In the span of about two hours on Tuesday morning, my entire outlook on life literally changed for the better. I had eye surgery to correct a case of amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye, where visual stimulation either fails to transmit or is poorly transmitted through the optic nerve to the brain for a continuous period of time. It also can occur when the brain "turns off" the visual processing of one eye to prevent double-vision. Typically, it occurs in early childhood and results in poor or blurry vision.
Strabismic amblyopia, a condition in which the eyes are misaligned, was what I had been plagued with until that Tuesday morning. I had normal vision in my one eye, but my other eye that turned inward was significantly weaker and would cause me to frequently see double images. It was at the point where my brain would shut off vision entirely from my left eye to prevent seeing two of everything.
As a kid, I wore a patch over my "good" eye, although it was on a minimal basis since wearing one didn't exactly help my social life. Eventually, I quit wearing it entirely and adjusted to having poor vision and little depth perception. Later on, I wore glasses and then switched over to contacts, but nothing straightened my weak left eye, and year by year, I grew more self-conscious about my eyes. I could tell people would look extra at them to figure out what was different, even sometimes asking if I was cross-eyed, and I'd good-naturedly say I have a lazy eye or I'd tell a joke and change the subject really quick. I'd always add that I was going to have surgery sometime in the near future to get it fixed, the conversation would move on, and I'd forget about it until the next time.
Fast forward to my annual eye exam this past May where I asked my optometrist for a referral to an eye surgeon. I decided that I was finally ready to move forward with eye surgery, or more accurately, I made myself be ready to move forward. I was tired of having a crooked eye and feeling self-conscious, so I put aside my fear of needles, pain and hospitals and went full steam ahead with the surgery.
I met with the eye surgeon for a consultation, where they dilated my eyes, which took me out of any game for the day. I knew that if I was down for the count from a simple thing like having my pupils dilated, I might be in trouble in the actual surgical procedure. But I stayed committed to my decision. The doctor concluded that I'd be a good candidate for this corrective surgery and also encouraged me to watch a video of the procedure. I said no thanks. If I knew exactly how an eye muscle is straightened, I would never go through with it.
The surgery was scheduled for mid-July, two days after a trip to New York. During the time from the consultation and the surgery date, I switched off between feeling excited and scared out of my wits. Mostly I was scared out of my wits, but again, the want of having a straight eye overruled any second thoughts I was having.
And then the day finally arrived, a little quicker than I would have liked, but it was there and I was as ready as I'd ever be. Everything leading up to the actual surgery, the checking in, the going over the medical history, the preparation for surgery, seemed to move in extra slow motion.
In total, I spent the entire morning hours in the waiting room, operating room, and recovery room. I was put totally under, something I didn't find out until checking in at the reception desk that morning, which helped me since knowing about that ahead of time would've only added to my worries. I don't know for sure, but I have a feeling the surgery involved taking my eye out, putting a stitch in the muscle to shorten it, and then returning the eye to its rightful spot. What I do know is that I went to sleep listening to the nurses tell jokes, enjoyed a lovely dream about being on Martha's Vineyard, and woke up feeling woozy and with a patch covering almost the entire left half of my face.
Once I could choke down a few bites of the peanut butter toast they gave me after the surgery, I was free to leave and continue my recovery at home. I had to wear the patch for the duration of the day and until the next morning, which I did, and truthfully, would've worn it for longer than that. There was comfort in wearing the patch, mainly because I was afraid of what my eye would look like underneath.
My boyfriend was the one who took off the patch, and his first sentence upon first sight of my eye was, "Oh my God, your eye is straight!" And sure enough, it was straight as an arrow, along with being bloodshot, bruised and swollen.
But the sight from both my right and left eyes was incredible. Everything looked three-dimensional when before I saw things mostly in one dimension. I couldn't believe how round everything looked and that this was how people normally see the world. I'd been missing seeing things in the round over all those years and thought that everything was supposed to look flat. Of course, the roundness of everything quickly disappeared once I had to start applying the antibiotic ointment in my eye since that makes my vision blurry. But the roundness and 3-D effect will come back once I'm healed and both eyes are working together.
I also kept looking in the mirror just to make sure that my eye was still straight. I still do that.
Aside from the pain, because this surgery definitely has been painful and more painful than I would have thought, it has all been worth it. Even before I took the patch off, I knew I would not regret having this done. This has probably been the best thing I have ever done for myself, to be honest. Seeing the world with two working eyes instead of just one has given me a whole new outlook on life.
(Jill Hambek is the wellness reporter for The Minot Daily News.)