At the clinic on Monday morning: “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.” The receptionist picks up the phone, punches a couple of buttons, murmurs a few words and hangs up. A tech comes out immediately and shows you to the inner waiting room. “What seems to be the problem?” You explain what has been happening, that you can’t see much, and that your right eye is so cloudy you have almost no central vision. You’ve tried to get in to see the surgeon earlier, but the clinic has refused to make an appointment. You are not leaving until Doogie Jr sees you. He leaves.
Ten minutes later, he comes back. The doctor is in surgery, but he will see you in between procedures in about 15 minutes. “Make yourself comfortable.” Comfortable? You’re half blind, that biting thing is coming over you again and there’s nothing for you to do since you can’t see well enough to read. You just sit, thinking up clever things to say to Doogie Jr when you do finally get to see him. You didn’t sleep well the night before. You’re tired, and just about the time you are dozing off, the tech comes back to fetch you. His majesty, the Doog Jr, will see you now.
In the exam room, it’s dark; murky dark with just one ambient light in the corner back there. His highness enters and says, majestically, “I’m very busy. What’s the problem?” One again, you explain everything from day one, including your failed attempts to secure an appointment with him. He sits down and looks into your eyes with the slit lamp. “Your flaps are healing well.” You ask him about the cloud in your right eye. “It will go away. You’re still healing.” He puts the phoropter in front of you and twirls the dials. After a few tries, the grey spots become furry letters. You can sort of read them, but nothing is clear, and the right eye is definitely worse than the left. He does a couple of which is better, one or two’s, and then determines, much to your amazement, that you are seeing 20/40 and you’re legal to drive.
You protest that you cannot SEE to drive, that you don’t care what the phoropter says, your vision is trash. He just keeps repeating, “You’re 20/40, you’re legal to drive.” Finally, completely exasperated, you let him have it. In your very best, chirpy, syrupy, kindergarten-teacher voice, pro-nounc-ing each word care-ful-ly, you say, “All right. Why don’t you just tell me where you live. You can send your kids outside to play while I drive around your neighborhood. How would that be?” Looking distinctly un-majestic, he throws his hands up in the air, turns and leaves the room, loudly closing the door behind him. You wait for about 10 minutes, but no one else comes. Apparently, you have been dismissed. His royal highness has better things to do than act like a doctor. You wander back out to the waiting room where your friend sits reading a book. There are no patients waiting, which seems very odd, considering that it was standing room only when you first got there. “Let’s go.” Without a backward glance, you leave the clinic. Had you known then that the Porsche parked next to you belonged to Doogie Jr, you might have decorated it for him with your keys.
Located inside a commercial eye wear joint, the optometrist’s office is right on your way home. You stop there and ask to see the doctor. The assistant stands, says she’ll be right back and walks down the hallway to consult with him. “He asked me to tell you that he’s with a patient, but as soon as he’s done, he’ll be right out.” He is as good as his word, and appears a few minutes later. You tell him what transpired this morning, and you ask him to please help you as much as he can, because you have to go to work tomorrow and you need to be able to read your computer monitor, at the very least. You go back to the exam room, where he turns on the slit lamp. The left eye is looking much better, though everything is still all washed out. The right eye? Yikes, not good at all.
You have something called “Sands of the Sahara,” clinically known as Diffuse Lamellar Keratitis, or DLK. There are five stages to DLK, you are stage four. He writes out a prescription for some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drops and then he checks your vision. The phoropter measures you at 20/40- with a +2 add, so he has you pick out frames for reading glasses on your way out. They should be ready in a couple of hours. You’ll just have to be really careful driving until the fog clears. Good thing you only live two miles from work. Once you move, it will only be one mile.
The glasses do help with the acuity for reading, but otherwise, the quality of your vision is horrendous. Everything is badly ghosted and washed out. Bright spots of light reflecting off the chrome on cars are huge starbursts, and at night, you can see next to nothing. Oh, well, it’s summer, days are longer, so you have time to do everything you need to do before darkness falls. A few days on the anti-inflammatory drops and the cotton begins to dissolve. A sort of smear remains in your central vision, your eyes are dry as dust, you have no decent distance vision, and reading the monitor and the work on your desk requires a lot of adjusting.
You continue to see the optometrist, hoping for improvement as you heal. You have no more time, nor energy to spend worrying about your eyes, you have less than a month in which to move. Your days consist of going to work and after work, packing up the house. Weekends, you pack and you pack and you sort and toss some more. You will have to part with more than half your books, a realization that for some reason leaves you feeling faintly criminal. On the up side, if there were a fire during the night, you can now see well enough to escape the burning building without having to fumble around for your glasses.
Your younger son is working long hours to save for college in the fall and spending most of his free time with his girlfriend of nearly two years. Your older son is in the process of moving from his rat hole dump to a much nicer, cleaner, safer apartment. During the course of making an offer and buying your new house, you mentioned to your realtor/co-worker/friend, who knows your son well after you’ve worked together 11 years, that you were worried about him living in such a horrid place. She just happened to have friends with properties. One call did it all. He could move in anytime. He is still not speaking to you, ever since you made him move out in April. He swore he would never speak to you again, he would only communicate with you via post office box. Whatever. One you have found him a decent place to live, he thaws out. He makes it very clear to you that, in his opinion, you should never, ever have had LASIK and that it’s your own fault that you’re having problems. He will not learn empathy for a few years, but you never give up on him. He’ll get there. Or not.
Moving day arrives. The movers are two hours late. Your friend with a big van comes to cart all the bags of old clothing and whatnots off to Goodwill. The remaining books will be delivered to the nursing and retirement homes. Around midnight, after the movers have all but destroyed the kitchen door molding bringing your refrigerator into your new house, you pay them and collapse for the night on the sofa. It’s Friday before Labor Day, so you have the entire long weekend to get things in order. You work like a fiend unpacking boxes and stowing others in the attic and basement, making sure your computer work station is set up and connected to your new DSL line, and finally, going grocery shopping. You haven’t had time to even think about your eyes, but now that you’re nearly done with the hubbub, you turn your attention back to your eyeball toast. You make an appointment to see the optometrist at the end of the week. It’s business as usual, once again.
The optometrist makes you a pair each of distance glasses and reading glasses. While the cloudiness has dissipated, the world seems washed out, your depth perception is highly distorted, and you have an awful lot of aberrant junk in your vision. The right eye has a permanent blur, but with your new glasses, you can now at least function. You have abandoned your nighttime activities, you can no longer see inside a theater, auditorium or indoor stadium, fluorescent lights are the kiss of death, and your vision in the airport is so poor that you must ask for directions when you take a week off to visit a friend in Colorado. Life goes on, but you continue to try to find some solutions.
One day, you stumble across the website of an organization devoted to problems just like yours. Their bulletin board is extremely active. You read and read and read and you realize that there are a lot of people out there who, like you, are damaged by LASIK and other refractive surgeries. Unlike you, however, many of these people are depressed and angry, prisoners of their own misery. They want to know, “Why me?” You say, instead, “Why not me? Life gives you no guarantees.” You wonder, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, if there is something wrong with you. For now, though, you are just a lurker. Your vision will not improve, but one day soon, you will see your whole life change for the better on a dime.
(to be continued)
Editor’s note: I have no control over the LASIK ads placed on this blog. I do not endorse or recommend LASIK, based on my own, personal experiences and those of many hundreds of other patients with serious, permanent complications.