Presenting a little vitreous humor

Gene Weingarten on

WASHINGTON -- My left eye is the eye on the left side of my head, above my left hand, which is not the hand I shake hands with, which is a good mnemonic way to remember the location of the left eye.

Sometimes people get confused if they are facing you because their left eye is on the other side of your left eye, so to make everything really clear which the left eye is, you can tape an arrow on your forehead pointing down to your left eye, which is what was done for me. Also, the bright green plastic bracelet containing your name and birth date should be affixed to your LEFT hand, which is nearer to your LEFT eye, as a triple reminder, just in case.

This was the principal lesson I recently learned when I went to the hospital to have a cataract removed from my LEFT eye, as three different medical personnel serially informed me, asking me to point to my LEFT eye.

I felt like a first-day student in a kindergarten class.

Hospitals are very concerned about getting this sort of thing wrong, possibly because they fear the sort of headline you used to see from time to time about doctors amputating the wrong limb and some shoe salesman from Hoboken suddenly owning the hospital.

(Oh, one other lesson, which I learned only after getting home. It is nearly impossible to remove that four-cent ID bracelet, which is affixed in one second in a single "pop." This thing is harder to remove than a pizza grease stain from a silk tie, requiring, at the least, industrial-grade hedge clippers. These bracelets would make perfectly good bike locks, at a fraction of the cost.)

The presence of a cataract is not always as apparent as you'd think. I was unaware of any problem until I went to the DMV to renew my driver's license and had to take an eye test.

I read aloud the six numbers on the screen, only to be dryly informed by the clerk that I had entirely missed three more numbers on the far left.

"There aren't three more numbers," I said, indignantly and pompously informing her that with my glasses "I have perfect vision." She gave me that Knowing Mommy Look, like after one's kid declares that all the mommies are letting their kids play the new "Grand Theft Auto Rape-a-Palooza Series XII." Apparently, I had to see a doctor.

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Before my surgery, a medical person came in and informed me that they were going to use a cocktail of two drugs on me: fentanyl and propofol. "Aren't those two drugs famous for accidentally killing people?" I asked, a fact which he cheerfully confirmed before walking away, probably because he was running late for his next scheduled terror-infusion.

The actual surgery went splendidly, or so I am told. I remember very little of it. The surgeon did tell me afterward that I had been a bit "talkative" under the anesthetic, and he said this without maintaining full eye contact, which I found a little disturbing.

It occurred to me that I might have asked him about something I was thinking about immediately before the surgery, a line I used in a deeply irresponsible medical humor book I once wrote: Noting (truthfully) that the eyeball is more like a scoop of Jell-O than a water balloon, I had written that, to lighten the mood in the operating room, eye surgeons sometimes slice the eyeball open horizontally and manipulate it like a sock puppet while talking in a comical, squeaky voice.

I decided not to ask.


Gene Weingarten can be reached at Follow him on Twitter, @geneweingarten. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon Eastern at

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