Right on time, the doorbell rings. Your realtor is here is take you to look at an open house. Your own house has sold, per the terms of your last divorce, and you have six weeks before you have to vacate. You hate ranch houses, but it’s brick, it’s in your price range, and it’s in a neighborhood you liked when you lived there years ago before the first divorce. It’s blazing hot out and you really just want to stay in, sit in front of the air conditioner in the cool, darkened living room. Although the clouds in your eyes have thinned out to waxed paper, you still can’t see well, and the right eye is definitely worse than the left. As you walk by the mirror in the hall, out of the corner of your eye, you see the shadow of your reflection, you call yourself a few choice names and wish you still had those half-inch thick glasses.
The house is small, seems like it’s in decent shape, well-kept enough, and convenient to the basics—.5 miles from a gas station on one corner and neighborhood grocery with a pharmacy inside on another. It’s around the corner from your hairdresser, exactly one mile from your house to your parking spot at work, and .8 miles to your best friend’s house. You cannot imagine how you will fit all your stuff into this tiny box, which is far less than half the size of your beautifully restored, two-story, ninety-year-old home. Your realtor/co-worker/friend assures you that although you cannot really see it, it’s a cute house for the money. She has a couple of other houses she wants you to see, so you don’t have to decide right away. By the time she drops you off at home, your eyes are burning, the light hurts them, and you have used up all of the single-use vials of eye drops you carried with you when you went out earlier.
You fix a salad for dinner, leave the dishes in the sink and lie on the couch listening to music in the dark until it’s late enough to go to bed. You’ve already arranged to take the week off and you have an appointment to see the local co-managing optometrist on Tuesday. You think about the things you can do without having to see very well and make a mental to-do list for tomorrow. The list is short. Mostly, you think about how much you miss seeing clearly; you briefly wonder how you could have been so stupid. You put drops in, tape Saran wrap over your eyes to keep the moisture in while you sleep, and drift off.
Tuesday morning, a friend comes to take you to the optometrist. You take a seat in the waiting area. All around you are posters and ads for the clinic where you had your surgery. People are looking at them and reading brochures extolling the virtues of LASIK. You want to tell them not to even consider it, but you say nothing. They’ll think you’re a crazy person. Someone calls your name. You go back to the exam room and sit in the chair. The doctor peers into your eyes, one at a time, through the slit lamp. Yep, your flaps look great. How’s your vision? You explain what’s been happening since surgery, hoping he can tell you what’s going on, but he seems clueless. He flips on the light for the Snellen chart on the wall and asks you what’s the smallest line you can read. You tell him that you can’t read anything, that all you see are some grey spots on the wall. He insists that you must be able to see something. You tell him that you can see something, but you cannot read anything. He insists that you “cannot possibly be seeing that way.”
You make an appointment to come back in two days for a re-check, and although you have never been a biter, you go home wanting to take a chunk out of someone. You can’t drive yourself anywhere because you can’t see well enough, so you sit at home and think about the fact that you must find a house to buy very soon. You try to remember each house you’ve seen, none of which has appealed to you, but you make up your mind to go back to the one you saw on Sunday, since it’s the only one in your price range in that neighborhood. Your realtor calls you later in the afternoon to ask if you’ve given the house-buying thing any further thought. You make arrangements for her to take you back over there on her lunch hour tomorrow. The waxed-paper vision is better than the gauze vision, but it’s still not good. You realize, looking around, that you really need glasses.
On Thursday, you get a ride to the optometrist, where you go through the same process as you did on Tuesday, only this time, you can actually read the big E (all three of them). He twirls some dials and makes some adjustments and suddenly, the grey spots become furry letters that you still can’t read clearly. They’re all ghosted, multiple images where there should be one and all the letters seem to run into and over each other. He decides you need glasses. You appear to be “undercorrected,” a term that actually means they missed the mark on your correction. You also have a lot of “junk” in your vision, but he thinks that will settle down over time. He is, however, concerned about some growing cloudiness in your right eye. He wants you to make an appointment to see your surgeon again and get checked out right away. It looks like inflammation.
You go home and call the clinic. Your surgeon, Doogie Jr, refuses to see you and refers you back to the guy who just referred you back to him. Frustrated, you hang up without getting an appointment. You go back on Friday to see the optometrist. You tell him that Doogie Jr won’t see you, and that the vision in your right eye is worse today than yesterday. He takes a look through the slit lamp, shakes his head and stands up abruptly. “I’ll be right back,” he says. He leaves the room, and when he comes back in a few minutes, he is an unhappy man. He has tried, unsuccessfully, to set up an appointment for you. He suggests that you just go up to the clinic on Monday and demand to see Doogie Jr. He writes you a prescription for steroid drops for your right eye, which you fill on the way home, and tells you to come back next week and he’ll see about glasses. No charge.
When you get home, you break out the prednisone drops and instill a drop in the right eye. Ten minutes later, your eye feels sort of funny. You look in the mirror and it’s kind of fat-ish. Within an hour, it’s swollen shut. You call the OD, tell him that your eye is swollen shut and ask him what to do. He tells you not to use anymore drops. Duh. You pry your eye open and flush it with unpreserved saline. The day is shot; so are you.
Meanwhile, you are planning to make an offer on the little pink brick ranch house. The swelling has gone down by the time your realtor comes over on Saturday. She fills out some paperwork for you and places an X by where you are to sign your name. You can’t read it, but you trust your friend and you sign anyway. As the day goes by, the vision in the right eye worsens. You’ve followed all the instructions, used your drops religiously, you haven’t touched or rubbed your eyes. The fog in the left eye seems to be clearing up some, but the right eye is a mess. Acuity is poor and you have no functional night vision. You have what you will later learn is called GASH: glare, arcing, starbursts and haloes, all of which are forms of corneal aberrations induced by the microkeratome, but right now, you are convinced that you are going blind.
Sunday, you present your offer on the house. It’s a crappy little ranch house, but you really need to find a place to live. The owners consult with their realtor, and by late evening, have accepted your offer. How on earth are you going to move when you can’t see what you’re doing? Your co-workers have offered to help you sort, pack and dispose of what you cannot take with you, but there is a lot you must do for yourself. You put in your nighttime drops, Saran wrap your eyes and go to bed. You are going to the clinic first thing in the morning, appointment or not, to get this eyeball nonsense sorted out. Doogie Jr will see you, one way or another. You wonder, as you are falling asleep, if you are the only person who’s having this kind of problem.
Bright and early, your friend picks you up. You try not to worry about your right eye; there’s a large cloud right in the center of your vision. The clinic is busy on Monday morning. You stand in line to get to the counter. Finally, it’s your turn. You tell the receptionist that you want to see the doctor, that you had surgery about 10 days ago, and something is wrong. She asks if you have an appointment. You say no. “I’m sorry, unless you have an appointment, the doctor cannot see you now. He is very busy this morning.” You take a deep breath, lean over the counter on your elbows and say, very quietly, in your best kindergarten teacher voice, “My friend drove me the 85 miles up here because I can’t see to drive myself. Either he sees me now, or I’m going out into your waiting room and tell everyone what he’s done to me. I am not leaving until I see him.”
(to be continued)