Happy Birthday to My Eyes!

The space shuttle flying piggy-back around the Washington Monument. Baby gorillas frolicking at the National Zoo. My mom’s surprise 60th birthday party. Pandas lazily munching on bamboo. Airports in Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Bangkok and Guiyan. Rainstorms in Thailand. The wedding of two friends. And at least ninety books. (I used my GoodReads.com account to come up with that number, but since I sometimes forget to add a book to my “shelf” after I read it, that is a conservative count.)

What do all of these seemingly random things have in common?

They are all wonderful things that my new hawk-eyes have seen in the last year.

Friday was the one-year anniversary of my LASIK surgery and what a great year it has been! It isn’t as if I was blind before and could suddenly see, which would be a medical miracle, but without my contacts, my focused world consisted of about six inches from my face. Contacts were great, especially the leave-in ones that I would wear for a month (or more!) at a time, but once we realized we were going to be spending the bulk of our time living abroad for the next few decades, I figured it was time to throw away the saline solution.

As I went through the numerous pre-operation appointments, I was warned about various possible side-effects, including problems with halos and night vision. (These apparently were a higher concern for my case, as it seems I have abnormally large pupils. Thad has always made fun of my eyes, saying they were like alien eyes, so he was only too happy to have it medically confirmed!) I had put off the surgery for years, mostly on account of these possibly complications. It turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Within hours of the procedure, I had 20/20 vision and never developed any problems with halos, night vision or dryness. LASIK was a total success!

Now, I can roll up a few sets of clothes, stash them in my bag and head off not only to western China, but whatever random city Thad’s next assignment takes us to. And, rather than filling my consumables shipment with contact solution and cleaner, I can use that space for a few extra boxes of Cheerios and some macaroni and cheese.

(Here’s the blog entry I wrote a year ago, just two days after having LASIK surgery.)

Hawk Eyes are Mine, At Last!

No lotion or face cream. No make-up. No hairspray or mousse. No jewelry.  No perfume.

So, let’s get this straight. You want me to not only leave the mo-partment in this condition, but to actually venture out into public?!? As if enduring five weeks of my geek-tastic glasses wasn’t torture enough, the last set of preparations for LASIK included a long list things to not do or wear. (The no jewelry is obvious to me, as it could get in the way during the procedure, but I had to ask about the lotion/hairspray/perfume edict.  Apparently, the smells can somehow affect the way the laser works (??). A few days ago I would have written this off as medical drivel, but after inadvertently discovering that several of my required eye drops taste badly enough that I want to drink mouthwash, even though they’ve never touched my tongue, I am willing to believe nearly anything when it comes to this process.)

LASIK day started early, with a fresh-faced exit out the door by a little after 6AM. We were in Rockville within the hour. Upon check-in, I had to provide my date of birth and in turn I was given a name tag that was to be prominently displayed at all times.  While I sat fidgeting nervously in the waiting room, Thad took the opportunity to check out the snack basket and inspect the mini-fridge for goodies, while at the same time pointing out the appropriateness of the commercial for blinds (as in curtains) that played several times on the TV.

Soon enough my name was called.  Thad and I went to a small exam room at the back of the office where I again had to give my date of birth.  This time, rather than an official looking sticker to adorn my outfit, I was given something much better- Valium!  (It seemed like a good idea, but I am not sure it kicked in until the ride home.  Two might have been a better way to go.)

After a few more minutes of sitting around, the surgeon came in and promptly asked for my date of birth. Verifying that the chart in front of him and the person in his chair were one and the same,  we then went over last minute details and walked through the steps of the procedure.  I was given some classy blue covers to go over my shoes (making me feel like I was back in the Chengdu dentist’s office) and a lovely matching cap to cover my hair. (Just wait- these surgical accessories are going to be all the rage on the spring runway in Paris!)

With these various steps out of the way, Thad and I were taken to the waiting room right outside the surgical suite. (I like the way they refer to it as a suite. It sounds so soothing and comforting and not like somewhere I am going to meet my Final Destination demise.)

Soon enough, it was time to head in.  Thad couldn’t come in with me, but instead was at the window to the surgical suite, watching all the juicy goodness as it took place. With little preamble (other than once again stating my date of birth), I laid down on a medical bed and things started happening all around me. My fashionable blue cap doubled as a tissue holder, being stuffed with Kleenex to soak up the massive amount of liquid that was soon to be squirted into my eyes.  I spent the next few minutes looking at various green dots with my right eye, trying not to freak out as a speculum was placed around my eye and then attempting to keep my squawks of discomfort to a minimum as the surgeon put a suction cup on my eye and proceeded to cut a flap into the corneal tissue. Several times throughout this procedure the doctor asked if I was breathing.  At one point I think I replied with a very polite “No thank you.” Breathing required movement and there was no way I was going to make the slightest twitch while a laser was pointed at my eyeball! As he released the speculum from my right eye, I felt my whole body relax for just a second and I had the chance to fill my lungs with oxygen briefly, until I realized we now go to go through the whole process again, this time on my left eye.

Having successfully survived the corneal flap cutting stage, I then stood up and walked/was walked a few feet away to a second bed in the suite.  This was where the real sizzling action took place!  Starting again with Ol’ Righty, I watched the pretty green, flickering light, as red ones danced around the edges of my vision.  During the seventeen seconds of laser-ing, the room filled with a lovely scent that one of the nurses had told me to expect and which she chalked up to the gasses used by the machine, but I am pretty sure it was the scent of my eye being seared by the laser! This laser reshaping of my eye was much less uncomfortable than the flap-cutting portion of the day, so with a bit more breathing, I made it through the fifteen seconds needed to then correct my left eye.

With the laser put away, the surgeon placed the flaps back over my eyes with what appeared to be a Q-tip, gushed my eyes with liquid once more and it was over!  As I stood up, ready to be led into the recovery room, not in pain, but a little disoriented, I was greeted with a camera!  Apparently, the staff at the medical clinic think that directly post-procedure is the best time for a photo op with the surgeon. ( I was promised a copy of this picture via email, so if/when it comes, I will add it here. I am terrified to imagine what it looks like, as I was on Valium, just had my eyes repaired via laser and was more than a bit disoriented at the moment.)

Thad met me in the recovery room, where we spent a total of about five minutes. I downed a couple Tylenol PMs, took my goodie bag of eye drops and bedtime eye covers and we were done.

(Here is a video, not of my surgery, but of one very much like mine.  It is a bit juicy and not for those with weak stomachs.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoH0VHrOM9A )

Leaving the building, I felt pretty good, but it didn’t take long for the burning to emerge. By the time we got home, my eyes felt like a Thailand sunburn after months of overcast Chengxian skies. Thad filled my eyes with “comfort drops” (I have no idea what was in them, possibly puppy tears,  but they were liquid bliss, instantly relieving the burning sensation in my eyes.) With my ridiculously dorky eye covers taped to my face, I gently hit the pillow, only waking to re-“comfort drop” a couple of times, until mid-afternoon.

With a reading ban in place, (only once did I try to get away with it, tempted by a catalog that came in the mail, for which Thad promptly reprimanded me) I spent my waking hours watching a marathon of Cops on TV and blinking my way  through my assigned regimen of eye drops.

Twenty-four hours post-op, I tested at nearly 20/20 vision, with my left eye just a bit behind my right in the healing process. My crazy eye drop schedule will continue for a few more weeks, I have to tape the plastic goggles to my head each night for the next five days and the eye make-up prohibition continues to be in place for another week, which may kill me since I start Chinese classes on Monday (eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, oh my!) but otherwise, I am pretty good to go.

No contacts. No saline solution. No glasses.  No more four-eyed blindness!

The eyes of a hawk have finally become mine.  Success!

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An Open Letter to My Eyeballs

Dear eyeballs,

We’ve been together for a little over three decades now. You played nice for the first half of those years, but about the mid-way point you decided that you weren’t going to put the full effort in any more.  I am not sure exactly when this choice was made, but it became glaringly obvious when I was in 10th grade and decided to take drivers’ ed.  To get my permit for the class, the DMV required that I take a vision test.  You failed me in that moment!  Apparently, not being able to read the gigantic letters on the first line was a problem for the ever-pleasant women who run the permit department.

Letting me down at that moment was a huge disappointment.  What is more important to a fifteen year old than getting a driver’s license and gaining a semblance of freedom?  (Okay, in my family that meant getting to drive the couple of miles to Marsing for milk or hauling my little brother to innumerable baseball practices.  It wasn’t exactly the total anarchy I had hoped for, but at least the Ford Taurus had a radio that would play Clay Walker at levels that I now realize NO country music should be played at.)

With your DMV failure, while initially seeming like a huge obstacle to overcome, I did gain one thing- a new fashion accessory.  Thanks to you, eyeballs, I spent the next three years of high school rocking a rainbow of colored contacts.  Being naturally light blue, I could easily change you up to nearly anything I wanted.  I think at one point I had four different contact containers on the bathroom counter, each with a different color of contact inside.  While the emerald ones were a stunning jewel-green, by far my favorites were the violet ones.  They by no means represented an eye color found anywhere in nature, but, they were amazing!  My pasty white skin made an excellent backdrop for those pansy purple contacts.  For that, I thank you!

The fact that you decided to not work up to your full potential, thereby forcing me into contacts (I have always refused to give in to wearing glasses- you may wish to make my life nerdier, but I have always attempted resistance!), has, at times, led to some problems.  There was the time in Oregon, while on vacation, that I lost a single contact.  The trip was a bit of a last minute deal and I hadn’t packed spare contacts.  I was miserable as we explored the Rouge River, me with one of you squeezed shut the entire time, totally throwing off my depth perception, causing me to trip over boulders that were closer than they appeared.  Or what about the time we  got a lovely case of pink-eye from my darling middle school students- do you remember being stuck to the contact like super glue?  I woke up in the middle of the night, knowing instantly from the swollen, eye-gunk feel of you that conjunctivitis and I would be taking a sick day together.  Since I wore thirty day contacts, that meant prying you open and fishing around until you finally released your eye-booger grip on my contact. That was not one of your more shining moments.

So, eyeballs of mine, you may have had the last fifteen years to slack off, and I hope you have enjoyed it, because your couch potato days are coming to an end. Next week you will be forced back to work.  A nice little laser, we’ll call him LASIK, is going to come for a visit, to force you back into shape, making you once again work the way you were intended.  Your long summer vacation is almost over, so enjoy the next couple of days. A week from now you will no longer be relying on contacts or glasses to do your job for you.

No more slacking. No more contact mishaps. No more unglamorous glasses. You, me and LASIK have a date.  Be ready, the laser is picking you up at 7:30 in the morning.