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Berger’s Burg: Insightful story told through eyes of Queens writer

I was lying on the operating table dressed in a hospital cap and robe. The medical assistants began prepping me for surgery. They left after inserting tubes and wires into my body. The nurse had already marked my left cheek and put an “X” on my left earlobe. This was done to remind the surgeon to remove the cataract from the “right” orb (my left one) and not the other one. I was now alone awaiting the entrance of the surgeon.

To while away the time, I began to think of songs that have “eye” in the title. I thought of “Beautiful, Beautiful Brown Eyes,” “Spanish Eyes,” “I Only Have Eyes for You, Dear,” “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes,” “Yes, Yes, in Your Eyes” and the biblical “Song of the Three Young Men,” which I changed slightly, “Shadrach, Me Shach a ‘CATARACT’ (Abednego).” I smiled a little at that one. I soon grew tired of song titles and reminisced about how my eyes affected my life.

When I was 10 years old, a school eye test revealed that I needed eyeglasses. Up to that time, I never knew my eyes were bad. My mother walked me to the nearest optometrist, Sol Moscot’s on Manhattan’s Rivington Street, where I was fitted with my first pair of eyeglasses. I looked at myself in the mirror and winced.

“I don’t want to wear eyeglasses,” I said to my mother. “I look funny and the kids will make fun of me.”

“If they do, just ignore them,” she replied. She gave me a dime to go to the movies and test out my new eyes.

With those eyeglasses, a whole new world opened for me. I saw things clearer, brighter and sharper than I thought possible. This was especially true when I took that dime and went straight to the neighborhood movie theater on Clinton Street accompanied by my big sister, Miriam.

The picture was “Dr. Cyclops,” a story about a mad scientist who shrinks people to miniature size just for the fun of it. I stared in amazement at the clarity of the images on the silver screen. I considered it a miracle, and I have worn eyeglasses ever since.

Oh, yes, I was indeed made fun of and called “four eyes” by the children. It was a rough period. During my teenage years, I broke many a pair playing basketball in the playground on Norfolk Street.

My memory then jumped a few years to 1986 when I was at home in Queens, enjoying a peaceful Sunday morning. I was sitting on the couch quietly reading the Sunday Times. Suddenly, the pages of the paper began to turn into beautiful bright colors — yellow, blue and red. Then this rainbow of colors surrounded me. I felt like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” entering her colorful magic kingdom.

I asked Gloria if she also saw this splash of vibrant colors. She did not. We then knew that something was wrong with my eyes. Gloria threw me into the car and quickly drove to Long Island Jewish Hospital where I was diagnosed with a torn retina in the right eye. They referred me to Dr. David Fastenberg, a young retinologist who I discovered was also a Giants’ fan.

With laser treatment, Dr. Fastenberg repaired the tear, but the right eye sustained retina damage which inhibited the sight in that eye.

Future eye examinations revealed a cataract forming in my left eye. Cataracts, he explained, usually occur with aging, disease or both, but they also can appear in younger people. The lens of the eye becomes partly or completely clouded, causing blurred vision, difficulty in reading, problems with glare and judging distances and poor night vision. It is a common problem in the United States, with more than 1 million operations performed each year.

During cataract surgery, most of the lens of the eye is removed. A replacement lens takes its place by either strong eyeglasses, contact lenses or an intraocular lens implant.

Dr. Fastenberg and my ophthalmologist, Dr. Lerner, advised that I should think about having the cataract removed when “I was ready.” I was never ready.

My left eye, which formerly was the weaker one, was now the stronger one and the eye I used for all my close reading and computer work. I worried that I would no longer to be able to read, enjoy the visual wonders of the world and write my columns if I had surgery performed on it and the eye were accidentally permanently injured. So I waited.

Over the years the cataract grew and began to progressively impair the vision of my left — and one dependable — eye. But still I would not submit to a cataract operation despite pleadings from my doctors and Gloria. They assured me it was unlikely anything would go wrong, but I stubbornly refused. Although I was visually limited, I still was capable of doing close work. I did not want to chance the possibility of the surgery going bad.

Finally, the constant warnings from the doctors that further delay may harden the cataract, rendering it more difficult to remove, made the decision for me. I agreed to the surgery.

I visited the Mackool Eye Institute in Astoria and was examined by Dr. Richard Mackool. He said my eye was ready for surgery and, since I had a large eye, the procedure would be a little different.

“I am blessed with a large eye for a good reason,” I quipped. “As the wolf in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ once said, ‘The better to watch you with, Doc.’” And that is why I am now lying on this operating table waiting for Dr. Mackool to appear and begin the surgery.

After a short wait, Dr. M. finally arrived and successfully removed the cataract. He then implanted the artificial lens one hour later. And, dear readers, can’t you tell that the column you are reading today was written by a happy, eagle-eyed columnist who has a large eye, an implanted lens and no trace of that #%&! cataract in his left eye?

Reach columnist Alex Berger by e-mail at timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, ext. 140.

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