It’s been a while, and I have to do a full Metamorphosis report. But first, we must discuss the fact that I had Lasik yesterday.
I went to a place called Minami-Aoyama Eye Clinic, which is, naturally, in Kita-Aoyama (minami = south, kita = north). I’d been looking online, and these were the only guys who:
(1) Had a homepage entirely in English.
- I wanted people who were used to gaijin eyes. My one attempt to get glasses in Japan resulted in an expensive three-day headache and a lot of “Hmm, I wonder why that’s happening.” Of course, my Canadian optometrist fared only marginally better, so I’m probably being unfair, but once bitten…
(2) Didn’t nickel-and-dime your eyeballs.
- The other clinics I looked at offered a variety of plans, each promising X quality of vision, guaranteed for Y number of years, for only Z quantity of yen! The Minami-Aoyama guys had just one option: the best they could do. Within that they had two variables: knife or laser, standard or customized. That was it.
Two weeks back, the testing procedure took about two hours, during which they rotated me from machine to machine so quickly that I seriously thought they needed to install one of those kaiten-zushi conveyor belts, while I stared at more multicoloured balloons than I cared to count. My favourite device was a psychedelic red circle that they had to readjust to avoid whacking into my Massive Gaijin Nose.
Yesterday I showed up at the clinic with my friend Rachel, my director from Of Mice and Men, who had had Lasik done a few months back. She asked me if they’d told me about the “blackout.”
“Um… no. Should they have?”
“Oh. I guess they don’t want to overburden you with information.”
“So… what’s the blackout?”
Apparently, your eyes go dark for a few seconds during the procedure. I wasn’t so worried, but it had significantly unnerved Rachel.
They took my bag at the front counter; it seemed that I wasn’t allowed to take it with me. Then they led me to a sliding glass door at the back of the hall that I had never noticed before. They took my shoes and gave me slippers. Beyond the door was an antiseptic hallway in which the temperature dropped about five degrees. They sat me down on a sofa beside a silent woman in a plastic bonnet, then they took my glasses and walked away.
It felt like I was being prepared for a ritual sacrifice, as one by one all the things I would not be needing in the next world were taken away.
They put a sticker on my shirt that said “Kanert. Both eyes.” I guess they don’t want people trading shirts in the waiting room. Then they put a bunch of stinging drops in my eyes, slid a plastic bonnet over my head, and left me to listen to Mozart in the hall. Someone with a sick sense of humour had kindly embedded a TV screen in the opposite wall.
When I entered the operating room about twenty minutes later, I couldn’t help but laugh: It was the classic Human Experimentation scene in a sci-fi movie. There were five doctors in masks and lab coats hurrying around a pair of massive machines that filled the entirety of a blindingly white room, leering ominously over an all-too spindly man-shaped slab.
“Lie down here.”
The only fun bit from here on was the point at which they had to keep repositioning my head to get around my Massive Gaijin Nose. It’s a wonder people don’t trip on that thing as I walk down the street.
I had always wondered why people would randomly exclaim how happy they were with their Lasik months after the procedure. I now believe it’s because, given the choice between Lasik and waterboarding, for the first three months you wonder if you shouldn’t have picked the waterboarding. My god. I have never experienced anything so horrifying.
Two years ago, I had several uncomfortable rounds of dental surgery, which involved being conscious while a dentist hacked away bits of my gums and sewed them onto other areas of my mouth. I’d freaked out for a moment when they first covered my face and leaned me back in the chair, but by the second time, all I wanted to know was if it was okay if I listened to music.
Now, you can dissociate yourself from your mouth. But as soon as they start going at your eyes, you realize that there is nowhere to run from your eyeballs. They are the most immediate expression of yourself—so much so that they really just feel like “you”.
They threw big plastic donuts into my eye sockets and leveled a thing over my eyeball that looked like an inverted Dalek coated in mirrors, accentuated with blinding white balls of light. My eyes tanked up with drops, dazzling white on white was the last thing I wanted to stare at. Then they told me to keep looking as the machine mashed down onto my eyeball.
The blackout was the best part. I was waiting for it. As they did my right eye, I tried picturing the park I’d visited two days ago on my “farewell to eyeballs” tour, just in case this all went badly. I was able to dissociate a bit. Then they got to my left, dominant eye, and there was nowhere to run. You can block out your weaker eye. Your dominant eye gives you no such luxury. Picture Frodo in front of a flaming white Eye of Sauron, and you’ve basically got the idea of what the next few minutes were like.
“I see you…”
It’s impossible to envision a peaceful green park when you’ve got a white light burning a hole directly into your psyche. I tried iaido mediation instead, and I was able to keep looking, but my ankles hooked under the bed and I wrapped the blanket they’d given me into a little ball. My chest rose about a metre as they advised me to just relax. I began to wish I’d taken the tranquilizer they’d offered me. “My god,” I thought, “I’m paying to have this done to me.”
Rachel told me that, in the Jewish tradition, childbirth is one of the two times you’re given carte blanche to take the name of the Lord in vain. As far as flesh memory goes, she said Lasik isn’t that far off.
Then it was over. My body relaxed, and my back found the bed again.
“Okay. Now we can get started.”
The next bit wasn’t so bad, actually. They applied cream and plastic sheets to my face, stuck clamps around my eyes, then swung me under the other machine, where I just had to stare at a hazy laser while they counted down. They were even kind enough to say “Good, good” as I stared, which was important, because I really couldn’t be sure if I was looking in the right direction any more. I started singing American Pie in my head because I knew that, no matter what, the song would last longer than the procedure.
“And now the customization countdown…”
“Oh god. I paid more to make this last longer…”
By the time they took makeup brushes to my eyeballs, I think I had actually managed to dissociate my consciousness from my eyes. It just felt like they were squeeging the windshield of a car I happened to be riding in, and I was somewhere safe inside.
I’d hoped to be the model of calm, an ideal patient. I managed to keep my head still, but otherwise, I squirmed like a worm on a hook.
They had me sit on a chair with a timer for ten minutes, then ushered me out. At the counter, they showed me the drops I was supposed to put into my eyes five times daily for the next week.
“Are they colour-coded?”
“Then we might have a chance.”
They tried to show me the itty-bitty instruction sheet. I told them they must be joking.
Then I went for lunch with Rachel. She expected me to be a nervous wreck, but while I’d felt a little emotionally fragile for the first ten minutes, after that I just enjoyed talking through the experience. I guess it’s my way of dealing with stress.
I was actually quite pleased; I’d been expecting much worse in terms of the final result. Walking out of the clinic, it was indeed like I was looking at the world through a foggy glass, but the vision going through that glass was 20-20. It was, in fact, better overall than my natural vision. My eyes did hurt a bit, though, and it was easier to keep them half-shut, plus there was sometimes a sensation that something in there was floating around. I went home and had a nap, as had been advised by my doctor, from which I was awakened by the doctor calling to see how my eyes were doing.
“No idea. My room is dark and I’m wearing the plastic plates you gave me over my eyes.”
“Um, okay. See you tomorrow, then.”
Then I looked at my eyeballs and realized that my whites were filled with pools of blood.
I’m supposed to wear clear glasses outside for the next week. I think I’ll wear my Oakleys just to save people the terror of my eyeballs. I took a few photos for posterity, but I don’t think I’ll share them here.
My eyes have settled down a bit now. At night, there were massive balls of fuzz around all the street lights, but I’m told those will pass (They call these “halos”—they’re not. They’re massive balls of fuzz the size of dandelion seeds). I have a post-op checkup today, and another next week, to be followed by more over the next few months and years. I can’t see perfectly, but the foggy glass has gone away. Now I’ve just got roving focus.
It’s not bad. Eventually I'll discover the novelty of not having to put on glasses or contacts for the first time since I was ten. And sometime three months from now, I’ll randomly exclaim how pleased I am with the whole experience.
Write a comment
fgl-jp (Thursday, 13 October 2011 02:54)
What was the customization procedure you opted for? Do you have cat eyes now?
Scott Donald (Thursday, 13 October 2011 11:49)
I'm looking into it too. It's time to be free of the coke bottles but my sphincter puckers up in fear every time I think about it. Fortunately they don't go in from that end.
thekanert (Friday, 14 October 2011 09:54)
Customization just means they use a more precise procedure to get rid of nicks and scratches in your cornea that can cause the halo effect at night.
Scott, I think you just won the Best Comment Ever award!
Grace Mineta (Monday, 23 June 2014 06:07)
Wow. This is terrifying.
My boss told me a while back you have to be awake for it (which was the scariest part)...
I don't handle stress well. I think I'm just going to ask for the tranquilizer.
thekanert (Monday, 23 June 2014 08:07)
As I say, aside from people who went to this place, I haven't heard of anyone else who had this rough an experience--most just seem to stare at the red light. It might have been the customization.