I don’t know how the genetic die roll, but somehow it worked out that out of three children born to two bespectacled parents, one of us needed glasses, and the other two didn’t.
I got my first pair of glasses twenty seven years ago: massive plastic frames with pale pink and blue rims. There were times I liked wearing glasses, but many more times I didn’t. However, not liking how they looked was not a good reason to jettison them, because I liked how I could look through them. I like being able to read: both books and faces.
I won’t walk you through my entire optical medical history, but I’ll fast forward to a year ago, when I asked my optometrist whether I might be a candidate for LASIK surgery. He said I might, but when I asked him more about how many patients he’d referred before, his answers did not give me confidence. I decided to give contact lenses another go.
Fast forward another year, and two things happened within a week. First: I lost my prescription sunglasses. For a pale-eyed gal living in sunny California, this was devastating. Then, in a characteristic rough-and-tumble-love moment with my kids, my glasses got knocked off my face (again), and the ear pieces got bent (again), and the kind technician who bent them back (again) warned me that this pair was on its last legs.
I thought about LASIK surgery again – this procedure where rather than getting corrective lenses to wear on top of my poorly curved eyes, they would use lasers to correct the curve of my eyes. It turned out there was a highly recommended surgeon nearby, and the initial consult was free.
I went. I was thoroughly evaluated and educated about the procedure. I was impressed.
A generous family windfall made it financially possible to explore it, and so I decided to take the leap. (Happy birthday and merry christmas to me!) After another appointment to take more exact measurements and map the shape of my eye, and two days later, my husband took me in for the one hour appointment.
This is what happened: I signed a terrifying waiver form, acknowledging that there was a minuscule chance that things could go poorly and that I was aware of these things. Then the assistant came and gave me a valium to help me relax, and I joked that she should have given it to me before making me read the waiver form. Haha, she said, great idea – except that would be totally illegal.
After a quick reassessment of my eyes and a couple rounds of drops in my eyes, I was ushered into a room with a reclining chair and two big machines. I laid back and was swiveled to the machine on the left. “Look at the light, and relax”, said the doctor. He explained there would be a bit of suction, talked me through every noise and little light I was seeing and until suddenly everything looked gray, and seconds later, he swiveled me out from under the machine. “Done,” he said – we’ve lifted the flap on your right eye.
What? Seriously? Already??? That was SO FAST!!
I hadn’t quite realized it, but that first machine was the laser which put micro bubbles on the surface of the eye, allowing them to lift the outer flap without using any blades. The second eye went just as quickly – and the world seemed cloudy as I swiveled from the left machine to the right one. For a moment, I wondered if that was what the world looked like if you had cataracts. Or maybe, for the man whom Jesus had healed who (at first) only saw partially: “I can see people, walking around looking like trees,” he’d said.
Under the second machine, my eyelashes were taped out of the way, my head steadied, and I needed to be reminded to breathe. I thought once again how grateful I am to have gone through natural childbirth a few times and to have learned how to breathe and to RELAX. (Going to the dentist has been SO MUCH better since having kids. Now while I’m in the dentists’ chair I practice all my deep breathing and relaxing techniques… some dental technicians find the sighing a little alarming but most have been impressed )
So… aided by Valium and a little Lamaze, I relaxed. Or at least, worked very, very hard at relaxing as best I could since my mind was swimming. But there was no time to overthink it: “look at the light,” he said, “then you’ll hear some hissing, then a snap, and then just keep on looking at the light… fifteen seconds… and you’ll smell some burning.” Where the ring of red lights had been I could see a black dot appearing in the middle, as if a candle was being held underneath a piece of paper and am orange-edged dark ring was slowly developing above the flame.
“That’s it. Perfect,” came the voice, and he swiveled me out from under the chair. He carefully lifted the flap back over my eyes and lined up the little dots he had made with a permanent marker on my eyeball just minutes before. The world swam back into slow focus. “You’re 3/4 of the way done.” he said, “now make a fist.” I made a fist, confused. “Now take your thumb and raise it to the roof.” I raised my thumb and realized I was making a thumbs up sign. “That’s to let your husband know you’re okay,” he said, and I smiled, remembering once again that my husband was just a few feet away, watching the entire thing through a screen.
Less than 5 minutes later, the second eye was done, and I sat up and walked out into the room. The entire thing had taken less than 15 minutes, and was utterly painless.
The doctor put clear plastic shields over my eyes to keep me from touching them, and gave me a packet of drops to keep my eyes lubricated. “Do you drink?” he asked. I nodded. “Go home and have a glass of wine. Better yet, have two. We want you to sleep and keep your eyes closed for a while and let those flaps close.”
My husband drove me home and I greeted my friend who was watching my kids. I marveled at how well I was ALREADY able to see, even though the plastic lenses. Drinking wine at 10am seemed a terrible thought, so I downed a small glass of whisky and headed upstairs. I plugged in an audio book, and drifted in and out of sleep for several hours, each time awaking to put eye drops in, and marveling each time at how much crisper the world looked than it had just an hour before.
(For the record: I now totally understand how people get addicted to Valium and alcohol. It is a very relaxed state of mind. Sheesh!)
I kept listening to my audio book, keeping my eyes as closed as possible that first day, and I slept well that night. The following morning, I took off my eye shields and watched my son walk from his bed on the other side of the landing across to me – something I have never been able to do before. “I can see you! I can see you! I can see you!” I said. “Oh my goodness! I can see you!” I said, and tousled his hair. Full of sleepy preschooler sass, he climbed into my arms and mumbled, “Oh mom, stop saying I can see you.”
Minutes later, his sister trod the same route and I shouted “I can see you! I can see you!” as she got closer. “Mom!” urged my son, “when are you going to stop saying that?”
Not for a while yet, I thought.
Less than 24 hours after the surgery, I drove myself to the post-op check up, marveling at how well I could see. My eye exam revealed that I already had better than 20/20 vision, and it was only going to improve as the healing continued. The doctor met my broad smile with a smile of his own: his is rewarding work, in more ways than one.
Here is the most surprising thing I discovered having LASIK surgery: how many, many people have had it done. I posted a picture of my 11-year old bespectacled self on Facebook the day before the surgery and told friends this was my “last day with glasses”. I got more than a dozen messages from friends I see regularly saying they’d had it done and were so thrilled with the results. I had no idea how many people I already knew who had had it done.
Here was the most difficult thing for me about having LASIK: overcoming the anxiety of the “what ifs”. But hearing about the thousands of people this particular surgeon has worked on (with zero serious incidents), and also the few dozen of people I already knew who had had it done helped a lot.
Here was the most practical challenge about having LASIK: arranging childcare. I am so grateful for kind friends who once again loved me and my family through something.
Today is my 3rd day since the surgery. I can’t wear mascara yet, and I still have to put in eye drops and wear protective eye shields at night for a few more days. But oh glory! I can see! I can see! I can see!!
And if I lose my sunglasses, now I can just buy another pair at the corner store. And when I hug my husband, I can snuggle into his shoulder without needing to position my face just right so that my glasses don’t get squashed. And if we get to go snorkeling or scuba diving again, I will be able to put on goggles and actually SEE the coral and fish below the surface. Oh glory! I can see!
Throughout, I have been thinking about how physical eyesight is compared with spiritual eyesight: how being able to “see” Jesus – of grasping who he really is – is like the miracle of going from blindness to sight. If I had ever begun to take it for granted that I have come to know and love God, this surgery was a fresh reminder. If all you saw was blurry before, it is no small thing to wake up one morning and discover you can see the stark edges of winter twigs and count the eyelashes on your loved ones’ faces.
Seeing – be it seeing Jesus, or seeing the world he has made – in all its detailed beauty, is a precious thing.
This Christmas, I’m so very, very grateful for the gift of sight.
Photo credit: Vision of Eyechart with Glasses (Ken Teagarden) – Flickr Creative Commons.