Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Friday, Dec. 06, 2013

Therese Park - Fear of the inferno during cataract surgery

Special to The Star

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Cataracts are a medical condition common to older people that gradually cloud vision to a point where everything looks blurry — as though you’re looking through a dusty glass or wax paper.

Driving at night can be dangerous for people with cataracts because, among other reasons, oncoming headlights blind your eyes the way millions of diamond chips in brilliant sunlight would. The only way to correct the problem is surgery.

My recent cataract surgery was a unique experience. For every other surgery I had gone through, I was put to sleep. Later, waking up in the recovery room, I could remember nothing except someone asking me to count backward from 10. But this time I was fully awake and saw everything — the bright light overhead, the wire hooked to one of my arms monitoring my heartbeats, a tube on my other arm pumping fluid into my vein, and a team of masked faces hovering over me, including one that belonged to the surgeon holding a knife. Lord, help me!

A device secured on my face held my left eye open, and for the first time in my life I was worried that a curious insect might fly into that eye and I wouldn’t be able to close it. A helpless feeling came over me. For the next 40 minutes I watched the knife-holding hand busily moving about, cutting something and poking something else. “I am no longer in control of my life!” I thought bitterly. This is how a fish might feel, lying on a cutting board.

Think positively, I ordered myself. This will end soon like everything else. Dwell on good things. Everyone in your family, including your four grandchildren and two birds, is doing well. And you have no criminal record anywhere in the world, nor do you have outstanding debt. You have no enemies either, something to be grateful for...

No enemies? What about the letter from the cremation specialists?

I was wide awake. It was a horrible letter that began, “Dear Therese, more and more people are choosing cremation over traditional funeral arrangement… because it’s easy, less expensive (for the living), and has less impact on the environment.”

They even gave me a code — NjPURL22 — and wrote, “Please note that you have no obligation (to die for us); this is only to receive…information and to identify you (as a corpse)...”

Who can be calm about reading such a personalized letter? I was not. The message was loud and clear: “You are old, thus you qualify as our client. We want your business, the sooner the better.”

Angry, I called the company and told the receptionist to remove my name and address immediately from their mailing list, adding that I want to live for another dozen years. “Save your stamps! And find better candidates than me!”

She replied that the local company isn’t responsible for sending the letter, however, she’d take my information and send it to the home office in Pennsylvania. “That’s best I can do!”

Had she done it yet? I thought. What if they’d send me another letter with a new code? A line from Dante’s Inferno struck me like a whip: “The path to paradise begins in hell.”

Being old and having cataract surgery was bad enough but I was tortured by the idea of cremation as I lied on the operating table! Almighty where are you? I wanted to cry out. Sending such awful letters to older people is violation of human rights. The value of life doesn’t diminish with aging! But we’re not protected. Please do something to evil companies drooling over older people!

“Are you alright?” the surgeon asked through his mask.

“I’m not sure…” I mumbled.

“You did great,” he said.

I did what great, doctor?

His hand had stopped dancing and was now placing a clear plastic piece over my eye. Soon I was wheeled out of the operating room, and after a short rest in the recovery room, I was let go. While my husband was driving, I was glad for my freedom, which a fish on a cutting board would never dream of. Yet, I was in gloom, worrying that another letter from the cremation specialists would surely find me one of these days. But who could stop companies sending such horrible letters to older people? The FBI? Obama healthcare?

“How do you feel?” My husband asked.

I didn’t respond.

“Do you have pain?” he asked again.

Is pain humans’ only enemy? I wanted to scream . But instead, I said, “I want us to move. That will solve the problem.”


Retired musician Therese Park has written three novels about Korea's modern history. She lives in Overland Park.

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