My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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i can see

I’ve had glasses for as long as i can remember. As a kid, i hated them and begged for contacts. I stubbornly wore contacts for years even though they were irritating and i always fell asleep with them in. I did so because my coke bottle glasses were embarassing. In college, contacts became impossible because i never slept and spent too much time staring at computer screens. Luckily, i found out that i could spend an obscene amount of money and get relatively thin and cool glasses across the street from the computer lab. While visiting San Francisco a few years later, i found the best eye glasses guy ever. At a store on the west side of Castro by 19th, there’s this gay guy (a proper bear who wore leather the first time i saw him). When i walked in, i told him i was looking for new glasses. He looked at me and then grabbed a pair and shoved them at me with, “here. these.” I asked if i could look around and he made it very clear that this was not the right question. He was right – the glasses were perfect; I bought them. A few years later i bought another pair from him. They too were perfect. But due to my prescription, they were over $900 each.

I first heard about Lasik when i was in high school and i begged and pleaded with my mom to get the surgery. When she was sick of hearing me beg, she got the eye doctor to explain that it was not a procedure for minors and that my eyes needed to stabilize. I thought about it again a few years later, but my lack of income made it an impossible endeavor. Besides, what if something went wrong?

Over the last few years, i’ve heard people ramble on and on about Lasik. I started to realize that most of my friends had had it done. And they loved it. My friend Case started sending me del.icio.us links of everything i needed to know. He raved about his doctor and told me to call him. I actually did call him, but then a set of personal problems made me not follow up. As i was leaving San Francisco, i thought about again but i just didn’t have the nerve to call.

Moving to Los Angeles made the desire to fix this problem grow ever more strong. Perhaps the ever-present plastic surgery ads played into it, but more than anything, it was living five blocks from the beach and hating my glasses whenever i went to the beach. To top it off, the film on my glasses started flaking in December, meaning that new glasses were going to be necessary very soon. I started asking people if they had any recommendations in LA. I figure that LA, land of all things plastic surgery, had to be an ideal place to get Lasik done. Very few people knew of any good surgeons here but one name did emerge – a Dr. Robert Maloney. He was considered to be the best – he fixed other doctors’ fuckups, did way too many famous people, and had done a bazillion of these things. He got to do all of the FDA trial stuff and that ABC show Extreme Makeover used him as the eye doctor. He was extremely expensive and located in Beverly Hills – terribly surface-level indicators but, honestly, i wanted someone who would be good given how bad my vision is.

Shortly before 6PM on Tuesday night, i decided to just call and see if i could get an appointment, just to see… The guy on the phone asked me which month. I said now? He said that he actually had a cancellation for tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2PM. I said perfect. I went down to the clinic. It’s poshy-poshy and no one working there has glasses. On the waiting table are these huge binders – Dr. Maloney’s CV. Harvard, Oxford, UCSF, award this award that, etc. I go through a bazillion tests. The first set are obvious – damn do i have bad vision. -10.0. That’s at the upper scale of what they are even willing to consider, but there are alternatives to Lasik. More tests. No glaucoma, no indications of macular degeneration, tear ducts work, average pupils, etc. Then, there’s the cornea thickness test – this is the one that really matters because they have to shave this off. Surprisingly, i have super thick cornea making it very easy to do the correction even with my atrocious vision. After going through all of the nurses and doctors (who are all amazingly nice and willing to humor all of my strange questions), i meet Maloney. It takes me two seconds to realize that he’s arrogant as hell (with Hollywood niceness coated on top). Perfect. I have to admit that i like arrogant doctors when it comes to this kind of stuff. He needs to be absolutely convinced that he couldn’t possibly mess it up. And he was. His success rate was astounding – there was no reason to think that i’d be the first person he’d leave blind after 40,000 of these damn things.

I decided to do it. Again, they asked me when i wanted the surgery. They typically have availability a week after consultations but i look at my calendar and realize that i have a million things scheduled next week and if anything went wrong, it wouldn’t be pretty. I asked her if there was anything tomorrow (Thursday). She looked at me startled and said she doubted it, but when she went to that date in the monitor, there was indeed one opening – 1.30PM, Thursday, February 1. I said i’d take it. They asked if i wanted the all laser version (Lasik Wavefront with Interlace) or the one that involved the blade (Lasik Wavefront only). I don’t think they put it that curtly but that’s what my head translated it to. I didn’t care that the all-laser option was an extra $800 – the idea of blades made my eyes try to jump out of my skull.

I left the office. And then i panicked. Did it make sense to do this so rash? It was a lot of money (or rather, a lot of credit card debt). Who would take me to the doctor’s? And then it dawned on me that Ronen was in San Deigo this week. Ronen, a dear old friend of mine, is somehow associated with all of my medical crises in my head because he’s picked me up and taken care of me far too many times. I called him and without asking, he asked if i needed company. And i wimpered, pleeeease. And he changed around his plans to find a rental car to come up and take me to the doctor’s and calm me down and spend all day with me.

I went into the doctor’s. They gave me three valium to calm my nerves. They did absolutely nothing but i pretended to be calmed. They put all sorts of drops in me. I laid back. Pressure – they put this thing on my eye so that it couldn’t move. Stare into the light (even when i couldn’t see the light). Laser round one – making the flap. Then the other eye got it’s flap opened. Eyes closed. Swivel to new machine. Weird tape to keep my eyes open. Stare into the light. Laser round two – reshaping the cornea. And then all of these weird brushes and a liquid and an air vacuum. Repeat on next eye. Keep eyes closed for a moment. Look up – see the clock? Holy shit.

Ronen drove me home with my eyes closed (while i was wearing these cool Burning Man-esque goggles). We cheated and stopped for B&J’s milkshakes. Took the ambien, slept for four hours. Woke up and could see, dropped meds in my eyes. Things were still quite blurry though. Had dinner, dropped more meds in my eyes. Listened to the Daily Show. Went to sleep, woke up and rolled over and could see my alarm clock. Holy shit. Drove myself back to the doctor’s for a check up (where they also fixed the itchy thing which turned out to be extra flap ness). Drove home, bought sunglasses.

The folks at the Maloney Vision Institute were unbelievably professional and reassuring (their routines during surgery were fascinating to listen to – amazingly precise). I was also a sucker for all of the little unnecessary but make you feel good things – they paid for parking, i got a little leather bag with all the meds pre-packaged and they gave me a prescript to go through Heathrow, there was coffee and tea (and valium and ambien). The clinic smelled good. They had soft fancy chairs. And the combination of down-to-earth nurses and doctors and an arrogant surgeon (who was still amazingly nice) really worked for me. Even though i was terrified, i was confident that this was the right place to be doing this.

Things are still slightly blurry, but not really that bad. My vision also seems to go in and out between 20/20 and 20/40. I’m told this should last for a little while, mostly because of the magnitude of the change. Stabilization should be in three months or so. The crazy red blobs on the side of my eyes should last two weeks. The dryness should go away (but it’s not actually that bad now). I’ll probably get some fun halos at night (again, due to the terribleness of my vision). But HOLY SHIT. I don’t have glasses anymore. ::jaw on floor::

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26 comments to i can see

  • kim boyd

    Congrats!! I’m glad everything went well! It’ll be so weird to see you in March w/o the glasses. =)

  • wow, i really enjoyed reading your article. i’ve been in a similar boat. lasik both intrigues and frightens me, but your post might just help me conquer the fear! now if i can just figure out how to *pay* for it…thanks for writing this.

  • wow! that’s crazy! you need to post a picture with the new ‘everyday’ look. πŸ™‚

  • Johanka

    Awesome!

    As glasses-wearer myself with a prescription of -3.25 I’m not really considering lasic, but it still sounds cool and not that scary.

    That said, I love your green half-rimmed glasses. They look perfect in the pictures. Always wondered which brand they are and whether they can be bought online. You probably aren’t going to sell them on ebay… πŸ™‚

  • Yay! Congratulations! Ronen rocks. As if we needed any further proof of that. πŸ˜‰

  • Congrats! I’m so glad I got Lasik. Damn girl, you were worse than me! I was -8.75.

  • musichollie

    dana- I’m SOOO jealous! I’ve been thinking about it, and the eye doctor here says I would be a fine candidate, but insurance doesn’t cover it, and just don’t have the room on the credit card now. Maybe someday…..

  • musichollie

    DUH- sorry I spelled your name wrong (I was thinking of the OTHER dana-friend-from-high-school) danah!!!!

  • My pal tells an amusing story of when he re-emerged into the world after surgery. He was far too vain to wear glasses so he’d always had a blurred view of the world.
    After surgery, he stepped out of the hospital, staring at the ground, amazed at the detail he could see, then he slowly lifted up his head and had a revelation – in front of him was a tree, and it wasn’t just a big fuzzy green blob, as he’d seen all his life. He could see *individual leaves*. He said that he just stood in the steet and stared for ages at a world he had no idea existed.

    Glad it worked for you too πŸ™‚

    Stu πŸ˜‰

  • Congrats, danah! I had Lasik about 4 years ago and still have excellent vision. My eyes were in the same shape as yours. Like you, I began to see immediately. The day after surgery I even cautioned my barefoot wife about a pin sticking out of the carpet! Since I am a swimmer, the biggest thing for me was being able to see under water.

    I do not have the halo problem that they say may happen, nor do I have extremely dry eyes; I hope you don’t either.

    This may sound strange, but despite loving my new eyesight, during the first year I found I missed the ability to “turn off” my vision by removing my contacts. From here on out your life will be in constant focus…

  • Bjorn

    See, I told you it would be OK. Welcome to the ranks of surgicaly enhanced πŸ˜‰

  • but but … you’re so CUTE with glasses.

  • Welcome to the world of the visually corrected! I too did lasik but back in ’99 (was -8/-7). My vision is still 20/20 and I consider the surgery a bit of a “rebirth” That can choke me up a bit when I think about all the hassle that has been removed from my life when I swim, shower, sleep, travel or even stay over at a friend’s for a night. It feels a bit miraculous.

    Took me about 3 weeks to fully settle into 20/20. I get minor haloing, but my brain doesn’t notice it anymore. I’ve never had the dry eye issues.

  • “with blades or without blades” ouch ouch ouch.

    There’s no way I would let someone physically cut my eyes, although technically they are still cutting them but with a laser.

    When you started mentioning ‘the flappy bits’ I shook – and I’m a grown man!

    danah – you are a lot braver than me. There is no way I could have done the surgery. I have 2.25/1.75 although I always wear my glasses or contacts – it’s irritatingly just a little too bad to get away with nothing.

    I really hope your eye sight is fixed and stays fixed!

    Best wishes, Ben

  • I had LASIK done back in the day (1998) and still remember that first morning waking up and looking across the room to see the clock without visual assistance. I highly recommend having those bottles or tubes of fake tears EVERYWHERE. Computer use (something about blinking less) and airplanes (recirculated air) were the worst for me – but those vials of “natural” tears made life all that more bearable. Even after all these years, this procedure still amazes me. Congrats, and glad that everything went so well!

  • Lisa E

    Congratulations! I’m so glad it went well, and so pleased for you that you got to have it done.

  • I’m so glad that this worked out for you. You made the right decision going for a good surgeon for this, you really want someone who’s done it many times before. Isn’t it amazing how many surgeons are arrogant?

    And this is a great story – one you’ll fun telling for years to come.

  • F.William

    Watch out for those halos at night. They’re really not supposed to be there. I also have another comment. Why is it considered so cool to avoid pressing the SHIFT key when typing an “i” as in me, myself and “i?” This does not show coolness. It shows lazyness.

  • Hej danah, all the best! Take care of your vision and of yourself. As we say in German “Ich drΓΌcke dir die Daumen!”.

    Wolf-Dieter

  • Congrats, danah. I had LASIK done a few months ago. It’s the best money I’ve ever spent. I always used to hate the beach. I’m glad you mentioned it. Now I’m excited for the summer to come. πŸ™‚

    Enjoy your new eyes!

  • Just as a side note, I clicked on the link to your doc’s site, and have been surprised at what’s happened the last few days. I’d not seen this at work like this before. Basically, your doc’s homepage has a 1×1 pixel that’s hosted on an AdvantixMedia server. In turn, they dropped a cookie on my hard drive, and anytime I went anywhere in the attending advertising network over the next few days, I was served an ad for Dr. Maloney. I think I’ve seen about ten ads for his vision-care services since I read your entry – mostly on MySpace, where they serve some inventory, and a couple on Yahoo!, I think.

    Ah, the Internet. I used to run behavioural targeting campaigns for Acura when I worked for the agency that represented them, but I’d never seen it working so aggressively.

  • Emilio

    Besides all the amazing things I’ve learned from your blog on social networks, identity, and discovering Milgram, this entry made it clear to me that it’s your storytelling ability that I enjoy the most and brings me back to blog. Thanks!

    BTW- “They gave me three valium to calm my nerves. They did absolutely nothing but i pretended to be calmed.”- I laughed so hard! “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”- Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

  • Me too….I just did this yesterday, and WOW!!!

    I CAN SEE!

    Isn’t it awesome?!?

    Congrats from a total stranger who shares your joy!

    *angi

  • Tiago

    i also want to do LASIK because i want to join the army here in my country but i’m afraid lol….

  • kgs

    danah, the next time I see you I’ll have to quote one of those corny lines from B movies (what the guy says when the ‘dowdy’ woman takes off her glasses): “Why, Miss Smith… you’re *beautiful*!”

    Of course, you’ve always been beautiful, specs or no specs, but it must be something else to have a naked face at last. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be able to buy cheap sunglasses. Congrats on doing something that required some nerve and faith. Hope to run into you on the talk circuit one of these years. Oh, and of course, I love apophenia… I’m just one of your quieter admirers. — ol’ Miss Trifocals

  • ace

    Glad to hear your lasik went well. Wow -10 thats bad! Im a -5(left) -4.5(right) and looking to get Intacs(if im a candidate) lasik is too risky and permanent, you get one try. Intacs can be removed if I have a complication.