Mary Lou Retina

As the ophthalmologist was preparing me for photocoagulation this afternoon, it took every ounce of restraint in my body to not turn to him and say, “Do you expect me to talk?”

That’s because, until today, my only knowledge of laser surgery came from this scene:

It turns out that treating a hole in your retina with a laser has very little in common with derailing a criminal mastermind’s plans to irradiate all the gold in Fort Knox. First, the procedure took place in a doctor’s office and not a lair. Second, a young Sean Connery1 was nowhere to be found. Last … well, er, I’m struggling to churn out a Pussy Galore joke here, but it just ain’t happening.2

As with everything that happens in an eye doctor’s office, the procedure started with eye drops. In this case, they were numbing drops. It takes a moment for the numbing effect to kick in — for a fraction of a second, my eye burned, and I wondered if they had used Tabasco instead. 

Next, the ophthalmologist strapped on headgear that looked like the Borg3 designed it. It had several lights (I assume one was the laser itself) and was tethered to a piece of equipment about the size of a breadbox. I don’t know what the headgear is called, and I wish I did because I’ve been trying to find photos online. Google doesn’t do a very good job when you search for “crazy laser eye surgery hat.”

The word “photocoagulation” comes from Latin. In this case, “photo” means “light,” and “coagulation” means “this is weird and uncomfortable.”

As I understand it, the laser surgery doesn’t seal the hole. Instead, it burns dozens of tiny scars into the retina to prevent the hole from enlarging, leaking, or turning into a tear. The doctor focused the laser bursts with a large lens, which he held directly over my eye. The laser is green, which, as every child is taught in school, is the same color as Luke’s lightsaber.

My ophthalmologist was great. I know I’m joking around here about the experience, but the doctor was very professional and put me at ease. Because of the location of the hole, I had to keep my right eye pointed down and to the right. I kept trying to imagine something in that direction right outside of my field of vision, but that’s not easy to do when someone is focusing a beam of light into your eye. Involuntarily, I’d move my eyes after a few laser bursts. I kept apologizing: “I’m really sorry,” “I’m not trying to make things difficult for you.”

The doctor was reassuring, telling me I was doing fine every time I apologized. I lost time during the procedure — it felt like 30 minutes, but it was probably over in less than 15.

I’ve been home for a few hours now, and I am happy to report that the only side-effect was the overwhelming urge to eat an entire package of Biscoff cookies. Hey, don’t judge me! I just had surgery.

1 Swoon.

2 James Bond: “Who are you?”
Pussy Galore: “My name is Pussy Galore.”
James Bond: “I must be dreaming.”

3 Resistance is futile.