Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hands On Bay Area

I've recently (in the last month or so) started using a site called Hands On Bay Area, which matches volunteers with various community service opportunities throughout the bay area. (There are other chapters of the Hands On Network around the country, too.) It's a handy thing, because it not only helps you find interesting organizations to work with, but makes it easy to sort of "test drive" them. You sign up for everything on a one-off basis, so you get to go help out for an afternoon or evening or something and see what it's like, without having to make a big commitment. Naturally that limits the types of things you can do (Project Read's tutoring program wouldn't fit well in this model, for instance) but you can still find other ways to contribute later on after you've "met" an organization or project you like. Here are some of the things I've done so far:
  • Sunday Friends: I spent an afternoon doing arts and crafts and playing games with kids from low income families, while they and their parents developed various positive life skills and earned points they could spend at a "store" of donated food and household items. I quite enjoyed it, and I intend to go back, though I haven't yet managed that.
  • Books Aloud: This organization runs a mail-order library of audio books for people who are blind, dyslexic, or otherwise unable to read conventionally. The evening I was there I mostly just dug through their (horrendously cataloged) collection to find things to pack up and send to people. I want to see if I can get involved in the actual recording of the books though, once my schedule allows, since I love reading aloud.
  • RAFT - Resource Area for Teachers: Here I was sorting through extremely miscellaneous boxes of office supplies donated by various companies, to be packaged up and sold at low costs to teachers. Doesn't sound like much, but turns out to be a very good flow activity, especially when a whole team of people really gets into a synchronized groove. They also have other projects, like assembling science project kits, again from donated, discarded, or recycled materials.
Anyway, that's my plug for the Hands On Network. If you've ever felt like you wanted to do something to give back to your community but didn't know where to look, this is a good way to get started. And if you find something you're interested in around here (e.g. San Mateo or Santa Clara counties), let me know and maybe I'll be able to go along with you.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Giving Thanks

Things I'm thankful for, in not a lot of particular order. The top dozen or so, anyway.
  • Friends and family surviving car and bike accidents.
  • A loving, wise, and caring family.
  • Modern medical technology and 20/20 vision.
  • People who make the world a better place and inspire me to do the same.
  • Music, including highly compatible shared iTunes libraries.
  • Books that make me laugh out loud, whether I'm by myself or sharing.
  • Supportive coworkers.
  • Dancing, especially blues and FP.
  • People who like me, and being aware of it.
  • Creativity, in all its manifestations.
  • Freedom, decisions, and adventures.
  • Hugs.
And of course, I'm grateful just to have an abundance of things to be thankful for.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Week After LASIK

Me, Without Glasses I So this is me without glasses. Never having even worn contacts before, it's a big change. Some folks are noticing, others aren't (or at least aren't remarking on it). The funny part was the first day or two after surgery, when I'd be somewhere random like the library or the grocery store, and wondering why complete strangers weren't all exclaiming in awe at the wonder that is Graham without glasses. I guess it's not earth-shattering for everyone else, but it's pretty exciting for me.

The first day after surgery, my vision was good. The second day, my outside vision was officially wonderful. Outdoors on a sunny day, everything is just gorgeous. I went over to Stanford for a couple hours in the afternoon and wandered around some of my favorite places, just looking at things. Went through the art museum a bit, too, though my inside vision isn't anything to write home about yet. Computer work and reading are still a bit variable, which apparently is to be expected for the first few weeks or so. I can still do everything just fine, though my eyes get more tired from the extra work to keep things in focus, especially after a full day at work. (The plus side to this is that I'm playing mandolin more again, since I can do that in the dark while resting my eyes after work.)

Eye Shield I'm off the antibiotic and anti-inflammatory eye drops, though I'm still using regular moisturizing drops pretty liberally. I have to wear this annoying plastic sleep mask at night, though just for a couple more nights. It's rigid plastic, to make sure nothing touches your eyes, or even rubs them through the mask (like could happen with a regular sleep mask). Unfortunately, that means that it doesn't fit very well (because it doesn't conform to your face) and you therefore have to be really careful about rolling over on it or things like that. One night I accidentally pushed it out of place and the edge of the mask itself rubbed up against my right eye. That hurt like the dickens, but luckily there was no lasting damage. I think I've learned to sleep more carefully, though, since I haven't had trouble with it since.

Here's a nighttime tip for anyone getting LASIK: Set an alarm to go off once or twice in the middle of the night, for you to get up and put in eye drops. The first few nights I was waking up at 4AM because my eyes had so painfully dried out. It's completely worth losing a few minutes sleep for preventative eye drops.

My phantom glasses syndrome is gradually fading. It still catches me reaching to take off my glasses at some of the obvious times, like putting on a shirt, or taking eye drops, but I'm already doing considerably less of that. More interesting to watch for are the small moments of self-consciousness or other such situations where I might be adjusting my glasses, or wiping the lenses or something, just to have something to do. There's also a psychological effect of not wearing glasses, where I assume that since I don't have anything on my face, I must not be seeing everything clearly, and my brain tries to reinterpret the clear images as fuzzy. That was actually briefly disorienting at times, though not so much after the first day.

I've been dancing a few times with my "new" eyes, though only once so far at something crowded (i.e. navigationally challenging) enough for them to have a relevant effect. I like having real peripheral vision, without glasses frames fuzzing things up at the edges, though for the most part I wasn't specifically noticing it. Which is good, since it means everything Just Worked™. It's also nice in close dancing situations, like some blues dances, to not have frames to bump into. And of course my glasses will never again be knocked off by an over-enthusiastic underarm turn. (That's only ever happened a couple times, but still....)

So anyway, there are still various little things to deal with in the eye-healing process, but nothing too onerous. It's all far outweighed by the awesomeness of knowing that I can see with my own eyes.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My LASIK Experience

Short story: Everything went perfectly smoothly and I have 20/20 vision now. It's awesome. Read on if you want details (some of which may be somewhat squeam-inducing, so use your own judgment).

The day before surgery I had to start taking antibiotic eye drops every several hours. Since I don't wear contacts or makeup, there wasn't much else to do differently from normal. So nothing too bad about that. I spent more time on mental preparation, though.

Between Wednesday and Thursday nights I actually watched about an hour's worth of LASIK videos on YouTube. This is probably not recommendable for everyone, but I really like knowing precisely what I'm getting into. If I can't face it in something as safe as a video, I probably shouldn't be doing it in real life, right? Anyway, I put on some good music and just practiced getting used to the procedure and feeling relaxed around it. I figure if kids can supposedly get desensitized to violence by playing video games, we could probably put the same principle to more positive use. (I did, however, deliberately avoid videos with titles like "LASIK Gone Wrong" and such.) I didn't fall asleep very easily the night before surgery, but I used some of the time to visualize what it would all probably look like from the patient's point of view.

Still, I was a bit on the nervous side on Friday morning. By coincidence, I had a regular physical exam scheduled for the same day, right before surgery. The nurse mentioned that my blood pressure was fine, but that my pulse was a tad high. "Yeah," I said, "Let me explain that...."

Mom drove me down to Dr. Hyver's office in Santa Clara around 12:45. They did some of the same tests and examinations of my eyes as on my initial consultations, and some different ones as well. I was having Wavefront (Custom) LASIK, so they get a custom topographical map of my eyes and use it to program the laser specifically for me. (With regular LASIK you just get a standard treatment based on your prescription.) I've heard that you can get a Valium at this stage of the proceedings as well, but I didn't. Maybe they only give it to the folks who look nervous on the outside. Anyway, there was some more waiting at this point, before the actual operation, so you have a bit more time to get sufficiently nervous about it, just in case you weren't already. I used the time to take deep breaths and get myself to the point where my body was basically in a holding pattern without nervous symptoms and my mind was a little distanced, where it could remain calmer.

In the operating room, the assistants attired me in stuff to keep my hair out of the way and the eye drops out of my ears, then had me lay down on the operating table and slathered my eyes in numbing drops. They offered me something to hold onto ("Umm-letmethink-yes") and I got a small teddy bear and a stuffed chihuahua. I never actually got to see the stuffed animals, since I had to keep my eyes closed until the operation (at which point my eyes were otherwise engaged) but I amused myself during the wait by figuring out what they looked like by feel. Come to think of it, I never actually saw Dr. Hyver that day, either. It sounded like him, though, so I figure he was there.

They put a patch over my left eye first, so it wouldn't see what happened to the right eye and run away. They taped my right eyelids back and then put some little metal spreaders in there to open the lids further. This is the point in the videos where it starts looking freaky, because an eye that unnaturally open just automatically looks painful and scared. It wasn't actually too bad having it done, though. The part I most disliked, though, was the next bit, where they put the metal ring around my eye to hold it still. It puts a considerable amount of downward pressure pushing into the eye socket, which isn't very comfortable. But it was nice to know my eye couldn't move, because then they slid another piece of equipment over, blocking my field of vision, and I could hear the sound of a miniature buzz saw slicing my cornea open. I didn't feel it at all on my right eye, and only slightly on my left (not even quite enough to really be called "painful," but I could feel it). The info sheet they gave me before the operation described this whole stage a bit vaguely as "preparing the eye."

So then all that stuff came off, and Dr. Hyver folded back the flap he'd cut in my cornea (it was still attached at the top of my eye). It made the yellow and blue light I was staring at go all wavy and watery, which was kind of pretty, then it settled down into just being fuzzy. Then they fired up the laser, which makes a sound like a tiny jackhammer while it's running. Visually, there's nothing scary about the laser. You just focus on the light in front of your eye for about 30-60 seconds or so, and that's it. The smell was a bit more disconcerting, like burnt rubber. I couldn't feel a thing, but it did take a bit of concentration to keep focused.

Once the laser was done, they put my corneal flap back in place, gave it a lot of eye drops, and smoothed it all into place with a little brush, until it had sort of suctioned itself back into place. After that, you just have to trust it to hold itself there until it heals and seals itself again. Then they took off the spreaders and the tape, let me close my right eye, put a patch on it, and moved on to the left, where we went through the whole thing again. It doesn't take very long; I was probably in the operating room for no more than 15 minutes total. Dr. Hyver kept up a comforting monologue the whole time, not necessarily saying exactly what he was doing, but letting me know precisely what I'd be seeing or feeling at each stage of things, which was helpful and reassuring.

Overall, it wasn't at all bad. And in a way, it's easier than watching the videos, because you can only see the tools and lights, not the gross eye bits getting cut up. The thing about doing all this on the eyes, though, is that it takes your complete attention. If it were a foot operation or something, I could imagine being able to ignore it, but with the eyes there's just nowhere to hide. Especially since you have to "help" by keeping your focus on the laser's light, which actually takes some concentration. A couple times, though, I picked up a bit from the part of my mind with the constant background soundtrack. I think it was playing Värttinä tunes mostly. "Seelinnikoi" in particular is now associated with LASIK for me.

After the operation I got to rest in a dim room for a few minutes, then a doctor came in to take a look at my eyes and confirm that they were looking okay. Then I got my eye drops and instructions and was sent home with dark glasses to cut down on the brighter-than-usual sunlight. Mom drove me back to her apartment for the initial recovery period.

The instructions included keeping my eyes closed for four hours after surgery. I managed to doze a little bit, but couldn't really sleep, though I did keep my eyes closed the whole time. Mom kept me company and we listened to some audio books to pass the time. (James Thurber and P.G. Wodehouse stories make for good, light listening.) I was told to expect some burning scratchiness and irritations, but I didn't really have a problem with it. The preventative Ibuprofen I took might have helped. It did feel like I had a bit of crud in my eye sometimes, but if I kept my eyes mostly still it wasn't a problem. Got a bit of a headache, though, probably as much from deliberately keeping my eyes closed all that time as anything else.

When my four hours were up, I took off the eye covering that was keeping things dark for me, and it felt like I was in bright sunlight even before I opened my eyes. In reality, it was dark outside and Mom had only turned on one bulb in the living room lamp. Pretty dim by regular standards. I opened my eyes in a dark room first and then got adjusted to the light very quickly. At this point, my vision was good, but kind of fuzzy, as if I had just woken up. (And I'm not allowed to rub my eyes for 2 months, so I can't clear them that way.) We went for a nighttime walk and I could see the halos around lights in the dark. They're not too bad -- kind of like seeing the lights through a fog, or through textured glass -- and they're supposed to go away eventually anyway.

I'm on antibiotic and anti-inflammatory eye drops for 5 days, and regular artificial tear drops for as long as I like. For 10 days I have to sleep in a special cover that will keep anything from touching my eyes. It's kind of uncomfortable and annoying, but it would suck to dislodge my corneal flap, too, so I'm motivated to deal with it at least.

The Next Day
This morning I went back for a post-op checkup. My vision was still a bit fuzzy (more noticeably at the computer), but I could see perfectly well to drive myself down there. They measured me at 20/20 for the right eye, and my left could even read some of the 20/15 line. This is compared to 20/300 without glasses before. The fuzziness clears up as the cornea continues healing, and as of this afternoon it was already much better, though it still has occasional weird moments. The eye drops help that. There's no pain at all, though I've got a bit of phantom limb syndrome for my glasses. I tried to see the cut in my cornea in the mirror, but everything looks perfectly normal. I can read and work at the computer just fine, though I'm trying to take it easy and not strain my eyes too much, giving them frequent rests. I've also just enjoyed walking around downtown, going to the library and the grocery store, and just looking at things, seeing what I can see, reminding myself that I'm not actually wearing my glasses. It's a little surreal.

Watch for further posts about life without glasses, once I've lived it a bit more.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Volunteering Abroad

Lacey and I have been doing some research recently on volunteer travel opportunities. We're thinking of planning a trip for March, though we haven't yet decided where, or even specifically what sorts of projects (e.g. environmental conservation, building homes, working with kids in orphanages, etc.). Here are some of the organizations we've been looking at so far, though:
  • Globe Aware - Looks good, but they pretty much only do 1-week trips. (I'd rather go for 2 or 3.) Also says that even the airfare is tax deductible. I don't know how standard that is, but it's cool.
  • i-to-i - Some interesting touring/volunteering combinations, though I'd probably go for something more work-oriented with maybe just free time to run around on weekends.
  • United Planet - I'm particularly interested in the Turkey trip.
  • Volunteer Visions - Some really good prices, e.g. for India.
Has anybody had any experience with any of these? Good? Bad? Any other organizations to recommend, or other advice to share? Let me know!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Zappy Zappy

Various factors in my life have recently converged to get a certain something off my "someday" list: LASIK. Yesterday I went to the highly recommended Dr. Scott Hyver for a consultation, and next Friday I will be going under the laser and then throwing away my glasses. So I have a week to get over as much of the lingering squeamishness as possible. That part's going pretty well so far, though.

In terms of motivation for this, I've never had much of an opinion on glasses aesthetically one way or the other (so I've stuck with them over contacts just because it seems easier). For me, it's all about independence. With either glasses or contacts, I'm completely reliant on external, breakable, losable objects for one of the most vital means of relating the world. If my glasses were to break, I'd have trouble just getting myself home safely, much less doing anything else. That would be a pain three miles from here at work, or much worse traveling somewhere on the other side of the world. Freedom from that worry and dependency is the gift I'm giving myself here. I expect real peripheral vision will be pretty cool too, especially for dancing.

So... if for any reason you liked seeing me in glasses, get your looks in this next week while you still can. Maybe I should shave my head out of season, too, just to really confuse people. :-)