Except for the buzzing laser boring into my right eyeball, I was actually feeling pretty good about the whole thing.
The pre-LASIK appointment was exciting. Every time I was asked to take off my glasses, the huge paeons to blindness that weighed down my face and esteem, I couldn't help but think that I was only a day away from chucking them for good. I watched a video that outlined the risks of the procedure. That was okay: I'd heard these risks for nearly a year and had already dealt with those fears.
The morning of the surgery, I went to a birthday breakfast for my friend Gissela. There was lots of coffee and breakfast tacos from Curra's. By the 11 a.m. appointment, I was wired and ready to go. My fear had vanished. I was ready.
Rebecca, my mom and my brother were there, waiting with me after we arrived a little late. Drops were put into my eyes for dilation and as I tried to read a few articles in Equire, my vision began to fuzz out until the text became illegible. I laid my head back on the leather waiting room couch. A few minutes later, I was called in.
My mom, who would probaby have fainted at the sight of a laser cooking her son's eyeballs, stayed behind. Rebecca came with me to watch and offer support.
I took my valium and the tylenols from the tiny envelope. The valium kicked in quickly, and suddenly, I was worry free and relaxed beyond belief. I remember telling the nurse that I could see why housewives in the 50s got addicted to valium. Hell, I wanted to start a habit myself. It was a floaty, worry-free zone. I had no problems, not even the impending surgery.
Part of the pre-surgery was having my pupils marked. Doctor Wong used some sort of pencil that he poked me in the eyeballs with. Each time he did it, the world turned fish-eye for a moment at the moment of contact, like a PhotoShop effect.
When the sugery began, with the sideway slice of the topmost layer of skin on my right eye, I felt pressure. It lasted just a few seconds. I was breathing very deeply and suddenly feeling something I hadn't expected: Pain. I grabbed a hand next to me. I didn't know if it was a nurse's or Rebecca, but I gripped tightly.
Then, the lasering began.
It sounded like electric buzzing, the static chatter of current meeting and separating. There was pain. Not burning, not sharp pain. Just a dull hurt that never seemed to end. The spooky female computer voice announced how long was left, "One minute," it announced, like impending death. I tensed, gripping the hand more tightly. I felt a thick ring I recognized as Rebecca's. I tried not to grab so hard, but I couldn't help it. This was worse than I'd imagined. And I could smell the cauterization. It was exactly how you'd think it would smell: Like burning hair or flesh. That was actually the worst part.
The voice counted down. I waited. It finally ended and I relaxed.
The next eye wasn't nearly as bad, but I tensed up and breathed hard again. It didn't seem to take at long. When it was finished, I sat up slowly. Everything was milky. It hurt to open my eyes. Everything seemed to bright and I just wanted my eyes closed.
I was out of it by this point -- The pain and the valium combining to make me groggy. I vaguely could tell that a Polaroid was being taken. I smiled weakly, in what was later revealed to be the Single Worst Photo Every Taken of Me. My eyes were swollen slits. My smile looked as it it were being pulled by lethargic hooks. It wasn't pretty.
The drive home I barely remember. My brother wanted to hear Radiohead's new CD, but I can only remember one song. I recall that the trip seemed to take far too long. Every time I tried to open my eyes, I could see blurs and shapes of passing road, but the pain was too intense. I couldn't keep my eyes open. I wanted to open them, because keeping my eyes closed, my head kept lolling around and I was getting nauseous. Every few seconds, my eyes would open, attempting to figure out where we were and how close to home we were. It was never close enough. I wanted my bed. I wanted darkness.
At home, I laid down. I could already see shapes and outlines. There was never blindness. But it hurt to keep my eyes open.
I laid down, rested. Eye shields were taped to my face to keep me from rubbing my eyelids. Then I slept. I could already start to see things. I was healing.
Four hours later, I woke up. I was a little blurry still, but feeling good enought to get up, eat and watch some TV. I could see the clock on top of the TV. My eyes stung a bit, but drops helped that. In another hour, I was able to make out text on the screen. An hour after that, I felt good enought to ride along for a trip to the video store. By the next morning, I could see street signs and drive.
And it's been like that every day. Some new miracle of vision returns (I can use the computer! I can drive at night! I can read the newspaper!). At my follow-up appointment, Dr. Wong said the surgery went flawlessly. But that's still no guarantee I'll have perfect vision, even after the days and weeks it takes to see the full benefit of the operation.
I'll have to wait and see. You know? Wait? And see? That's funny, right there because... (sigh)... never mind.
I'm pretty amazed though. Even with the added pain (it turns out that I missed a Tylenol in the envelope, so I was only enjoying two thirds of the pain medication that I should have been using during the operation. Lucky me.) I still feel the LASIK was completely worth the money and the anxiety. It was worth the momentary pain and the struggle in the hours and day or two that followed to readjust to reading and doing things I take for granted, like reading e-mail and driving.
Every day, I wake up, wondering if my eyesight has improved and how much. I drove for the first time at night Sunday from a Father's Day trip to San Antonio. I have the dreaded "Halo" side effect. Light, specifically street lights and oncoming headlights, have a large fuzzy halo around them. Think of what lights look like when you have tears in your eyes. All bright lights at night look that way to me now.
That's not a side effect I expect to go away. One of the things about LASIK, especially for someone with nearsightedness as bad as mine was, is the halos. I may have them forever. And that's an adjustment. For the rest of my life, it would seem, lights won't just be lights. They'll be circular ghosts, angry glowing eyes. Will I remember 10 years from now what it was like to look at a streetlight and not see green fuzzy circles? Does it matter?
It's an adjustment, this new eyesight thing. I can see the clock across the room, but I can't quick make out the numbers next to the avenue name on that street sign. I can read the text, but the footnote is a little fuzzy.
Will I need a second surgery in three months? Probably not. Will I have 20/20 vision after all this? Maybe not.
But it's still such a far distance from the blind, crippled vision I've had most of my life. It's still a little miracle, a wonder, a gift.
The halos, the temporary (I hope) fuzziness, the stinging and the regimen of drops I have to keep putitng in... It's all worth it, I think. I can see. I can wake up, and look at the tapestry across the room, and it's not just a black and blue fuzzy cloud. It's shapes and thread. It's real.
The world is more real now, unassisted.
And I'm looking at everything I can, trying to notice all the things I might not have bothered with before.
I'm looking. All over the place.
But more importantly, I'm trying to see.
"So we're all agreed, then: There's no way that's human."