Eye Surgery

By Songyi Zhang 

A week ago, I accompanied my husband for cataract surgery. At seven o’clock the waiting room of the surgery center was filled with patients and their families. A nurse came in the waiting room to call the patients’ names. On the other side, two receptionists were helping the patients register while a television blasted from the corner.

Same as in China, patients need to read through and sign an agreement prior to the surgery. I doubted my husband could read the small print because both his eyes had cataracts and the one scheduled for surgery already had been soaked in three kinds of eyedrops, four times before we arrived.

A woman receptionist thoughtfully read the gist of the documents and pointed my husband to the signature line. I noticed on the desk there was a sign for language assistance. Apparently, many immigrants come to this surgery center. Translators are available, from Arabic to Vietnamese. I glimpsed through the list. Ha, I can speak two of them—Cantonese and Mandarin. Maybe I can work as a translator here.

We arrived at 7:15 a.m.. But the surgery didn’t start until 9:20 a.m.. In between those two hours, my husband was sedated in a bed in a pre-op room. Each cubicle on both sides of the hallway was separated by ceiling-to-floor curtains.

Americans really respect individual privacy. On the wall is a sign of “Protecting Patient Policy.” It reads, “All health care personnel must obtain permission from the patient prior to discussion any health care issue in front of a patient’s visitors.”

While in a normal consultation, doctors come to the patient in a private room; in China, patients have to line up outside the doctor’s office for their turns. Sometimes the anxious ones even peek inside the doctor’s office.

As we were waiting, four nurses rotated to check on my husband, asking him the same kind of yes-or-no questions—Do you have this problem or that problem? Are you allergic to this or that? What are you here for?

“I’m here for a cataract removal on my left eye,” my husband said the fourth time to a nurse. By then, the IV bag that was injected into him was about empty. I didn’t expect that he would be treated like a severe patient. He was even attached to several electrodes on the chest and a nasal cannula for respiratory. The last time I saw these devices was when my mother was on the verge of dying. I couldn’t figure out how many eyedrops the nurses had applied to my husband before they pushed him into the surgery room.

About an hour later, I met him in another room. He looked calmer than I thought he would. As I saw a girl patient licking a strawberry popsicle on the other side, my husband told me he also had a cup of cranberry juice and two crackers. I was glad he was in good care. My dad didn’t have such good care after his appendix removal surgery in China.

The next day we received a get-well card from the surgery center. What a thoughtful gesture — something you’d never see from a Chinese clinic.


Filed under: Prose, Songyi Zhang's America