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An Artist’s Guide to Cataract Surgery

by Niki Hilsabeck in Recent Posts
I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I did, cataract surgery would not have been on that list!
“His Own Path” pastel on paper 
It started with  cloudy vision in the lower half of one eye–which quickly progressed to the whole eye.  I went in, had my eyes dilated for the first time ever, and within a couple of hours was scheduling surgery for a cataract in one eye.  
 No big deal, I told myself.  It’s one of the oldest and safest surgeries to have.  I would be in and out within a couple of hours.  Even Monet had cataract surgery!  I spent a fair amount of time looking up what other artists experienced with cataracts, and the consensus seemed to be that cataract surgery would be a positive move.
As my vision continued to worsen, I tried to cope– stopped driving, stopped painting, focused on gardening and sewing (I’ve spent so many nights up late sewing, I can actually do it with my eyes closed at times!)  I taught a wonderful children’s class on writing and illustration, which pushed my surgery back a couple of weeks.  
Since I love to paint, I always figured that nothing would stop me from painting.  I was wrong.  It was so distressing not to be able to clearly see what I was doing with both eyes, I put it away.  I told myself that it was because I knew this would be a temporary hiatus, but deep down I was worried– what would I do if I had permanent vision loss?  My eyesight’s always been terrible, but I see fine with glasses or contacts.  Not being able to see bright colors, light and shadow, my children’s sparkly eyes– I hadn’t realized how dependent on these small joys I am until this summer. 
 “Blue Morning,” pastel on paper– the last piece I attempted before the surgery (went back and finished it afterward)
As for the surgery, it was quite manageable– they used twilight sleep instead of full anesthesia, and I didn’t feel any pain.  My vision adjusted each day (I was a little afraid the first day, as the colors were intense enough to give me nausea!)  Within a week or so my vision was about the same in both eyes again.  If you wear contacts, you do have to wait a month or two before you can put one in your eye again.  The prescription drops are expensive and annoying (several times a day the first week!)  
I began drawing and painting again within a couple of weeks, but waited almost a month to use pastel because of the dust.  I’m still adjusting to my vision changes (you basically have to decide on up-close or distance vision, unless you choose a multi-focal  lens, which also comes with vision changes!)
My vision will never be the same as it was before the cataract, but I feel like it’s close–since my cataract wasn’t age-related, I’m guessing I’ll get to go through this experience again later in life.  In the meantime, I’ll be diving back into painting and teaching– and learning to enjoy some hobbies that don’t leave me quite as dependent on my eyes.
One last tip: have the person driving you to your post-op appointment the day after your surgery check your outfit.  I didn’t realize until I had been sitting in the waiting room for a while that my shirt was on inside out.
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I’m supposed to get cataract surgery but now I’m having second thoughts concerning color perception. I’ve been painting oils for fifty years and my ideas about color are hard won. My distance vision is fine, just passed the DMV test, but I need ever stronger reading glasses (and sometimes use transitional glasses for that I originally got for night driving to paint and refer to photos or drawings). But mostly I just use my eyes to paint. And I love COLOR! Now I read that there is changes in color perception. Lavender and violet cast to everything! Red looks like magenta, black looks like navy, and brown looks like purple. This is not okay, since I already make my browns kinda purple-y…. Your thoughts, folks? Oh I don’t want endless eye surgeries and corrective lenses! I’ve had perfect vision all my life and I don’t want to mess with a good thing at 75 years of age. Did Van Gogh have cataract surgery?
I am 81, an acrylic artist with a penchant for details (love those tiny brushes, probably too much). I have first appt today (Sept 14) with cataract surgeon, so trying to educate myself about lens options, best questions to ask, etc. I was graphuc artist / multi-image producer in professional life, before gettng into commissioned pet portrait paintings...maybe those dreamy eyes and fun furry faces was were I first developed an affinity and affection for details (perhaps). And I have been nearsighted, worn glasses all my life so do not hate them but I am worried about this cataract surgery...trying to learn what to thanks for all your key insights.
I paint and am having my right eye done tomorrow. I also have the spoke variety from damage vs age related, and have had prior lasik surgery. I chose the torric lens that fixes distance and some astigmatism, so I'm hoping my mid range and reading distance will be much clearer than it is now. I am betting that if it isn’t, a good pair of glasses dedicated for art and another for reading will be what I must do. But maybe it will be fantastic on its own. Hope that helps with points of view, and wish me luck! The same to each of you :)
Carol Meade
Hi Niki, I need to have both eyes done. I wear multi focal…I’ve been recommended to have the middle and long lens done and wear a lighter reading glasses. Has anyone found restrictions with that choice for art? I get each eye done separately as most do. My mid range has changed getting worse, perspective is out and ghosting even with glasses on is happening, I cannot read without glasses.
Niki Hilsabeck
Hi Joan, just wanted to mention that I did not find out until after the first surgery that the artificial lens would not focus close up if I wore my glasses/contacts (which I needed for distance). This was super annoying with 1 eye done, and by the time I had the second eye done I gave up on contacts. I only wear the glasses now when I need them for distance. I am still glad I kept my up-close vision, but would have liked to know about the lens ahead of time! Also, I do notice halos at night if I'm looking at a bright light. This could be related to the type of cataracts I had though--they were not the common kind. Best of luck with your decision!
Hi, so it's 2023 and I can see most of these comments are from 2017. I am a painter and drawer who needs one eye done. I wear glasses already. I can afford to wait but am going to have an appointment to understand the options. Can anyone weigh in about the choices they made for their lense (s), have most of you chosen close range and are happy wearing glasses for distance, what the limitations are? halos, night driving? Has anyone had only one eye done and how do your eyes 'come together' when you are painting, moving from close to walking back distance seeing? What is the most irritating thing about it? Should I wait if that is an option. Thanks!
Hi, This is Gaurvi Sharma. My husband just forwarded me this link as I am having trouble choosing a lens for myself. I am an artist and work with details too. Though doctor suggested me to go with Mono focal ..I am a little inclined towards Multifocal. I am 42yrs and a little shocked to hear about my cataract surgery.
Has anyone chosen mid range lens and still able to see close up?
Karen Ann
Hi, I'm scheduled to have cataract surgery in 9 days and am still waffling between a distance and mid-range lens, given that I'm an artist, too (whose name is also "Karen"). I've heard that monovision doesn't allow for good depth perception, that multifocal can be disturbing due to the halo that often appears at night and so the answer seems to be monofocal but at what range?Has any artist reading this had their lens placed at mid-range? Thanks for recommendations and disappointments.
Niki Hilsabeck
Hi Becky, sorry I forgot to reply sooner! I am still glad I kept my up-close vision, even though my "cataract" eye has a little different range of focus from the other eye. I have gotten very comfortable wearing my glasses, so I generally paint with them off (my right eye won't focus up close with them on), and then put the glasses back on to stand back and take a look at the painting from afar. I hope that is helpful to you, and best wishes for your surgery and recovery! Niki
Becky Frazier
Karen, Hello, I will be having cataract surgery in 6 weeks and am wondering which lens to choose. I am also a painter and am having concerns about choosing the wrong lens and loosing mid-range and depth of field. What are your thoughts now that time has gone by for you? Thanks, Becky
Niki Hilsabeck
Hi Karen! I kept the up-close vision--sent you an email with more details :-)
Hi Niki, Thanks for giving an honest look at cataract surgery/ But did you settle on distance or midrange, given that you paint? I have been struggling with going with the majority of folks who go for distance, but I would hate loosing that midrange painting spot. And do you have a kind of monovision now? I'd appreciate any info related to your experience as an artist. Thanks, Karen

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