The doctor’s talent extends no further than the operating room; how you maintain your newfound vision is your responsibility.
Publish date:
May 20, 2014
vision, lasik, eyesight

It seemed to have happened all of a sudden, as though I woke up one morning and overnight my vision had taken a turn for the worse. I stood on the subway platform, staring across the tracks at the familiar mosaic sign denoting my local stop, each green and white tile blurring into one another, a fuzzy approximation of what had once been so reliably crisp. I kept rubbing my eyes, blinking hard, all in the hopes of denying what was actually happening, which was that my very expensive, incredibly cherished LASIK was failing.

Five years ago, I brazenly decided that one decade of near-blindness was quite enough. The eyesight nature “blessed” me with began to slip back in middle school. Much the same thing had begun to happen -- that seemingly overnight sensation I thought I’d never have to deal with again. I’d be sitting in class, staring at the whiteboard, every letter fading into some unintelligible and useless hieroglyphic. I kept having to get a seat assigned closer and closer to the board until finally I figured out what was going on. The death knell had sounded: I was doomed to a lifetime of old man glasses and dried-out contact lenses.

But in my mid-twenties, I decided, with great mountains of hubris, that I could change the hand of fate. Yes, I would shoot a couple expertly calibrated lasers into my eyeballs and give myself the vision of any fighter pilot, all for the basement bargain price of $6,000.

Everyone I asked who had had the surgery pointed me in the direction of one particular doctor, reportedly the best in the business -- something confirmed by the rows upon rows of framed press in his office featuring celebrities he had worked on over the years. And so we had our consultation, I signed all my waivers, paid the fees, and showed up again two weeks later, handed an unfortunately weak dose of Valium, and strapped into a chair.

The surgery itself is easy -- so easy, in fact, it feels weird to call it a surgery at all. The doctor works with one eye at a time, keeping one pried open like a scene from Clockwork Orange and the other closed tight. You stare straight forward at an orange pinpoint of light, listening to the snapping sounds of the laser basically slicing a flap across your cornea.

The weirdest part -- something they warn you about in advance -- is when they move that flap and you are rendered temporarily blind, at which point you wonder what the hell made you so sure this was a good idea and why you didn’t ask for two Valiums like your friend told you to beforehand. But right when your heart is about to give out, they push the flap into place, your vision fogged like a mirror, close your eye, and start on the other one. The whole thing takes 15 sort-of-easy, borderline terrifying minutes.

All self-doubt be damned, I can tell you one of the absolute happiest moments of my life was -- after a mandated, drug-induced post-surgery nap -- removing the pair of protective goggles I was given to wear, and looking out my window, every leaf on every tree perfectly distinguishable from its neighbor, when it had once just been an abstract blur of green mass. For the next two weeks, I giggled like an idiot every time I passed a street sign, utterly delighted in this miracle surgery that felt like having been given a new lease on life, a sort of reclaiming of that which you were so naturally owed.

And so that’s why it was so devastating when I began to realize that the honeymoon phase was over, and I was on a slippery slope back to square one. It felt like being voted high school homecoming queen, and you’re standing there with your sash and your crown, beaming like an idiot until someone comes up and strips you of that stupid prize, saying, “Oh, sorry, there’s been a bit of a mistake.” In those brief moments you had gotten so used to being queen. Now what? Back to life as normal?

The failure is, of course, entirely of my own making. The doctor’s talent extends no further than the operating room; how you maintain your newfound vision is your responsibility. Three years staring at the glare of my computer screen and stressing out about dudes and bills has done me absolutely no favors in the 20/20 department… something I wish had been more enthusiastically expressed from the beginning, but also something I should have done due diligence on myself. Medical professionals aren’t wizards, and your body isn’t a machine.

My months of living in denial were confirmed when I revisited the doctor who originally performed the LASIK. I was apparently part of a small percentage of people that need what they call “a touch up.” But “touching up” your eyeballs isn’t like throwing some concealer over a zit; it’s popping that pill again and locking yourself into the chair, only this time around the procedure is something called PRK and, though people swear up and down about its safety and success rates, the complications seem greater and the healing time definitively longer. That, and it’d cost me another $6,000.

I decided to let nature -- and my bank account -- run its true course. I went home and, defeated, ordered a pair of Warby Parker glasses. My “new lease on life” turned out to be more of a rental situation than I had bargained for.

Have you ever experienced complications with your LASIK procedure? Would love to hear what you did.