Eye Eye, Matey

Other than the chest-cracking I went through about four years ago — eh, nothing to it — I have not spent much time in my life around doctors itching to improve their scalpel skills. But as sometimes happens with a man of my particular maturity (read that like Liam Neeson), you can’t avoid these things forever. So here I go with my latest medical misadventure.

Ugh. Eye surgery.

For many years now, especially when I get a little tired, I’ve noticed that my eyesight sometimes tends to melt into a kind of art-house dissolve. Everything starts to run together and turn blurry and … scene! It’s usually a sign for me to pack it up and hit the rack.

For the past couple years, those end credits have begun to roll with more frequency. The little score bug in the corner of my screen while I’m watching a game suddenly starts floating toward the middle of my vision, or that late-night jump shot (and by late night, we’re talking 9 p.m. or so) too often drifts too far right.

Sure, on the court, it might be a general deterioration of overall skill or, more likely, the fact that I never could shoot straight in the first place. But that doesn’t explain the TV picture going all Dali on me, or the typos that I start struggling with on my laptop late at night (though, again: my keyboarding skills are atrocious any time of day), or why I often find myself one-eyeing a subtitle on TV. (Why I have subtitles on my screen is another deficiency altogether, but I will say this: Once you start using closed-captions, it’s hard to break the habit.)

The big, unavoidable 2-by-4 that convinced me that my vision was slipping too much to ignore came about two years ago when I bought a new pair of glasses, had to go back to get them readjusted three times and still couldn’t get them right. I tossed them in the drawer in my bedside table. Haven’t worn any kind of glasses for years. It’s contacts (or contacts and readers) or eye-naked and near-blind for me.

All this time, and especially with my contacts in, my right eye has been acting extremely bossy; it wants to take over all vision-related activities. It doesn’t play well with my leftie. It’s infuriating.

And so, after a trip to an optometrist and an ophthalmologist and a dictionary to tell them apart, a doctor (one of them) gave me the word: I am, evidently, an upper-middle-aged man with the left eye of a 6-year-old. The technical term is strabismus. The schoolyard taunt is cross-eyed.

Essentially, my left eye is too weak and has started to turn, ever so slightly, inward. Without the proper binocular vision, my right eye has assumed control. It is not a good working relationship.

My optomopthalowhatever, a tall, friendly scarecrow of a man named Lipsky  — not-as-upper-middle-aged as me — ran all the tests, covering one of my eyes, then the other, watching as my peepers jumped furiously back and forth at the Post-It note he had stuck to his nose. He had me focus on a toy horse — one of those little models held together with a string, so when you push the bottom of the pedestal that it’s standing on, the horse crumples into a pile — while he moved it to different places in my field of vision. (Where words fail, the internet always provides video.)

Again, this strabismus thing is for 6-year-olds.

After months of putting off the inevitable, I took my eye — well, both of them — and my falling shooting percentage to Dr. Lipsky last week for surgery. More accurately, my wife accompanied me to an outpatient procedure to get my left eye sliced up.

Technically, the procedure makes perfect sense. Dr. Lipsky, in terms definitely not meant for a first-grader (resection, recession, cutting a damn eye) loosened at least one muscle on my eyeball, tightened another, tried to line everything up and sent me home an hour or so later.

(For videos, you can get gross online, or I’ll offer up this. Same idea:)

Now, the recovery. I spent the first day or so with my left eye completely shut, mainly because it was more comfortable that way. I also kept it shuttered out of simple decorum: The offended orb is blood red. I mean blood red. It is gross looking. Which is why, that first day, I made sure to take a close-up of it to send to my son.

I’m opening ol’ leftie more now, going less Cyclops whenever I can. I’ve pulled those useless glasses out of my bedside table and, promisingly, can see in them. In another week or so, I’ll put my contacts back in and find out how that goes. The week after that, if I can tolerate the contacts, I can play ball again.

Over the next several weeks, my eyes and brain will (theoretically) begin to work together again. My pushy right eye will learn (theoretically) that it has some help and it doesn’t need to do everything on its own. My jumper (hopelessly, unrealistically optimistically) will improve. My typos will disappear. The surgery will be a rousing success.

Or, in a few months, I’ll be sitting in Dr. Lipsky’s waiting room, complete with the board books and its little play area, waiting on a tune-up. One in three candidates, the doc told me early on, has to go back for a correction. Those aren’t great odds, which is one of the reasons I took so long in deciding to do this in the first place.

But I decided that taking the chance that this surgery won’t completely fix things first time around is worth it, especially considering the alternative is more frustratingly goofy vision and reading at night with my contacts out and a Kindle about an inch-and-a-half from my nose.

We’ll see how things work. One way or another, we’ll see.


I could not help thinking, as I prepared for this surgery, of a famous scene that I first saw in a film class at Arizona State. It’s from a very weird — well, in artistic terms, it’s surrealist — 1929 film, Un Chien Andalou, by famed artist Salvador Dali and Spanish director Luis Buñuel. (The roughly 21-minute film, in its entirety, can be seen here.)

This movie is absolutely plotless. It makes no sense, and is proud of it. Scenes have little, or nothing, to do with each other. The filmmakers were sky-high on something really strong when they made this.

There’s one scene that involves … well, let me let Wiki explain it to you:

The young woman pushes him away as he drifts off and she attempts to escape by running to the other side of the room. The young man corners her as she reaches for a racquet in self-defense, but he suddenly picks up two ropes and drags two grand pianos containing dead and rotting donkeys, stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, two pumpkins, and two rather bewildered priests (played by Jaime Miravilles and Salvador Dalí) who are attached by the ropes. As he is unable to pursue, the young woman escapes the room. The young man chases after her, but she traps his hand, which is infested with ants, in the door.

I remember seeing that at ASU and thinking, “Dang … this was supposed to be an easy class.”

Anyway, the scene above isn’t the one that popped to mind when I was considering my strabismus surgery. Instead, it was the one below.

WARNING: Do not watch this if you’re in the least bit squeamish.

Do not watch this, I said, if you’re in the least bit squeamish.

I told you. Eye surgery. Ugh.

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