Three weeks ago, I lay on an operating table, fully conscious, and let a doctor I’d met 20 minutes before take a high intensity laser to my eyes. For the three or so minutes I was lying there, I heard the sounds usually associated to insects being zapped in the summer, and the smell of my own burning eyeballs. The initial result was less than comfortable. For the next 48 hours I could barely focus on anything – looking at a huge, wall-mounted sushi menu, for instance, was met with endless tears. I had to walk around my darkened apartment whilst sporting a pair of sunglasses more akin to the set of Robocop, or Terminator, than Vancouver. I spent the best part of a week listening to audiobooks, and little else. Yes, it’s safe to say that laser eye surgery was a fairly memorable experience for me.
But, those three weeks have passed since I finally undertook the surgery I’ve wanted for many years. I have never had perfect eyesight. Hell, I realised I needed glasses (revelation alert, parents) when I first started secondary school back in 1997 and used to sit at the back of the class, squinting at the whiteboard, and copying notes off my peers. Come to think of it, I even remember one particular math lesson – where for some reason I sat at the front – getting all the questions right, and then going back and (for some strange reason) deliberately making some of them wrong, so my track record wasn’t suddenly infinitesimally improved. I have no idea why I did that (kids, eh?), but I’m certain I would have got better grades throughout school had I got glasses aged 12, rather than at 17 – when I knew I couldn’t drive without them. But hey, I still did well enough to do the degree I wanted to do, and did just fine in that – now with the added bonus of contact lenses. I had no classroom squinting issues during my university days.
But years have passed. I finished university, and set off on my travels. Screwing around with contact lenses, or having to look after a pair of glasses every day of my life has become part of my routine. I’ve never enjoyed having to deal with putting little plasticy lens thingies in my eyes every morning, or dealing with dirty glasses, or having the burden of remembering to bring a lens case and contact lens solution to somebody’s house every time I decided to crash there and want to avoid horribly dry eyes in the morning. It’s always been a drag, and I’ve always envied those who would wake up every morning, stretch out, and admire just how wonderfully sharp the curtains in their room looked in the morning light. Or rather they wouldn’t – that’s just how they looked to all those non-corrective-lens-wearing brutes I used to see walking around all the time. To me, first thing in the morning was always a negative-three blur. I wasn’t even that short sighted. But it was enough to affect my life.
But, I always knew there was another way. I still remember the first night I went out at university wearing my brand new contact lenses. I’d always been resentful of wearing glasses, and only wore them when absolutely necessary. Going out? Glasses? Never. I remember that first night out being able to see through my contact lenses… wow. I never knew the inside of a drinking establishment looked like this. Amazing. But contact lenses were still a bit of a drag. Eyes would get red and irritated easily. I’d always wear them for far longer than recommended, and they were also expensive. But, the other way was always there. There was always laser eye surgery.
But, the idea of letting someone take a laser to your beloved eyesight seemed scary. A laser… in the face? What if something went wrong? What if I looked the wrong way at the wrong time during the procedure? What if I moved my head accidently, in a disasterous moment of laser-induced panic. There could be problems. Blindless. Argh, it was scary.
But I got over that. Having spent a few months living in the lowered sanitation standards of Lebanon at the start of this year, and trying to maintain a handle on my contact lens wearing, I realised that it was no use. I got a couple of eye infections there – nothing too bad – sorted with some eye drops within a few days. But sensitive eyes, and infections were irritating. And I’d still wake up every morning with those forsaken blurry curtains. I wanted sharp, crystal clear curtains, damn it.
I realised that travel, living in random places, and having to deal with contact lenses was not an ideal situation. And glasses were – for me – still a chore. I wanted to be able to travel, to do sports, to swim, to do just about everything whilst being able to see, and not have to worry about getting dirt caught behind those little lenses, or accidently breaking my glasses. I wanted laser eye surgery. Scary scary laser eye surgery. And then the next time I boarded a plane somewhere, lay around on a stop over in (probably) Frankfurt airport, having not slept properly in what seemed like weeks, I’d be able to see – and wouldn’t have to find the nearest bathroom to wrench my dried out lenses from my long-suffering eyeballs. It was time for it to happen.
Fortunately, I remembered a recommendation I’d received from a colleague of a friend in Vancouver. “The way she described it is like going from standard definition, to high definition on the TV”, Thomas told me. Sounds wonderful. Having previously started watching the game one evening (with contact lenses) in standard-def, then realising I had the HD channel… Well, sport comparing the two definitions is like night and day. It’s amazing.
A couple of weeks later I went for a consultation. I was impressed by the incredibly thorough approach of the clinic I visited. All different weird and wonderful maps of my eyes were taken, the health of my eyes analysed. Brilliantly, neither the years of wearing contact lenses too long, nor the time I’d had internal bleeding in my eye from an impact injury from childhood (you don’t want this to happen to you, trust me) had damaged my eyes at all. I was good to go.
Another month passed, the day of my surgery dawned. I’d taken the ever-so necessary precaution of downloading some Podcasts, and the all important Harry Potter audiobook collection. I wasn’t expecting to be able to do much for a few days after. Surgery came and went. I smelled my own eyeballs shizzling away, I saw crazy green and red fireworks on the ceiling of the clinic operating room, I sat in the dark whilst my freshly traumatized and reshaped corneas screamed in stinging protest. I’d had PRK (Photo-refractive keratectomy) surgery. Similar to LASIK, but without a permanent scar from the corneal flap that is created with LASIK. The recovery time was mooted to be longer, but the results more ideal: no scar from the flap, no chance – albeit an unlikely one – of the flap becoming dislodged from a heavy impact.
The first couple of days were admittedly difficult. Having to go back to the clinic for my 24 hour check-up was painful. Sitting on Vancouver’s Seabus, eyes stinging and streaming with tears was not pleasant, but a few days in I started to be able to see exceptionally well, the pain subsided, and the eye drops needed lessened. Now, three weeks later, I can see amazingly well – those curtains in the morning are now pin sharp – and I know there’s still more improvement to come.
Now, when I board my flight to Lebanon next month I’ll not have to worry about taking my contact lenses out before I sleep, or the impending risk of in infections from having to stick my fingers in my eyes to put in contacts in less-than-hygienic conditions. Everything in the world already looks more beautiful. Hiking on the mountains of Vancouver’s north shore is truly spectacular. I hiked in the snow the other day and could see every snowflake in perfect detail, trees in all their glory – rather than steamed up, dirty glasses, or the irritation of my old contact lenses. I donated my old frames and lenses to a charity which will distribute them to some poor negative-three-sighted person who can’t afford their own pair. Now, I’m one of those people who can see! And it’s awesome. And by the way – the thought of the surgery is far far scarier than the surgery itself.