So, yeah, burning cornea smells just like burning hair. You know this from all those times you singed your long locks in the flame on the gas stove when you were growing up. Cooking does not come without risks. Doogie Jr does one eye at a time. He applies a local anesthetic to minimize the pain from the needle as he injects a stronger anesthetic. Once you’re numb, he positions the speculum and props your eyelids open. “Now stare at the red light and don’t move your eye.” Zap. Zap. Zap. The next thing you know, he’s done with the right eye and starting on the left. The odor is noxious, but you breathe deeply and try to keep your mind on the purpose of this “procedure”—to see without glasses so that you will be able to read. Fifteen minutes and you’re done.
Doogie Jr asks you to read the clock on the wall. The clock on the wall? “What clock?” He gives the technicians instructions and you are taken to yet another waiting room. Something isn’t right; you know it’s not right. The panic rises, slowly at first, and then explodes as the realization hits you that you cannot see. A thick veil of gauzy clouds obscures your vision. The technician assures you that you will be fine, this is just temporary. “Have a seat here and keep your eyes closed. I’ll be back in half an hour.” You sit down, close your eyes, and shove down the panic. As long as your eyes are closed, you don’t know whether you can see or not. Maybe when you open them, the clouds will be gone.
The technician comes back to take you to the exam room where Doogie Jr will see you. You open your eyes and the clouds are still there. He leads you to the room and tells you to sit right here, as he pulls out a rolling stool for you. He positions you in front of the slit lamp and Doogie Jr comes in and sits down. “Your flaps look great. How’s your vision now?” You tell him it’s the same as it was earlier; there are thick clouds obscuring your vision. He looks again and decides to put a band-aid contact over your left eye. You will see him again in the morning for your one-day post-op; things should be much clearer by then. They send you home with drops and eye shields and specific instructions. Be there tomorrow at 10:00am. And make sure you wear these sunglasses when you go outside.
The ride home takes nearly two hours. You try to keep your eyes closed during the entire trip. You don’t want to know whether you still can’t see. By the time you get home, the mydriatic drops have begun to wear off and the clouds are marginally thinner. You put in your drops as directed and you go to sleep, eye guards taped over each eye. Each time you awaken, you put in your drops and go back to sleep, taping the eye guards back into place. You have no appetite and besides, you can’t see to fix anything to eat. You get up to use the bathroom, take the shields off and make your way down the hall. It’s pitch dark, but you’ve made your way down this hall without your glasses so many times that you know every step of the way with your eyes closed. When you come back, you stumble over to the window, raise the blind and look out into the murky night. A car approaches from down the street, but all you see as it comes by is a massive burst of light and glare that obliterates everything else. You tape your shields back on and climb back into bed, dozing in and out all night, putting in drops each time you awaken. Your eyes are unbearably dry and they hurt. Finally, around 5:30am, you drift off to sleep for a couple of hours. The telephone ringing on the nightstand next to the bed awakens you. You roll over to answer; your ride is calling to make sure you’re awake. She will be there to pick you up at 8:00 for the trip back to the clinic. You take off the eye guards, put in your drops and blink a few times. You still can’t see through the clouds.
When you arrive at the clinic, you check in at the front desk. “Are you loving your new vision this morning?” asks the receptionist, in a chirpy voice. No, you tell her, you can’t really see much at all. She picks up the phone, punches several buttons and says a few words. A technician comes out to take you back to the inner waiting room. Apparently, they don’t want you telling the patients in the outer waiting room that you had surgery yesterday and you can’t see. Twenty minutes later, the tech returns to take you to the exam room. He seats you behind the slit lamp, peers into your eyes, clears his throat, then gets up and leaves the room, saying as he closes the door behind him that the doctor will be right in. The room is dark, with just a small ambient light. You see only shadows and vague shapes. The realization that your vision is toast washes over you in wave after wave.
Doogie Jr finally comes in, sits down in front of the slit lamp and looks intently, first into your right eye and then the left. “Your flaps look great! How’s your vision?” You don’t answer; you can’t seem to make any words come out. He flips on the light for the Snellen chart on the wall and asks you what’s the smallest line you can see. You can see that there is a light spot on the wall, but your contrast is poor and the clouds are in the way. You shake your head and tell him that you cannot see anything at all. He pulls the phoropter over and puts it in front of you. “Now?” Still nothing. He looks through the slit lamp again, shakes his head, and then removes the band-aid contact from the left eye. He assures you that your vision will clear in a day or two, and instructs you to make an appointment with the co-managing optometrist at home for early next week. You leave the clinic in shock, knowing, without having to be told, that your clear vision is gone. You are an artist. How on earth will you be able to work? Your house has sold and you’re in the process of looking for a new home. If you can’t see, how will you know if any house is right for you?
The return ride is silent. When you arrive home, your friend unlocks the door and offers to fix you a bite to eat. You have not eaten in two days, but you are not hungry. She asks if there’s anything she can do for you. You have her call to make your appointment with the optometrist for early next week, and then you ask her to dial your office. “Hi. Um, not good. I think I’m going to have to take off next week. Yes, I have plenty of vacation time. No. I can’t see for sh*t and my eyes are so dry they’re burning. Yes, I know I need to go look. OK, we can go Sunday afternoon. Maybe the clouds will be gone by then. OK, I’ll be ready around 2:00. Bring a white-tipped cane, OK? Right. Bye.” Your co-worker is also your realtor. There’s an open house Sunday that she thinks you should see. You hope against hope that by Sunday, things will be clearer.
(to be continued)