Up to My Eyeballs In It

EyeScars

Click for a closer look, if you’re brave.

I never really thought I would spring for laser eye surgery.

As I told my friends the other day, I’ve been wearing contact lenses since I was a fifth-grader, so they’ve a part of my regular routine for more than 30 years; grandpa-simpson-shakes-fist-at-cloud1popping them in is like brushing my teeth or putting on socks. At no point have I ever shaken my fist at the sky and cried, “CURSE YOU, CONTACT LENSES!” just like I’ve never said, “CURSE YOU, TOOTHPASTE!”

Tangential story: About a year ago I was getting ready in the morning, and after I had put in my lenses — right eye first is the quotidian habit — something felt wrong with my left eye.

Lens wearers, you know that feeling where maybe there’s something lodged underneath it, or maybe you’ve accidentally inserted it inside-out? So I removed, examined and rinsed the lens, then tried again: Same weird, uncomfortable feeling. I threw it away — maybe I couldn’t see a ragged edge? — and popped open the blister pack to grab a new contact instead. Same damn thing. I removed the lens and examined both it and my eye — maybe there was an eyelash or something floating around?

And that’s when I realized something unusual: I could see perfectly out of that eye. “Oh my God!” I thought. “My vision has been so bad, for so long, that it has crossed all the way across the spectrum back to being good again.” I marveled at this stroke of luck for about a minute — had science reported anything like this before? Could this mean that my right eye was next?!

And that’s when it hit me. My left eye was seeing perfectly clear, but the vision in my right eye was still blurry — which shouldn’t have been the case, because I had inserted the contact in that eye already. But I hadn’t. I had put my left contact in first, for some reason, and instead of moving over to the right eye, I had placed a second contact lens on top of the one already in my left eye. Three times in a row. I was more embarrassed that my mind had actually gone straight to “miraculous recovery!” than I was about the stupidity of the act in the first place.

Anyway. The iLasik procedure was quite fret-free: About an hour ahead of time they slip you a Valium and do a few last-minute tests, then wait for the drug to kick in before it’s your turn in the surgical suite. I just hung out and played games on my iPad, and listened to the other people wobble their way to and from their own waiting rooms.

LasikValiumPost

Updating my status from the waiting room …

It was a bit disturbing that other people en route to their procedures appeared to be so loopy that they were leaning on surgical technicians to guide them, while I was zooming through round after round of Jumbline. The same technicians kept coming in to “check on how I was doing,” and I could tell that they were trying to get a read on whether the Valium had kicked in. Finally, on the fourth visit, when one guy asked how I was doing, I replied with a nod toward the hallway, “Nothing like those folks, if that’s what you’re wondering.” He offered another 5 milligrams, but I assured him that if the goal was just to alleviate any presurgery jitters, I appreciated the offer but didn’t need any boost.

thehatI did have to wear one of those cheesy surgery caps, which I refused to put on until I was literally outside the surgery suite door. The surgery itself was pretty fascinating to be a part of. Because I was so lucid, I kept asking questions, like when they tucked large absorbent pads — when I referred to them as “eye diapers,” the doctor said, “Great, now I’m not going to be able to look at them without thinking of that” — I said, “What are they there to catch? Massive amounts of blood running out of my eyes?” (Sadly, the answer was much less spooktacular: They’re for the drops and tears they flood your eyes with, to keep everything moist.)

Most people are probably familiar with how iLasik works: They use lasers to cut open a flap at the front of the cornea, hold up the flap while lasers reshape the middle part of the cornea, then reposition the flap and smooth it back down, in a procedure that reminded me of using a cement float.

All the while, you look at — “focus” isn’t the right word, because your eyes are so numb so it’s really about looking in the appropriate direction — a flashing light that I don’t believe is really anything about the procedure except something to keep your eye busy. And if you’re a blinker, like I am, you don’t have to worry, because your eyes are propped open. (My extra-strong eyelids — sorry, Trainer, that’s one part you can’t take credit for — necessitated the use of a reinforced spring to make sure that’s the case.)

They also hand you a stuffed animal to hold, which they said is to help prevent your natural reaction of reaching up to wipe or rub away any tears you feel, but I strongly suspect is also to keep patients from unleashing a fear-activated death grip onto someone’s arm. (I, meanwhile, kept wondering how many hands had already gripped Mr. Fluffy, and whether they’d washed beforehand.)

EyeShieldsAnd then you’re done with the surgery, and it’s on to recovery. They give you a pair of wraparound sunglasses to get you home, and these “eye shields” (which look like protective cups for athletes) that you’re supposed to tape over your eyes whenever you nap or sleep.

I’m not sure how they expect anyone to sleep right after the procedure, though. The two hours that followed were way more irritating than I had expected — like someone had rubbed sand into my eyeballs. I cursed not opting for that extra Valium, then pre-emptively started using the prescribed anti-inflammatory and antibacterial drops. Then I supplemented with pro-quantity levels of Advil, and seriously considered wandering out to the living room to swig down some gin-based cocktail to numb everything more. Every once in a while, my whole body would seize up and stiffen in that “Gah!” reaction when something is irritating. Even my roommate’s cat, which had wandered in to my room sensing a rare opportunity to stalk around, was like, “This is insane. I’m outta here.”

At my follow-up appointment, the doctor told me that the human body has a hormone that helps prevent eyes from tearing up if someone is lying down. “I have just spent the last three hours lying down, and still crying like a broken-hearted tween listening to a loop of Taylor Swift breakup songs,” I told him. “And this is coming from someone who drove himself to the hospital, dry-eyed, when he was in the middle of passing a kidney stone.” I shed so many tears in those first few hours that (a) the tape meant to hold down those eye shields gave way, and (b) I wandered out to the kitchen to drink extra water because I was pretty sure I was going to dehydrate myself.

By six hours after the surgery, everything was much better. I’m fascinated by the fresh wounds that appear on either side of the irises, as pictured up top, and if I lift the lid and peek, there’s a lot more gruesomeness up there. I’m supposed to use the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory drops four times a day (and artificial tears as much as I want to) to promote healing.

snellenchartBy 4 p.m. yesterday, my vision was already at 20/30, which is a vast improvement for someone who couldn’t even see the big E at the top of the Snellen chart. (Technician yesterday: “OK, how many fingers am I holding up?” as she moved backward away from me between each round. Me: “One … two … eleven?”) And today it’s a little amazing to think that I’m seeing things as clearly as I am, without the use of contact lenses or glasses.

I don’t know if the procedure will pop me back to where I was seeing before — 20/20 in my right eye, and 20/15 in the left — but this is pretty cool nonetheless. There’s still improvement to be made, especially when it’s dark outside. Last night around 10:30 I ran out to grab something to eat, and all of the stoplights, streetlights and headlights had this glow to them that reminded me of trying to drive around in foggy San Francisco. (It also made me wish it was closer to the holidays, because I think that a decked-out Christmas tree would look IN-SANE to me right now.)

So far, though, it’s pretty amazing. I have another follow-up appointment in a few weeks, but for now, shout-outs are due:

  1. First, to Dr. McCulloch at Horizon Eye Specialists, who performed the surgery and, perhaps more importantly, put up with all of my questions the whole time. (If I hear of people referring to “eye diapers,” though, I’m coming after royalties.)
  2. Next, to the rest of the staffers, including: (A) Savvy numbers cruncher (and Valium provider) Corinna, who pointed out that the promotion Horizon was running in October would save me more than my insurance discount would have, and who has eyelashes that are so long that the first time we met, I came thisclose to asking her if she had extensions. (B) Sweet-and-sassy Angelica, who did this week’s presurgery consultation, answered all of my annoying questions, let me look at paperwork like I would be able to understand even one iota of it, and laughed at all of my stupid jokes. (C) Emmanuel [sigh], who did my first consultation back in January (and happened to be the one who started yesterday afternoon’s check-up routine, too). When he reached out to help guide me back from the waiting room yesterday, I was like, “Sure, my vision is good enough to make my own way, but. …” And when I got to the room, I texted my friends in the waiting room: “That’s Emmanuel” and they replied, “Oh, we saw him.”
  3. And speaking of those friends: Bad Sam made not one but two trips with me from central Phoenix to North Scottsdale yesterday. And Smarmy Bastard even drove on the second one (and then decided we deserved fro-yo afterward). I couldn’t have made it there without them. (Well, I could have made it there on my own, once, but everything after that would have been tougher.)

I am already breaking the rules (no iPad, iPhone or computer use for more than five minutes this weekend!) so I will wrap it up: so far, so good. I’m not really enveloped in the wonder of it all yet, because my vision was good when I was wearing the contacts I never really noticed were in, anyway. It’s only when I remind myself “These are your actual eyeballs seeing this clearly” that everything starts to sink in again.

I did open the medicine cabinet this morning and wonder how quickly I could ditch that bottle of contact lens solution, though. And which of my pairs of prescription spectacles might be worth converting into sunglasses …

WHAT SAM WORE: 10/26/13
shirt102613 pants102613 shoe102613
The shirt: T-shirt from The Starting Line in Chelsea, New York.
The pants: Slim-cut sweats, from Zara in SoHo, New York.
The shoes: “L.A. Runner” sneakers, from the Adidas outlet at Anthem.
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