So a friend of mine just recently underwent some serious surgery but due to privacy issues I’m going to skip over this persons private medical situation (as should you commenter, some people are sensitive about their medical history, as is there right. Mum is the word). In loo of X’s story but in celebration of modern medicine, I’ll tell my own.
In 2000 I had LASIK
surgery to correct my insanely bad vision. Truly, my near blindness could inspire awe in at least myself. If I became too intoxicated in the evening, come moring I would be unable to see having placed my glasses god know where and would have to find my glasses by reverting to my own underdeveloped sense of echolocation or alternately just dusting my hands along every possible vertical surface. While I don’t recall my prescription, I do recall only being able to read the largest of the letters on the ophthalmologist’s board, and then only by squinting.
In the 80’s I had learned that in the Soviet Union they had not only developed a very crude type of vision repair using scalpels but they had also took it to the next level by creating a sort of assembly line procedure with patients on a conveyer belt and all.
Despite that fact, it was not until the dotcom boom that the technology had developed to the point where using lasers, initially designed to etch microchips, were of sufficient reliability to make the procedure seemingly safe, the soviet patients having by then all gone permanently blind by then. It was also at this time I was making what seemed to be a fortune working for Motorola. Having lived off only about $5000 a year for four years, my disposable salary was nearly limitless.
Additionally my brother’s in-laws family had two members who had already underwent the surgery with perfect results at the same clinic in Montréal. So all the pieces seemed to be in place. I called my former girlfriend who was living in SF (I was in Boston at the time) and offered to pay for the surgery (she was nearly as blind as I) if she would pay for airfare and join me in the adventure.
The deal worked, and as far as I know works, like this. You go in and they run a battery of test which cost about $200 which will be applied to your total if the surgery turns out to be an option available to you. Generally they seemed concerned with corneal thickness and the general shape of the eyeball (Note that astigmatisms are correctable). On the second day a different set of clinicians run the same tests and if the results are the same and all is well you come back the third day.
On the third day you actually get to meet a doctor though not the one performing the surgery. This I suspect was the doctor of PR. He explained the surgery, the waver we signed, and offers up some valium. Not one to refuse a pill both my former girlfriend (who we will call Ms. S. for brevity and anonymity’s sake) swallowed. Since we would be going in one before the other I offered ‘ladies first’ rights which she refused, and to which I noted that I was paying and there was no way I was going first.
The nurses were very considerate. Shortly after Ms. S was strapped down she had notified them that I was her friend and next patient. The nurses were kind enough to open the blinds so that I might not only watch them performing the surgery, but in the off chance I couldn’t see the details well enough, they moved the 27in TV screen which was hooked up directly to the laser six inches above, and focused directly on, Ms. S’s eye. I watched, transfixed.
Soon enough it was my turn. Just a note to others who might find themselves fully conscious during some surgery, despite how much the nurses appreciate your “have you ever done this” sort of banter doctor most certainly does not and you are only getting the nurses in trouble with your jokes.
I’m going to take a moment and mention to you that were sort of grossed out earlier by the phrase “corneal thickness” that you may want to just skip the next three paragraphs.
The procedure works like this. Eye drops of anesthesia are applied to one eye while the other eye is taped shut. A forceps-like clamp device is placed into the eye socket completely immobilizing it eye. You know for a while there I wondered if it was “totally” immobilized my eye but after being told to stare directly at the red beam above my head and not to move at all, I was to concerned that my eye might not
be totally immobilized to risk checking. Without a doubt the clamp placement is the most uncomfortable portion of the procedure.
An attachment is then added to this clamp device and which is effectively a little guillotine. Ostensibly it is attached to a strong spring because when a lever is released the blade springs out and cuts a nice little flap of cornea from you eye. Imagine taking an apple and slicing along the side till just the skin holds the slice to the body of the apple. Now imagine that being your eye. Surprisingly this is entirely painless. While staring at this slightly blurry beam of light directly above the doctor lifts the flap back to get at the part of the cornea the doctor will be shaping with the laser, and as he lifts the flap the beam suddenly goes from slightly out of focus to completely out of focus. I’m no doctor but I suspect this is because a significant portion of what used to be your eye is now flipped up out of the way.
I noticed the laser come on because of the industrial laser-like hum of laser power filling the, uh, laser room. The doctor mentioned again that I might not want to move and then there is a burp from the laser, then the faint smell of burning hair, and another burp and the strong smell of burning hair again. The flap is replaced, the eye flushed and taped closed and the procedure is performed identically on the other eye.
I was then led to a waiting room with some fancy easy boys where I found Ms. S lounging. They asked us to continually drop eye drops into our eyes and to lay back and close them and chill out for fifteen minutes. The room was where people are supposed to pass out, if they were going to pass out at all. After the fifteen minutes which really reminded me of the cookie break after giving blood, but with the cookies being replaced with eye drops we asked if we could go and were informed that despite being Canada, it was a free country. As we were leaving I noticed a small sign above a basket which read “Please donate you glasses here”. I had a flash back to those TV evangelicals smacking peoples heads, stealing their walkers and pronouncing them healed. As we left they gave us each a pair of ultra blue blockers which are so fab in the geriatric clique, a bottle of eye drops and some instructions.
The fastest way to heal up the wound to our eyes, which mind you were effectively invisible, no bruising, no bleeding, not even that telltale circle around the iris people have when they wear contacts, is to keep them moist and protected from UV. We were to use eye drops ever fifteen minutes for the next few hours, and we needed to wear those dorky glasses at all times. And lastly, we couldn’t sleep for six hours (sleeping dries out your eyes).
The plan was to walk back to our hotel room which was a ten minute walk away but we realized real fast that that wasn’t going to happen. The effect we were experiencing was like that of putting on the wrong prescription of glasses. While we could see everything it all looked off kilter. Movement seemed to have a certain kind of rocking motion not unlike being on a boat. Plus after a couple of blocks we were just exhausted for no real reason. See, the thing about having a laser shot into your eye is that your eye, and your body generally, sort of freaks out. Not knowing what the hell happened it sort of goes into standby mode, which for me is lethargy.
By the time we got home we were exhausted and ready for bed. At 2:30pm (14:30 Canadian). We turned out the light and just laid back blinking and wetting our eyes in the dark till 8pm (20:00 Canadian) when we went to bed. Of course sleeping was a bit tricky because we had to wear eye covers. That’s right, we had to wear a clear plastic lens taped to each eye so that we wouldn’t, in the night, accidentally rub our eyes and open the aforementioned flap back up which at this point was being held down by some sort of pressure differential. In any case we taped eye covers onto each other and passed the hell out.
In the middle of the night I heard Ms. S calling my name. I woke up a little panicked having realized that I was not in my usual bed and had crap taped over my eyes. I sort of stumbled over to her pulling the eye caps from my face. The room was dark and she was standing by the window. By reason of having rented a room on the 17 floor we had a great view of the city. Now for all you sighted people you haven’t a clue what it means to be able to wake up and just see. She didn’t say anything but we just stood there in the dark and looked out the window and for as far as we could see, we could see. I could see pedestrians walking under streetlights, I could see people smoking outside bars, I could SEE a jet, not just the blinking of it’s collision lights. I could see.
The next day we checked back in at the clinic, and with everything being fine we proceeded to cruise around Montreal and Quebec City for the next few days coming back for our last check in at the clinic about a week after the surgery. We were pronounce fit. We were instructed to continue wetting our eyes for at least a month every hour and then for as long as we felt the need. We were warned off swimming for three months, and water skiing and sky diving for six. And we were told that we would see a halo around lights not unlike the halo effect you see around a street light when the mist is thick for at least three months and as long as a year and which I might note was no worse for me than the halo I had from all the scratches in my now donated glasses.
In the end I had 20/15 vision in both eyes and can now detect evil in a 40’ radius. Ms. S settled into 20/20 for the first time since she was eight years old.