Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Watershed Moment


No more glasses! After 43 years of corrective vision, including 29 of contact lenses wear, I no longer need to reach for a pair of glasses before I get out of bed. 

In June, I had refractive lensectomy surgery, a procedure that is similar to cataract surgery; my natural lenses were removed and replaced with synthetic ones. The decision to do so wasn’t easy and more than a dozen years in the making. That’s about how long I’ve known that severe myopia (nearsightedness) and too-thin corneas disqualified me as a candidate for LASIK, the popular vision correction surgery that reshapes the cornea, which in turn corrects the refractive error. 



About five years ago, my ophthalmologist could no longer find contact lenses strong enough to meet my needs, so I made the transition to glasses fulltime. I fought as long as I could and wore contacts periodically for two or three years, but when I had trouble finding my daughter on the dance floor, I knew it was time to give contacts up for good. I recognized that wearing glasses wasn’t the worst thing in the world, that I couldn’t compare my vanity with those who face life-threatening illnesses and diseases, and yet …

Last summer, I agreed to go parasailing with two of my kids, but I forgot to pack an extra pair of glasses. As I contemplated whether or not to wear my glasses, I couldn’t shake the “what if” of losing them while in the air. The guides assured me this was highly unlikely, but IF, IF, IF I lost my glasses, I knew I’d be dependent on my family for the duration of our vacation, and we’d all be miserable. Fear won. The ride was exhilarating, but my view was a blurry mess of color. At that point, I started thinking about the 10, 20, and quite possibly 30 years ahead of me, and what I wanted to do with them. I didn’t want to spend them on the sidelines.

It’s 1972, and I’m in second grade. We’re to copy and solve the 15 addition problems Mrs. Mauer has written on the blackboard. I like math and I’m good at it; I rarely receive anything less than a perfect score on my worksheets. But on this day, I’m not so sure of my work. I think I’ve copied the correct numbers, but I don’t really know if I have. My best friend turned her back and covered her paper when I whispered, “Is that a 24 or a 27?” 




The Surgeries
The technician in the exam room noted visual acuity as “Counting two” on my chart. She’s trained not to gasp out loud, but I sensed incredulity in her polite, customer-service trained voice as she worked her way through the exam. Because I couldn’t read the capital E, the lone letter on the top line of the eye chart, she used the two-finger method:  She stood five feet away and moved her hand closer to my face until I could see her fingers. “Counting two” means she was two feet away. At the end of the exam, she calculated my prescription to be -16.

The technicians in the surgery room were a little more direct: “What can you see? Can you see me?” and “Wow. I thought I was blind with a -7.”

The anesthesiologist injected a small amount of anesthesia into my IV so I’d be relaxed yet lucid enough to respond to the doctor’s questions. The actual procedure took only 10 minutes. Surgery number one corrected my left eye to 20/20 vision for distance; surgery number two corrected my right eye to 20/20 vision for close-up. This means that I rely more heavily on my left eye to see distance and on my right eye for close-up work. Had I not chosen this approach—if I’d chosen to correct both eyes for distance—I’d need reading glasses, and based on how much I read or work on the computer during the day, I’d be wearing them nearly all the time.

The transition to recognizing which eye works best at a specific distance is going well. I experience some eye strain when I concentrate on one task too long but know that changing tasks more frequently alleviates this.  These surgeries did not change the shape of my eye or the thickness of my cornea and so, like others with severe myopia, I’m still at risk for retinal holes, tears, and detachment. 

But add me to the list of people who are amazed at how bright the flowers are, how clear the road signs are, and how incredible this technology is.  I didn’t realize I’d be able to see so many dust bunnies and gray hairs, but that's only a minor side effect. This has definitely been a watershed moment in my life, ranking right up there with the day I got married and the days each of my three children were born. Look out world; here I come!