The Eyes Have It By Mike White. It still takes me a few seconds every morning to realize that I can see. Or, more accurately, I should say that I can now see clearly...
It still takes me a few seconds every morning to realize that I can see. Or, more accurately, I should say that I can now see clearly. My world used to be a senseless blur of shapes and colors.
I got my first pair of glasses when I was in Second Grade. My eyesight steadily deteriorated as I got older. I don’t recall when my myopia finally plateaued but I also don’t necessarily remember a time when I had the ability to see objects with any distinction without aid of corrective lenses.
I made the changeover from glasses to contacts before I entered high school. It was more of a vanity move than anything else. Initially, I was freaked by the idea of having to touch my eyeballs as I dealt with my daily-wear lenses. I quickly got over it.
By the time I was twenty-six I was tired of the rigmarole of contacts and glasses. Like the Elephant Man fantasizing about being able to sleep like a normal person, I had a personal aspiration to wake up at night and see my bedside clock without having to bring it within an inch of my face. I dreamed of what it’d be like to wake up and witness an unfuzzy, glorious morning. What would it be like to not have to grasp at the air in the early hours searching for my glasses? How would my life be different without the pangs of dry contacts at day’s end?
The idea of corrective surgery had always been a secret desire but I was frightened. What if something went wrong and I ended up blind? I pictured myself telling my woeful tale to some schlub on “60 Minutes”. The idea of paying an ungodly sum for this experimental operation kept the idea a distant hope as well.
When I heard about a doctor in Rochester Hills that had made it a habit to perform corrective surgery for a nominal fee while defrauding optical insurance companies I thought that I had discovered my opportunity. I went in for the initial consultation and by the time I had finished watching the introductory video tape I wanted to head for the hills. Oh my gosh! Whoever designed that video should have their head examined! The tape is all computer generated with blocky 3-D models (not a lot of polygons). The area where there seemed the most detail was in the gnashing, awful teeth of the machine that runs over the patient’s eyeball to make the initial incision.
I felt faint. Those gears probably measured mere fractions of an inch in real life but on that tape they loomed like thrashing machines, just waiting to catch an eyelash and destroy my sight forever. My dreams of Lasik surgery quickly faded as the blood drained from my face.
It would take three years before I got the courage to try this operation again. In the fall of ’99 I got fed up with my contacts and started strictly to wear my ugly glasses. I was going to do this and I wanted glasses for all of their inconvenience. I’d figured that I’d get so annoyed that I’d have to get the surgery-gears be damned!
I went in smarter this time. Whenever an optometrist gave me anything about my surgery, I would come home and throw it out. No video tapes for me, thank you! Any waivers I was handed I signed sight unseen. I knew the risks and was willing to take them-I didn’t need any reminders of what could go wrong.
Waiting for the surgery, I felt as giddy as a kid waiting for Christmas. I was counting down the days of January, waiting for February 11th.
I arrived at the optometrist’s office at 7:30 AM on the morning of my surgery. There were a few initial tests. As one of the assistants stuck what looked like a pencil to my cornea to measure the thickness I realized how carefree I was. “This would probably freak most people the hell out,” I thought. I didn’t give a rip. Go ahead and poke me with everything you’ve got! Bring on the laser!
Andrea took the day off work to drive me to and from the surgery. As an added bonus she got to watch while they performed the procedure. After the initial tests, she and I went to a rear waiting room. I was the first surgery of the day and there was a cadre of nurses testing the equipment. If I didn’t feel tranquil before, I certainly did after one of the nurses gave me a little something to relax me. It went right to my head and I was a giggling fool when I went in to go over the specifics of the surgery with the doctor.
Lucky for me, the doctor had a good sense of humor. As he described how I’d have my eye held open with an ocular speculum I asked him, “Have you ever seen A Clockwork Orange?” He replied that he’s always wanted to have Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony playing during surgery but he didn’t think anyone would get the reference! No Beethoven’s Ninth, and no film of violent images awaited me when I stepped into the “surgical chamber.” All I can recall is a chair and a big ass machine that seemed to take up the majority of the space in the room.
I laid back, had a sheet placed over my left eye as my right eye was opened with the speculum. No fear for my long, lovely lashes-they were taped back out of harm’s way. When I looked up I could see a red light. The laser. I had an instrument of some sort placed over my cornea and then came the only really disturbing part of the surgery.
My eye was apparently “pressurized.” It felt like someone had a shot glass over my eye and was sucking out all the air and the light. My little red laser friend slowly disappeared until it seemed like I was looking at a field of black with white pinholes scattered about it (“My god, it’s full of stars!). Apparently, this was the time that the incision was made. After that, it was a piece of cake. The pressure was released and I could see again. The incision is almost a complete circle...leaving a little bit of cornea connected so that there’s essentially a “flap” of cornea that can be lifted up, exposing the tissue and lens underneath. Then it’s time for the laser to actually get to work. If I thought my world was blurry before, it was nothing compared to how fuzzy everything looked when that flap was lifted. I still had that red dot in my field of vision and I was told to stare at it. Don’t look away because it’s going to be burning away my lens to the specifications I need.
With mechanized precision I could hear the machine shooting and could actually see a difference in my vision with each noise. Unbeknownst to me, Andrea was sitting in front of a monitor in another room watching this procedure with avid interest. There was a video camera set up so that she could see everything the doctor was seeing. She swears that after the laser was done shooting away my lens that she could see a little wisp of smoke trailing up from my eye. I believe her.
How effective is the surgery? As soon as that flap was laid back down into place (the doctor did so with a little brush, smoothing it down), I could see that machine perfectly. Crystal clear. Was this a sign of things to come? The procedure for my right eye took all of five minutes. The left eye took the same. When everything was done, one of the nurses dropped some antibiotics and steroids (to control the swelling) into my eyes before they taped some patches onto my face. I was told that I couldn’t open my eyes until 9 AM the next morning. Until then, I was blind.
I was given a sleeping pill and told that I should get as much sleep as possible throughout the day in order to help my eyes heal. Not a problem. I hadn’t slept very well the night before from the anticipation so I was ready to snooze.
The result? The next morning I woke up and couldn’t see the clock. I still had big patches over my eye. But, after I peeled off the tape, there it was. Red, bright numbers as clear as could be. Going in later that day for a check-up, my optometrist told me that if 20/20 is perfect vision, my eyes were about 20/1000 (an object 20 feet away was as clear as if it were 1000 feet away). My first exam had my eyes at 20/15 and they’ve evened out over the weeks and months after my surgery to 20/20. Glorious.
I still get a weird feeling at night when I go to bed and can see everything. I still think, “I forgot to take out my contacts.” In the morning I’m still hesitant to look around, forgetting that I can see my surroundings now. But, what a wonderful thing it is to get up in the middle of the night and be able to take a pee with deadly accuracy. No more “best guesses” for me!
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