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Razors, Lasers, and the Way to Clear Vision

By Joshua Samuel Brown

Much has changed in the field of corrective vision surgery since I had my eyes done nine years ago. One friend, who had called me crazy for "playing with my eyes" in 1991, is now contemplating corrective Laser eye surgery, or LASIK. I felt that I'd earned the right to be just a bit smug.

"Lasers! Ha!" I said to him, dropping into my best old codger voice.

"When I had my eyes done, we didn't have no fancy lasers, no siree bob. My doctor used a razor blade, a tiny one. And I watched the whole thing with eyes pried open."

I then proceed to relate the following story, which, as you have not yet heard, I shall re-tell for your elucidation:

The year was 1991. George Bush was still popular, and a Caucasian duo called Third Bass had taken the rap world by storm. My mother had just gotten a job doing PR for one of the first doctors in Brooklyn to perform RK surgery...

I was back home from college in upstate NY, and had broken my glasses once again. Cursed with a near-sightedness that had manifested itself at an early age, I had always had a poor relationship with my glasses. I was an active lad, and my glasses took a lot of abuse. This particular pair (the last one I would ever own) was a cheap pair that made me look like Buddy Holly, a look that had not been stylish since the early sixties. I liked them about as much as I'd liked any other pair, which is to say not at all.

I went to my mother's office to have my eyes examined. The doctor performed it himself, and I remember thinking that the exam seemed far more thorough than any I'd been through before, with many "hmmm's" emitting from the good doctor. I didn't know it then, but my eyes were being sized up.

"Josh, what would you say if I told you that I could help you lose your glasses for good?"

The doctor then explained the details of a new procedure called Radial Keratonomy (RK)Surgery. His explanation was far more technical than the one I'm about to impart, but it basically boiled down to this – "using a tiny razor blade, I'll make eight tiny slits into the corneas of each eye, and the lens itself reshaped to cure the near-sightedness" – the words "razor" and "slits" stick out particularly.

My mother's new boss was one of the first doctors in New York to learn this revolutionary, new, and expensive procedure. And he was offering it to me free of charge – the only stipulation was that I consent to the use of my cute mug being used on ads to lure in new clients. The doctor was honest about the risks – there was an extremely low chance (less than 1%) that the surgery could make my vision worse. But he was confident that my near-sightedness could be corrected, and I was confident that my mother would kill him if anything went wrong. I signed the consent form, and we arranged to do the left eye the next day, and the right the following week. It was explained to me that they never did both eyes at the same time. "In case of... complications."

The surgery itself was quick and painless. However, with my eye clipped open like Alex's in "A Clockwork Orange," it was still kind of creepy. A few eye drops applied to dilate the pupil, a few carefully made incisions in the cornea, and it was all over. I was given something to make me go to sleep and taken home. When I woke up, my eye felt gritty, like there were tiny chunks of kitty litter stuck there. But it had 20/20 vision, a bit blurred, but 20/20.

There were certainly some after affects to the procedure. I did not get the halo effect that some RK and Lasik patients report, but I was treated to the "starburst" effect -- lines radiating from bright lights at night. I got used to it fast, and kind of missed it when it faded after the first year. My vision fluctuated for the first few months, but it eventually settled into a reasonable 20/20 in the left and 20/30 in the right. From what I've read about the side effects of both RK and Lasik, the results of my procedure were certainly in the upper 98% of successful.

Nearly a decade has past since the operation, and I have never regretted my decision to go under the knife. And, if my right eye should slip lower than 20/35, I might just have it touched up with Lasik, or one of the newer technologies that are being developed. To my friend, yesterday's nay-sayer now looking into Lasik for himself, I have one thing to say:

Lasers are for wimps. I've got a Swiss army knife -- let me save you a few grand...

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