I was wide awake when the Surgeon made an incision in my left eye, inserted forceps, and, with a tiny pop, slid the cataract lens into place. The procedure took less than five minutes. A speculum held my eyelids, so I couldn’t blink. The Surgeon stitched up the incision and breezed out of the operating theatre. I couldn’t move for several minutes after the surgery. I laid there with a blue sheet covering my face with a hole cut into it for my eye. This was my eighth and final unsuccessful eye surgery.
It had been five years, one month, and twelve days since my first.
Two days earlier, I’d had my seventh procedure on my left eye. The purpose of this surgery was to put a lens inside my eye: my cataract was removed two years previously, and now a piggy-back lens was being inserted on top of the artificial one. Elderly patients who have cataract operations usually report that when they open their eyes, it’s like they can see the world anew, like a fog has been lifted and what was once cloudy is now clear. I knew when I woke up from the general anaesthetic that it hadn’t gone well. My world was blurry, with a distinct outline around everything and everyone, my double vision unresolved. I covered my left eye, then my right, and could see that there was no change in my vision. As usual, my left eye had a soft, dreamlike focus.
‘The Surgeon wants to see you on Wednesday,’ the nurse said when she came to discharge me.
‘Wednesday? Can I not go back to work tomorrow?’
‘Oh no,’ the nurse looked alarmed. ‘No, not at all. You can’t go back this week, never mind tomorrow. The receptionist will do you up a medical cert.’
Once the anaesthetic wore off, I understood why I couldn’t go back to work yet. My head felt as heavy as a bowling ball. The area all around my left eye was hot. My face throbbed in time with my pulse. Lying down increased the pressure, but the pain was so intense I could not stay awake for long. That pain: stinging, red-hot, every blink scratching. The heat, like my face was pressed against an oven hob, eye streaming, the thump-thump-thump of my pulse behind my eye. I slept sitting up, propped against pillows, the summer outside my window hidden away by heavy curtains. Still I had to wear sunglasses indoors over my eye shield to protect against any light that bled through the gaps.
Without my sunglasses, I winced even in weak light. I got up close to the mirror, peeled off the eye guard, and inspected my eye. Burst capillaries coloured the white of my eye red, making the green of my iris startling. What was usually an olive green was now emerald. I was used to that happening post-surgery, but what I wasn’t expecting to see was a misshapen pupil. My right eye pupil was normal, round; the left a soft-edged square. My vision was so bad that I didn’t trust what I was seeing. My brother looked at my eye and confirmed that I wasn’t crazy: my pupil was not round. If this had been my first surgery, I would have panicked. There was something like that simmering with the nausea in my stomach, but more than being worried, I was exhausted. Something was wrong, and I was exasperated that the Surgeon wanted to wait until Wednesday, leaving me to worry all day Tuesday with only local anaesthetic drops to soothe pain. The drops hit my eye cold and trailed down my cheek hot.
Everyone in my family wears glasses, but I always had the worst vision of us all. I was so young when I first started wearing glasses—maybe seven years old— that I can’t remember what perfect vision was like. At its worst, my prescription was -5 in my right eye, and -7 in the left. Sometimes, my friends would try on my glasses and say, ‘Jesus, you’re blind!’ I would hold up my hand in front of my face, palm touching my nose, and move my hand backward until it started to look blurry. I usually stopped at around six inches’ distance.
I don’t remember my first optician’s appointment, but I had the same optometrist throughout my life. He was a soft-spoken and patient man who never had bad breath, like he was concerned about being close to peoples’ faces all day. Appointments with him never started on time and often went over because he loved to talk. Every pair of new glasses gave me the strangest sensation that the pavement was rising to meet me or rushing down into deep hollows on the ground. The reverberations vibrated up my legs with every misstep.
On the Wednesday I returned to the hospital, I went alone. I wore my sunglasses and stumbled along hallways, hissing like an animal until I got to the right ward and waited for the Surgeon. I sat with my head bowed, my sunglasses firmly in place, my knuckles pressed above my eyebrow, below my eye, as close as I dared to get. The waiting room was packed, and people sitting near me shifted uneasily; I could see them glance at me in their peripheral vision, a manifestation of their worst fears.
It would be easy for me to hate the Surgeon, but these constant surgeries and my faulty eye are a source of frustration for him, too. When I first met him for a laser surgery consultation, he told me that there was a one in a million chance of it going wrong. I was that one, a smudge on his perfect record. Part of me wanted to apologise to the other patients in the waiting room, to put them at ease—they would be fine, because I was the anomaly. I had sacrificed my eye so that they wouldn’t have to.
Hours went by before I was called into a dark room and greeted by the Surgeon. He led me by the elbow, treating me carefully, and guided me to the slit lamp. He took a brief look at my eye and invited another doctor to do the same.
‘There’s a tiny little gap between your old lens and the new one, so I’ll just need to,’ he made a flick with his fingers, ‘pop that back onto it to relieve the pressure.’
I’m not sure if I said anything. Inside, I was screaming. This would be the eighth procedure on my left eye. Dimly, I was aware of a nurse leading me back through the hospital. I’m sure I smiled and made small talk, but my body hummed with adrenaline. Up ahead, I could see the exit. I winced against the light, but the urge to run was second only to the pain in my eye. I didn’t want the surgery. I needed it.
After I signed the I Will Not Sue paperwork and handed over my insurance details, I was moved onto the emergency surgery list for that day. I had a few hours to worry about what all this meant. The pressure must’ve been what was causing the headaches. The eye drops inserted into my eye for Monday’s surgery made my pupil too big, so the lens was leaning forward and pushing against the front of my eye instead of sitting on top of the lens. That gap between the two lenses was what was causing all the problems, and based on how everyone was rushing around me, it needed to be fixed. I was given a paper robe and a bed. I thought about what it must have looked like inside of my eye, how a few millimetres could cause so much discomfort. Somewhere down the corridor, a girl was crying persistently from a dark room, wailing that she was in pain, that it hurt. The nurses murmured quiet reassurances, yet she cried still. I pitied her.
She did nothing for my confidence.
With every passing surgery, I had grown more anxious. I was never squeamish about my eyes before, but I quivered on the hospital bed as I waited for a gap between surgeries. I had five years of experience to let me know that I was going to experience not just pain, but anxiety.
My first laser surgery brought more excitement than nerves. I had no idea that it would be the beginning of a long, pointless venture, leaving me only marginally better off than I was when I began. The prospect of perfect vision made the idea of pain manageable. Because I didn’t know what to expect, this first surgery was okay. The second was uncomfortable. The third was torture.
At my initial consultation with the Surgeon, I knew there was a possibility that I would have to have two surgeries. My vision was weak; my prescription was not ideal for Lasik. The Surgeon put my mind at ease: the cost involved covered any necessary top-up surgeries.
While I was disappointed that it didn’t work the first time, I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised to learn that I had double vision. My eyesight had been so bad before that I hadn’t noticed it. For a long time after surgery, I couldn’t drive or read without headaches. I could write, but my words were illegible, a halo around the edges. The second surgery went much the same as the first, but it didn’t correct this impairment. As time passed and my double vision didn’t improve, I grew accustomed to it, the double vision became a normal but unwelcome part of my life. It only had an impact in the dark. At night, my double vision revealed itself to me through light; split, burst and fragmented, like a kaleidoscope.
The Surgeon arranged to do a third surgery. This was rare; so unusual, in fact, that he did not wish to perform the surgery until two other specialists from the UK could attend. They looked at me, analytical, and whispered among themselves. Didn’t I make an interesting specimen? The Surgeon warned me that since I’d had two surgeries, there was no longer enough tissue on my eye to perform a third by Lasik. Modern bilateral Lasik involves creating a flap on the surface of the eye to expose the cornea. The laser goes through the hole created by the flap to go directly to the cornea and correct the vision. The flap is then put back and heals with the use of eye drops. It is relatively painless—pre-op involves a lot of local anaesthetic drops. For a few days after Lasik, it only felt mildly irritating, like grit in the eye.
As there was not enough tissue to create a corneal flap, the Surgeon had to perform laser surgery the old-fashioned way. Prior to Lasik, patients used to get one eye done at a time and return six months later when the eye was healed to have the other one done. The pain was excruciating; I don’t know how they ever went back.
A foam cut-out pillow for your head. Straps for your hands. The speculum to hold your eye open. The drops, hitting your eye and giving you the impulse to blink but being unable to. Your other eye covered so you can’t see through that, either. Your pupil, blown out so wide that you can’t focus on the machine that rolls over to the bed and hovers directly over your head. For a moment, you’re blind; the dark presses down on you, panic, then the light, red as hell. You can hear people moving around, ghostly figures cut through the black, but you can’t see them, not really. You know they’re there when they put something else into your eye, how the skin around your cheek pulls when you try to see, to blink. Not breathing properly, inhaling but barely exhaling. The flickering red light, fizzling, rippling like something underwater, but it is your eye that floats. Nails biting into palms. The smell of burning, telling yourself lies, that’s not you, that smell is not your eye. Chemical burning, smoke, the wrongness of it.
I knew what to expect, but it was all this and more, because now, there was pain. I could feel the pressure of the laser on my eye, feel where it bore into my cornea, directly on the surface of my eye. I imagined the thin layer at the top of my eye cracking like burnt land, a volcanic eruption. This surgery lasted longer. My chants became desperate. My jaw ached from clenching my teeth. When it was over, I couldn’t move. My body was rigid with shock, an exclamation point. A nurse cradled me under my arm and helped me up. Everyone was quiet. The specialists lurked in the background. Through the fog of pain, I wondered what the point of them was. I shuffled to the Surgeon’s office and glared at him as best I could from behind my scorched eyes. I don’t remember what he said to me. He gave me a full box of local anaesthetic drops. I used every single one.
At one point, I had been taking eye drops for sixteen months. Betagan, Prednisolone Sodium Phosphate, FML Liquifilm, Chloromycetin. The eye drops were anti-inflammatory, or antibiotic, or steroid. Some kept in the fridge, some room temperature. I had to draw up a schedule to make sure I took the right ones at the right time, as time had to be considered between drops, but then some drops were four daily, some eight, some more, some less. I had to plan my life around my eye drop schedule. They made my eyelashes brittle. I couldn’t wear makeup to cover up my bruised, delicate skin.
Tilt back your head, rest the heel of your hand against your nose, open your eyes wide. What you don’t expect is the taste. When it happened first, I thought there was something wrong with my eye, some acidic fluid leaking from a rupture, but it was the drops. They settle, then slide to the tear duct in the corner. From there, they sink down the nasal passage and to the back of the throat, where they hit the tongue. Cloying, bile-like, reminiscent of acid reflux but warm, thick somehow. The taste lingered and wouldn’t wash away.
Glasses are not a cure. At best, they slow down the inevitable. The older I got, the thicker my lenses were. My frames did little to hide their girth. After thinning, my lenses were close to half a centimetre thick, and the bigger the lenses, the more they cost. I got contact lenses when I was around fourteen years old, but I had a few obstacles: one, my high prescription meant that not all brands stocked lenses for me; two, they were expensive; and three, my eyes were a weird shape.
My eyes are shaped more like rugby balls than footballs. They have a sharp edge to them that meant that standard contact lenses wouldn’t sit properly on my eye. They swam around with every blink. I could get tighter lenses with high prescriptions, but just like my glasses, they cost more than normal. I rationed my contacts to make them last, cleaning and storing them carefully, only replacing them when they developed jagged edges. They were too expensive to wear all the time, but when I wore them I recognised myself—ah, there you are. With contacts, I was the same as everyone else. I could see, if only for a few hours at a time.
I loved wearing contact lenses, loved the ritual of them. Peeling back the protective film on a new contact and slipping it onto my palm, a crescent moon. Sterile saline solution to clean the lens, rubbing it gently between forefinger and palm before balancing it on the tip of my finger. Examining it to make sure that the edges were not flat but round, that the lens was not inside out. Then, pulling down my eyelid and slipping it into the space between my lid and eye, slow and careful in case I blinked it out. I wasn’t afraid to touch my eyes. That was all it took to see. I didn’t even mind the itchy dryness of a lens worn for too long. I can’t wear contact lenses now. The surgeries flattened my cornea.
Once, when I was using daily disposable lenses, I was removing the lens when it ripped in my eye. The edge of the left-behind lens was sharp and sore, plastic made of glass. I pulled down my eyelid and poured saline solution in my eye. I ran my finger around the white of my eye, pinching to find the tattered remains. When my eye reddened and went dry from prodding, I stopped. Although I couldn’t see it in the sink, I assumed I must have blinked it out. It turned up three days later in the corner of my eye when I was washing my face. I don’t know where it went, whether it visited the back of my eye.
The recovery time for my third laser surgery was six months, but the first few weeks were agony. The night I went home after surgery, I walked into my house, my entire body braced, muscles coiled tight. I didn’t say anything as I walked through the kitchen without stopping, desperate to be alone in my bedroom. All I could do was hiss in breaths through my clenched teeth. Hot tears ran down my cheek, but I wasn’t crying. My eye was streaming nonstop like it was broken. It stung whether it was open or closed. There was no relief.
I couldn’t sleep. Lying down, I felt like my heart had moved to my skull and was thumping wildly behind my eye, making it throb. The anaesthetic drops gave me relief for less than fifteen minutes at a time. With fistfuls of bed sheets clutched in my hands, I screamed in pain. Eventually, I gave up on the bed and went downstairs in the middle of the night. My brother came in from working the nightshift to find me sitting in the wing-backed chair, my body curled pretzel-like, wearing sunglasses against the dim under-cupboard lighting in the kitchen. In my hand, I clutched a tumbler of whiskey.
‘Jesus Christ, what happened to you?’
I curled the blanket around myself tighter and knocked back a few painkillers with a slug from my glass. What happened to me, or what did I do to myself? Over time, my left eyelid began to droop noticeably, a lazy eye.
The Surgeon was busier than ever when I called to see him with a pain in my eye. He was going away for a month; I have a vision of him surrounded by nurses, patients, people hanging from him, wanting a piece of him before he left. He prescribed me eye drops. I wouldn’t see him again until he returned.
The pain got worse. There was a small red dot—if my eye was a clock, the dot was two o’clock, just barely visible under my eyelid. The dot grew larger and curled around the curve of my iris, the pain increasing to something like a hot needle, barely a millimetre thick but pinching its way through my cornea. I went back to the surgery and saw another doctor. My chin barely brushed the slit lamp when she pronounced I had conjunctivitis. She promptly began sanitising the equipment and everywhere I had touched, and she was careful not to hand me the prescription.
And still, it got worse. It wasn’t just my eye, but my entire body. Days were spent on the couch with a blanket, my eye too sore to look at the TV, or computer, or read, my body too weak to do anything else. My eye was so badly infected that I was regimental in my treatment. I sterilised water by boiling and cooling it before cleaning my eye, and then used bleach to clean anywhere I touched. My hands cracked and dried.
Once again, sleeping was uncomfortable. The pressure vibrated behind my eye when I was lying flat, so I could only sleep lying on my right side, because the area all around my left eye was swollen from the infection. I sterilised water nightly and left it by my bedside to cool so that in the morning, I could clean my eye. Overnight, my eye glued shut. The area was tender to touch, but I stuck to my routine, dabbing cotton wool into the sterile water and disposing of it immediately after. Because I had to sleep on my right side, the infection wept from the left, trickled across the bridge of my nose and spread the infection into the right eye.
When the pain became so intense that it was clear I wasn’t getting better, I went to A&E. My eyelid had puffed up, shiny and red, allowing only a slit of my eye to be seen. Every blink scratched my cornea. My eye wept continuously; I dabbed at it under my sunglasses with a tissue and worried about how I would dispose of it without making anyone else sick. I was moved from the waiting room into a room by myself in A&E, where I waited even longer still. The doctor who came to see me was a tall, thin man who didn’t look old enough to have earned his grey hair. He was stern, all business. I explained my situation to him and showed him the eye drops I had been taking.
‘This is it?’
‘You may as well have been taking skittles.’
He was angry, but not directly at me. He prescribed me different eye drops, an oral antibiotic, something for the pain, and an eye cream.
‘Since you can’t see anyway,’ he joked.
The cream was to be put directly onto my eye three times a day, and while it would impair my vision, it was the thing that helped my recovery the most. I was told to report to outpatients after the weekend, and thereafter I went three times a week until I was better. On my last appointment, I was explaining to the outpatients’ doctor that I still felt a pain every time I blinked. This doctor had become used to me, and even remembered me a year or more later when I ended up being a patient of his again. It was a little frustrating that this doctor—a young, handsome, kind man—was seeing me at my most disgusting, but the ordeal had stripped me of my dignity. I felt subhuman, hideous. I had one more layer of repulsiveness to reveal to him.
‘Let’s have a look,’ he said.
He pulled his stool closer, so he could examine my eye. Without much warning, he flipped my upper eyelid inside-out.
‘Aha. I see the problem.’
He released my eyelid and disappeared out of the room for a moment. When he returned, he had a small package in his hand, from which he removed a sterile tweezers.
‘Hold on.’ I hitched in a breath. ‘What are you going to do with that?’
‘There’s just a tiny flap of skin on your eyelid from one of the blisters,’ he explained. One of? Blisters? ‘I just need to pull it off. It won’t hurt, I promise.’
‘You’re going to—no.’
The doctor smiled patiently at me. ‘You’ll feel much better when I remove it.’ It became very real at that moment, everything I had been through. The pain. The severity of it. I didn’t realise there were blisters under my eyelid, but it made sense now. I remember seeing something white in the mirror when I blinked. Still, the idea of this doctor—this handsome doctor—coming at my eye with a tweezers was almost too much for me to handle.
His smile began to waver. The waiting room was full of patients, and I was wasting time.
‘I just need a minute,’ I said, thinly.
I took a few steadying breaths, and he flipped my eyelid inside out. He instructed me to look down. I began my inner chant, lying to myself again. This isn’t happening. Those tweezers are not going near your eye. The doctor pulled away the flap. I blinked rapidly, and it didn’t hurt.
‘There,’ he said, smiling again.
He showed me the slip of white skin. It was the size of a fingernail. He handed me a tissue to wipe my eyes. It came away red.
When I finished the antibiotics, it was obvious that my vision had deteriorated. I returned to the Surgeon.
‘The last time I heard of that strain of conjunctivitis was in Scotland,’ he said after examining my eyes. ‘It’s a vicious strain. They had to close the entire ward and quarantine the patients who had it. The ophthalmologists who worked there couldn’t work again.’
‘Why?’ I asked, thinking of medical malpractice.
‘Because they contracted the infection. It remains dormant in the system, so they couldn’t work on people’s eyes again. It was too risky.’
The infection wasn’t done with me yet. Like those doctors, it remained dormant in my eyes. The infection left scars all over my corneas, tiny scratches that weren’t visible without the use of microscopes, but that left lesions deep enough to refract the light that entered my eyes. Once more, I was on eye drops—this time, steroids, for far too long.
Long-term use of steroids is never recommended, but I was on doctor’s orders. Between the scars and the drops, I couldn’t tell if my vision was improving, but I noticed a soft focus to my vision. The steroids caused a cataract to develop on the lens of my left eye.
I was furious. I thought of my grandmother who was in her eighties before she had cataract surgery. It gave her a new lease of life—she lived to ninety-six—but it was a condition I associated with elderly people, and not without evidence.
The steroids gave me the eye of an old woman. As the infection was still dormant in my eye, I couldn’t have cataract surgery until it was no longer there, so I had to continue taking the drops. I was intensely frustrated that after all this time, all the surgeries and the infection and the treatments, that I now had another issue to resolve. When people asked me if I could see yet, I said that I was going to have my eye removed and have a prosthetic put in, like Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter series.
After a few months, at one of my check-ups, the Surgeon shocked me by performing a surprise surgery.
‘That’s healing up nicely,’ he said, looking at my eye through the slit lamp. ‘We’ll just pop you into the other room and do a quick bit of laser to get rid of those scars.’
Once more, I found myself lying on the bed, my head held in a foam pillow, my pupil dilated. My nerves were raw, screaming. At least it was over quickly this time, just a quick zap to get rid of the stubborn scars, but emotionally, I was wrecked. It brought it all back, the terror. I didn’t allow myself to think too deeply, to probe this feeling and figure out what it meant. One more surgery, I thought to myself, and it’ll all be done, and I’ll be able to see, and this will all have been worth it.
I spent a lot of time in the Surgeon’s office. As my pupils widened from eye drops, I examined the medical illustration of a cross-section of the eye. I looked at the lens and saw the size of it, tried to imagine what mine would look like, blurred over and cloudy, how clear the new lens would be. I imagined the Surgeon pulling it out of my eye like a slip of silk.
On December 23rd, 2013, I woke up from cataract surgery and still could not see properly. I thought of my grandmother, and how she had known right away that it had worked. Instant results. My vision was microscopically better, but it was far from being fixed. I could almost see, but everything had a soft-focus haze around it, like an inner glow.
Even though I should have known that there would be stitches as there had been an incision, it still came as a surprise to me to learn that I had to have them removed. This was the second time a doctor had come towards my eye with something sharp—while I was awake, anyway—and my breathing became fast and light, panic setting in.
‘Just—just wait a second,’ I snapped at the Surgeon. I usually tried to treat him with courtesy, but the way he had to do this quickly, to get rid of me to see someone else, it bothered me. I took my time and made him wait.
‘Look down for me,’ he said when I put my chin on the slit-lens microscope. He pulled on my upper eyelid. I couldn’t see him move the tweezers towards my eye, but I felt it when he began to pull the stitches. It wasn’t pain, exactly, but an ache, something like nausea but in my eye. My mouth watered like I was going to be sick. I began to panic; he was going to pull my eye out of my head; the white of my eye had grown over the stitches and now he was picking at it. Instinctively, I jerked my head back. The stitches came loose. The Surgeon wasn’t pleased that I had moved, but at least the job was done.
Every time I had a surgery, I got my hopes up. I tried to control them, to manage my expectations, but that’s not easily done. Hope is not something that a person can exercise any power over. It hurts just the same if you let your hopes rise or not. The disappointment, the dramatic ‘why me’ is as inescapable as it is pathetic.
When I had a check-up, the Surgeon suggested that he could put a second cataract lens on top of the existing one. The idea exhausted me.
I wished I’d never met him.
A month or so after my cataract surgery, I began to see floaters. Not only clear white lines or dots that swam in and out of focus—these were different. I could see a distinct black shape, a near-constant dot in my vision. I would jerk my head, thinking I saw a wasp, but it was something inside my eye. Cataract surgery demands you to be particularly careful, no heavy work, no bending, and no lifting. While I took care at first, I eventually started lifting things I shouldn’t have. Floaters in your vision can be a sign of a detached retina, and untreated can lead to blindness. When I enquired about this with the Surgeon, I was told to come in immediately.
I expected the Surgeon to check my eye through the slit-lens microscope, but instead, he patted the trolley in his office. The Surgeon instructed me to lie on my back, then he leaned over me with a lens roughly the size of a two-euro coin. He placed this lens directly onto my eye and positioned his own eye the other side, only two inches away. The Surgeon moved the lens around my eye. I inhaled sharply and didn’t breathe again until he was done. My eye streamed from the pressure. On the other side of the lens, the Surgeon had placed a light. I was blinded by it. All I could feel was pressure, and all I could see was the bright white light. There was no room in my head for thoughts. I was subhuman again; an eye without a body.
I returned to my body in clenched fists, an aching jaw, blood rushing in my ears. The Surgeon told me that there was a tear in my retina, but it wasn’t very big, so he would be able to go in and fix it when he did the piggy-back lens. I heard all this from behind a wall of shock. I’d never felt fear surrounding my eyes before I’d started this journey with this the Surgeon, but with every passing surgery, procedure, or examination, I was beginning to grow more and more anxious. I couldn’t get out of his office fast enough.
During one of our meetings, the Surgeon once more gave me a surprise surgery —this one minor. I never noticed the upright laser machine in his office before. He led me to a seat and tied a strap around my head, effectively attaching me to the machine. My fingers twitched but I didn’t remove the strap. The familiar red dot fizzled menacingly on the other side of the machine, staring me in the eye. It was over in less than two minutes. I didn’t notice any difference in my vision. I was coiled tight, all clenched fists and held breaths.
I avoided the Surgeon for a few months, unable to bring myself to tackle the issue of my eye again, but indigence made me return. My vision was beginning to deteriorate already. My right eye was growing weaker to compensate for the left.
‘Your cornea is crystal clear,’ the Surgeon said, admiring his handiwork.
‘Well, I still can’t see properly,’ I said.
He could spout the clarity of my eye all he liked, but I still felt like I was looking from behind a layer of fog. The Surgeon repeated his suggestion to put a second cataract lens over the first, a piggy-back lens to compensate for the half a step difference in my eye.
‘I’m going to put a contact lens in your eye. It’s a twenty-four-hour lens so you can leave it in for a few days. If you notice a difference, that’ll mean that the piggy-back lens will work. If not, we’ll think of something else.’
Luckily, nothing else had to be thought of. The lens worked. It still wasn’t perfect, but it was close, and I imagined that having the lens inside my eye would make all the difference.
Sometimes when I am talking to people, I can see their line of vision move to stare at my left eye, a furrow forming in their brow. They look politely confused, a little worried, like they’re wondering: should they mention it or not? The two lenses in my left eye have given me a strange novelty that disturbs even me. If the light hits them in a certain way, you can see the silvery discs take up my entire pupil and reflect the light, a cat’s eye. I have the flat, deadened eye of a shark. When the light hits my eye, I’m blind; I can almost feel the light bouncing away, like a mirror. The Mad-Eye Moody joke tastes sour now on my tongue now, acidic like eye drops on the back of my throat.
‘Do you regret it?’
My initial response was that I regretted it didn’t work. I still had faith that one day, I’d have a procedure that would fix my vision and I would be able to see properly for the first time in over twenty years.
For my eighth procedure, the Surgeon operated on my eye with only local anaesthetic, sliced into it while I was wide awake, and at once, I regretted it all. I regretted every moment of the past five years when my eye caused me problems: the anxiety, the infections, the surgeries, the procedures and examinations, the months without makeup to hide the puffy, purplish-red skin, the lazy left eye, the pain and the fear and well-intentioned enquires from everyone wondering if, at last, I could see. The disappointment in delivering bad news. I missed my glasses. I missed my contacts.
I wasn’t given a general anaesthetic before my surgery that Wednesday, and everything about it had the feel of a secret emergency. Eye-searing agony had already set in when my father picked me up from the hospital. He was outraged that I needed another surgery. I waited in his car, while he filled my prescription for me, my fist pressed to the area around my eye, grinding my teeth together to chew on the need to scream. I knew what was waiting for me: more eye drops, sleepless nights propped up against pillows, sticky glue from eye-guards on my cheek and forehead that wouldn’t come off easily but had to be worn in case I applied any pressure to my eye in my sleep. No makeup. No lifting. No exertion. No reading. And no improvement.
Glasses suited me. I had no issue with contact lenses. My initial motivation was cost: between glasses and contacts, I could spend anywhere in the region of €300 to €500 a year. Laser surgery was a little over €3000, and the results should have lasted the rest of my life. It wasn’t just the potential savings or the practicalities; it was an investment in myself. I wanted to open my eyes in the morning and see without fumbling for glasses. I wanted to see without my eyes growing itchy and sore from dry contact lenses. I wanted to see. Every failed procedure compounded my frustration, but I went back, sure that this time something would fall into place.
The last time I saw the Surgeon, in the outpatients’ department, I put it to him bluntly:
‘At this point, would glasses be an option for me?’
‘They would be, yes. We can discuss that if you make an appointment at my office.’
Five years and eight procedures later, I would be back where I started.
After my first cataract surgery, when my eyesight felt like it was weakening again, I decided to go back to my old ophthalmologist. The same receptionist and nurse were there and welcomed me warmly with smiles and enquires into what I was doing now and how my mother was. I took a seat in the office, and he did an eye test with me. My right was nearly perfect, my left quite weak.
‘Who did you say you got your laser surgery with?’ he asked me, and I told him.
‘He’s apparently the best,’ I said.
I frowned; I could’ve sworn when I was talking to him about the possibility of my having laser surgery, that he had told me about the Surgeon. But apparently, I misremembered.
‘I wish you had come to me before you had your surgery,’ he said.
There was a trend in photography that was popular a few years ago called Bokeh photography, an out-of-focus effect that used a point of focus and blurred everything else. This worked best when used with lights, or lens flares.
My eyes do it all on their own.
Between my double vision and the remnants of the scars caused by the infection, the light refracts before it hits the back of my eye, splintering it. I don’t notice it much during the day, but at night it causes a noticeable distortion. Many people who have laser surgery complain of bright glares from lights, especially at night, but this is different. Streetlights leave long fat streaks in my vision. I notice it most at traffic lights, the filter arrows turning right. I know which light the real arrow is, but to the right of it, above it, below it, off-centre, there are multiple arrows, some bright, some dull, some sharp and some soft. I’ve tried to count, but they shift and merge. There are at least a dozen lights, probably more, suspended above the traffic. They all point the same direction, at least.