Friday, November 12, 2010

The Eyes Have It

Back when I was in 6th grade, I had an epiphany. I'd realized that I couldn't see my science teacher's chalk-written notes on the space program on the board unless I was sitting at one of the front tables, so I asked to borrow a friend's glasses, slipped them on, and sat back at my usual seat towards the back of the room. The haze of white I had been seeing against the green slate suddenly formed into letters and words that illustrated the old simile "clear as a bell." I could almost hear a chime go off in my brain as my vision cleared; dear Lord, I needed glasses.

Unfortunately, I didn't get those glasses until almost a year later (my mom was convinced I just wanted big, plastic, pink-framed glasses like so many of my friends at school had). When the optician slipped that first pair on my face, I saw everything I had been missing in the couple of years it had taken to realize my once-perfect eyes had gone myopic: trees were made up of individual leaves and were not, in fact, green blobs; who knew?

Countless times since then, I've had similar epiphanies as my prescription changed, or as I found myself with new glasses or contacts. You don't realize how bad you've been seeing until all of a sudden the blinders are lifted and you go, Oh, my God! so THAT's what that sign says.

So then I had Lasik on October 29.

Before I get into the ins and outs of it, let me tell you that I am seeing 20/20. In fact, I kinda feel like my left eye is bionic. I am seeing better through that eye than I have through any pair of glasses or contacts I've ever had. But I am a perfectionist, so my right eye not being quite so perfect (though allegedly still seeing close to 20/20 one week after) has made me wonder whether I did the right thing.

The procedure itself was as strangely frightening as I dreamed it would be.

You've given these people a lot of money for the pleasure of burning away part of your eyeball, so they treat you like a queen and act like your biggest fans while you're there. Everyone is just so darned happy that they are going to change your life that the prep room feels like a big party. The only thing missing are the drugs.

I stil can't believe all they give you at the office I went to is Tylenol PM. When you're having your eyes lasered I think you should at least score a run-of-the-mill Valium, you know?

I honestly don't remember all the details about the surgery because I was kinda sorta freaking out. I know someone put numbing drops in my eyes, and I know that that someone may not have given me time for those to work because I felt a little honest-to-goodness pain when the cutting laser made the flap in my right eye. This was after a big suction cup thingie was placed on my right eyeball with what the doctor told me was "a little feeling of pressure." And it was just a little feeling of pressure, in the way that Pine Mountain is a little mountain. Pressure on your eye is pressure on your eye, whether it's a little or a lot.

They made the flap in the left eye after that, and then they lasered the right eye. Because I probably am OCD, I became obsessed with whether or not I was really and truly fixating on the flashing light I was supposed to be looking at. My cheerleading squad, consisting of a nurse and the optician, kept counting down the seconds left and hollering out, "You're doing great!" But that flashing light seemed to not ever stay in the middle of my field of vision, and once or twice the doctor reminded me to keep still. Just like I kept asking my chemo nurse during my first treament if she had remembered to give me the anti-nausea meds because I was loopy with Ativan, I kept asking the surgeon and nurse at Lasik if I had kept my eye fixated because I was loopy with fear and a pre-existing anxiety disorder.

"Did my eye stay still enough? Because it felt like it was moving, and you kept telling me to stay still, but, you know, I was trying like, REALLY hard but I still didn't feel like I kept my eye still..."

"If you had moved your eye too much, we would have stopped. The laser follows your eye movements," said the nurse.

"Well, if you're sure, but, you know, it just seemed like my eye moved and wasn't in line with the thingie except for that one time the doctor reminded me to look in the center of the light...did it move?"

They kept acting all happy, because they had a lot of my money, but I know they were wishing they had given me drugs. Just an FYI here: I'm really annoying in medical situations. If I ever ask you to accompany me to a procedure, come up with a really good reason not to.

The next eye was uneventful and I had no problem looking right at the center of the flashing light. I knew I was going to have extraordinary vision out of that eye as soon as they smoothed the flap down; I could see intricate detail in the little machine above my head that was making the flashing light. It was...beautiful.

They had me sit up slowly. They had told me earlier that they could tell I was nervous and that I should just relax, and I saw actual fear on their faces when I didn't sit up immediately. They thought they had a fainter on their hands. For a minute there, I thought they might be right.

I sat up to the edge of the table and looked around. They warned me my vision would be like I was looking underwater, and it was exactly like that. Except for one thing...

"Can you tell me what time it is?" the doctor asked.

A regular analog clock was on the wall several feet away. For the first time since I was probably ten years old, I could see the time without squnting or looking through some kind of corrective lenses.



The first few hours after the surgery is not comfortable; the numbing doesn't last, and your eyes know they've had surgery and act accordingly. So I slept, and when I woke up, I could see the numbers on our alarm clocks, I could see what channel the TV was on, and I could see that trees do have individual leaves, all without the help of glasses.

Which is, in a word, awesome.

Since then I've struggled some with some glare, even in my Spiderman-like left eye. And my eyes almost always feel dry, like I need to take my contacts out. But I am mostly happy. I am a worrier, though, and I worry that the ghosting/double vision/starbust crap I have going on in my right eye won't lessen up. The visual acuity in that eye has gotten better in the 10 days or so since the surgery, but I see a litte second ghostly image of most things directly under the primary image. It isn't awful, but I don't want to see it the rest of my life, either. With reading and writing, it's not bad. It's things like far-away lights and even the crescent moon that I am just seeing one too many of.

I made the mistake of Googling some of these things and I'm convinced I have a variety of permanent complications. So I am banning myself from online Lasik-related searches until my next follow-up.

Maybe perfectionist, OCD-type people shouldn't have Lasik.

But then I get up in the morning and I can clearly see my alarm clock, I can tell which is the shampoo and which is the conditioner in the shower without holding the bottles 2 inches from my nose, and even from the dining-room table I can make out the scores for UK basketball games (so long as I don't just try to see these scores with my right eye.) So I should be (and most of the time am) really happy that I don't have to fool with contacts or glasses.

I just wish, as I so often do about so many other things, that it had ended up perfect.

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