Gemma Cruz Araneta
On June 30, the world around me unveiled an astounding mural of light and brilliant pigments splashed across the horizon. Gone was the subdued landscape of impressionist paintings with indeterminate brushstrokes in pastel shades. If the colors and myriad hues I now see were notes of a symphony, I would be hearing Beethoven’s 5th conducted with amazing vigor and passion by Gustavo Dudamel.
What happened? I had cataract surgery on my right eye by Dr. Ruben Limbonsiong. Before that, I had to go through a series of tests which included ECG, electrocardiography, bio/SM/CTOPO and dilated pupil fundus examination on both eyes, this last one performed by Dr. Danilo Constantino. “As you know, Doctor,” I said, “Jose Rizal performed cataract surgery on his mother; in fact, he took up opthalmology to save her vision. How did he perform what you just did, the fundus examination, without all the state-of- the-art instruments you have?” Dr. Constantino reached behind a bookshelf for that iconic chiaroscuro painting of Rizal examining his mother’s eyes. “He went through exactly the same procedure, with two mirrors reflecting the candlelight and a magnifying lense. Modern technology has made it easier for us,” he said. I have to return a month after surgery for another retina exam. Unlike Rizal’s mother, I am a complicated case as my corneas were sliced in eight places 20 years ago, during a pre-lasik procedure that restored my 20-20 vision.
So, there I was at the Out Patient Surgery Unit of St. Luke’s (BGC) at 9 in the morning, strapped to an operating table that looked more like a canoe at Playa Iguana in Merida, Mexico. I had not eaten a morsel since midnight, deprived myself of wine and water, applied the prescribed drops every hour to dilute my pupils. A nurse called Vi cleaned my face with something damp and soft; she was pleasantly surprised that my eyebrows are real and was amazed that my BP is “pang teen-ager.” The lady anesthesiologist said I would be heavily sedated, not knocked-out; she would hold my hand so I could squeee it whenever I felt pain.
I heard the doctors and nurses chatting, but could not understand what about; twice they asked if I was in pain. No, I was not, though all that eyeball-poking could have made anyone else’s BP shoot up the ceiling. Early on, I discovered that I have a high threshold for pain. Perhaps, it is thanks to my DNA, or to all those stories of saints and martyrs my grandma used to tell us children; or, those tales of legendary bravery of young Spartan warriors my mother would tell us. “That is why,” a historian friend recently commented, “you guys are tortured and shot at dawn.”
I love to tease my opthamologist, Dr. Ruben, that he is the only one who can make me cry. When I first went to see him, upon the recommendation of our family physician, Dr. Joven Cuanang, he said my tear wells had dried up, due to age. No wonder. From a “mababaw ang luha” case, nothing could make me cry and my eyes felt as if they were on fire after reading only a few pages. Dr. Ruben said my tear wells had to be refreshed, so he prescribed three kinds of drops for specific hours of the day. When my oldest half-brother succumbed to a massive heart attack in 2014, I shed copious tears at his funeral. Dr. Ruben was right, old age had converted my tear wells into deserts, and all that time I thought I had become a heartless old soul.
The day after the surgery, I went for a check up. Dr. Ruben detected a leak from one of those pre-lasik slices. Luckily, the operating room was still open. I was given local anesthesia, so I heard him asking for a “colibri.” An assistant handed it to him and I saw the finest, sharpest of tweezers coming closer to my right eye. Not at all menacing; it reminded me of a hummingbird I used to see in Mexico very early in the morning, sucking nectar from the flowers on my bedroom window sill. Its beak was almost as long as its fragile body.
After the procedure, I told the doctor that I saw the “colibri” and that it did look like a hummingbird’s beak. “Colibri is hummingbird in Spanish.” “Medical instruments are usually named after the people who invented them,” Dr. Ruben said, “I learned something new today, did the hummingbird hurt you?” Not at all. At the end of the month he will extract the cataract of the left eye. Once again, I will ask Dr. Jose Rizal to gently guide his hand.