Saturday, December 25, 2010

and the near-sighted shall see

This morning after waking up I spent a few minutes as usual seeking vainly for renewed somnolence before I rolled over and reached for my glasses on the bedside stand. They weren't there where I usually keep them, so I started patting around for them without looking --I can't see much without my glasses anyway. I couldn't find the glasses and my mind was starting to go over the places that I might have left them. I turned my eyes to the bathroom door and I could actually see the bathroom counter clearly enough to look for my glasses. Then I remembered: "Oh, right. I don't wear glasses any more".

I got Lasik eye surgery three weeks ago but the habit of reaching for my glasses in the morning is ingrained by decades of practice. Last week I finally threw away my glasses and contacts. Normally I'm a pack rat --I still had contacts from three prescriptions ago-- but I couldn't come up with an scenario where I might possibly need them again. Even if something goes wrong with the surgery, you aren't going back to the old prescription.

Over all, I am pretty amazed at the results. I spent less time in the office on the day of surgery than I had in my pre-surgery exam --about 45 minutes. Of that only about 10 minutes was in "the chair".

The surgery was more painful than the websites or the doctor had led me to believe. That is not just pressure you feel while the doctor is wedging that glass plate against your eyeball to flatten it out, what I felt, at least, was pain. Or maybe it's just me. The last time I had a root canal, the dentist was not able to numb the area completely no matter how many times she gave me the needle. She called it a "hot tooth", but I wonder if I just don't respond well to local anesthetics.

The first week was really inconvenient. Among other things, you have to tape eye shields over your eyes before bed. If you are tying to do it yourself, be aware that doing it properly takes three hands and if you try to make do with only two hands and some clever finger positions as I did, you should either not do it in the bathroom or make sure your toilet lid is down unless you don't mind fishing for a roll of medical tape in your toilet bowl. Just saying.

It's pretty amazing, though. Not only is my distance vision close to 20/20, I can read better too (I've been using reading glasses with my contacts for several years). If you have correctable vision and aren't too risk-averse for the very small chance of complications, I highly recommend Lasik.

Two things to do before you go in though. First, practice staring at a small dot of light. Turn off your laptop and stare at the power LED in a dark room, for example. The doctor recommended that I do this, but I ignored the advice. How hard can it be to stare at a light? Well, it turns out to be hard. At first I would stare at the light and let my mind wander. My eyes wandered when my mind did. Then I decided to focus on the dot and concentrate, but when I did that it was almost worse. My eye, having been given the message that the dot was important, seems to have decided on its own that it wasn't getting any useful information from the dot and started to carefully examine the area around the dot. I kept telling it that we were only interested in the dot itself, but my eye was pretty stubborn about the whole thing. Stupid organ.

The other thing to practice is putting drops in your own eyes. You have to have drops every hour for the first day or two and with multiple kinds of drops, so unless you have a very patient person to help you out, you have to do it yourself. If you have never put in your own eye drops before it is going to be frustrating to figure out when you aren't feeling very well and can't see very well.

My technique is the following: if I'm putting drops in my left eye, I hold the bottle on the threads (where the cap screws on) with the thumb and forefinger of my right hand. I close my eyes (in case I judge the distance wrong) and hold the bottle up to my left eye, positioning my hand against my forehead and nose to hold it in place. Then I open my left eye and try to position the bottle so that when I'm looking straight ahead, I am looking right down the nozzle.

Once I have the aim right, I lock my right hand against my face, close my left eye again (just in case my judgment is off...) and tilt my head back with my right hand holding the same position against my face. I open my left eye to make sure the nozzle is still in place, then I look off to the left so that I can't see the drop coming (otherwise I'll blink) and squeeze the bottle slowly with my left hand until a drop hits my eye. It's really not that bad once you get used to it, but it takes some practice. Reverse everything for the right eye, of course.

There are lots of other things to know, of course. Follow the doctor's instructions because he really, really wants you to have no complications, for his own self interest as well as yours.

Modern medicine is pretty incredible. In a former age, a person with eyes like mine would be condemned to a life in a small cubicle doing nothing but reading, writing and mathematics. Today, I can ... sit in a small cubicle ... working as a software architect ... which mostly involves reading, writing, and mathematics...

But! I can stand up and see from my cubicle if the coffee pot is full before I go over there. That's progress!