Monday, February 28, 2011

Bionic Eyes

All of my life I have been very proud of my eyesight. I could see better, longer, catch slight movement off the side of the road other people missed, and read in less light than anyone I knew.

And then I hit forty.

At 42 I started carrying reading glasses with me for reading labels when shopping, for reading menus, and for lying in bed reading. I started at 1.25 magnification.

At 43 I bumped that up to 1.5.

At 44 I started wearing 2.0 glasses all the time. My vision was getting worse both near and far. I needed them to eat because my food was becoming blurry on the plate and I couldn’t see the TV clearly enough.

At 45 I bumped them up another notch to 2.25 and also got contacts for my wedding so I wouldn’t be wearing glasses in all the photos. The ophthalmologist told me my natural eyesight was so bad I was not legal to drive in Vermont. (it’s legal if I drive with contacts or glasses on.)

When we returned to Madrid I saw an eye doctor who informed me that my eyesight would continue to deteriorate, which meant a constantly changing prescription for glasses or contact lens each year. Lasik would not work on me because I was near-sighted and far-sighted. Hence, we come to this:

The short explanation is this – They surgically remove my deteriorating lens, and replace it with a man-made lens that will fix my vision, will never deteriorate, and make me immune to cataracts, which runs in my family. As an added bonus, I get to see through clothes and get heat vision like Superman. How cool is that? Okay, maybe not those last two but I’m hoping for an upgrade in the future.

The bad part is, the eye could reject the new lens or it could get infected and there is a very small chance I could go blind in that eye. Which is why they do them one eye at a time here. If there are any of those kinds of complications, I still have one pathetic deteriorating eye left. Yay.

Here’s how it went –

A day before the operation I have to put drops of acid in my eye every few hours. Okay, it’s not really acid, but it feels like acid when it goes in. The day of the operation Wendy and I take the subway to “your hot doctor” as Wendy calls her. “Well, she is hot, right?”

“Right,” I tell her. See, being a good husband I would never say she was hot, but it’s okay to agree with your wife if she says she is hot. My doctor is very “unSpanish” except for the fact that she is petite. She is patient, blond, tiny and cute. She has nice skin which most Spaniards do not have because they have been raised in the opposite of a “smoke-free” environment. They’ve been in smoky bars since they were two months old because 1. Spaniards take their babies everywhere and 2. All of them smoke. Sorry to my Spanish friends but most Spaniards look about ten years older than their non-smoking American counter-parts. Not so with my hot doctor.

I’m not really nervous, but I will be happy when the first eye is done so I’ll know exactly what I’ll be going through for the next one.

I fast and am not allowed to drink water for seven hours before the operation When the time comes, we walk down to Opera Metro and climb aboard. At the second stop as we are pulling away from the station I see a blind man with a white cane standing on the platform on the other side. How does he find the door I wonder? Man, I would not like to lose my sight.

I almost start to discuss this with Wendy when all of a sudden I realize that could be one of the complications of this little adventure. Is this a sign? Was that blind man a harbinger of doom and I shouldn’t go through with this?

Luckily, I learned a long time ago that whenever I have a premonition, an almost certainty that a dream or a vision I’ve seen will come true – it never does. I’m like opposite George on Seinfeld. If I have a premonition that something is going to happen – it won’t. Hence, it is a good sign. I don’t mention the blind man to Wendy or the fact that I really don’t want to be blind. She’s worried enough already.

We arrive on time and as usual spend a long time in the waiting room. (I would like to add this has nothing to do with the Spanish Health Care System as we usually have very speedy and good service. It’s just that this place is always packed and they’re always over-booked. Maybe this is because eyes aren’t covered under national health care and so, the more people they pack in, the higher their profit margin? Just sayin’.)

An attendant comes over as we are seated, waiting, reading and tells me he needs to put drops in my eyes. He does this four times over the next hour and it burns every time. Not a lot, but cringe worthy. I am then taken by another attendant into another room, asked to sit in a chair and she looks at my eye through a big scope on the table that I press my face into. Everything looks okay and then… I don’t know what happens next. She comes around to my side, holds open the eye and I start to feel little pokes that are about as cringe worthy as the eye drops. I don’t know if she is sticking tiny needles full of Novocain into my eye or painting it with a little brush like doing her nails. And since I’m not supposed to move, I can’t look down at the table to see what she keeps grabbing. It feels weird though.

I go back outside and sit with my Beautiful Wendy for another fifteen minutes and then I’m called into a room where they stick a needle in my hand with a small receptacle at the end, draw a tiny bit of blood then cork it for later. I am put into a gown (fully clothed) and little paper booties are put around my sneakers. Five minutes later I’m ushered into an operating room and I lie down where they indicate.

They put an operating blanket over my head, tell me to close my eyes and they press the blanket down over my left eye and an adhesive presses into my eyelids. Then they peel it back and my eyelid is held open for the entire operation. They shine a bright light into my eye and say “Stare into the light.” (But don’t go towards it…) I feel some pressure on my eye and everything turns into a lava lamp crossed with a kaleidoscope. Funky colors and shapes swirl in my eyesight. Then everything goes dark.

“I guess they must have just taken the lens out.”

Thirty seconds later the lava lamp kaleidoscope of color comes back and I think “They must have just put the new lens in.”

They muck about in my eye for a while and every now and then they tell me “Jamie, you have to stare into the light.” Which is hard because the light keeps moving and I’m also supposed to keep my eye perfectly still. Finally she says “Just stare straight ahead.” This is still hard because the colors and shapes are swirling about slowly and you can’t fixate on any one thing, but every now and then something catches your eye and you follow it. Imagine trying to watch “Avatar” in 3D and being told to only look at the center of the screen.

So, this continues for about ten to fifteen minutes and then they tell me “Okay, we’re going to put the new lens in now.”

Um, what? What have you being doing this entire time? A root canal on my eye?

They adjust the lens for five to ten minutes and then tell me I’m done. “Did everything go alright? Any complications?” I ask.

“No complications, everything went perfect. You were a very good patient, you didn’t move once.”

Oddly enough, I feel unsteady. An orderly takes my arm and walks me to a private room with The Beautiful (and concerned) Wendy, snacks, juice, instant coffee that can be mixed with cold milk (???) and cold milk. I feel odd. Maybe just the lack of hydration and my body reacting to the operation but I feel like someone who was put under, woke up and doesn’t have his legs under him yet. I tell Wendy about the operation, she feeds me a muffin, some juice, another muffin, some more juice and when I feel settled enough we walk out and take a cab home. Wendy orders me pizza and I drink a quart of water and take my antibiotics.

The next day I have a regiment of drops to put into my eye, some every two hours, others every four hours. I break the left lens out of my glasses so the eye can adjust to reality but everything is still blurry. This is because I have one eye healing, and one eye looking through a 2.25 lens. So, each eye is seeing at completely different magnifications and blurriness. Reading makes me ill after about fifteen minutes so I watch some movies and read web comics (bigger text) and browse the web for sites like Lolcats and Wendy takes me down to the Doctors for a follow up look at the eye and they say everything is great.

The next day is better. I can read but looking at the keyboard and trying to type makes me nauseas. I’m not supposed to move much, not supposed to lift anything heavier than ten lbs and be very careful not to get water in my eye when I shower.

My vision continues to improve for a couple of days then stalls on “Almost perfect vision but not quite there yet.” On Friday I have another follow up and the surgeon looks at my eye through a machine with a very bright light and swivels it around in front of me for a few minutes before declaring “It’s almost there but it’s not sitting perfectly. We’ll have to go in and adjust it on Monday.” I am not surprised by this as I have been told by her and by everything I read on the web that this is very common.

“Will you do both eyes on Monday or just adjust this one?”

“We’ll do both eyes Monday.”

So, that’s today. I am pre op fasting and putting drops in my eyes which dilate the pupils and makes this hard to write and hard to read so I’m glad I’m done.

So, that’s what it’s like for anyone who wants to go through with this surgery.


  1. Congrats on getting this done. Bionic knees and super eyes for us all! I send much love your way! =)

  2. I recommend Clockwork Orange for your first movie to watch after surgery.

  3. Lol @Chris.... a bit of the old ultra violence?!

    This ordeal scares the bejezus out of me!!!

    I am also near sighted and far sighted, so I guess this is the same procedure I would be looking at. (pun intended)


  4. I don't know what it was, but while reading this post, my eyes were all a-throbbing. Maybe it was a sympathetic response? Anyway, hope your new bionic eyes serve you well.

  5. Regarding not having xray or heat vision yet: I think they're both free apps, coming to iPhone soon.


  6. Jamie, (not sure if you can read it already but) opthamologist visits are included in public health system in Spain. I go every year for a checkup and every year they stick acid drops into my eyes! ugh... hope you get back your perfect vision really quickly!