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?”

“Totally.”

To be continued...

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

You don't know anyone who had problems with Lasik? There are plenty of them. Here's a famnous one: http://www.kathygriffin.net/lasik.php

I *Heart* You said...

my lasik experience was like something out of A Clockwork Orange. it was terrifying. not to mention i had to have my effing tear ducts plugged in the process (for the record it really, really hurts) so that tears could stay on my eyes to help them heal from the surgery.

Camels & Chocolate said...

Oddly enough, we had our surgeries the same day back on that Friday in November (I know this because I was OK enough to read blogs that night and saw a pic of you on JA's with your goggles on!). I also had a monkey to hold.

But discomfort from that horrible eye speculum aside, I didn't have any pain whatsoever. That's not to say I wasn't totally terrified beforehand and when my vision went out for those loooong 20-second intervals (and I refused the Valium...am I CRAZY???). But I was watching TV and reading the Internets by that afternoon.

I am so glad I didn't read this beforehand because I probably would have wussed out, but bummed that you had such a bad experience =(

Noelle Hancock said...

Anonymous, I meant that I don't know anyone *personally* who had a painful Lasik experience. I'd read the horror stories.

Anonymous said...

wow. i will never ever get lasik.

Miss Matched said...

Hi Noelle -- I just found your blog and wanted to say I love it! You've got great talent! I'm a freelance writer as well, so I know all the hard work that goes into it! :)

juliebarker@aol.com said...

I had a very bad lasik experience a couple of days ago and in fact the Lasik procedure FAILED!!! The doctor confirmed the only thing that happened was that my eye got "beat up" (his exact words) and the procedure will result to ZERO vision improvement.

I am cacausian with small eyes and high cheekbones. Because of that, they had to use a lot more pressure and force to open my eye wide enough to work on it.

The pain on my eybrow bone and cheek bone was unbearable. So, my eye uncontrollable squeezed very hard against the forces and pressure on it. My eye squeezed so hard that I popped out the eye speculum a couple of times.

They tried suction on my eye 3 times. They managed to make a laser incision, but stopped, because it was too dangerous to go on under the circumstances. It was so painful that I was literally crying during the procedure. They refused to work on my left eye (thank God).

Because of the repeated unsuccsesful suction, my eye is now swollen, sore and I can't see anything with it. I literally cannot read the top line of the eye chart with the largest letters. Everything is a total blur in that eye.

The doctor told me my vision should return in a week or two, after it heals from being "beat up." I have not seen any improvement so far (2 days).

Quite frankly, after an experience like that, I don't trust the doctor. Maybe it's irrational, but I am afraid now that my vision in the single that had the Lasik will never be the same.

I AM IMMENSELY DISAPPOINTED AND ANGRY!