The Cataract Chronicles — I’m Not Lovin’ My New IOL

Author Barbara Falconer Newhall after cataract surgery and IOL in right eye. Photo by Barbara Newhall

After cataract surgery — a brand-new IOL in the right eye . . . Photo by Barbara Newhall

Note: Husband Jon thinks I get a little cranky and whiny in this post. If so, my apologies. My experience with writing personal essays has taught me that it’s wise to wait until a life challenge gets resolved before writing about it. That way you stand a better chance of avoiding bathos and self-pity. But these are The Cataract Chronicles, after all. My first surgery was three months ago. It’s time for an update, and today’s news is — I’m feeling cranky and whiny.

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

“You’re going to love it,” everybody was telling me as my first cataract surgery approached.

They were wrong. I don’t love it.

Friend after friend told me how, wow, when the doctor took the bandage off the day after surgery, they could see better than they had in decades.

Colors blazed. Lights dazzled. Smudges and specks showed up around door knobs and kitchen sinks.

But not for me.

A Blur and a Halo

Three months after my first cataract surgery, things are still a blur in that right eye – though not nearly as big a blur as they were sans glasses before surgery. And at night there’s still a distracting mini-halo around the lights of oncoming cars, despite a successful, post-cataract-surgery laser treatment for something known as “secondary cataract.”

With my brand new lens – it’s called an intraocular lens, IOL for short – I’ll still need to wear glasses to drive, to see across the room and to read. And those glaring headlights might be coming at me for many nights to come.

So, no, I can’t say that I love the outcome of my first cataract surgery.

And, to be honest, I’m kinda worried about how the surgery on the second eye is going to go.

I hear you. You’re muttering, “Hey, get a second opinion before you entrust your other eye to that surgeon.”

The IOL Looks Good

I did that. And the news was – everything looks good. The IOL is in place, no problem.

Yes, there’s still some astigmatism. And yes, my nearsightedness was not corrected from a hefty -6 way down to the hoped for -0 or -.5. It’s now at -1.25 or so – just right for perfect vision at things four feet away. Which is not helpful for driving, reading or focusing on a computer monitor, but it is perfect for viewing the wrinkles on the faces of my 70-something friends. (I’m writing this post with the font size set at 20, just so you know.)

Author Barbara Falconer Newhall takes a photo of herself wearing dark, statement glasses before cataract surgery and insertion of an IOL. Photo by Barbara Newhall

. . . and before surgery. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Which brings me to my biggest complaint about my new eye: it can’t tolerate the glare of a computer display. If I spend much more time writing this post or hunting around in my photo files for a nice illustration, my eye is going to blink and scratch and ache.

So, in the interests of getting off the computer asap, I’ll cut to the chase and to the moral of this story: life is not perfect. I never promised you a rose garden and all that.

Terrific After-Cataract Eyes

Some people get to have terrific new eyes after cataract surgery, but some of us will be putting up with less than wonderful outcomes — correctable with glasses, but disappointing nonetheless.

And some of us will get truly awful results. Now that I’ve had the surgery, I’m hearing the horror stories. Two people report that their IOLs broke free and fell into the vitreous cavity, requiring harrowing follow-up surgery. One woman lost the vision in both eyes.

Disasters occur. Less than perfect outcomes come with the territory. Life – and my vision – is not perfect.

I was hoping that my new IOL would let me throw away the glasses that have obscured my face since fifth grade. I was hoping to reveal to the world my authentic, brown-eyed self.

It’s not going to happen.

Which is just as well. My face in the mirror is something I can see pretty well these days, and I’ve been taking some good long looks at it. It turns out that – given the bags and circles I’m seeing for the very first time – I’m going to look better in glasses. Way better.

Read the — optimistic — first installment of the Cataract Chronicles at “The Cataract Chronicles — I’ll Be Seeing Me.”  You might also enjoy “My Upper Lip and Other Sorrows.”

Feeling blue because you didn’t get a copy of my book as a holiday gift? No problem. It’s still available at




  1. It’s okay Aunt Barbara, I got my first set of glasses in fifth grade too.

  2. Linda Foust says:

    Barbara, I had similar problems after my cataract surgery. (I actually had had a second lens inserted for astigmatism.) Anyway, my doctor went back in and did a little tweak to my eye using a laser. I can’t remember the name of the procedure (a set of 3 initials, I think), but the doc did it at UC Berkeley’s clinic, where they have the equipment. The result was great. My doc is Mira Lim on Pill Hill. Good luck!!

    • I think that might be a YAG laser treatment for posterior capsular opacity, where the doc zaps a darkened lens sac with a laser to open a hole and let the light go through to the retina. My doctor did this with very good results – a lot of light is coming into that eye now. Wow.

  3. Katherine Philipp says:

    I’m pleased with my cataract surgery. I opted for corrective lenses and have my right eye for distance and left eye for reading. I was wearing mono-vision contacts for many years, so it was an easy transition. For the first time since I was 13, I can see without glasses. Small fonts and dark rooms are still a challenge sometimes, so I bought a pair of prescription reading glasses (since I only need them for the right eye) but I only use them once in a while. My husband says my eyes are very shiny. Sorry to hear that you are not happy. We went to Vietnam last month. Where have you traveled recently?

    • That monovision idea is amazing. Wonderful that the world is nice and crisp for you. I’m going to be good with glasses. I’d just bought a stylish new pair before my first surgery. Maybe they won’t be going to waste.

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