I’m having a double cornea transplant.
On December 6, they’ll numb my left eyeball, shave off the front of it, replace it with some dead person’s cornea and stitch it back on. Five months later, when my body has accepted it and it’s been given time to heal, it’ll be my right eye’s turn to go under the knife. I’ll also be awake the whole time.
I’ve had poor vision my entire life. Both of my parents have perfect vision, and I remember as a kid trying to convince them mine was flawed, but attempting to articulate something others have no schema for is near impossible. Finally around the third grade we went to the eye doctor. I tried to read the letters off the board while my mom sat in shock in the corner of the room unable to grasp my inability to relay the bold text on the illuminated screen.
I’m nearsighted, but my major issue is my astigmatism, or the misshapenness of my eyeball. I have what’s called keratoconus which basically means instead of being perfectly rounded like a normal persons’s eye, my corneas are egg-shaped, thin and constantly shapeshifting. Which means multiple things:
- Egg-shaped: My vision is distorted and i see double, often triple. This can be temporarily corrected by thicker toric contact lenses, but never all the way to 20/20 vision.
- Thin: My eyes are extremely sensitive to light causing headaches and burning, tired eyes. There’s just not enough cornea there to filter the light. If I leave the house without sunglasses, a headache is only about 30 minutes away.
- Shapeshifting: Since my eyeballs aren’t uniformly spherical, the pressure inn’t consistent in every direction causing the cornea to morph and change slowly every couple months. This renders contact lenses useless after about 2 months of wearing.
And like I said, contacts can’t fix it entirely. They can get me to around 20/40 or so in both eyes, but contact technology has never been good enough. Even if it was, with my ever-changing astigmatism, the lenses I buy don’t match within a few short months so I have to go back and get a new prescription and pay for a new supply. Since insurance only covers a one year supply, this gets expensive really quick.
Glasses aren’t an option for me. Why would I lock in a pair of lenses that are just going to change two months later? They’d be useless almost immediately. Lasik surgery isn’t an option either. My corneas are too thin to fix, and that would only solve my nearsightedness, not my astigmatism. So my only option is a transplant. It’s been on the horizon for a long time and it’s finally here.
I’m not sure what your bodily reaction is to phrases like “shave off the front of it” and stitch it back on,” but I shudder every time. I would say I’m not remotely nervous, just freaked out by the whole idea. Nobody likes having their eyes touched, let alone shaved and stitched. Gives me the heebie-jeebies.
Ultimately, the surgery is one of incredible hope for me. It’s hard to for me to express – or even understand – how limiting my eyesight is in my life. It impacts every facet of my life – professionally, socially, interpersonally, creatively – it really sucks. A couple stories:
- Professionally: The final straw was when I was trying to research and write a lesson plan and couldn’t read the book I was reading let alone type out a document on my laptop. I sat in my office cursing my eyes, and that’s what finally got me to make the phone call and set up a consultation with the surgeon.
- Socially: Over the weekend my family and I went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and there were people everywhere. Since I can’t be sure of anyone’s face until they’re like 10 feet away from me, there’s no telling how many people I “saw” whom I knew but said nothing to because I didn’t actually see them. Coffee shops are a nightmare. Meeting people in public places where I have to see them from across a crowded restaurant is the worst. I always try to get there 10-15 minutes early so they have to find me and not the other way around.
- Creatively/Productively: I can’t write when my eyes aren’t locked in. Whenever I get new contacts, I have about a 6 week window where I’m really productive. Then I can’t do it anymore. I’ve written the majority of this post with my eyes shut, only opening them to edit the paragraph I’ve just transposed.
- Interpersonally: This one is the most frustrating and it’s different than socially. There are different sizes of social space – public, social, interpersonal, intimate – and interpersonal space is effected differently than social space. The struggle with social space is recognition. The struggle with interpersonal space are things like eye contact, facial expressions and nonverbal cues. Believe it or not, double vision makes it hard to read other people’s faces and all it takes is one blink for my contacts to go wonky. Then I have to look away and blink until they settle back in. It’s rare for me to be able to be fully present with others.
All that to say, this surgery will change my life in every way, and I don’t say that flippantly or without meaning it. This will change my life. I’ll still need to wear contacts to correct my nearsightedness, but without an astigmatism it’ll be a permanent prescription. I’ll be able to call 1-800-CONTACTS and simply renew my previous prescription once a year. No more blurry double vision, no more headaches and burning, heavy eyes. Constant, unchanging, undistorted vision. It’ll be 20/20. It doesn’t totally feel real.
It’ll a long road. It’ll be a full year from now when I’m totally healed and my eyes can be considered my own. It’s weird. It’s freaky. It’s hopeful. Bonus: I think I’ll get to wear an eyepatch for a few days so that’s cool.