“What route?” I asked.
“I deliver eye drops to shut-ins and people like you who occupy categories of their own. “I call it `Eyes on the Road.’”