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Thursday, June 17, 2010
Life...In Focus

Last Friday I got laser eye surgery. Yes, that’s right. I had some guy slice the top of my eye open and beam a laser at my corneas. I’ve been in physical and emotional recovery ever since. Today I have four hours of “eye time,” which means I can either be on the computer, read, or watch TV for four hours. Yesterday was three hours, the day before was two, and Monday was one hour of eye time. For the rest of my waking hours, I sit around trying not to stare at anything for too long. Or I pace around the house, wearing dark sunglasses and pretending I’m a movie star in rehab. It’s been a riot.

Glasses have been a part of my identity since the fourth grade. I’ve pretty much always been “that girl over there with the glasses.” So why did I decide a few months ago to join the ranks of the lasered masses? Here were my pros and cons, by order of importance (1 being most important):

Pros:
  1. In case of natural or manmade disasters, running for my life after getting my glasses knocked off by either a) shrapnel, b) fellow flee-er, or c) my own frenzied self, is not a risk I want to take. Whoops! Didn’t see that big gaping hole there!
  2. If I ever bear a child, I don’t want to be rooting around during nighttime feedings and accidentally nurse Horace, my stuffed hippo, instead of my baby.
  3. I would actually be able to see when I opened my eyes in the morning, without having to peel the dried contacts I’d left in the night before off of my eyeballs. Nice.

Cons:

  1. Losing my glasses as part of my overall “look” could have disastrous consequences, i.e. my eyes may be way too small in proportion to my nose and it’s been the glasses saving me this whole time.
  2. The surgery could go all wrong and I’d end up blinder than before, or just plain blind, before I’ve even had the chance to learn Braille.
    Note: Yes, Con 1 is more important than Con 2, I am that superficial.

For those who are not considering LASIK or have a strong stomach for elective surgery (or both), keep reading. For those considering LASIK or are a bit weak in the knees (or both), I leave you with the following adage: the less you know, the better.

My journey to new vision began at Shanghai’s LASIK mecca, aptly named, New Vision Eye Clinic. “LASIK in China?!” was the response I’d gotten when I told my friends and family about my plan. But I figured a clinic that has done over 50,000 surgeries knows what it’s doing, right? Practice makes perfect. I made an appointment to get a pre-surgery consult.

The consult was pretty tame. They run you through all sorts of tests with fancy names, such as cornea topographical study, pupil dilation, pupil and cornea thickness - okay, maybe only the first name was fancy. That took about an hour and a half and at the end of it, me and my blurry self left with an A-okay for surgery...the very next day. Holy crap!

After a night of eye drops every hour and pre-surgery excitement - I was actually excited! - I arrived the next afternoon and was shuttled off to surgery with a fellow patient, Mary. Mary, also an American expatriate, and I were suited up into fairly comfortable long-sleeved gowns and surgical caps. We chatted to conceal our pre-surgery nerves as the nurse washed our eyes with some sort of magical solution. Then came the ocular nerve numbing eye drops. Mary continued to tell me about the births of her children as the feeling in our eyes began to fade. A nurse came over to tell us to stop talking because we were affecting the air in the operating room. Huh? Okay. We shut up and steeped in our own private anxieties. Then they called my name. “Me first?” I said. “Yes, you. Come.” Okay.

I was led into a large operating room that housed a formidable looking piece of equipment hovering above a bed, which was not really a bed, but a flat metal surface that I was instructed to lay down on. The doctor was behind the wheel already, masked and ready to laser. I said, “Dr. Lian?” and he grunted and shoved my head under the machinery. As he held my head in place on the cold headrest, I fought the urge to bolt. This was the moment that I would run for my life, blind. But it was too late. I was already staring into a big dish with a green light in the center surrounded by a field of red lights and Dr. Lian’s muffled voice was commanding, “Look at the green light.” I froze and stared at the green light.

You see, my tragic flaw (in this case) was research. Way too much research. I should have just stopped at “this clinic has done 54,000 laser eye surgeries since 1996,” booked my appointment and rode the steed of Ignorance all the way into the operating room. But alas, I decided to research every single part of the surgery so that I could be as well-prepared as possible. Idiot.

As the whirring began, a cache of images flashed through my mind. Vacuum suction of eyeball. Voomp! Holy crap, what did I get myself into? Look at the green light. Metal blade cuts a circle into the cornea, leaving a hinge. Wheeeeek. They just cut into my friggin’ eye! Look at the green light. Surgeon opens the flap, laying it to one side and exposing the cornea. There is a flap of my eye hanging in the wind. Look at the green light. Surgeon douses eye with magic solution. Slop. Oh, gross, this is just wrong, I think I can feel the flap. Look at the green light. Laser positioned. Silence. Oh shit, here it comes! Look at the RED light. Laser burns off layers of the corneal stroma. Zezezezeze. Oh my god, they’re burning a hole into my eye. What is that weird smell? Look at the RED light. Oh god, I really need to blink! Don’t mother-flippin’ blink!! Surgeon douses eye with magic solution, again. Slop. Eye juices are running all over my face. Look at the green light. Surgeon repositions corneal flap. Slop. Oh god, that stings. Look at the green light. F@$& THE GREEN LIGHT!!! Surgeon checks flap adhesion. Silence. Is it okay? Am I blind?! Close your eyes. Thank Christmas Jiminy Jesus. Another shove of the head, and I was out.

The nurse helped me stand up and led me out of the room. “Open your eyes.” Are you sure? “Open your eyes.” I can’t! They feel like they’ve been fused together! “Open your eyes.” Oh, wait, okay, they’re they go. Oww! My eyes stung and tears ran down my face. I grabbed the nurse’s arm and held on for dear life. She sat me down in a dark room and handed me a packet of tissue. I didn’t move, hoping the alien orbs where my eyeballs used to be would stop hurting me if I stayed really, really still. After a few minutes, the nurse returned and led me to a ridiculously bright room where patients, dressed just like me, lined the walls. Ah, yes. The locals. I’d heard that local patients were treated over ten at a time, unlike the foreigners, who had a nicer reception area and individual dark rooms. There must have been fifteen local patients in total, looking as miserable as I felt. The doctor checked my eyes through a scope of some sort and a few seconds later I was whisked away to change out of my surgery outfit.

My husband was waiting for me when they led me out of the surgical ward. “How was it?” he asked with concern. “Weird. It was weird,” was all I managed to say, clutching his hand so hard he had to ask me to relax my death grip. My eyes were not stinging as much and as I peeked out from behind my eye shields I realized that I could see. Somewhat. Mary, her companion, my husband and I shared the elevator down to the lobby and the only thing I could think to ask my fellow laseree was, “Did he shove your head, too?” “Yeah! He shoved my head around and told me off for wearing make-up, which I’m not!” “Weird.” “Yeah, weird.” We wished each other well as we parted ways, and as soon as Mary and her companion was out of earshot, I began to whimper. “Stupid elective surgery. Who does that to themselves,” I muttered as my husband led me to the crowded curbside to hail a cab. The entire way home I squeezed his hand and alternated between, “Is the taxi driver being safe? My cornea flap’s going to fly off if we get into an accident!” and “Trauma. Trauma.”

The next four hours were kind of an excruciating hell. The stinging worsened after the ocular nerve numbing drops wore off. It felt like my eyeballs were being massaged by a woolen blanket. After that awesomeness was over, I was finally able to sleep. The pain was gone by the morning after, only to be replaced by the aforementioned, brain-sucking boredom that lasted until...wait a minute. I only have half an hour of eye time left. Goddammit!

In conclusion, I am a total wimp. Elective surgery is not for me. My vision is currently “better than perfect” and I am glad I did it, but being cut into is not my strong suit. I am ecstatic, however, that I can see when I wake up in the morning and have one less thing to worry about when it comes to disaster scenarios and nocturnal nursing, and I am thankful that I wasn’t accidentally blinded. The jury’s still out on that eye to nose ratio.

Oh, and for those brave enough to still consider LASIK, a few tips:

  1. Get goggles. You’ll need them to shower with for about a month.
  2. Get a waterless facial cleanser such as Cetaphil. It’ll make washing your face a helluvalot easier.
  3. Get audiobooks, podcasts, an AM/FM radio, whatever type of entertainment you can find that doesn’t require sight.
  4. Get a small screwdriver so that you can pop out the lenses of your glasses and wear them lens-free. It’s what all the cool kids are doing these days.

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