The Eyes Have It

When my grandfather was eighty-six, the spots in his left eye began to impede his vision.

Cataracts, the doctor said, treatable with surgery.

“I’d like to have the surgery,” my grandfather said.

The doctor appraised the octogenarian who appeared much younger than his age. He had bright shining skin, a full head of hair and had walked into the exam room with a sureness of foot that he, the doctor, himself a relatively young fifty-five, rarely saw in men this age. Still, the doctor had over the years seen countless seemingly healthy geriatric patients who were suddenly diagnosed with this or that or who, though healthy this year, experienced a rapid decline into senile decrepitness the next.

Age was a volatile thing. He was also a reasonable doctor, not in it for the money. He operated only when he deemed necessary and in my grandfather’s case, the doctor felt it was not. The patient said that he could see and read through the dingy yellow tint of the cataracts, but that sometimes the left eye was a bit cloudy. This was bothersome.

“Your eyes will serve you well for another ten years,” the doctor said assuringly, though to himself he said, “Though you will likely only need them another five at most.” “If the cataracts are worse by then,” he said to my grandfather, “come back and see me. Then we will remove them.”

My grandfather, not one to take a doctor’s words lightly, nodded and went on his way.

Ten years flew by during which my grandfather read the newspaper each day with yellow tinted eyeballs. The eye doctor continued his practice, advising elderly patients to forgo cataract surgery. He turned sixty-five and some nights, when he was particularly exhausted or not feeling well, he wondered how much longer he had. Twenty years, he hoped, twenty years at least.

The doctor forgot about the eighty-six year old man he saw ten years ago until one day, the man, now ninety-six appeared in his exam room.

“It’s been ten years,” the elderly gentleman said.

The doctor blinked. The man seemed to have aged little. His back was slightly more curved, his skin a few degrees more papery and his eyelids a smidge droopier, but the skin still shone and the walk, though slower, was still steady.

“It has been ten years,” the doctor said, “And the cataracts…”

“I want them out,” said the patient.

The doctor felt a sudden roil of regret in his gut – he had denied this man ten years of better vision. But surely now the gentleman did not have much longer. However, it would be rude too, to say, “Wait ten years more.”

The doctor nodded and, because he was a man of his word said, “We will remove them.” He excused himself to arrange his calendar with the nurse and thought, as he closed the door, you just never know.

A few days later my grandfather opened his eyes.

Grandpa at ninety-nine, three years after his cataract surgery. Wearing a tie that is too long.

His wife and sons and their wives crowded around him.

“How do you feel? What do you see?”

My grandfather blinked and smiled a newborn’s smile, gazing beyond their concerned faces.

“The walls,” he said, pointing at the walls that had always been there, a small, wondering smile on his lips, “The walls are white.”

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