My eyes went bad in high school, a fact uncovered by a startled driver’s ed instructor who realized that I couldn’t see more than 10 feet beyond the hood of his Dodge Aries. Thus ensued many years of contact lens-related adventures, including a half-blind taxi ride with a lens in my mouth until I could find some saline. I guess I could’ve worn glasses more often, but somehow every pair of glasses made me look like I should be wearing a turtleneck and eating fondue.
Contacts weren’t perfect, but I could live with them. That is, until I couldn’t. Sometime last fall, I realized that my contacts were never comfortable, my eyes fully at war with my Focus Dailies. So I decide to get evaluated for Lasik, which requires wearing glasses for two weeks—apparently, contacts deform your eyes and can throw off the measurements. It’s a long two weeks.
Ever try skiing in glasses? It’s like trying to drive through the Blizzard of ’78 with no windshield wipers or defroster. Going for a run becomes a form of cross-training, as your arms are heavily involved in keeping your glasses on your sweaty face. You can’t wear sunglasses. You’re blind in the shower. At all turns, you’re reminded that your daily business depends on a medical device worn by Ben Franklin. By the end of the second week, you’re just dying for someone to slice open your eyeballs with a laser beam.
The pre-op exam goes well, and about a week later I’m back in the waiting room watching an informational video narrated by actor Brad Maule, aka Dr. Tony Jones from General Hospital. Brad Maule—who, in the video, is dressed like a doctor—wants you to know that while this is a common procedure, there may still be risks and complications. And if there are complications, you won’t cure them by having a nice dream, as once actually happened to a character on General Hospital.
I’m handed a series of forms to fill out, but nobody looks at them. I know this because, in response to a question about my expectations, I write, “I hope to be able to spot mice and small rodents from several hundred feet in the air.” Even if you own a quality hang glider, that kind of outcome is probably unrealistic.
Eventually the wait is over. Stickers denoting right and left are placed on my forehead (thus preventing any “My right or your right?” mishaps), and I’m given a Valium to help me cope with what’s ahead. Except it doesn’t really have time to kick in, so as I’m wheeled under the first machine—let’s call it the See-Saw 5000—I’m far too sober and coherent. The machine motors down to my face and suctions itself to my eye like a giant carnivorous mecha-octopus. My eyelid is propped open, the eyeball numbed with drops. There’s no quitting now, even as my vision goes black—it feels like the machine is actually pressing on my eyeball, but maybe it’s the suction. Then, through the blackness, I see a red crosshatch pattern scanning my eye, zipping back and forth. The laser’s cutting my eye open, making the flap that they’ll pull back so the second laser can go inside and reshape the cornea, essentially putting my prescription inside my eye. If this sounds gruesome, it’s at least better than the alternate technique for making the flap, which involves what one of my friends described as “a deli slicer coming down on your eyeball.”
The doctor asks me some questions, and I grunt out “Uhh huhhhh” or “Naaaa,” as if I’m at the dentist. Somehow I’m worried that actually unclenching my jaw will allow my eyeballs to fall into my mouth, like what happened to Geena Davis in Beetlejuice. It’s possible that the Valium is working now.
In any case, I don’t care how high you are: It’s pretty freaky to watch someone pull your eye open with tweezers. And it’s not like you can decide not to watch—your eyelids are propped open. You’re seeing this whether you want to or not. Open flap, laser zap, close flap, repeat. Then you’re done. Fifteen minutes and it’s over.
It’s not like you can get Lasik’d at the drive-through while you wait for your soy latte, but for a life-changing medical procedure this is about as quick and easy as it gets. No, it’s not for everyone, but if you’ve ever mistakenly drank your contact lenses or lost your glasses or blundered around a blurry hotel room in the morning, then Lasik starts to look pretty appealing. I went into the operating room wondering why I was doing this, but by the next morning—vision already 20/15—I was asking myself why I ever waited.