A life-changing surgery

As an eye surgeon, I have always been aware how important it is to restore vision to people who are handicapped by cataracts. However, it was one patient in particular who made me realize how much vision can help restore someone’s personality as well.

About 20 years ago, I received a referral at my Eugene, Ore., clinic for a patient who had been living with severely compromised vision for years.

“Mrs. E,” who was originally from Europe but was now living with her husband in California, had a history of cataracts and cornea plana. Her regular ophthalmologist had turned her down twice for cataract surgery due to the difficulty of operating on her; he feared he might make her sight worse, and so he referred her to me. When she first visited my office, Ms. E was clearly depressed due to her poor vision. She was dressed shabbily, and her demeanor was very downcast. I operated on her first eye, and the procedure went beautifully.


When Ms. E returned with her husband for her postop visit the following afternoon, I almost didn’t recognize her; she was now wearing bright-colored clothes, high-heeled shoes and lipstick.

I told her at that visit that we would operate on her second eye tomorrow, and if that surgery went well, she could return home. At that, she said, “Dr. Fine, I’m not going home — I’m going to stay here and marry you!”

I was a little bit aghast, and I started to tell her that my wife would never accept that, when I noticed that her husband was laughing uproariously. At that point I recognized that the surgical procedure not only had recovered her vision, but also recovered her pride and her sense of humor.

Ms. E had an inordinate amount of charm that had simply lain dormant due to the much decreased quality of life she had suffered. I cannot recall much else about that conversation after her joke, I just remember that she was extremely happy.


Mrs. E was restored to normal vision and could now able to express the person she truly was. Witnessing this transformation happen seemingly overnight and knowing that her life changed for the better was thrilling for me.

It is not rare to feel the gratitude of patients for whom we have performed cataract surgery. Even the smallest of improvements to vision can greatly increase a person’s quality of life, and helping my patients achieve that has always been one of my career’s greatest rewards. OM

I. Howard Fine, MD, has specialized in cataract/IOL and refractive surgery in Eugene, Ore., for 48 years. He is also clinical professor of ophthalmology at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, and co-founder of the Oregon Eye Surgery Center.

We all have patient stories that stick with us, whether they’re funny, strange or sad. If you have a Memorable Patient Encounter you’d like to share, we invite you to send us an approximately 400 word submission. No worries if it goes longer; the more detail the better. If you need assistance, the editorial staff of Ophthalmology Management will be happy to help you. Please send contributions to Associate Editor Robert Stoneback at or call 215-628-6535.