Last look before the Laser
Thirty years ago, the summer of Mary Lou Retton and a crazy backyard gymnastics routine in her honor that excused me from the first week of 5th grade while I recovered from a severely broken arm—a little earlier that same summer, I got new eyes.
As a ten year old, I hadn’t even known I couldn’t see. I assumed everyone lived in a bubble of clarity that dropped off about two feet away. But I did notice the TV always worked better for me if I could bring it within the bubble. So I would sit on the floor close enough to touch the screen, enjoying Muppets and Knight Rider and whatever my parents would let me watch, from the very front row of the home theater.
One day my mom took me for an eye exam. I couldn’t read the big E at the top of the chart. Didn’t fully understand there were letters on it at first, to be honest. Mom told me later how mortified she felt as the poverty of my vision became clear. But that was already the hardest year we had faced as a family; my dad’s medical condition had escalated just that spring and she had her hands full just holding our little family together. As a parent now myself, I understand all too well the sense of responsibility a mother carries toward her children, and how hard it sometimes is to pinpoint every potential area of concern and address it promptly. The grace of motherhood is that usually our kids turn out fine despite our human limitations. Good enough that she got me in there when she could.
A week or so later (before the Lenscrafters glasses-in-an-hour days) Mom took me back to the ophthalmologist to pick up my first pair of glasses. According to my new-millennium sensibilities, they were hideous; in 1984, kid-proof glasses had not yet acquired fashion. But better than fashion, that first set of glasses gave me the world.
From the moment I put them on, my perspective on life changed. Things out there, beyond my bubble, were so clear! That afternoon, I remember walking around the backyard marveling at every tree and bird and blade of grass that I could see. I spun in circles, watching the grass beneath my feet blur from the speed, then come back into sharp relief the moment I stopped. The simple thrill of seeing the ground beneath my feet–who knew I had been missing out on this!
I have never stopped being grateful to live in a place and time where the understanding of lenses and refraction allowed me to compensate for poor eyesight and lead a fully normal life. For thirty years, corrective lenses have been enough.
Now I am about to get new eyes all over again, and it seems so much like science fiction. Thirty years after that fateful eye exam, we now live in the place and time of permanent vision correction. Imagination fails to prepare me for what comes after this, because I don’t know what it is to see perfectly without correction.
Tomorrow I will experience LASIK, a now routine, outpatient, low(er) risk procedure. Tomorrow a laser will sculpt the lenses of my eyes so they can see on their own, without correction. This feels intense, because poor eyesight is part of the tapestry of me. Who am I, if not the girl with the glasses? But this is an opportunity to set aside a barrier and take advantage of a technology that seems as close as it has ever been to no big deal. Even NASA and the US armed forces are now doing it, so it must be safe and predictable, right?
A host of what-ifs jostle for dominance in my mind. What if I go blind, is it worth it to have tried for perfection? What if I have a total anxiety attack while looking at the laser? I sure hope that Valium is big enough. What if I find I don’t like being able to see the ceiling when I wake up every morning? What if reading is never easy again? I still the tiny panic, and choose to focus on the good: I will now be prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse.
Tomorrow, my bubble grows again. I am really (really) nervous to look that laser in the eye, but I know I will be on the other side of it so fast. The time has come for a new chapter.
SEE you soon!