White Vision


I have worn contacts since I was 13.I have worn glasses since the 1st grade. I hated my glasses the first ten years.I hid them, lost them, forgot them, squinted, sat at the front of the class even, just to try to get away without wearing them. And yet somehow they never really disappeared.Silver octagons.My mother picked them out, and I didnít complain.But they were cold, and I had a slight headache from the soft pressure across the bridge of my nose.Contacts freed me somewhat, but I still had to care for them, and my prescription would change causing me to have to buy new ones.Or I would forget the case and some disaster would happen.


Once during college, I stayed with my friend Emily at her parentís apartment in New York, and having forgotten my case, I put them in a glass of water, and set two books on top.She got up in the middle of the night, found the water and drank it while I slept.The next morning, she went into a panic that somehow she was going to be permanently damaged by having two little plastic discs in her stomach.Two months later, I accidentally drank the next pair.There was a bad hurricane that was supposed to decimate New York.My bag with the lens case was left behind and all the stores were closed.The hurricane turned out to be a flop, so my friends, including Emily, went out to dinner and several clubs, and arrived back at the apartment at 5 am.Again, the contacts were put into a glass of water, and I forgot about them hours later, dehydrated and bleary.


Eventually, I settled down in my life so that I only had to buy a new pair every three or four years.But still, they were expensive, as was the care for them.Backpacking and bike-camping were always tricky with wind and dust, getting water to clean them, etc.Swimming, long plane flights, staying up all night, campfires and smoky rooms all required special care. But I was used to accommodating them so I did everything I wanted to anyway, messing around with various solutions so I could ride a bike for 10 hours, go out to dinner and drink wine, and then somehow get them to work at seven am the next morning, for the next ride.


When I heard that a friend was thinking of Lasik surgery, I secretly wanted to have perfect vision, too, but I said apprehensively that I didnít know about that, it seemed risky and what if you ended up, statistically speaking, as the failure?But after watching several friends go through the process over a year, where they each had great experiences, I thought about it as a possibility for myself.I looked into it in February, but wasnít ready; it was still overwhelming, too scary.And then again in June, and finally with the deadline of graduate school looming, I scheduled it for August. Then the few people I told about it said apprehensively, oh, I donít know about that, it doesnít seem like a good ideaÖ.I knew exactly what they were thinking, and yet I had shifted, but how to explain this?How do you calmly say that you arenít crazy for voluntarily requesting to have your corneas cut, and then alter your eyes with a laser?That you are scared, but doing it anyway?


To prepare, I had three weeks of no contacts.My glasses drove me to a constant mild headache, wearing them all the time, annoying me, no peripheral vision, resting across the bridge of my nose.I have been so dependant on my contact lenses, but in order to measure my eyes correctly, I had to let them return to their normal shape.


After appointments with the doctor for measurements and tests, I felt committed.I worried, even though he helped develop the procedure and had done thousands of them.I arranged for a friend, Ana, to take me.Three days before the surgery, I started antibiotic eye drops and antiseptic cleanings.I was apprehensive.I was not even aware of how nervous I had become until the night before when I really started to panic.What if I was part of the 1% that failed, in my category, and the lasers ruined my eyes.What if it didnít work out, I couldnít see and graduate school had to be ditched?


One thing to think about in this situation is what to wear.Something special in case my cornea falls out onto my shirt?A special non-stick shirt, or maybe a special sticky shirt?Thinking about this took the edge off and I started laughing out loud so much, I couldnít stop for a minute or two.And of course, I wondered what state to leave the house for my return.While walking out, I looked around trying to memorize everything so that I could find it later.I would have eye patches on until I woke up the next day.


At the clinic, my stomach was heavy as they started eye drops, gave me a 10 mg Valium, and sent Ana off to buy a blank video tape.There were other patients there too, and my doctor arrived.After some more preparation, I was led into the surgery room.They popped in the tape, and I was feeling much better, partly because of the Valium, and partly because the staff seemed so competent.But I also felt like I had jumped face first down a long steep slide.No turning back now. The doctor asked if I felt good and I did, physically.I mentioned the question I had addressed that morning regarding what to wear. Everyone laughed nervously, like they hadnít heard anyone laying directly under the laser contemplate what sort of cornea-sticking shirt to wear, just in case.


My doctor pulled back the lid of my left eye, and there was a temporary blackness while he applied some pressure, cutting and pulling back my cornea.Then he said that I should look steadily into a red dot laser, while they pointed it into my eye.I concentrated hard.I was afraid of moving at all, terrified of looking anywhere else.I kept saying robotically to myself, look at the dot, look at the dot, just keep looking at the dot.After 30 seconds, and a slight burning smell similar to when a mole is burned off or teeth are drilled, the doctor brushed my cornea back into place with some viscous liquid.Then they did the right eye.As they started to work on it, the doctor said something about it being sticky.I didnít know what he meant, I couldnít see anything, and I wasnít sure if this was bad.Again, the laser, concentrating on the red dot.A little burning smell.


Thirty minutes later, they checked my eyes with the eye chart, and it was fuzzy, not blurry like before.I could see some new rows on the eye chart.They bandaged me up and Ana took me home.I managed around the house pretty well, and friends brought dinner.I sat at the dining room table when they walked in, and started laughing at me, sitting casually with eye patches, facing them.


My house sounded different without sight. I couldnít do too much, except tune the radio.After two rounds of the same NPR stories, and an unfortunate choice of DJ on KALX, I gave up.I listened twice to a tape of Jay McInerney talking about wine.Eating was interesting.Linguine with wild mushrooms; try twirling pasta on a fork, gracefully, spearing mushrooms and shallots, and reaching your mouth without dropping things everywhere.Or try salad with globe tomatoes and corn.Even dialing the phone requires looking at the address list, as there are only a couple of numbers I know by heart.


The next morning I woke up an hour early and ripped off the patches.I could see perfectly.The hills had distinct trees; San Francisco was crisp. I wanted to call everyone I could think of, but didnít. I called Marc, the only person I knew would be up at 6:15am.And emailed everyone else.Then I remembered the video. I watched the first eye only.I was sort of relieved I didnít watch the preceedure before the surgery, despite all the research.Ana later told me the sticky comment happened when they had trouble cutting the second cornea, and if I watched the video I would see it.I decided to skip it.


I went to the orientation for school, and several times I wanted to say something, anything, about 20-20 vision and how absolutely exciting it was to read, 50 yards away, the Doe Library sign out the window, perfectly, no contacts.I was on the verge, almost spilling it, but I didnít because I thought they would think I was crazy for doing something like this the day before school started.


My checkup later that day confirmed 20-20 vision.The best part was that things I previously experienced partially or not at all were now visible.Itís difficult to describe to people whoíve never worn glasses, or have good vision.Itís like being in love and trying to tell someone whatís happening, when theyíve never known it themselves.Itís an abstraction for others, but to me, itís a marvel, full of excitement and surprises, newness, relief, lightness and ease.My contacts made my eyes bloodshot by noon. My new eyes are a fresh, soft white and donít sting at the end of the day.I catch them in the mirror now and then and Iím taken aback over the whiteness.


Now I turn off the light at night, and instead of seeing blackness, I have the new experience, after 5 years in this apartment, of seeing the Campanile lit up.Before, I wasnít even aware that I could lie in bed and look at it.Now, I see it glowing, from the darkness of my room as I fall asleep.In the morning, I wake up and look at the hills, the sun jetting through the trees.Iím elated, and yet, instantaneously, I have adapted to a life where I donít have to use contact lens cleaners and wipe my glasses all the time.Lasik was so easy, painless, and so casual, being able to see perfectly.I go about my life and something Iíve always had to care for, and fiddle with, is no longer a thought.Itís like itís always been this way, and yet, I catch myself for a second, several times a day, flashing on some contact lens care.And then I remember; I donít have to do it anymore.Itís a small bit of freedom.



Copyright, 2002.Mary Hodder