When you rack up time together the way Ryan and I have, you amass an impressive collection of jokes only the two of you understand. They might have made you laugh so hard you couldn’t breathe once upon a time, and they’re still good for a snicker or two if you don’t haul them out too often and wear them out entirely. These jokes are often presented in shorthand, because you both know what they mean and the unabridged version is no longer necessary. One of those jokes is “hey, Beth, what’s in that enclosure”. This is funny only if you were a fly on the wall (or buzzing around the feces-infused hide of an exotic animal) at the Denver Zoo in 2009. Ryan, Fiona, Bridget and I had a great day there, as part of our road trip to Colorado and back. At one point, however, I found myself staring at a distant enclosure and wondering what was in there. It was this:
In my defence, the elephant had covered itself with grass, and was the same colour as the stump in front of it. However, it is still one of the funniest moments in the history of our relationship – when Ryan said “um, Beth, it’s an elephant“. Then, there’s the day I looked across the street and spied an admittedly strange-looking person peering out the big front window of our neighbour’s house. I asked “what’s with that guy staring at our house”. Fiona said, with one of her truly impressive eye rolls, “Mom, that’s the neighbour’s dog“.
My cruddy vision has been the butt of many a joke among family and friends over the years, but the elephant incident was quite possibly the best – and worst – one. I’ve worn glasses since I was not much older than Fiona. And I hate them. I hate looking for them. I hate how they fog up in the winter and stick to the bridge of your nose in the summer. I hate having to be careful putting them on and taking them off because I’ll smear the lenses and have to clean them again. Being more than a little scatterbrained, I hate being dependent on something so expensive. I have left them at people’s houses, in classrooms, in public washrooms. I once sent my glasses down the garbage chute in my apartment building because I had gotten a new purse, and I tossed the old one out before checking the little side pocket where I normally kept them. I hate the way I look when I’m wearing them, so I only wore them when absolutely necessary. This meant that, most of the time, the world was a blur to me. The advent of laser vision correction technology presented a juicy possibility, but the price was out of my range for many years. Until this year, when my insurance company announced that they would start covering a portion of the procedure …. That caught my attention, and soon I found myself in a LasikMD office, having my eyeballs eyed for candidature. I was, apparently, a textbook case, and I happily booked my surgery.
I threw out an informal poll on Facebook: what’s it like? My gorgeous, crazy-in-the-best-way cousin, Danae, compared it to alien abduction. This, I was to learn, was apt. For anyone else who’s considering this procedure, here’s the skinny:
I thought I would be held down by something, but no – it was all on me to keep my body and head still. This is very difficult when someone is messing with your eyes – every instinct is concentrated on getting up, flinging people off you like a cartoon character, and running away. The only things standing between me and that outcome were two stress balls, which I may have broken before the procedure was over – that, and the knowledge that if I moved I might be rendered eyeless.
I was to stare at a red pinpoint of light during the entire process. There were eye drops to deaden the pain. Then, they taped one eye shut, and one eye open. They wedged what felt like a metal ring between my eyelids and my eyeball. I made the mistake of looking it up later. It wasn’t a metal ring, it was four freakin’ metal hooks to pry my eyelids open. Some things cannot be unseen blah blah blah, and I’m glad I didn’t see them before the surgery. Some kind of tugging motion, a suction cup pulling my eye forward. Then, a scalpel came toward my eye, made contact, and sliced back a flap of cornea. At that moment, the red light fragmented. Suddenly, it looked like a stained-glass window, or a still-shot of fireworks. Enter the laser. Yes, it really did sound like rice crispies snap-crackle-popping, and it really did smell like burnt hair. I gritted my teeth and reminded myself that I already knew it would be like this and I just had to hold out a little longer. Then, the doctor was smoothing the flap back over my eye, and the light became a pinpoint again. All trappings were removed and the whole room became a wall of coloured water. At that point, I remembered that there was another eye to do …. Lather, rinse, repeat. This time, knowing what was going to happen, my brain had me fairly convinced that I could feel it. I pushed through what I knew was a psychological trick, and soon I was walking out of the room to a recovery area that was at the back of the waiting room.
I was supposed to keep my eyes closed, but – as anyone who knows me knows – I’m not very good at doing what I’m told. So I slipped my eyes open for a moment. Things were fuzzy around the edges, but I focused on a TV screen across the room. I could see everything on it! It was a show about the mating dances of tropical birds, and I could see every leaf and swirling tree trunk pattern. I could see, in striking detail, the colourful plumage nodding and waving as the birds danced. I could see their claws clutching branches. I smiled and closed my eyes again. It’s been nearly 48 hours since my surgery, and I keep doing that – looking at things just for the pleasure of seeing them clearly, and smiling. I can see the tiny twigs on trees – I can see individual green needles. I can read signs. Street lights used to be soft yellow blobs – now they’re sharply outlined glowing rectangles. A city bus passed our house, and I clearly saw the advertisements on the side and the people inside it. I used to have to wait til a bus was practically roaring past me to know what number and line it was. I could talk about this all day, and I’ve already bored Ryan, Fiona and Bridget stiff about it. It’s like my eyes are a new toy …. Recovery’s been fairly easy, and nearly painless. The hardest thing about it has been limiting my reading time, which I got around by asking my lovely daughters to read to me. Now I know all about “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”. That shit’s actually pretty funny.
I always make new year’s resolutions, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes, they focus on the inside – on my heart and mind. Other times, they’re superficial. Floss every day, drop ten pounds, do things when they present themselves rather than perpetuating the procrastinate-panic cycle that has plagued me all my life. Today, though, I’m feeling content with what I have and what I am. I will never be as skinny, sober or wealthy as I think I ought to be, but I have really good eyes after just fifteen minutes in an operating room. For the 874,290th time, we are living in an age of miracles, and science is amazeballs.