Wednesday, January 19, 2005

I Pass the Jurassic Park Test! 

I've had poor vision for many years. It all started in second grade when I started screwing up my math practice problems. I could solve any single math problem placed in front of me. But confronted with a page of problems to solve, I'd get them all wrong.

It turned out that I had a weak eye muscle and my right eye tended to wander off. This meant that if I had a page of math problems, as I started to think about a particular problem, my eyes would relax. And then without my conscious mind standing guard, my right eye would dodge to the right and pull in an unrelated number from another column. I'd proudly total up the mishmash of numbers and....survey says...BUZZZZZZ! Thanks for playing.

Off I went to an eye doctor who specialized in helping patients solve this sort of problem by teaching them therapeutic eye exercises. I had to do all sorts of crazy stuff with pick-up sticks and various devices. Under my doctor's instructions, my parents installed a screw into the ceiling and hung a ball from a string. I had to stand in front of it, hold my head still and throw the ball forward so that it would arc to my other hand. As it moved, I tracked it from right to left and left to right. Another exercise consisted of a string attached to a doorknob. The string had a button threaded on it. I had to pull the string taut between the doorknob and hold the free end to the tip of my nose. Then I would push the button to the knob and pull it back, tracking the button with my eyes the whole way.

Not surprisingly, I was terribly bored, cursed mathematics as the subject that enrolled me involuntarily in this gymnasium of the eye, and desperately wanted to be playing outside on Saturday mornings. Finally, before the end of the school year, my eye muscle was strong enough to stop and Saturdays were mine again.

Third grade, my LEFT eye went AWOL. So the rehab exercises started all over again. Then as we were preparing to stop the exercises, my vision started to go. I became nearsighted. By the sixth grade, I had bifocals (always a popular choice with nerdy middle schoolers.)

The parade of shame continued. My mother was a social worker and her vision plan gave me the privilege of being able to select from the rack of the ugliest glasses at the optometrist’s office. Thick plastic frames, thick plastic lenses. Throw in some gangly legs, no physical coordination and greasy hair. I had it all.

Finally, when I turned sixteen contact lenses were an option. It was hard getting anything near my eyes after years of defending my glasses from errant various sports related objects. Basketballs, baseballs, soccer balls. I sacrificed at least one pair of glasses to each of the entire pantheon of the gym class gods. So I was determined to shed my dinner plate specs and I weaseled those lenses into my eyes after hours of effort.

Contact lenses changed my life for the better. They came at just the right time as I was shifting socially from unintentional nerdy pariah to purposely antisocial new wave/punk pariah.

Later in life, as the technology for machining lenses for glasses was radically improved and I had my own vision plan to rely on, I began to like getting cool frames. When corporate life took over and the hours piled on, I wasn't ashamed to wear them. Finally, they became an accessory, the hours peaked at 70+ per week and there was no point in putting lenses in.

And so things went on for a decade. I loved buying glasses from Hedda. But then after 9/11 and the blackout, I began to be concerned about what K. and I call the "Jurassic Park factor." What happens when you have no functional vision and you lose your glasses? The dinosaur gets you.

So I began to think again about LASIK. I'd explored it a few years back, but I really didn't like the surgeon. He was all grabby with my face and my protective instincts said, "GET AWAY FROM MY FACE, BUB." Plus, his nurse had serious glasses and had no plans to have the surgery. Not a good sign to me.

This time around, I knew where I was going to go to see if I wanted to do it. A few years back, my friend Mike had his LASIK botched out of town and had to go to someone here in The City to get fixed. Last year, this same doctor did another friend of mine and she loved him.

So off I went late last fall to see the famed Dr. Mark Speaker. (Of course, rattling around my brain was a nervous voice chattering nonsense like "Has Dr. Speaker ever been a keynote speaker?") His clinical director, Dr. Dana Morschauser immediately put me at ease.

Next thing I knew, I was scheduling a date. January 7, 2005.

So as you've realized by now, I've had the surgery. And the results are pretty amazing. Given my history and the extremity of my prescription (-9.5/-9.0), the results are stunning. I have a 20/20 left eye and a 20/30 right eye.

I'd like to dispel one myth about LASIK: you do not sit up and immediately see 20/20. When you sit up, it's like having maladjusted, smeary contact lenses. But within 2 days, you can see pretty darn well. What's really unnerving is that your eyes are healing pretty rapidly, so for the first few days every time you take a nap or wake up after a night's sleep you have to get adjusted to a new set of eyes. Each day I woke up, my vision was improved from the day before.

It's now almost 2 weeks since I had the surgery and my vision seems to have stabilized. (It takes a full 90 days to be sure.) In any case, I'm still adapting. I reach for glasses I neither have nor need first thing every morning. Minutes later, I am startled when I see myself in the bathroom mirror. At the end of the day, when my eyes are tired, I think that I should take out my contact lenses.

I should say that my vision isn’t perfect. I have all the artifacts you read about: dry eyes, occasional blurring, and small halos around lights at night. Some of these things should go away. But even with these minor issues, thanks to the fantastic work of Dr’s Speaker and Morschauser, I now pass the Jurassic Park text. And for a former Poindexter like me, that’s something to be really grateful for!
Good for you, Tony. I've heard positive things about laser surgery.

I myself am doing a more natural method to improve my eyesight and get rid of my glasses. It's based on the Bates method. My teacher is Robert Lichtman and here's his web site: http://www.outlook-insight.com/
Very interesting indeed! I'll be curious to learn of your results from using this method.

A lot of what is on his site makes sense to me inasmuch as I'm well studied in Alexander Technique and I have had personal experience with physiological transformation based on recovering "right use" of the body.

For who lives in The City who is interested in Alexander Technique (http://www.alexandertechnique.com), I highly recommend Gwynne Marshall (who is also a Pilates teacher). Gwynne's email is gwynnemarshall AT nyc.rr.com.
I had laser surgery last summer. Amazing. Had never seen out of my left eye properly before because the astigmatism was all lumpy. Spent a week with my eyes fighting to see which would become the new dominant eye. Ran into things as my perspective suddenly shifted back and forth. That alone (forget the high quality vision I have now) was almost worth the ride. Also photographed a few surgeries for the doc's training materials - it's even weirder watching than having it done.

And Alexander Technique is nothing less than body magic. One of the few useful things I learned in actor training 30 years ago. When I rip my back up, I can choose either bed rest and massive amounts of painkillers for a week, or a couple sessions a day of Alexander for two days. Sometimes the painkillers are more interesting to me, however.
Yeah. The dominant eye thing is interesting. I had -9/5 vision in my left eye and -9.0 in my right eye. The left was dominant. After the surgery, I'm 20/20 left and 20/30 right eye.

The thing is that when your prescription is as advanced as -9.0, you have ZERO practical vision without correction. So the difference between my eyes was invisible to me because my vision was corrected to 20/20 in both eyes with glasses. Right after I had the surgery it drove me nuts for a few weeks that my vision was different in each eye. It's a minor difference to be sure, but I *noticed it* and I was not accustomed to being aware of any difference.

After a few weeks, my brain did whatever brains do and I stopped noticing the difference between the vision in each eye. I suspect that my left eye dominates for distance and my right eye may be dominating for my nearer field of vision. Ironically, as much as it bothered me at first, some folks have their surgery to create exactly this effect.
I just want to add that I did see with 20/20 vision as soon as I sat up from the surgery and have none of the incoveniences (blurry vision, light halos, dry eyes, etc.) that many people have. Although, I must admit my eyesight wasn't as challenged as Tony's was. (I had -2.25 / -2.75.) I am the other friend that loved Dr. Speaker and can't say enough positive things about the surgery and Dr. Speaker.
Saw your post on onfired and thought I'd check out your experience. My understanding was that high prescriptions like yours (and mine - approaching -11 in both eyes - and no, that's not 5.5. each adding up to 11...) often did not get to 20/20, but improved to, say, -2 or -3 - which is the point where you still need some correction.

I'm really tempted to do the surgery as the idea of waking up in the morning and just opening my eyses and SEEING seems so marvellous (likewise not foostering around before bed, being able to freely swim, surf etc).

On the other hand, I am a very happy (hard) contact lens wearer and if I don't have to have eye surgery and risk blindness or permanent side effects, I'd rather not.

I'm also a little concerned at any potential long-term side effects of which I am unaware (simply because the surgery hasn't been around for long enough), and I'm not at a point where the immediate benefits outweigh the possible harm and risk.

I believe that the technique was originally developed on Russian prisoners. Any idea if this is true? Does that have ethical implications?

Incidentally, I'm doing Alexander technique to remedy poor posture and RSI picked up at Scient - and although it seems like a slow process, it's pretty good.
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