Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The cornea's high as an elephant's eye

I've had glasses since high school, but I resisted wearing them regularly all the way through college, putting them on only when I was driving (ie, hardly ever), or in the back of a classroom or a theatre. I eventually had to give in, but even in the ten years or so that I've been wearing glasses all day every day, I never got entirely used to them to the point where they felt natural and automatic.

I can barely even look at someone putting in or taking out their contact lenses without getting creeped out, and I'm bad at drops or anything really coming towards let alone touching my eye. Somewhat paradoxically, I also have the bad habit of rubbing my eyes a lot (they're closed when I do that, so it's different). So I never really considered getting contact lenses; they just seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. The rubbing is just one reason my glasses are usually dirty - I'm always sticking my grubby little fingers under the lenses.

My dislike of glasses was never a cosmetic issue - in fact, I think I look better in them than out of them - but a purely practical one. The way I can't go out in a drizzle without an umbrella or baseball cap. The way my Transitions lenses don't do any good in a car (the windows block the UV that activates them). The way a long day of wearing a headset at work pushes the ear thing against the side of my head. The way my peripheral vision - one of my favorite kinds of vision! - doesn't get corrected. The way they always seem to be dirty or at least dusty, no matter how often I clean them. The way I can't nap on an airplane or in a car without taking them off, which means finding a place to put them and remembering when I wake up. The way everything at the gym is always fuzzy because I hate the way they feel when I'm that kind of sweaty, so I just don't wear them, which means finding a place to put them in my locker where I won't crush them with my shoes when it's time to shower. The way I can't buy cute cheap sunglasses at the drugstore. Okay, I guess that last one is cosmetic.

So I've wanted LASIK for years, and mostly it was a question of money, since even when I could afford it, it seemed like an unjustifiable luxury item (my eyes weren't that bad), and anyway I had to wait for my prescription to stop getting stronger.

Then suddenly it just seemed like the right time. I'd sprung for pretty expensive glasses last year and they still weren't doing it for me. My prescription was stable, and I had some extra money to burn. I had a check-up scheduled with my regular eye doctor, so I decided to ask him about it. I actually expected him to be against it. He's very old-school, and there's that whole weird thing about me being at risk for glaucoma (which I don't think I ever followed up on - I have unusually high pressure in my eyes, which could mean glaucoma, but in this case is caused by my unusually thick corneas - yeah! my corneas are buff! - but the doctor still wants to see me every six months to keep checking). But instead he said, "I think it's great," and gave me the name and number of another doctor to go see.

I made an appointment to consult with the surgeon the next day. I still wasn't sure I really wanted to go through with it. The procedure itself creeped me the hell out. I can't watch someone put in a contact lens, but I'm going to allow a stranger to cut a flap in my cornea?? The new doctor put me completely at ease. I wish I could say he wasn't trying to sell me on anything, but he was selling me in such an honest and straightforward way that I liked him immediately. He told me about the risks, appeared to understand my financial situation, and, in the same breath as calling him a very good doctor, asked me if the doctor who'd referred me ever yelled at me (yes, every time I see him). I loved that he described the device used to hold my eyelids open during the surgery as "Very Clockwork Orange," even though I hated that he would describe anything involved with any medical procedure I would go through as "Very Clockwork Orange." I made the appointment.

This was the Wednesday before last. I wanted to make the appointment then and there because I wanted to snag a Friday afternoon, and I figured those would be the most popular. It turned out I could have actually done it that very Friday, but I thought I should wait more than a day, in case I freaked out about either the procedure itself or the money. I wanted to give myself time to bail. Even though I'd been thinking about this for years, it felt like a fiscally irresponsible impulse purchase, and I still needed to think about it.

But what I really did was give myself time to be impatient. I want an Oompah-Loompah and 20/20 vision NOW, Daddy! From the moment I made the appointment I wanted to hurl my glasses across the room. They drove me nuts. I could feel them on my face at every moment. The lenses seemed to get dirtier than ever faster than ever. The Transitions didn't transit fast enough, and I wished I could just put on sunglasses. Whenever I puttered around the house or the gym without my glasses, I'd try to really take in how my vision was, so I'd have something to compare to later.

At the same time, I was completely freaked out. Let's talk about the way someone was going to reshape my cornea and turn it into a permanent contact lens. Actually, let's not. Even after the fact it squigs me out a little bit. I spent most of Friday completely stressed and nervous. Work was slow last week, and I wrote parts of this post then. Even though I was writing in the present tense about my relationship to my glasses, I worried that I was jinxing myself. What if the actual post ended up starting, "Sorry I haven't written in a while. Someone shot a laser at my eyes and they fell out. This voice-recognition software takes a while to calibrate."

I needn't have worried. I mean, for starters, they gave me valium, which I was pretty psyched about. I won't go into the details of the procedure, but it was over amazingly quickly. The prep and pre-tests (drops, a pill, pictures of my cornea and the inside of my eye) took longer than my time in the chair with the laser. And in the chair, taping my eyelashes back and putting the Clockwork Orange thing in took longer than anything else. The doctor talked me through everything before it happened, and I actually wanted him to talk less so it would be over faster. He'd warned me not to get freaked out during the parts of the procedure when I briefly lost vision or focus, but I actually found that oddly relaxing, since it meant I couldn't try to look around the room or worry that I wasn't staring at the right spot or try to blink. Blurry was blissful.

And then it was done. SA met me and made sure I got home okay. We took the subway, since getting a cab during Friday rush hour would only have been stressful, and it felt like coming home from a night out before the smoking ban - I was a little doped up, my eyes were itchy, and mostly I wanted to go to sleep. We got home, SA fed the cat and left, and I got into bed and listened to podcasts.

I couldn't really sleep so when Boy came home from work I got out of bed and we ordered Chinese food. We picked TV shows off the DVR list that wouldn't be too visually exciting, and I kept the ridiculous I'd been given at the hospital on while I half-watched, half-listened, and half-dozed (or, rather, thirds of those things).

I was expecting something revelatory, a moment of epiphany where I'd want to scream, "Hallelujah! I can SEE!" And I sort of got it, briefly. About 5 hours after the surgery, right when I was told to expect it, I realized the discomfort (which remained minor long after the anaesthetic drops wore off) had gone away completely, and I decided to see how things looked without the peril-sensitive sunglasses. There was still a white haze over everything, and bright points like the DVR clock and even the candles and street lights on the TV screen had fuzzy halos around them. But I could read the DVR clock. Boy was sitting on the floor in front of the couch with his laptop on the coffee table, and I could read the small text on his screen from the other side of the sofa. My eyes hadn't even been that bad to begin with, but I found this all somewhat overwhelming and unexpectedly emotional.

And then it was over. When I woke up on Saturday morning, I expected to have perfect vision, with maybe a little dryness. I followed my usual morning routine, minus the part where I put on my glasses, plus the part where I tried not to flinch while putting drops in my eyes. I sat down at my desk to check email and get some writing done, and was dismayed to discover that I couldn't really focus. I worked through it, figuring I was just adjusting, like you do whenever you get a new prescription for your glasses. And that's part of it, but eventually I realized that my left eye was seeing perfectly, and my right eye was not. I perceived it as trouble focusing, but when I called the doctor he said it was probably just a haze. A trip to his office a few hours later confirmed that there was nothing wrong, but my right eye was healing more slowly than the left. The haziness that should have lifted by the next morning was sticking around. It's still sticking around today.

The problem, as my doctor put it, is that I have two eyes. If I had nothing to compare to (ie, the left eye), the haze probably wouldn't bother me much. And in fact, I'd had my emotional "It's a medical miracle!" moment when both eyes were fogged over. But now my right eye knows what it's missing, and because they don't match my eyes aren't working together quite properly, and so they get tired. So do I.

But it's at a point now where I can tell it's getting better. This time yesterday I left work early because I couldn't look at the screen anymore, and today I'm writing a too-long blog post. A few days of minor inconvenience (I can function just fine - I suppose I'd be crankier if I had to drive) is an okay trade-off for my new life of 20/20 vision, especially considering how easy and painless the actual surgery was. While I wasn't expecting this to happen, I was warned about a few days dryness and itchiness, and, in the hours after the surgery, "feeling like you have gravel in your eyes." I've had none of that. So I'll take my painless haze, as long as it disappears in the next couple of days.

I keep forgetting I don't wear glasses anymore. I expect things like reaching for them first thing in the morning (especially given my still slightly blurry vision), but despite always being more aware of wearing them than I would have liked, now I think I have them on when I don't. I took a break while writing this and washed my face, then spent a few seconds wondering where I'd left my glasses. While I was writing about the LASIK. This morning I hesitated before leaning my face on my arm while standing on the subway, and I had to remind myself that doing so would not, in fact, push my glasses painfully against my head. It's all very weird. And my right eye is now at a point where I can really tell that it's improving, which is exciting. I'm sure I'll post updates as I heal fully and discover more fun things about only have two eyes, not four.

Alternate titles for this post (aka a trip through my iTunes library):
Wrapped up like a deuce another runner in the night [think about it]
In Your Eyes
She's pure as New York snow; she's got Bette Davis Eyes
She's precocious, and she knows just what it takes to make a pro blush
Eye of the Tiger
Somebody's Eyes
Naked Eyes
For Your Eyes Only
Could that joke be any cornea?

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