Thursday, January 22, 2009
I Think It’s Time I Wrote About Getting Lasik: Part I
They say that you don’t truly recover from a traumatic experience until you can think about it without reliving it. That’s why it’s taken me until now to write about getting Lasik. I needed time to gather myself and stop having 'Nam-like flashbacks. I’d like to begin by saying that no one else I know had a bad experience getting Lasik. It's possible I'm just a wussy because every one of my Lasiked friends swears their surgery was painless. The worst part was a bit of pressure on their eyeball. As for me…
I booked my surgery on a Friday so I’d have the weekend to recover. When I arrived the doctor’s assistant handed me half of a Xanax.
“Oh honey,” I laughed, “let’s be serious. That’s not going to get it done.” She gave the rest of the Xanax.
I sat in the waiting room for about a half hour before they called my name and led me into the operating room. As I walked in they gave me a stuffed monkey named Damien to hold onto during the surgery. I lay down in a reclining chair and they placed some numbing drops into my eyes. (Okay, nevermind. I’m totally reliving this right now. My eyes are watering just writing this.) The doctor came in and placed a monocle-esque device over my left eyeball, which prevented my eyelids from closing. He instructed me to stare up at the round red laser beam over my head and told me to keep my eyeball perfectly still. This was the moment I began to regret how heavily I’d researched this surgery. Because I’d read so much about it before coming in, I knew exactly what he was doing every step of the way. I knew that this device (known as a microkeratome) had an oscillating metal blade and that when the red laser beam overhead began to blur, this meant that the top layer of my cornea was being sliced open, Un Chien Andalou-style. After he finished cutting open the left eye, he methodically moved on to the right.
The doctor sensed that I was uncomfortable (perhaps it was the whimpering?) and asked if I needed to take a break before the laser portion of the surgery. I did. He left the room and an assistant asked if I needed another Xanax.
“Please,” I whispered.
She placed it under my tongue. I hoped that if I waited awhile the pain would regress, but it only worsened. I thought about a story my brother told me when I was a kid. In ancient times, he swore, they punished people in the desert by burying them in the sand up to their necks and cutting off their eyelids. The person couldn’t shield their eyes from the desert sun with their hands, nor could they blink when the sweat and sand particles trickled in.
By the time the doctor resumed the surgery, I was in agony. He pried open one eyelid. I couldn’t stop squinting because of the bright spotlight shining in my face. (My eyes were starring in their own snuff film.) He peeled back my cornea flap and the red laser beam went blurry again. The machine made a loud clacking sound, the laser crackled and the room filled with the smell of burning flesh.
“Noelle, it is imperative that you open your eye as much as possible!” the doctor said. “I’ve reduced the light as much as I can to make you comfortable but I can’t see what I’m doing. I’m operating on instinct now.”
Of all the things I don’t want to hear from someone who’s performing surgery on me, “I can’t see what I’m doing” ranks pretty high. I would’ve told him to stop, but I’d been instructed not to talk because even the tiniest movement could be dangerous. Finally the crackling ceased. The doctor unfurled my cornea flap. He spent several minutes smoothing it into place, running a tiny paintbrush over my eyeball while I fantasized about being able to blink. When he finally took the device off my eye and let me close it, I knew I couldn't go through that again any time soon. Even if my right cornea was already filleted open and ready to rumble.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I can’t do the other eye today. I just can't. I’m going to have to come back on Monday or something.” The assistant asked if I wanted a Vicodin.
“Why not?” I said, although I'd have preferred something a little stronger, like death.
I sat in a dark recovery room with several other patients for a half hour. Each of us had a pair of goggles taped to the sides of our heads, the white eye pieces perforated with tiny holes so that we could see. Altogether we resembled a refugee camp for albino flies.
One guy whispered to another, “Hey dude, did you hold on to Damien?”
“Yeah, man. You?”
To be continued...