It’s as if I have been staring into the donut-hole center of a Christmas wreath dotted with absurdly bright holiday lights.
That is to say, I had surgery on my retinas again. As a type 1 diabetic for over thirty years, these things happen. This time the laser stitched the circumference of my center of vision—hence the wreath-like after image.
I arrive a few minutes early for the procedure. A nurse calls me in for a quick eye test—the usual kind where you are shown progressively smaller and smaller letters (along with the occasional random number to throw you off) until you stop guessing and merely say, “Uhh . . .”
Afterward, she tells me to look up and puts a series of drops in my left eye to numb and dilate it. She turns out the lights and leaves me alone in the room while the drops gradually turn my eye into a big black hole.
I am surrounded by a symphonic hum of machines — computers, monitors, a water cooler for the laser. I close my eyes and focus on the sounds like a mantra. The procedure is stressful. My doctor thinks I make too big a deal over it.
After twenty minutes of sitting in the dark, he comes into the room. “Are you dilated yet? Let’s see. Oh yeah, wow, look at you. Good, let get to work.”
He and his assistant (who happens to be his wife) look over my chart, call up photographs of my retina taken during a previous visit, and quietly discuss their game plan. When they are ready, they strap my head into the laser machine. I take a series of deep breaths. “What is that? Some kind of Pranayama Yoga or something?" the doctor says."Relax, you’re making me nervous. We’re doing some very delicate stuff today. Don’t move.”
He puts a focusing lens onto my numbed eyeball and puts the laser into position. “Okay, lock and load,” he says to me. “Just like back in ’Nam.”
“Uh oh,” his wife says.”You have him back in Vietnam, that’s not good.”
They both laugh. I do too. A little.
There is a small snake light to the right of the machine that instructs me where to look. Meanwhile, the focused light from the laser wanders against the rear wall of my eye as the doctor decides where he needs to hit. “Look at the snake light, don’t follow the laser.”
I know the procedure. I’ve gone through it countless times. The last thing you want to do is look directly at the laser because, when he’s ready, he hits a foot pedal and ZAP your eye is suddenly dazzled with an intense burst of light. If you happen to be looking directly at it when he does, well, you can imagine. He hits the pedal a dozen times before allowing me to sit back and take a break while he switches lenses.
“How ya doing?”
“Okay,” I say, and let out a long breath.
“Don’t worry,” he says. “I’m not drunk.”
“I know. That's not it. Sometimes, when someone has a fear of heights, what they really worry about is jumping. It’s like that. Being told not to look at something mere microns away from your center of vision takes a lot of self-control.”
“You’re doing fine.”
Another ten minutes—zap, zap, zap, like a darning needle—and we are done.
My head is unstrapped, I sit back in the chair and wait. My left eye is temporarily blinded. As the vision gradually returns, at first it’s as if I’m looking at the world through a thick red filter. Slowly more colors arrive. My eye remains foggy for the rest of the day. The speckled afterimage will gradually fade, but for now, Christmas came early for my left eye.
The right one will have to wait.