A journey to find my sight again.
I was a perfect candidate for LASIK surgery. At least that's what the doctor who screened me to see if I qualified said. A little nervous about the possibility of having my eyes seared by burning beams of light, I asked the technician If anyone had ever had their eyes ruined by LASIK. "Well, yes," she admitted, "but it's one in a million. And that won't happen to you, you'll be fine."
Ten years later I can still hear the exact tone and pitch of her words as she assured me that I would be fine.
But I wasn't fine.
To begin with, everything did go perfectly. As soon as I woke up from my Valium-induced post-surgery nap, I could see better than I had since before needing glasses at the age of nine. By as early as the following day, my eyes steadily healing from the surgery, my vision was easily 20/20, perhaps better. I was thrilled.
My only problem was that suddenly my up-close vision wasn't so clear. It wasn't terrible, but prior to surgery, I could read the engraving on the inside of a ring, and now I couldn't possibly see something so small. But I remembered the surgeon had told me it would take awhile for my vision to be completely improved, so I wasn't terribly concerned.
At my first post-op check up, the doctor was extremely positive about how successful my surgery had been. "But when is my close-up vision going to return to normal?" I asked. "Oh," he said casually, "you won't ever be able to see as well at close proximity as you did before." He told me that a typical result of LASIK was for close-up vision to be somewhat diminished.
I was stunned. Was he now telling me that I had just traded near-sightedness for far-sightedness? And why had I not been told before that this was a probability? I left the office feeling agitated and a bit betrayed. But still, at least I now had my wonderful new far-away vision. I could drive, watch television, see a movie, all without the aide of the despicable glasses. So what if I couldn't read tiny engraving? I made my peace with it. I could see a bird in a tree now.
At least I would be able for the next two years.
I don't remember when it was exactly that I began to notice the blurriness. I know it was sometime when I was pregnant with my son. I had read that sometimes vision changes when you're pregnant, but that it would level itself out after the baby was born, so I wasn't too worried.
It didn't level itself out.
My vision got worse. And worse. And worse. It got to the point where I couldn't see the television from ten feet away. Then it got to the point where I couldn't read the labels on the soup cans in the grocery store. Then my depth perception started to fade, as I couldn't tell when a set of stairs began or ended. Words appeared to me in double vision. And night - that was the worst. The lights were all over the place. I couldn't tell if a streetlight was on the right or left side of the road. I couldn't tell what lane a set of headlights were in. I would look up at the sky and twenty moons looked down at me.
I went back to the doctor, the same one who had checked me after the surgery. He didn't seem terribly concerned and said I would probably need a LASIK "touch-up", which he ordered for me the following week. I wasn't all that thrilled about having to go through the LASIK again. The first time hadn't exactly been a chocolate cupcake. But I resigned myself to it, figuring it was a small price to pay to resolve the problem. But when the surgeon examined my corneas on the morning I was to have the touch-up, his news shattered me. My corneas were damaged.
Another LASIK was not an option for me.
I left the clinic that day confused and horribly upset. I made an appointment with a corneal specialist who diagnosed me with ecstasia, which meant my corneas had thinned and warped into a cone shape, skewing my vision. It is similar to a condition known as kerakotonus, the only difference is that ecstasia is a direct result of LASIK surgery. But how could this have happened to me when it was supposed to be such a safe surgery? I was one in a million, he told me. I felt like I would throw up. Funny, I didn't recall the woman who had reassured me so confidently at my screening mentioning a word called "ecstasia".
Over the next few months, the specialist prescribed me with several different types of contacts, none of which my corneas were able to tolerate. They worked at prescribing glasses for me, except we soon learned that no matter what prescription they tried, it had no effect whatsoever on my vision. Once upon a time. I'd had poor eyesight, but it was perfectly corrected with glasses. Now, I couldn't even distinguish my own baby from across the room in the church nursery. And it seemed there was nothing anyone could do for me. The worse part was, the doctors could not predict how much my condition was going to progress. Or whether or not I might one day lose my sight completely. That night, I stood over my baby's crib and just stared at him, trying to memorize every curve of his face. The horror that there might come a day when I wouldn't be able to see his beautiful smile anymore overwhelmed me. It was at that moment that I finally allowed myself to cry.
A few months later, I underwent a cornea transplant in my right eye, hoping that this last resort would win my eyesight back. I was told ahead of time there would be risks,
and he couldn't assure me success. It was not a success. The transplant left me legally blind in my right eye. After the surgery, my right eye would only be good for distinguishing colors or making out blurred outlines of shapes. But at least the progression of the ecstasia had finally stopped. At least I could still see somewhat. And my left eye, while still also diminished, wasn't nearly as bad as my right. I would depend on it entirely for functional vision for the next two years.
Eventually, some technological advances were made in glasses lenses, and a wonderful ophthalmologist was able to prescribe me with glasses that restored much of my sight. I can now see to drive safely in the daytime. I can watch television and can tell which child belongs to me from across the room. I can see to type on this computer screen. But my limited depth perception means I still have difficulty knowing when stairs are rising or descending in front of me. And I do not drive after dark because of the effects of the lights, which means I am either confined to my house at night or must depend on my family and friends for transportation. But considering that at one time I was looking at the possibility of complete blindness, I am very thankful for the precious sight that I have.
When other people who have recently undergone LASIK hear my story, they are horrified and understandably frightened. So I tell them what the doctors told me. That I'm one in a million. Almost everyone else I know that has had the procedure had no problems whatsoever. I am the rare case where things went wrong. But if I could go back to my twenty-something year-old self who was considering a cosmetic procedure to get rid of her eyeglasses, I would tell her that as it turns out, wearing glasses isn't such a bad thing after all.