Cracker by Damian Christie

We've Only Just Begun

I’ve had a number of emails asking for the promised account of my laser eye surgery. If you’re just concerned for my wellbeing, the short answer is “it went fine, thanks”. If you’re one of those people who likes poking sticks at dead things and wants the gory details, read on.

By the time last Friday rolled around, I was getting a little apprehensive. I’ve done some pretty cool things this year, skydiving for the first time, diving the Poor Knight Islands, and I’ve been impressed (and surprised) with how calmly I’ve approached them, if I do say so myself. However neither of these involved willingly slicing and burning a valuable part of my anatomy, so perhaps you can understand my nerves.

As I sat in the waiting room and re-read the same paragraph from a Time Magazine article on John Kerry over and over, I tried reading with one eye closed. Just to see – just in case. Not so bad I thought. I could live with one eye. At least it wouldn’t be all droopy, like John Kerry’s.

The music was doing my head in. What is it about Karen and Richard Carpenter that is supposed to relax people in times of crisis? The woman died at aged thirty-two from heart failure caused by chronic anorexia nervosa – she’s not exactly an advertisement for the soothing quality of their saccharine ballads.

Anyway, after a little wait – “we’ll be underway as soon as Dr X deigns us worthy of his presence” – I was taken through to the operating theatre’s anteroom. Would I like a sedative? Are the Kennedy’s gun-shy? I was dressed in a gown, a shower-cap and some booties over my shoes. The nurse then cleaned my eye area, put some drops in which, once the insane stinging passes, numbs the eye. I was then ushered into the theatre.

As soon as I lay down, everything happened pretty quickly. My right eye was covered, presumably to prevent any collateral damage. My left eye was taped and clamped until it was as open as a garden centre on Easter. It’s quite odd being physically unable to blink, but still having the twitches telling you you’re doing so. Also, because it’s very hard to close just one eye, my right remained open the entire time, streaming with tears in a show of solidarity.

A suction thing was placed on my eye. “The vacuum means you won’t be able to see for a moment, it’s quite normal”. It seemed pretty dark inside that suction cup anyway, I don’t think I was missing a whole lot.

In simple terms, this is how LASIK laser surgery works. A little machine sits on your eye, and cuts a wee semi-circle into the top layer. This little flap is then lifted up, and all the lasering is done underneath. The flap is then put back down. The other, older method (although still used in some cases) involved taking off the whole top layer of the cornea, and took a lot longer to heal,

So the little cutting machine was on my eye. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz it went, but I didn’t feel a thing. Was it slicing my eye, or just revving its tiny engine in anticipation of the task ahead of it? When the surgeon removed the little machine from its corneal habitat, I suspected the former. With a tiny pair of tweezers, or at least a normal pair of tweezers with a tiny end (thus being easier for a surgeon with normal sized fingers than a tiny pair of tweezers would be, even after heaps of practice) he confirmed my suspicions, by pulling back the top of my eye.

Clear. Blurry. That’s the difference between what things look like with the top of your eye in place, and once it’s been peeled back. It looks a bit like this:

…except less like someone has just used the ‘smudge’ tool on a photo of some surgeons.

As soon as I realised what happened, my stomach had a wee turn. Understandable, I think you’ll agree. And then the nurse started counting. “5 seconds….10 seconds… 15 seconds”. I worked out that was the time my thin piece of sticky eye cellophane had been peeled back. After 30 seconds or so, I was told to look straight into the red light. Easy for them to say, I thought, they still have the front of their eyes.

So I starred at the big blurry red light above me. It started clicking like the ignition in a car that won’t even turn over. I smelt something a bit like burning hair, but more like eye. In spite of the fact a laser was now systematically disintegrating my stoma – and I could smell it – I didn’t feel any pain. After a few seconds the clicking stopped. Pause. “Forty-three percent” said the nurse. Click click click. Burn burn burn. “Seventy-one percent” said the nurse. It was like being part of some war simulation.

Once the lasering itself was over (half a minute, tops), the surgeon put the top of my eye back. For the next few minutes he took his time smoothing it back down, ensuring it was perfectly in place. I was quite glad he took the time, but seeing him do it (and feeling a faint pressure on my eye) made me feel a bit queasy again. Eventually he was happy, and I was ushered out with a clear plastic cover over my eye. I could see, kinda.

The rest is all pretty uneventful. I went home and slept for a couple of hours. My eye felt scratchy, and I took a couple of Panadeine every few hours to stave off an unfortableness. The next morning I had my eye cover removed, and to my relief, most of the strangeness in my vision had been due to the warps in the plastic, rather than my post-operative cornea.

Since then, I’ve had two sets of eye drops, four times a day, finishing today. My eye is occasionally a bit irritable after hours working in air-conditioning, but that seems to be improving daily. I now see just as well with my left eye as I do with my contact-lensed right. I wondered why I was ever so paranoid as to book my second operation a fortnight after the first. Still, better safe than sorry I guess, who knows what could’ve happened?