Sunday, April 3, 2016

A random post on a long-dead blog about the time I let a virtual stranger burn my eyes with lasers

A few weeks ago, I let a virtual stranger use a laser to burn ("gently reshape", he corrected me, rather sternly) my eyes. A few weeks ago, I couldn't read a thing without either glasses or contacts, or the letters almost touching my nose; now I can read, drive and recognise my children in public just by looking in the right direction.

In the intervening days I have discovered a tolerance for Valium (two pills did nothing noticeable, maybe prayer had already made me as calm as I could be?) and sleeping tablets (when I got home I lay in bed awake for two hours before giving up), and that stress balls only make me feel more stressed (only a crazy person squeezes stethoscope-wearing ducks to relax).

Most people who have laser eye surgery opt for the kind where they cut a line in the surface of your eye, lift it up, reshape the cornea, then stick the flap back down (LASIK). But because I have large pupils (news to me) my surgeon suggested I have the version where they rub away the surface of the eye, do their thing, and let it grow back itself (PRK).

I went with his recommendation despite the far longer recovery time, partly because I had to trust he knew his stuff - if I didn't trust him, what was I doing letting him near my EYES with a LASER - and partly because I didn't like the idea of a permanent flap (it's not recommended for those whose practice martial arts and I have two energetic boys who regularly practice their own version on me).

The surgery part was supposed to be the easy bit - simply looking at a small light for thirty seconds per eye. The hardest part was to do that with both eyes when one was covered. I was told my mind might play tricks on me and make me doubt the covered eye was open, let alone looking in the right direction, and this is exactly what I experienced. I was told to just keep directing the eye to "stay open and focussed, stay open and stay focussed" no matter what I thought it was actually doing. I was (slightly) reassured by the knowledge that if the eye they were gently reshaping (burning) didn't stay focussed the machine would automatically shut off.

Even straight after the surgery, my eyes didn't look particularly red - no worse than after a long stint wearing contacts. They stopped feeling uncomfortable (scratchy/itchy/burny) after four or five days. I described the initial feeling as "extreme discomfort" to my mum (a doctor) and she pointed out that might actually be pain. Perhaps I should have taken those left-over painkillers after all.

By day five my eyes felt pretty good but my vision was worse than straight after surgery. I knew this was normal but it was still a bit nerve-racking. I couldn't read a text message or tell the difference between egg whites and feta at dinner time - oh the horror!

In the first few days I had to put four kinds of eye drops in my eyes up to 20 times a day (note for the poor sighted: don't have eye surgery if you hate putting in eye drops). When I was trying not to leave the house I rode our exercise bike for about 20kms instead - with closed eyes - just to move and tire a body that felt fine apart from those two pesky little balls of eye (it may sound insane but it actually helped to keep me sane). 

On about day four I used our pram as a zimmer frame to walk down the street in blinding sunlight (apologies to my two-year-old passenger), and the following day I risked losing both kids in public by taking them to a busy park when I could only make out blurry blobs of colour. It seems I am not good at staying home, or staying still.

But it hasn't been all bad. I slept in more times in a week than I have since having kids. I listened to random episodes of Stuff you should know ("Mum, why do they keep saying 'um'?"), This American Life (feature story journalism at its best), and Conversations with Richard Fidler (I love that he keeps the interview about his subject, unlike another ABC personality who hosts a "wireless" show). 

I listened to Stephen Fry read Where Angels Fear to Tread, to Tim Keller explain why Christianity is completely unlike any other religion, and to Ken Kesey read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and discuss his experience of taking LSD.

I now know that we grow a heap of our bones after birth, and that some fuse together as we age, and that our expectations of pain can have a very real impact on our experience of it. I've learnt that LSD makes cats fear mice, and that no one makes it like the US government. Also, it doesn't take much for a two-year-old's preferred parent to change.

I've discovered that while it's nice to delegate daily duties, it's hard to feel weak and useless, and that my husband is a powerful ninja (I already suspected as much).

On about day eight I started experiencing moments of sudden visual clarity, and by the end of week two, good old seeing was the norm. I'm still supposed to put in "bion tears" each day, but I don't feel like I need them. I'm still more sensitive to the sun than I was, and sometimes at the end of the day my eyes feel really heavy, but I feel no discomfort and my eyes look normal.

Now I can lie down at night and watch TV with my head smushed into a pillow, or my husband, (not possible with glasses) open my eyes underwater (not a good idea with contacts), and pack one less thing when I go on holidays. I feel like a cheat to suddenly be one of THOSE incredibly lucky people who only have to open their eyes to see. Thank God for the marvels of modern medicine. And that I'm already forgetting that burning smell....

I still find it hard to explain why I went through such a scary and expensive process. It started with my optometrist asking me, on multiple occasions, why I hadn't just had my vision "fixed", followed by an appointment just to see if it was an option (I think I assumed it wouldn't be). Then suddenly it was, physically and financially, and I was receiving encouragement from pretty much everyone I talked to about it - especially those who'd had it done themselves.

It helped that everyone I dealt with at the clinic was friendly, caring, competent and straight with me (Anne-Maree was outstanding). Any hint of anything else and I'd have bolted. After the initial assessment, it started to seem weird - almost irrational - to be living with vision that could indeed be "fixed", and I started noticing every inconvenience and discomfort and cost associated with glasses and contacts. The risk of blindness (below one per cent) was lower than the risks associated with driving, catching a plane or riding a bike (or so I told myself, I never actually checked the stats), which I wouldn't think twice about. And after surgery, if I was ever in a plane crash that left me stranded on a desert island without visual aids, my chances of survival would be far greater.

As for why I would bother to write about it on a long-dead blog, there was that podcast I listened to on how significant expectations are in dictating experience, and the fact that I found the one blog I read beforehand very helpful in setting realistic expectations for my own recovery. I would have been a lot more alarmed by the whole thing if I hadn't read a day-by-day account of someone who went through a similar experience. So now, for better or worse, the account of a 33-year-old Tasmanian wife and mother has been added to the mix.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

If I were a writer

If I were a writer I'd speak a new suburb into being and fill it with pieces of people I know stitched with pieces of people I don't.

I'd build entire houses and furnish whole rooms, one word at a time.

I'd move through time to sketch each person's past, then forward to their future. And then I'd rewrite both, again and again, till none of it could ever have happened any other way.

If I were a writer I'd make some people for you to love, and some for you to judge, and some you'd have to lose along the way. I'd make people who change and people who want to, but can't.

I'd put them together and follow them round; I'd give them all words and after a while, I'd listen to them speak.

If I were a writer I'd make you think one thing, and then something else, and I'd make you believe my whispers were your thoughts.

If I were a writer I'd deceive you then show you the truth. I'd make you listen and make you see and make you feel. If I didn't, my writing wouldn't be worth reading.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Taking grace for granted

People say that learning a second language helps you to better understand your native tongue. I wouldn't know, but I can see how it might give someone a new perspective on their first language, and make them notice things they once took for granted.

Presumably the same could be said for learning about other belief systems, particularly for people who have never subscribed to more than one.

Comparisons aside, the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace is already pretty striking. The Bible teaches that working at being a good person is, in itself, a futile exercise. Thankfully, I don't have to try to meet God's unattainable standards. All I have to do is accept the fact that God has done the work through his Son, and trust in Him.

It's that simple.

Becoming a Christian is humbling and liberating. But it's surprisingly easy, once you have accepted God's gracious gift, to take it for granted.

When you step back and look at it in the context of other religions, the idea that I don't have to - and can't - contribute anything (to my salvation), is shocking all over again.

Whether it is working at being worthy of a fearsome God, working towards detachment, or working to appease multiple gods, most belief systems are based on work - on what YOU have to DO to achieve X.

And many "non-religious" people spend their entire lives religiously working towards being the best person they can be, or the happiest, or the richest, or the most enlightened - the list goes on.

It's easy to look at Christianity and assume it's just another religion. But the more you look at what the Bible actually says, and the more you compare it with the alternatives, the more you realise this God speaks a very different language indeed.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The little things

Lately I've been marvelling at how the smallest things can make a child disproportionately happy, and how fortunate I was to have a childhood full of such gems.

Here are just a few. Perhaps they will trigger happy memories of your own.

When I was five and my father was dying (strange way to start recounting a happy memory, but bear with me), my mother decided I'd been a little neglected of late. She gave me the day off school and took me to a cafe. I felt incredibly special to have her to myself for the entire day especially when it involved a trip to such a grown-up venue.

When we went on holidays as kids we'd get extra pocket money (fifty cents or even a whole dollar) EVERY DAY to spend on WHATEVER WE LIKED. The smell of a newsagency and the drinks machines at caravan parks still bring back fond memories.

Sometimes, on weekends, we'd be allowed to have a friend over to sleep the night. This could mean anything from riding down our street on a skateboard (two of us to a board, sitting and screaming), putting on leotards and "working out" to my mum's Denise Austin Fitness videos, seeing how far we could jump off the swings at the park up the street or how high we could jump over a makeshift highjump in the rumpus room, playing dress-ups, going on a (five-minute) bike ride to the shop and back, playing roller hockey at the end of our street, holding a spontaneous garage sale (even though we were lucky to have one customer), putting the sprinkler under the trampoline and jumping on it, filling my mum's surgical gloves with water and using them as water bombs, or making pancakes.

Simple as they were, each one of these activities thrilled and delighted young Emma. Perhaps part of the thrill was that I only got the day off school that once, that we only got extra pocket money when we went away on holidays, that we were only allowed to have friends over to stay sometimes.

The rest of it was being a kid, and having a mum who could still remember what it was like to be one too, and who did everything she could to make sure my brother and sister and I enjoyed every moment.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

What happened to unconditional love?

Last weekend I read an article about a Victorian couple who aborted twin boys conceived through IVF because, actually, they wanted a girl. Now they're campaigning for their right to use IVF to choose the sex of their next baby.

Apparently the couple, who already have three sons, suffered the loss of a baby girl who died soon after birth. Now they're so obsessed with having another that their psychological health depends on it.

To be honest, I don't think any level of trauma could justify killing baby boys purely on the basis of sex. It's not so different from genocide. I'd even go so far as to question whether a couple whose psychological health depends on getting their way are fit to be parents at all.

And since when does wanting something badly mean you have a right to it? Since the rise of advertising, perhaps...?

I sincerely hope the Victorian Civil Appeals Tribunal stands up for the true victims in this case - not the parents who will do anything to satisfy their own selfish desire, but the boys who will be killed in their dogged pursuit of a girl.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Not luck, skill

You know a writer* is talented when they can break the rules (punctuation, grammar, dialogue, genre, length) and you barely notice, let alone care.

You know a writer is really talented when they flaunt convention so brilliantly that the rules end up looking pointless, even petty.

J.D Salinger springs to mind. He used exclamation marks, italics, slang and repetition with (what appears to be) delicious abandon.

But he walked a fine line, and I've no doubt he knew it. Too many "goddamns" or a misplaced "phony", and Holden would be a caricature, not a character; too much "horsing around" and readers would feel irritated, not awed.

But Salinger broke the rules and, more importantly, got away with it.

According to Holden, "you're lucky if you get time to sneeze in this goddamn phenomenal world".

But in this case it wasn't luck, it was skill.

*or musician, director, artist... I just couldn't think of good examples. Anybody?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Resignation versus indignation

One of the things I like (and very occasionally hate) most about being in a book club, is having to read novels I wouldn't necessarily choose myself.

Last month we read Jonathan Franzen's latest book. It's called Freedom and it's about a horribly dysfunctional American family. Under different circumstances, this is a novel I would probably have abandoned halfway through. It's compelling, insightful and brilliant, but incredibly disturbing.

I'd like to think Franzen was deliberately exaggerating the extent to which his characters manipulate, deceive and abuse one another, but the tone isn't sensational, it's matter-of-fact. Instead of outrage, there's resignation. He seems to be saying, "like it or not, this is the way things are".

In a culture where coming across as zealous, judgemental, self-righteous or interfering is to be avoided at all costs, resignation is an attractive (and easy) option.

But some things aren't OK, and will never be OK.

Thanks largely to the internet, viewing pornography is becoming socially acceptable. This may be "the way things are", but is that any grounds for excusing, let alone accepting, it?

Just as being accepting doesn't necessarily mean you're more forward-thinking than everybody else, being indignant doesn't necessarily mean you think you're better than everybody else.

It might just mean you're thinking for yourself.