Getting Yagged

About a decade ago, I began to have trouble seeing at night. Everything I saw was occluded by a yellow and gray fog. I had cataracts. The lenses in my eyes were kaput. Cataracts was a word I heard almost every day growing up, because my father was an ophthalmologist.

The standard treatment for cataracts is to remove the lens and replace it with an artificial lens. The details sound gross so I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say, the power of the replacement lens can be chosen. It’s a bit like getting a contact lens implanted in your eye.

In my case my cataract surgery allowed by eye doctor to correct another problem. I had had surgery for a detached retina that left me much more nearsighted in my left eye than in my right. This caused some depth perception problems that could only be corrected by wearing one thick lens and one thin lens in my eye glasses.

During the cataract surgery the doctor chose different powered lenses to rebalance my vision. The result was pretty darn amazing. After the surgery I could see better than I had since I first got glasses in third grade. The yellow/gray haze was gone.

About a year later, my vision got cloudy again. This is called a secondary cataract. It is not caused by a defect in the lens itself rather it is cause by a build up on the membrane or capsule in which the replacement lenses are situated. The actual name of the surgery is posterior capsule opacification.  Something called a YAG laser is used to remedy the situation. I don’t know what YAG stands for, but it sounds pretty cool. Actually, it sounds a bit like a Dr. Seuss creature. I had both eyes yagged (it really ought to be a verb).

Last month I thought I needed new glasses. I just couldn’t see right. The doctor examined me and found that my right eye once again had opacification. So today I got yagged again.

My eye exploded and juicy bits went all over the office. It was GROSS!!!

Okay, I am kidding. I had three drops put in my eye. I waited ten minutes. I sat in a chair with my chin resting on a cradle. I held onto to knobs to keep myself still. The doctor used his machine to put a little white thingie about the size of a kernel of rice in front of my face. “Keep your on on this. Don’t move.” The doctor used his YAG laser to zap my eye. All I could see was two red lights, one on top of the other. I’d hear a click when I got zapped by the YAG. Then the doctor moved the light a tad and zapped me again. It didn’t hurt at all. In fact, it was over in a couple of minutes. I rode my bike home (with sunglasses on because my eye was dilated).

I am the only kid on my block who’s been yagged three times.

Postscript: According to Gaines, beer, wine, and science adviser to the Rootchopper Institute,  YAG stands for Yttrium Aluminium Garnet. Which is really helpful because we all know what yttrium is, don’t we? (It’s on the Periodic table with the designation Y and having an atomic number of 39. Which shows you how much I learned in chemistry in high school. I’m pretty sure that @bobbishaftoe could help here but she’s in hiding until the midterm elections.)






Making the Landscape Move through You

One day when I was in college, I drove my older brother around in a car. He was (and is still, for all I know) a skilled photographer. As he took pictures, I remarked again and again, “Why are you wasting film on that?” His answer was that what seems mundane to me may be fascinating to a photographer. “A photographer views his world differently,” he said. I didn’t really understand him.

Fast forward to about ten years ago. My eyesight was terrible. I had had two surgeries to repair a detached retina in my left eye. The result was that the vision from my left eye was blurry and far more nearsighted than my right. Given that my vision in my right eye was something like 20/400 this was a significant problem. To make matters worse, my post-surgery vision while passable was also severely deficient in depth perception. (Before the retina detachment, while wearing my glasses, I could see well enough to hit medium speed pitches at the local batting cages. After, I couldn’t put the bat on the ball if my life depended on it. Was I low, high, early, late? I just could not tell.)

Then I got lucky. I got cataracts.

Before the surgery my lenses were cloudy. This made it very hard to see at night and put a yellowish tinge on everything I saw. The surgery (which takes ten minutes per eye under light sedation) involves removing your lens (one eye at a time) and replacing it with a man-made lens. Since your lens is being replaced, you can replace it with a lens of a different power. So a more powerful corrective lens went in my bad, left eye than the lens lens that went into my right eye. The result was literally awesome.

(Digression: my father was an ophthalmologist. Often when walking in a shopping mall or other public place, someone would walk up to him and thank him profusely. I thought these people were bonkers, but now I had a first hand understanding of where they were coming from.)

The replacement lenses got me to 20/100 or so in both eyes so I still wear glasses, but my fully corrected vision is, well, eye opening.

One day, after getting my new glasses, I was standing in the opening to my shed facing the yard. A passing shower was dropping rain on my back yard but half the sky was clear allowing the evening sun to strike the raindrops at an angle. My new eyes saw these raindrops as shining silver droplets; they seemed like tinsel falling through the air. I had never seen anything like it.

Normally, when we move through a landscape we focus broadly. We see everything as a whole. We correctly perceive ourselves passing through the landscape as things we see leave our focus and move behind us.

Lately while riding my bike I’ve started playing with how my eyes focus on the world I am passing through. I pick out an object like an tree limb overhanging the trail and focus my attention on it. This causes the limb to take on a separate place in the visual field, not unlike the 3-D effect of a Viewmaster. The rest of my visual field is slightly out of focus. I notice that when I do this eye trick as I ride, it seems like the landscape is moving and I am staying still. As if, the landscape is moving through me.

My commute is really beautiful, but I have ridden the Mount Vernon Trail to and from DC several thousand times. I can practically ride it with my eyes closed. Now, however, my little perception experiment is opening my eyes to an entirely different perspective.

I can’t help but wonder if I would have been able to pull off this visual stunt with normal, healthy eyes.