"Don't bend from the waist," cautions the well-credentialed ophthalmic surgeon to his post-cataract patients. But what the good doc forgets is this: By the time the cataract -- a clouding of the lens of the eye -- of most of the so-called "elderly" patients has grown to size, the knees are long since gone, and bending the knees is a very painful joke.

And yet that was his edict: at least five weeks of recovery with no bending from the waist, which means no bending at all. A vertical life, and one full of comic problems.

First, forget neat. Everything you need must be either at eye level or certainly above waist level.

Forget the dishwasher. Too low. Put a couple of plates, cups, glasses and some silverware on the counter. Use and wash by hand. Leave on the counter.

Of course, everything in the freezer and refrigerator must be on the upper shelves. The rest will soon be chucked out. (But not by you. Don't bend!) Low garbage pails should be dignified and raised almost to eye level.

Eye-drop department: Line up all medicines, gauze, swabs, eye patches and tape on one side of the sink. Since a wastebasket is a no-no, keep an empty tissue box on the other side of the sink for used gauze items. Grab the dropper, put the face one inch from the mirror, put the head way back and take aim. The drop running down your nose and into your mouth means you've missed again.

And finally, like a ballet dancer, keep your head up when you sit down on the toilet.

In the shower, you play the clown: Pull the cap down under your nose and try to remember where everything is. Also, skip drying your feet. (Air them out instead.) In lieu of washing your hair, use a hot wet hairbrush. It calms the itch and loosens the dirt.

The bedroom: Forget about making the bed. At night, put your patch on, take off your slippers and turn out the light, right? Wrong. First, get a small snack table, take off your slippers and put them on the table (along with your shoes) -- then turn out the light.

And now to the living room. There's no sense in sweeping -- you can't stoop for the dustpan. (You could, of course, leave discreet little piles for a kind friend.) Vacuuming is out, too; the outlets are too low.

Also, don't forget to tie a plastic bag to your front doorknob. (And leave it there.) Call your carrier and ask that the newspaper be put into the bag. It also works for the mail.

But later, at your desk, the newspaper falls, a letter drops, the television guide slips down, stamps roll away, the appointment book plops off the edge. Bills, mail, checkbook, all somehow hug the floor. Crumbs and a tomato wedge, a sweater, dark glasses, house keys, even the calculator -- everything that should be up is soon down.

But don't despair. There is a great tool available at the drug store called the Easy Reacher, an aluminum picker-upper clutch tongs, 32 inches in length priced at $9.95 and worth its weight in gold. They're also available through catalogs, as are other brands.

For me, it has retrieved a kitchen fork, bottle cap that rolled, pantyhose, toothpaste tube and a blob of hot broccoli. And be sure to keep it in a wastebasket right by your favorite easy chair, close at hand. If it should ever fall, you're on your own.Free-lance writer Geraldine Lenvin had a cataract operation on her left eye March 30. Her vision in that eye, which had been 20-200 (-13.25 diopters), is now almost 20-25 (-2.75). She reports that her distance vision is much clearer and her driving has improved, but close vision for reading is still not ideal because the right eye is weak. Time and practice, her doctor says, will help.