Don’t Look Back

Ten years ago today, the way I looked at the world changed.

That was the day I walked into Wolfe Clinic in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and laid myself under a laser beam and let the doctors go to town.

I got my first pair of glasses sometime in the 3rd grade.  After years of broken glasses, lost glasses, and general flailing about and feeling helpless whenever I had to be without my glasses, I decided it was time for LASIK surgery.  Below is the message I sent out to family and friends when I got home that night.

Well everyone, they didn’t put a laser through my head and getting your eyeballs cut open is an unusual experience.  Right now I’m limited by wearing some goggles to protect my eyes and keep moisture in, so those are really fogged up.  On the plus side, I could go outside and be mistaked for Bono from U2.  But here’s the nitty-gritty details:

My vision before the surgery was what they called “four-foot-finger vision”.  That basically means I can’t see anyone’s fingers from four feet away.  Roughly, that translates into 20/600 or 20/800 or worse.

We arrived at Wolfe Clinic about 10:45 and it didn’t take us long to get called back into the exam room.  Once there, they put a whole bunch of eyedrops in my eyes and gave me 5mg of valium.  After a while, the Doctor came in, gave me some more numbing drops, and demonstrated the lack of feeling in my eyes by drawing on them with a pen (felt-tip, not roller-ball).  A few minutes after that, they said “we’re ready”, and off I went to the laser room.

A description of the laser machine:  it’s a flat bed with an overhead projector of sorts that contains the laser.  It’s got a red light that I’m supposed to stare at, and on either side is a row of lights that look like landing strip lights.  They’re also about as bright as landing strip lights, so it is as if I spent the entire time staring into a constant flashbulb.

They did the right eye first, taping the left one shut.  A speculum was put on me to hold the eyelids open.  They put a bunch of drops in my eyes (of what, I don’t know), and took some ultrasound measurements.  Then came the suction cup.  The suction cup includes the blade that cuts my cornea open, and this was the part that I had feared the most.  I don’t know what the heck I was thinking, because all I felt was a slight pressure, then it was like the lights dimmed in the room (I went blind), I heard a “whirr” and they removed the suction and folded back the flap.  The Doctor did some poking and prodding, and then began the laser.  The laser, to me, looked like a purple beam.  (Steph thought it looked like a pale blue line drawing fast circles on the eyeball).  The oddest sensation was smelling the smoke of my burning tissue.

After 93 seconds (the average patient needs only 30-60), the laser clicked off and the Doctor “painted” my cornea back into place.  Literally – he put the cornea flap back down, then took a small brush and smoothed the flap back into place.  They did the same thing for the left eye, which was apparently more sensitive since I felt the pressure from the suction cup more.  But still, nothing bad.  The laser went for 90 seconds on this eye.

When that eye was done, the nurse helped me sit up and the first thing I saw was 10 feet away – the face of a clock.  12:05.  I held out my hand and I could clearly see all the features.  That’s about when the joy ended, as they put on my Bono glasses and big, huge welding sunglasses.  Then they took me out to meet Steph and that was it – we were out.  My recovery thus far has been sleeping.  Keeping my eyes closed is beneficial for the moisture and the fact that it feels like someone poured a bottle of shampoo in each of my eyes.  I’ll pretty much be blind until tomorrow morning, when I find out what my vision has improved to.

That’s all from the blind guy.  This message transcribed by Steph.


In the days that followed, I had to buy a bunch of pairs of reading glasses in order to see what was on the computer screen.  My first day back at work I only lasted three hours before headaches forced me home.  I was putting in eyedrops every 45 minutes or so (the moisture helps in healing) and my vision was restricted to a foggy view, almost like looking through a windshield while driving in a heavy rain storm.

About three weeks after the surgery, I regained my vision.  Steph was driving us from grocery shopping.  Typically during that time I just kept sunglasses on and my eyes closed but for some reason I took the sunglasses off and looked around.  Blurry and then, snap, clear as day.  Colors.  Cars.  Buildings.  Grass.  Even the asphalt of the parking lot looked beautiful.  I believe my exact words were, “Holy shit. I can see.”

No pun intended, but I haven’t looked back once.  Every now and then, especially on bright days, I look about and marvel at how I went from being close to blind to being able to see once again.

And now, because I feel like it, a video.


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