Sunday, September 16, 2012

Laser Eye Surgery and Denial

A friend recently shared with me, "I've come to the conclusion that grief and loss are one of my teachers in this life."  ...

In January 2004, Amy and I landed jobs overseas (for the following school year) in Seoul, Korea, teaching at Seoul International School. We knew we would be leaving the country, and I with my glasses, thought it high time to get my eyes lasered. I did in March over spring break.

The Lasik eye lasering process is pretty simple: zap through a few layers of the epithelial tissue that protects the eye in order to get to the cornea, then zap down the over-curved cornea so that it refracts light without blurring vision. Actually, they over-correct the eye so that when the tissue heals, it heals at perfect curvature for perfect vision.

What I failed to tell the ophthalmologist (out of ignorance) was that my skin heals at double the rate, and my hair grows like weeds. I didn't know that the epithelial tissue was part of the same system. So in the 5-7 day healing process, I had great vision on Day 2, and then by the end of the recovery process, my eyes had healed such that they were over curved resulting in blurry vision for my trip to Korea.

So off we went on our multiple year adventure in August 2004, and I was too stubborn to get glasses the entire time we were there. "I'm fine!" and "There's no way I'm wearing glasses" were predominant thoughts I had when I would almost cross my eyes to try and see what everyone else could see on the projector at meetings and assemblies and movies. I got by. My vision sucked. But I got by. Not perfectly. But I got by.

Upon return to Canada in 2006, one of the first things I did was re-schedule another Lasik appointment to correct the problem. They told me that the process would be the same, but the healing would be way more painful because it would be scar tissue that was healing (from the previous zap), and not real 'fresh' tissue. OK. Whatever. I wanted it done. I needed it done. I was too stubborn to ever wear glasses again, and I wanted it fixed.

So in December 2006 I underwent Lasik eye surgery a second time. The procedure was the same, but they zapped deeper knowing how quickly I heal. Day 1 was fine, but come Day 2, the pain was unbearable. It felt like someone was sandpapering my eyes with an iodine rub. Fortunately they give patients a painkiller to manage (I think T3's with codeine), and I popped those by the middle of Day 2 and things were way better. Giddy-up! I popped them Day 3, and the pain continued to be manageable. "This is easy!" and "Why doesn't everyone do this?" were thoughts that I had during those days. My vision wasn't getting any better, but I thought that was because they over-zapped me. Ha ha.

When I went for my one-week check-up, they asked how I was doing. "Great!" I said, and commented how "easy" it was this time. I asked them a little nervously, though, "When will my eyes start to get better?" And a little more worried, "Any day now?"

The technician explained that the painkillers I was taking weren't allowing my eyes to properly heal. At the time, the science behind it made sense, but six years later all I remember is that there was something in the codeine (or some other sub-component of the painkiller) that wouldn't let the epithelial tissue in my eyes heal. The drug was denying my eyes the opportunity to heal. My unwillingness to confront the pain was prolonging the inevitable.

So, wanting to see well for the rest of my life, I had to take a couple more days off work and endure the excruciating pain that ensued. It was like 5 times more painful, for twice as long. I writhed around on the couch like a little weeny and felt the tears dripping down my cheeks for a good 3-4 days as my eyes healed properly.

And they did.

Maybe I'm the only father of a deceased or terminally-ill child out there who has gone to great lengths to deny the inevitable. But I doubt it. It's been my observation that women are much better at confronting things head on when it comes to their children. I reckon women are wired that way. This might explain why 90%-plus of the people who have told me they read this blog are women. Men are better at subject-changing, sub-consciencely denying, avoiding, going on mini-escapes, burying themselves in work, having one-too-many-cocktails one too many times, deliberately distancing, and focusing on other people's problems. I have no research to support this, but it's been what I've observed, and it's definitely been the case with Amy and I.

How do you raise a child who you know from Day 1 (or Day 10 in our case) is going to die at a very young age? We've said, "You just do it," and all other sorts of things on this blog, but I've never really shared that sometimes you find incredible ways to prevent yourself from feeling the pain. I guess the point of this post, however, is that by avoiding the pain you deny yourself the opportunity to grow and heal.

Am I writing this post to my family and friends? No. I'm writing this post for myself and all the other people out there, especially the men – the fathers and sons and brothers and granddads – who find themselves in lonely and grievous situations like I do. Men just don't talk the way women do. "I'm watching the game," or, "Really, you want to talk about that... it's like 8pm," or "No, nothings wrong.. seriously .... nothing's wrong," or "I'm going to the pub," are very much a part of my vernacular.

Our daughter is turning 2 years old in less than a month. It's only now, however, that I'm coming to grips with how much I've been denying things. Yes, it's served a purpose. But my efforts to avoid pain have had consequences. Like preventing me to confront reality and grow and heal in the ways that I should for her and my family. Like making meaning of it while Gabrielle's here, and not some time down the road when she's passed away.

I think that's what happens with denial in all cases. It prevents us from healing and seeing clearly, something like a codeine drop after laser eye surgery.

Denying reality complicates things. Confronting reality simplifies things. Gabrielle is simplicity incarnate. Maybe all children are.

Denial prolongs the inevitable and clouds things along the way. We're far better off facing reality head-on than we are 'pushing it down' for another day.