Thursday, December 31, 2015


By Julia M.L. Whitehead 12-29-15

“I’m at the Eye Institute of Utah, and I can’t get a glasses case?” A puzzling predicament. How had I forgotten proper protection for my faithful snerdy friends? I was instead offered several tissues, with which I graciously accepted, and used to  gently wrap the lenses that had made every day of my life possible to live from 4th grade up to this pivotal point. The day I underwent LASIK.
Two live consultations and hours of internet research led me to this decision.
After entering what reminded me of a spaceship through tinted sliding glass doors, I crawled on to the operation bed. I asked the assistant whether anyone had ever flinched hard during surgery. I guess I feared I may be the first. I wondered why there were no straps on the bed with which to keep my arms down. Then the word ELECTIVE answered my perplexed musing.
This was an elective procedure. I folded my arms into a self-calming hug, with my hands tucked tightly under the armpits. This was just in case I felt a reflexive urge to slap away clamps or other metallic objects approaching my pupils.
The attendants and Dr. Zavodni were, thankfully, sensitive to my uneasiness and skilled at talking me through the steps. The cones of white and purple lights were easy to focus on, as was the blinking green mass. I may not , however, enjoy laser light shows nearly as much in the future due to “flashbacks” of having to watch them constantly without the ability to blink.
Although it lasted only a relatively short time, losing the ability to blink felt akin to losing the ability to breathe! The doctor did a good job of keeping my eyes numb and hydrated with drops. I was thankful he wasted no time. But for someone who had never had any sort of surgery, the whole thing- from the metal clamps, to the recurrent flap-smoothing strokes felt harshly invasive.  Despite the Dr.’s gentle hands, I wasn’t surprised afterward to see a small red mark where I’m sure the clamp had rested.  I especially appreciated during the surgery when Brittney announced, “6 seconds left” so I could count down during the flap cutting portion.
I wondered if the Doctor noticed tears forming in my eyes as my lip quivered after the cutting of flap #2. I think I cried due to sheer sensory overload rather than actual pain.  During the most uncomfortable parts, I kept my breaths deep and even and tried to focus my mind anywhere but on the eyes. Thoughts of my cancer fighting friend, Alisa, and her toughness carried me through this comparably miniscule procedure.
This was one of the moments when my decision to have LASIK rather than PRK was confirmed as the correct one. The salesman at LVI (the other establishment with whom I consulted) was so pro- PRK that John and I were totally talked into it . I had also been scared by a review written by a woman who suffered from a permanent wrinkle in her LASIK flap. Further reading online referred to LASIK as a “quick-fix” when compared to the thorough permanence of PRK. 
Even up the moment I signed consent forms on the day of my surgery, I wondered if I should have gone with PRK. The documents pointed out, again, that I would probably not be able to serve in the military, be a fire fighter, or work for certain airlines. Had I ever even remotely considered anything on that list? Heck no! Still somehow, It seemed as though I was imposing irreversible limits on my future. My better sense told me that the opposite was, in fact, more accurate. Skiing, swimming, camping, and even wearing HATS would come with greater ease and convenience.
I thought about these new conveniences as I continued to focus on the blinking green light. Affirmations from the Doctor that I was “doing great” were particularly helpful. I must admit that the girl on “Meet the Mormons” did make kickboxing look exciting. And my neighbors the Jacobs had mentioned wanting to take us on a scuba diving adventure. PRK would have been the more stable choice for these types of recreation. But alas, downhill skiing, turbo kick, and snorkeling probably satisfy any need for EXTREME sports that may lie within me. So LASIK it was.
The smell of my own burning flesh/ tissue took me off guard, and returned my mind to exactly what was happening.
My worried comments such as “I can see a needle coming at my eye,” and “Are you going to tear out my eyelashes when you remove that sticker?”  were answered kindly. They were then, however, followed by reminders to “try not to talk. Believe it or not, it sounds like an earthquake up here.”
Before pronouncing the procedure finished, Dr. Zavodni did quite a bit of what looked like painting over my flap. I estimate about 20 strokes per eye.  I kept telling myself that having the flap straight was ultra important, and undoubtedly worth enduring. I asked if he had applied a sealant or glaze. He said the eye would suction back together and seal up on its own quite rapidly. Go body go!
Prior to going under the first laser, I had fixed my eyes on a square vent above me. Because others had claimed they could see immediately after LASIK was complete, I wanted to have a reference point with which to test the comparative clarity of my vision before and after.
My plan was thwarted, however, by the protective shields they taped over my eyes before I sat up. I didn’t realize they were see through! That knowledge may not have changed things, though, since I was reveling in the comfortable luxury of having my eyes continuously closed.
I gripped the hands of my surgical assistant, Brittney, with an intensity that reminded me of the girls camp faith walk. Because I didn’t realize the eye shields were clear, my mind had me stuck in a seated position, very hesitant to take a step forward.
She told me it would appear as if I was seeing under water, but I thought she meant behind the shields, not through them. When she asked me how my vision was, I took a quick peek. The time on the wall clock was 2:02.
Upon realizing my shields were clear and I could see, I instantly loosened my grip and broke into roaring laughter! I was tickled with the fact that I had survived the surgery, which appeared to have been successful. The Valium enhanced my celebratory mood to the point that my husband seemed in a hurry to get me and my uninhibited loud laughter out of that lobby.

As we drove around the streets of SLC taking care of John’s work errands, I kept my eyes mostly closed. His curiosity forced him to ask me whether I could read certain road signs.
Ross, Office Max, Smith’s, Michaels were all clear from considerably far distance. I almost felt like I had a new super power as I continued to call out words that we passed. “Upholstery Shop! Emissions Testing! Breakfast Buffet!”  Over and over I was showing off to my husband and thanking him profusely all at the same time.  He took me to Arctic Circle for some halibut (fish oil is said to be good for healing) and we headed back to the post-surgical check-up. Through goopy eyes, I appeared to be seeing 20/20. Spoiled satisfaction filled my heart.
The nurse commented that it was time to get me back home. I must admit that earlier, the “exhausted Mom” side of me had fantasized about the lengthy recovery I’d need had I selected PRK. An excuse not to drive carpool, hold cub scouts, or answer emails for a good 3 weeks didn’t sound too bad. I had begun a list of audio books to keep me occupied in my bedroom cave.
But reading online about migraines, night pain, and inability to see with full clarity for up to 3 MONTHS made me doubt  my ability to endure such a PRK recovery. It would take a strong trooper, emotionally and physically (the fireman type) to stick it out strong. Not to mention a team of family who could run the house for quite some time, minus Mom.
Several things happened the day of my LASIK that reminded me how fortunate I should feel for each and every day of good health and engagement in the life I’ve been given.
1. Patrice inquired as to whether I may be able to help in the kitchen at her
    daughters wedding reception. I would have sincerely loved to be there.
2. My dear and treasured friend, Kandace invited us sledding. An afternoon
    visiting with her would have been as uplifting as anything.
3. Lehi City (my EMPLOYER) decided last-minute to offer movie tickets that
                 day to all part-time employees. 4 of us could have gone to see Star Wars.
4. The moment I walked in to my home, I was able to welcome my 2 youngest
    onto my lap for some cuddles as I was experiencing no pain and didn’t feel   
    the need to immediately retreat to a tin foil lined room and make the world
    go away.

I did spend the large majority of the rest of the evening in bed. The day after was perfect for using up all of the coupon books my kids had given me for Mother’s Day and Christmas.
My eyelids and body were at rest, but I was well aware of the precious gift of daily life- which I could now more clearly see.

The irony that this photo turned out somewhat blurry is ridiculous. I am so impressed with medical professionals, young and old, who apply themselves and go through the schooling necessary to make life better for the rest of the human race.

Epilogue: The only rarities in my vision have been a few short lasting small patches of rainbow. Once was on my left shoulder while I looked in the mirror. The other was a circle of rainbow polk-a dots around my bedroom light fixture about 32 hours after surgery. I had  videoed myself walking around my house demonstrating how close I needed to get to a computer screen, the mirror, etc. in order to see pre-LASIK, and without glasses.  Many people who have been lucky enough to have refractive surgery told me that waking up every morning is still awesome, years later.  My alarm was positioned so close to my bed that I could always make out the numbers albeit fuzzy, so it wasn’t the best gauging tool. But the vinyl phrase above my closet was something I could not read at the time I made the pre-surgery video. Sure enough, each time I gaze up from my pillow now I distinctly see the phrase “BE PREPARED.” For the excitement of a new life, and the chance to hopefully someday, some way, pay the blessings forward, I will be prepared.

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