Friday, January 10, 2003

I Can See Clearly NOW The Pain Is Gone

Went under the "laser" (as Dr. Evil might say) yesterday to correct my vision. Vanity project? No. Just a way to eliminate some undue hassles in my life namely glasses and contacts. Besides I never looked at glasses as detrimental to my appearance. They gave me an intellectual air and were also valuable as a visual tool to express opinions at work. When you combine a phrase like "Are you serious about that proposal?" with a theatrical flourish like quickly removing your glasses and staring intently at somebody it gets attention. And what better way to express your complete lack of interest at a meeting then to studiously clean and adjust your spectacles as a coworkers drones on about some arcane matter.

But the time came for them to go. I can be a very lazy man when it comes to certain areas of life and cleaning my glasses and properly caring for contact lenses were among them. I hated wearing contacts. I really hated putting the damn things in. No matter how many times I did it over many years it never got easier:

1. Insert contact in eye.

2. Wince in blinding pain and remove contact.

3. Rinse contact thoroughly.

4. Re-insert contact in eye.

5. Repeat steps two through four until pain is tolerable.

The office where my surgery was performed runs like a well oiled machine. Once I arrived and checked in I was asked if a I wanted a Valium before the procedure. Free drugs are always tempting but I figured I could get through it without popping a Mother's Little Helper. Just before you actually hit the operating room you get a last chance to back out when you meet with the doctor and address any concerns you might have. He covered all the bases and I couldn't really think of anything else to inquire about but there was still some nagging doubt in the back of my mind.

Next I was whisked into the room and was laying on back staring at the ceiling. Numbing drops were placed in my eyes, followed by my eyelashes being taped back, and then some sort of device to pry my eyelids open. I started second guessing my decision on the Valium as images of A Clockwork Orange flashed through my mind. It's not natural to have someone poking and prodding around in your eye and and I fought the instinct to get up and run for the hills. Remain calm. Go to your happy place. Focus on the flashing red light.

Right as they're about to crank up the laser the doubts resurface. What the hell am I doing? What if I never can see again? Why is the doctor wearing glasses? I imagine myself springing up from my prone position and pounding on the glass panel that separates me from the waiting room and shouting "Why is the doctor wearing glasses?" only to be forcibly restrained by the staff and strapped down to the table with my screams fading off as a nurse closes the curtains. Yeah, saying no to Valium might have been a bad call.

One thing that they don't tell you about before the procedure is the smell. The acrid smell of your cornea being burned by a laser to be precise. Surprisingly it's not a pleasant aroma at all. Breathe through your mouth. And don't think too much about what's going on when you see them lifting the cut corneal tissue flap.

It takes less than ten minutes for each eye but when you're lying there it seems like an eternity. Finally they're done. I'm up and in the recovery room sitting in a recliner listening to classical music. The doc comes in ten minutes later does a quick check on my eyes and pronounces it all as good. As I'm leaving I ask him why he still wears glasses. He explains that he has a condition, some kind of -opia of some sort, that can't be improved by laser surgery. I knew there had to be a rational explanation other than my earlier Twilight Zone like fantasy.

I go home and crash for a few hours. They recommend that you keep your eyes shut for two to four hours after the surgery and obviously the easiest way to do that is through sleep. But after my spell of slumber I experienced some of the "discomfort" that I had been warned about. I'd describe it more accurately as pain. You know what it feels like about five minutes after someone pokes you in the eye? That dull, throbbing sensation in your eyes? I had that for a good two to three hours last night. And no amount of eye drops or over the counter pain medication eased the suffering.

The answer? Three beers and a stiff glass of Scotch later and my symptoms had virtually disappeared. Funny how it works that way.

Today I feel fine. A follow-up at the clinic revealed that my vision is already nearing 20/20 and I was able to drive without a problem.

Tomorrow night, I'll be playing hockey without having to go through the dreaded contact rigmarole for the first time in years.

If you've been thinking about the procedure for yourself I'd recommend it. But get the Valium. Trust me.