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In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on. – Robert Frost

Just Your Basic Lasik

Shannon Eye Goggles


That was the prophetic sentence in the second paragraph of Shannon’s Lasik Surgery Post-Op Instructions.


Friday — Surgery Day

Shannon showed up for Lasik vision correction surgery at 4 p.m. Friday, as instructed. She signed a form saying she had no allergies to the financing plan. Wait, I might have got that part a little mixed up.

She pulled out the book she brought, and barely read one page before they called her. They had her remove her hairclip, glasses (bye-bye), purse, and mobile phone. There would be no reading from then on, obviously. The man who took all these things called himself, “The keeper of the bags.”

When offered an Ativan, Shannon gladly accepted. It must have seemed like the thing to do just before having lasers shot at your eye.

Newly awarded surgical cap firmly in place, Shannon sat upright in the first of a series of vertical and horizontal chairs. She got her first round of numbing drops. A lady came into the room and said she would get two more, until Shannon told her a guy already had given her one dose. Wouldn’t want her eyes to be extra numb.

Shannon couldn’t see much of anything at this point, so think blurry when reading the rest of this eyewitness account.

In the eye exam room, a doctor made black marks on the whites of her eyes. She could sense it, but did not feel pain.

Shannon Eye

The next waiting room was full of people sporting surgical caps and eye dots. She only knew the latter from hearing them talk about it. Nobody was self-conscious because everybody was blind as a bat at this point, regardless of their correction level.

While he drew a nasty green solution into an eye dropper, one of the technicians commented, “Here, this is what we’ve been blowing our nose in for the past three months.” He didn’t explain its purpose, but was sure to use the joke on every patient down the line.

“Like it was his own personal line,” Shannon said. Ya gotta love a tech with a shtick.

There was no reading, no TV, no radio, no watches, no clocks. Some of the guys talked, but Shannon remained quiet for the most part, politely laughing when appropriate. That hasn’t happened for me since our first date.

A patient commented that he was glad they gave him the Ativan, because “it took the edge off.”

“It didn’t take any of the damn edge off for me,” Shannon told me later. Although estimates varied, Shannon guesses she spent about 45 minutes to an hour in this room.

Next was the operating room (OR). Surprisingly, several patients were in the OR at once, for the Lasik procedure and steps preceding it. Loud alternative rock played through unseen speakers. The occasional pop tune worked its way in, but only “I Got You Babe” and a John Mayer tune stuck out in Shannon’s mind.

Someone asked Shannon to lie down on an exam chair. First, he told her there would be pressure for about 25 seconds on each eye. “It felt like they stuck a disk in my eye,” Shannon said. Neither this procedure nor any other was explained to her.

They moved back and forth from the OR to other rooms a few times, so Shannon’s not clear exactly where some of this happened. Someone dropped more solution into her eyes and had her keep them closed, except when she walked to a seat in a narrow waiting room. More drops for everybody. Eyes hurting at this point.

A patient said, “I wonder how long this lasts?”

The OR is kept at 64 degrees. Each time she sat or lay down on an exam chair, staff put a blanket on her. Perhaps to prevent body shivers? They never said.

Now she sat in an upright chair. Drops. Close your eyes. Drops. Close your eyes. Drops. Close your eyes. Nobody said what they were for, but they were not numbing drops. “You can tell when they’re giving you numbing drops,” Shannon said.

She kept hearing a loud, electrical pulsating sound with inconsistent rhythm. “It almost sounded like a bug zapper,” Shannon said.

She said she felt, “Really cold and really tense. Lost. It would be dark and then suddenly the whole room lit up, for a minute or two.” As she recounted it, I imagined a mad scientist’s lab, wherein the lights go dim every time he trips the lever on his brain-swapping machine.

“It was like we were in this time-space continuum, because nobody had a watch, there were no clocks. Folks were asking each other how long they’d been in there, but nobody really knew.” Shannon said.

They took her to another chair to lie down. She thinks they taped one of her eyes shut. The surgeon came over.

“You guys never have my instruments ready when I need them,” he said, sternly enough that Shannon was a bit concerned. “You need to stare at this red dot,” he told her after he situated everything. “Put your hands by your sides and be very still.”

Those were the only words he said to her until his big one-word finisher at the end.

“I can’t even explain to you what happened,” Shannon said. “The other thing (the disks) felt weird, but this was weirder. I was watching the red dot, but then I couldn’t see it. Then I would see it as if my pupil was in a different place.”

Zapping noises. Smells like hair or flesh burning. No pain or discomfort.

Then, the surgeon taped that eye shut and did the left eye. He or somebody else put a protective contact lens over each eye and explained that it protects the flap. They didn’t explain what “the flap” was, but she already knew from her own research. As Shannon still lay there, the surgeon touched her head, pronounced, “Good,” and was gone.

Someone put bandages on Shannon’s eyes and took both her hands. He said, “Don’t try to open your eyes at all,” as he led her to a waiting room.

“I felt like I was totally blind, and with a stranger leading me around.”

A man in the waiting room chatted with her a bit. A young woman came in and gave them verbal instructions. She finished with, “If that contact comes out, rush right back here with it. By no means do you try to put it in,” she said. She told them not to touch their eyes, not even to remove crusty buildup.

This is about the time a staffer asked her if she needed them to call anybody. “I told her I didn’t know your mobile number, but that it was in my mobile phone, in my purse.”

That explains why I was very glad I didn’t answer my phone, “What’s happenin’, Hot Stuff?” when I saw Shannon’s name pop up on my ringing phone’s LCD. Or, wish I would have, just for the laugh.

The instruction lady told Shannon and her cohort the rules about wearing the goggles and the plastic eye pads, and stressed the importance of adhering strictly to the eye drop schedule. They needed to stay awake five hours if possible, but two hours at the least.

It was about 8:20 p.m.

The lady removed the bandages. “I could tell that I could see things clearly, but it was hazy because of the contact,” Shannon said. “Kind of like regular contacts, but more milky.”

The doctor who put the black marks on her eyes gave her one last look. He shone a light in each of her eyes, then reiterated some of the warnings.

I asked Shannon her overall perception of the evening. “A whole lot of darkness. You’re real disoriented. You’re hearing voices of other patients, technicians, but you have no idea who or where they are.”

Did it make you feel like a number? “Not really. All the technicians were very nice, even though they didn’t tell me what they were doing.” The most personal attention came from the same guy who tested her eye moisture level on the evaluation visit. She had told him that the test was a lot like how the vet tests our dog’s eyes. He tucked a few wild hairs back inside her surgical cap.

On the way home, Shannon said, “Unleaded, two sixty-five.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty high right now,” I said.

“No, I just read that sign without glasses,” she said.

“Oh, man, that’s right. That is so cool!” I said. I got a bit misty-eyed in my excitement for her.

Shannon is quick to shed tears of joy, so we tempered our excitement in lieu of bathing her freshly cut eyes in saltwater. Nevertheless, she could not resist reading aloud distant road signs and neon shop window hangings.

She dropped various potions in her eyes every 10 minutes, including two stops on the way home, for as long as I could keep her awake. Then at about 11:30 I taped plastic eye shields on her face before she lay down for sleep. It was a welcome slumber, and her sleep was that of a stone.

Shannon Eye Shields

Saturday — First Post-Op Visit

Ben woke me at 6:07 a.m. Saturday. I had been up quite late polishing and posting my April Fool’s entry about getting fired, and reading Simon’s reply. I managed to stay awake while Ben and I ate our Vanilla Creme Mini Spooners (a Shredded Mini-Wheats knock-off).

We all got ready for the day and then headed to the doctor’s office for Shannon’s post-op. All we knew was that the contacts would come off and the eye drop schedule would change drastically. By now Shannon was able to give herself drops while the van was moving, so besides my quick slip into McDonald’s to get m’lady a Sausage Egg McMuffin, we made a non-stop trip.

Shannon donned her safety goggles and jumped out the door as soon as I parked. By the time I got Ben out of his car seat, put his shoes on, and turned to walk in, she was nowhere to be found. We stepped into a packed waiting room, but Shannon already had been called.

Ben was great during our half-hour stay in the waiting room. He brought me several magazines. Interestingly, he brought me all the catalogs with a distinctly female bent, including a Victoria’s Secret — for shoes. Nice try, son. When he got a little restless, we took turns chasing each other the length of the narrow waiting room. At the end of the last run, he managed to turn off the power strip that controlled the television and the satellite dish receiver. I decided we should burn off some energy outside. As we casually strolled out the front door, the TV still displayed the message, “Please wait. Acquiring satellite signal.”

Ben found a rock he liked in front of a dentist’s office. I turned us around to head back and check on Shannon. There she was, wandering around the parking lot, dark goggles on, her mobile phone to her ear. I reached down to my left hip. My phone wasn’t there.

“Hey, Shannon, over here,” I yelled.

She said everything went fine, but that her vision was not as sharp as it was before they removed the protective contact. In fact, she couldn’t read many of the things she could only an hour after the surgery. All the documentation stated that her vision could fluctuate a lot before it stabilizes. There’s no cause for concern at this point, but I’m sure it’s a little disconcerting after the sign-reading frenzy Friday night.

Shannon said she felt bad that she had it done and not me. I told her that I am very happy for her, which I am, but could not deny that I was a bit jealous. That said, I could go through an entire day without vision correction and do everything I normally do, in exchange for a slight headache.

Shannon could, too, as long as everything was within about three or four feet.

Lasik surgery is a life-changing event, but like all such events, it is not without risk. I asked Shannon if she had thought about the possibility of being stricken blind. Statistics provided by the doctor showed that, for all procedures similar to the one Shannon underwent (not just for that doctor), one patient in 15,000 comes out blind.

“No, not really, but it would have been a much bigger life change.”

Sunday, her vision was better, and her eyes didn’t look bloodshoot at all. I taped her plastic eye shields on and kissed her goodnight before 10. Then I shuddered at the thought that she could have come out blind, and lost any concern about the doctor’s reprimand of his allegedly incompetent staff. Perhaps the doctor for that one in 15,000 did not double-check his equipment.

Tuesday — Second Post-Op Visit

Shannon thinks they ask job applicants if they care about patients. If they say, “Hell, no,” then they’re hired.

For starters, the guy who said they blow their noses to make one of the eye drops led her into a crowded hallway. Several people stared at an eye chart on the wall.

When Shannon took her turn, the tech asked, in a real smart-ass tone, “When was the last time you used your drops?”

“In the car right before I came in. My vision has been very blurry the past few days.”

That last comment was in relation to the few hours directly following the surgery. Her vision is leaps and bounds better than it was before this all started. If her vision had not been so much better the first night, she probably would not be concerned at all at this point. She just wanted to make it clear that everything was not clear.

Next, in another room, a doctor unfamiliar to her projected a chart on the wall. Shannon couldn’t even tell there were letters on it. Still, the doctor said that the test just prior to that indicated she was measuring 20-25 vision, and that it was fairly normal four days after surgery.

It’s certain that she’s headed in the right direction, because there’s no way she could have driven a vehicle without her glasses prior to the surgery. At least, not without puttin’ a major hurtin’ on somebody.

She goes back in three weeks. To finish out the first week, she wears her goggles when she’s outside, her eyeshields when she’s sleeping, and no makeup.

11 Responses to Just Your Basic Lasik

  1. “It was like we were in this time-space continuum, because nobody had a watch, there were no clocks. Folks were asking each other how long they’d been in there, but nobody really knew.”

    Shannon actually said these words? Wow. You must be rubbing off on her.

    Very entertaining, if that’s appropriate.

    I love the pictures. They make Shan look really cool. I think she should wear the goggles all the time. They make her look distinctive and hip.

  2. Wow. That’s quite an account. Mass production surgery … the only thing missing was a conveyor belt to carry her from one assembly stage to the other! I wonder if this presages the future of medicine, where major surgical procedures are performed by engineers and electronic technicians, entailing mostly the substitution of defective “parts” with their equivalent cybernetic components …

    Very courageous of Shannon … and yet, taking for granted my eyesight as I do, I can understand the willingness to submit oneself to a small risk for a shot at perfect vision. I’m sure it will be a very rewarding investment for your entire family.

  3. Yes, she actually said, “Time-space continuum.” I made sure to get that one down right away. All those years of Star Trek: The Next Generation did some good. She had a weakness for Data, who was the most likely character to spout off some sci-fi gobbledy-gook. Now, if only they had given her a visor like Geordi La Forge.

  4. Sounds like a relatively impersonal experience for Shannon. I suppose the clinic has to balance taking the time for patient care with shuffling more patients through the door, both to rake in the extra money and keep up with the demand for the procedure.

    Very appropriately, today’s validation question was, “What color is the eye’s pupil?”

  5. Jim and Simon – Yes, Mass production surgery, indeed, and raking in the money they are. Her surgeon is one of the top-rated in the country, but folks make fun of his commercials all the time for his robotic personality. Wait, maybe we’re onto something here. Call Cheeseburger Brown. It’s time for a new robot story.

  6. I am so happy for Shannon and hope things heal quickly and nicely for her. I would so love to have this procedure and now can imagine (at least a bit) what it is like. I’m not sure that I am as brave as she though. The thought of it still scares the shit out of me!

  7. Interesting story. I’ve heard of some people needing more than one procedure. Did they discuss that possibility, and the costs associated?

  8. Wow, I’m sad that the doctors were so impersonal.
    My doctors were fantastic, with even the nurses making me laugh and settling my fears.
    My doctor, knew my name not only that day, but the day after when I came back for my checkup. Everyone was fantastic.

    LASIK has come some ways in the last 4 years since I got mine, but when I did, I was seeing almost perfectly the next morning.
    A friend of mine just had his done a few weeks ago, and he’s like your wife. Not sure what that’s about.

    Either way, I’m happy she’s happy, and hope it gets continually better.

  9. Quick note before lunch. Thanks to everybody who has replied.

    The doctor’s literature says that “enhancements” are included in the surgery price, apparently up to a year. So, while we hope it will not come down to that, a second procedure is covered.

    I’m pretty sure Shannon had something called IntraLASIK, a fairly new way of doing this type of vision correction. I’m not sure what its advantages are (probably just that the Dr. can do it faster and crank out more patients).

  10. Thanks for writing this detailed account. What an ordeal. Sorry it was so impersonal for Shan, but she get’s a big YOU GO GIRL from me for being so brave and tolerant!! Hope everything continues to improve!

  11. Wow amazing story. Thank you for taking the time to share all this information with us.
    I will like to take this opportunity also to invite you to participate in our LASIK Blog, I can assure you that you would be amazed with the kind of information that we provide.
    Best Regards


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