Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Better To See You With

Today Krystal at Give Me Back My Five Bucks asked her readers whether she should get LASIK eye surgery. That got me thinking about my own eyes and my feelings on the subject of eye surgery, including the financial impact of it.

I have terrible eyesight and have worn glasses since I was 7 years old. Back then my mother took me to the one and only movie theatre in town to see Mary Poppins and I was very excited. I kept asking what time it was and my mother eventually got tired of telling me. So she said, "You can tell time, look at the clock yourself." I couldn't see any clock so my mother told me it was down front by the curtain. I said, "Do you mean that circle with the green neon around it?" I had a wonderful time at the movie. My mother sat there the whole time thinking, "My baby's blind. My baby's blind."

Well, I wasn't blind but I was fairly nearsighted so I got a pair of blue plastic glasses, the kind that tilt up at the upper corners like cat's eyes. The difference was dramatic. I walked into the house and said, "There's a pattern on the kitchen drapes". It was an openwork yellow and orange material (this was the 60s after all), with a faint overlay of gold leaves and I'd never noticed the leaves. I could also now see the board at school, which was a Good Thing.

As I grew I kept needing stronger glasses but I always hated the teasing, so I tried contacts a few times in my teens and early 20s, even though I have a certain amount of astigmatism. I couldn't afford the special lenses for that but got fairly adequate correction with hard contacts, gas permeables and, finally, soft contacts.

I really didn't like contacts any better than glasses. They were uncomfortable (like having a constant eyelash in your eye), sometimes got out of place or sucked onto my eye or gave me terribly dry, sandy eyes. If I wore them for too long I would even get scratches on my cornea and not be able to open my eyes for a day or 2.

I was never happy with my vision or the methods of correcting it and, among other dreams, I wanted to be a pilot when I was in high school.

I seriously considered RK (radial keratotomy) when it first came out because, in order to be a pilot, you had to have uncorrected vision no worse than 20/40 (whereas my uncorrected is roughly 20/400).

I eventually gave up on the aviation dream because it was totally unrealistic for the time. My eyesight was not within limits, I was under the minimum height of 5' 7" and I was female (at a time when having 2 heads would have been only slightly more unusual than being a female pilot).

I still dreamed of not having to wear glasses or contacts but I was too scared by the thought that something might go wrong either immediately or in 20 years if I had the surgery.

Now they know it's basically okay, they've improved on it dramatically with LASIK etc. and most of the side effects are considered to be relatively minor (dry eyes, halos around lights, poorer night vision).

So a couple of years ago I asked my regular opthamalogist about it and was told I was too late! You see, I'm at the point where I now wear progressive lenses. If I had the surgery I'd probably be able to drive and walk around without glasses but I couldn't work on the computer (uh, my JOB) or read (my obsession) without wearing glasses.

We didn't even get into the other considerations. Within the past few years I discovered I have a condition with a number of names that was first described as Anterior Basement Membrame Dystrophy to me, so that's how I think of it. (One of the more colourful names is Map-Dot-Fingerprint Dystrophy.) It causes corneal erosions, areas where bits of the membrane peel away and some of the fun features are dry eyes, intermittently blurry or double vision, halos around lights and sometimes pain.

I notice that those happen to be remarkably similar to the most common side effects of LASIK and other eye surgeries, so I have to wonder if I'd have a harder time than the average person (if it didn't disqualify me for the surgery in the first place). If I really wanted to pursue it, my first step would be to go to my other opthamalogist, the one who is a corneal specialist and ask him.

But I don't think it would be a great solution for me from a financial point of view. I'm sure I could afford the surgery. Everybody has some kind of LASIK deal and painless payment plan (although the idea of going to the cheapest guy around to have him operate on my eyes freaks me out). It would probably cost about twice what I pay for glasses currently but then you're free, right?

Well, not in my case. I'd still need bifocals for work, so I could read the computer screen and my hard copy data at the same time. I'd need those right away on top of the surgery and I'd continue to need new glasses every few years.

Bottom line. I'm going to pass on eye surgery.


krystalatwork said...

Hey Shevy, this post was really interesting. Thanks for sharing your story. My ex BF also wanted to become a pilot, but he couldn't b/c of his vision as well.

I'm going to book an appointment and see what they have to say!

Grace. said...

I've worn glasses since the first grade. It was such a surprise--who knew that those green blobs on brown trunks were actually individual leaves! And I stopped getting cricks in my neck from bending over to (literally) put my nose in a book.

I'm too chicken to even consider LASIK--just the thought of someone cutting on my eyes makes me squirm.

But then, I never wanted to be a pilot, either. I thought I wanted to teach third grade--almost as scary but not requiring superior vision.

Shevy said...

Thanks Krystal, and I edited the post to include links back to your blog and article, as well as to a site that explains my eye condition. Good luck with the appointment!

Yes, trees and people's hair! Who knew that people had discrete strands of hair, that it wasn't all a blob like Play Doh hair? LOL