WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE GETTING LASER EYE SURGERY
WHAT YOUR EYEBALLS SMELL LIKE WHEN THEY'RE MELTING
You will show up an hour before your surgery is scheduled. The Coal Harbour Eye Centre does 21 surgeries a day during the holidays and they don't have time for dawdling. The first thing you will do is hand over a small fortune and once the debit machine says the transaction has been processed you'll be whisked off to a small room where a nurse in dark green scrubs explains the regime of eye drops that you're going to follow in the coming weeks. There's about eight different kinds and they all have names like maxifloxacin hydochloride opthalmic solution, ketorolac tromethamine opthalmic solution and prednisolone sodium phosphate opthalmic solution. This all happens very quickly but don't worry, she'll give you a sheet of paper explaining your medicine, scrawl in lots of helpful arrows, and even colour code your eye drops with easily discernible colours like blue, medium blue, dark blue, and navy blue. You know, in case you might have trouble seeing later. She'll open a cloth sack, hold it against the side of her desk and sweeps all of your vials and tubes in with a single motion. She'll cinch it closed, shove it in your midsection, and send you down the hall.
Down the hall is a dark room. In the dark room is a large man, a man who will firmly press you down into a leather chair and before you know what's happening he will swing what looks like a futuristic pair of binoculars in front of your face and show you a series of images.
“Which is clearer? A or B?” He will ask.
“Uhhhh-” You will say.
“A OR B” He will repeat.
But they both look the same to you. You will start to doubt yourself but the large man is waiting for an answer.
“B...No A!” You will blurt out.
But it's too late. He's already moved on to the next set of identical images, demanding to know which one is clearer.
"The Coal Harbour Eye Centre does 21 surgeries a day during the holidays and they don't have time for dawdling. "
When the large man is satisfied he'll send you to an even darker room where an even larger woman will shine lots of bright lights into your eyeballs and poke your cornea with a tongue depressor. If she likes what she sees and pokes she will point you towards pre-op, the last door at the end of the hallway.
You'll be given a shower cap, two cloth booties to put around your feet, and five minutes to sweat over what is about to happen to you. You will try to ignore the zaps and muffled screams coming from The Laser Room but you will fail. As hard as you try to resist your mind will keep bringing up the fact that in the next room is a lunatic that is shooting people in the eye with lasers and that you will soon be next.
At about this time you will begin to realize that you, in fact, would rather not get laser eye surgery today, thank you very much. You'll begin to gather your things and tip-toe towards the exit but this is precisely when the door to The Laser Room will open and a great cloud of billowy smoke will waft into the waiting room. A bright-faced nurse will enter, beam cheerfully at you and tell you not to worry, that the procedure won't hurt a bit.
This is a lie. Do no trust the bright-faced nurse.
The liar will lead you to a padded surface and instruct you to lie on your back and relax. She'll leave to fire up the Death Ray and give you a couple of moments to your self. I recommend looking around the room and appreciating the miracle that is sight. Nothing is as beautiful as an operating room before a laser is about to be fired directly into your eyeball. Admire the font Mr. Zapomatic 3000 is spelled in. Treasure the light dancing off the febreeze bottles they use to cover the smell of singed eyeballs because it might be the last chance you get.
The doctor will enter the room and swoop down on you and stick a springy metal contraption that won't let you blink. He'll drop some painkillers under your eye and wheel you away until you're staring eyeball to eyeball with Mr. Laser. Mr. Laser has a lot of lights and one of them is blinking. The doctor will tell you to stare at the blinking light and to not look away under any circumstance. He'll put another drop in your eye that will make everything go blurry.
"This is a lie. Do no trust the bright-faced nurse."
That's when you will hear the buzz, like you got a question wrong on a game show, and the smell of burning hair will fill your nostrils. The buzzes come in staccato bursts, like a machine gun, and the whole time the doctor will be yelling at you.
“Look at the blinking red dot! Look at it!”
But you don't want to look at the red dot any more. The red dot is hurting you and all you want in the world is to blink.
In between the buzzes, the doctor's yelling, and your own high-pitched shrieks will be the subtle sizzle of your eyeball, like someone is frying a tiny, delicate egg.
You will have to go through this twice before they release you and once they've zapped your other eye they'll let you up and you'll stumble into a room where the shades are drawn. In the darkness you will sense lumps of shivering bodies strewn about the room. You will lose all sense of time in this room. Occasionally the door will open and the silhouette of a person will stand in front of a rectangle of burning light. They will collect their loved one and are never seen again.
If you are lucky, your own loved one will one day come to collect you. They will drive you home, they will figure out the blurry regime of eye drops, they will make you food, put on audiobooks, draw all the shades and finally let you rest in sweet, sweet darkness.
Author's Note: I wrote the piece when I was recovering from laser eye surgery. A friend who was planning on getting laser eye surgery later in the year asked me about the experience. My sight had recovered enough that I was able to see the keys on by keyboard and since I hadn't had anything to do for the last couple of days I decided I would have fun with it and try to scare the shit out of her.
Brennen Fahy spends his summers fighting forest fires in the backwoods of British Columbia. This frees up his winters where he pursues an interest in travelling, writing, and becoming a functioning alcoholic. His work has appeared in The Globe and Mail as well as the Lowestoft Chronicle.
You can read an interview with Brennen Fahy here.