Eyes wide open

After laser surgery, I see wrinkles on my face and rings in my tub


Rating: NNNNN


As I was showering this morning, I was thrilled to see that the tub was lined with a faint grey ring. I also noticed the slippery scum circles of absent shampoo bottles, embedded with a few small hairs. And I was delighted to discover that I could be washing my toes more thoroughly.

Two months ago I had laser eye surgery. I still get pretty excited about the little things. I haven’t been able to see in the shower for over 30 years. I haven’t, in fact, been able to see a lot of things: anything in the middle of the night, my naked face in the morning.

In fact, as the laser surgery approached, I began perversely to count my myopic blessings.

Dim lighting and bad eyesight have probably conspired to make me think I’m way better looking than I am. Basically, I’ve been living with instant beer goggles.

I could also always take the glasses off at the dentist and slip into a milky haze instead of seeing particles of blood and plaque fly. I wasn’t apprehensive about my eyes being burned out or accidentally being rendered blind, but about seeing clearly.

Could I handle the truth?

I wondered, how will my physical experience of the world shift? Would this trigger an emotional shift as well? Would my brain, so used to accommodating the black outline of glasses in my field of vision, suddenly, instantly, be receiving information differently? Would this affect my temperament?

If I recall correctly, I was an insanely happy child until I got glasses – naive, helpful and splendidly physical. I was referred to by one babysitter (and anyone who knows me now will choke with incredulity) as an “angel.” My downhill slide seemed to coincide with my failing eyesight. I developed a little slouch.

Unable to gauge the exact dimensions of the space around me, I became the kind of child who lost and broke things. “You’re just so hard on everything,” my mother wailed. So I got glasses and, BAM! I was, frankly, considered ugly, too.

I lived in terror of losing my glasses, and I lost them a lot, dooming myself to days on end without being able to see, to play or even to watch TV. There are pairs of my glasses on the bottom of lakes, forever squeezed behind old car seats or simply left behind in another city on a family road trip.

Once, in school, a teacher proposed to us the idea of being lost in the woods without supplies. No knapsack, no compass, no chocolate bars. How would we start a fire? My hand shot up. “Could I wear my glasses?” “Yes,” she said. “I would start a fire with my glasses,” I said. The other kids looked at me enviously, although I suspected that the teacher knew, as I did, that my lenses, not being of the magnifying type, would be useless for concentrating sunlight into a heated beam.

The idea of being lost in the woods without my glasses kept a low thrum of panic in my chest for days. I knew with deadly certainty that I would just sit in a haze, unable even to see a path or a creek, until I was eaten alive by a bear.

You’d think that as an adult I would have adjusted, but my grown-up response to living with glasses had its own terrors and compromises.

Before Lasik, I had two modes: contact-lens-wearing, made-up, hair-swinging socialite, and four-eyed, pajama-wearing, frizz-headed hermit.

I rarely went to events with my glasses on (the heavy prescription shrank my eyes into opaque little olives) and, as I became increasingly intolerant of contact lens solutions, I found myself going out less and less often. Not good for an arts writer.

I’m also the kind of gal who needs to feel that a night of complete abandon is always around the corner (even if it works out to once every two years or so), but I’ve turned down many potentially gorgeous nights of dancing, snogging and petty vandalism because I couldn’t bear to keep my contacts in any more. I’m sorry, you simply can’t make glasses work with evening wear. Or at least this face can’t.

Seinfeld walks into an optician’s. He looks around at the posters on the walls. “You know,” he says in his speculative whine, “these women would be beautiful if they weren’t wearing glasses.”

You ever try to play water frisbee wearing either glasses or contacts? Can’t be done. During my first post-operation game, I was disappointed to learn that nobody can see underwater. Not without a mask. My friends were incredulous. It’s the kind of thing people assume you know.

Only poets and computer geeks think glasses are sexy, and they’re picturing everybody naked all the time anyway.

I had the high-definition, no glare, better night vision, wavefront technology procedure at the Herzig Eye Institute. The surgery took about 10 minutes, during which time I got to see the surface of my frozen eyes get sliced and flipped over. It was painless, and the Herzig Eye Institute offered a masseuse and a Valium beforehand to help with any anxiety. They sent me home right after.

I was sick with a terrible cold. It was fantastic. I could lie in bed with my face half-buried in a pillow and watch TV with one eye, no glasses frames poking into my cheekbone.

The phantom bridge of plastic spectacles still has me jabbing an index finger at a naked nose. I don’t end my day by pulling off my glasses before my head hits the pillow, and that action, which signalled to my body “Sleep now” is gone. My body has to learn a new sleep trigger.

Sometimes I don’t know what to do when I’m tired during the day. I used to pull off my glasses and press my eyes to feel refreshed. This vision thing is non-stop. I mean, I can just always see! It’s kinda exhausting.

As for my general emotional state, since the operation I have handled two 9-1-1 emergencies, found an apartment, lost that apartment, found another apartment, cleaned out my mother’s closets and redecorated my brother’s townhouse. Throughout, I’ve remained preternaturally calm (for me).

Each week supplies a new delight. I can walk in the rain. I can wear sunglasses (clip-ons suck). I can go to Lilliput hats and try on every confection. No matter how Drew Carey cool my glasses were, inside I was always that hideous teen with zits, in brown greasy teardrop frames.

The downside? It took a little getting used to the fact that those are emerging wrinkles, not sleep creases or frame shadows around my eyes. I became obsessed with a large pore in my forehead. It’s a slippery slope. I do not want to end up like Priscilla Presley, with her fake lips and poor trapped eyes hanging over those cheek implants.

Somebody stop me if I start pitching articles on Botox.

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