Love is blindness
21 October 2002
There's no stranger feeling (as far as I'm aware) than sitting back in what feels like a dentist's chair, your eyelids taped open like a scene from Clockwork Orange, when a strange device is lowered onto your face, approaching your eye inevitably and imposingly. Then the sensation that something is pressing hard on the surface of your eyeball, although you can't actually feel anything for certain because your eyes have been filled with anaesthetic fluid, and a voice tells you everything is going to go dark in a second. And then nothing.
It's true what they say about heightened aural perception when you're deprived of your other senses. In a sterile room with no discernible odours; heavy local anaesthetic preventing any sensation in the one part of your anatomy that your mind is exclusively focused on; one eye covered, and the other - well, see above for details. The doctor's voice, which was a monotone before as he told you about his weekend, his holidays, now has more levels of pitch and emotion than a mother begging for her child's life. He's trying to convey his love for his family, his love of his role as provider and protector, but I can hear the desperate longing for freedom, the bored sense of entrapment, the 'is this it?' between the lines. This lasts for little less than a couple of seconds before I can see again, although as there's a massive gap where my cornea used to be, it looks pretty different. The fact that I'm now staring into the beam of a laser and can smell burning doesn't help with my perception either.
Skip forward a week. With the bandages off, things are returning to normal. I've just had a sight test and the doctor tells me my vision's 'better than 20/20'; an unqualified success. He tells me to keep putting the eye-drops in, as I can't produce tears for a while, and to let him know of any unusual side-effects. When I ask for clarification of what form these might take, he's about as vague as could be. 'Oh, just anything unusual. This surgery's still pretty experimental, you know.'
It didn't take long for the first signs that something had happened. I was sitting on the tram to work, not at my most awake following a heavy night and a lack of desire to be going in to the office in the first place. The ponytail of a brunette in front of me was hanging over the back of her seat, lazing on the headrest; as I admired the sheen, idly wondering what shampoo she used, I had a split-second vision of it coming to life, a cat stirring on her back that hissed and spat at me behind her. I'm sure my leap backwards in my seat was visible to the rest of the car, but no one said anything - there's enough crazy people in this city for something that mild to go pretty much unnoticed.
Unnerving though it was, I put it down to the tiredness. It was when other flashes started happening that I started to worry. Some were harmless - the smiling face on the front of a VW Beetle, a benign-looking old man who kept appearing next to a family - but some had me worried. The child walking with his uncle, smiling away - then a flash of him screaming, crying, pain bursting through his face. The way his guardian's face went from suitably avuncular to an angry leer, before the original expression returned. It felt like a lid's been taken off the world, that I'm looking at a different layer of reality; in a bizarre way, it's like being on mushrooms, only I'm sure what I'm seeing is real and I'm generally not laughing like a child.
So far, so Laura Mars. The possibilities are intriguing. I could be a new breed of psychic detective, the next Tom Cruise in Minority Report. I could be a criminal psychologist, a guidance counsellor, a social worker. I could do some good. Or alternatively, I could make some real profit out of this. Blackmail, extortion, informing - and I'd be able to spot the double-crossers before they got to me. So far I'm still in my current job, which means my opportunities to use my skills are limited as I'm on the phone the whole time - but sometimes when it rings I can see the anger, the fear, or the elation before I pick up.
The problem is, my appearance is going to the dogs. Since the first few days, I've been wary of seeing my face in the mirror. The first time I saw my face with the bandages off was spot-on: clear as anything, just a little bloodshot - less than I'd expect after what's been done to me. But what I saw when I woke up the next morning after a drug-induced sleep woke me up like a jolt - one cornea half-rolled back, blood pouring from both eyes, bruising around my cheek where the cold metal of the clamp had been forced against the bone. You won't find many reflective surfaces in my house, and I tend to draw the curtains before the slightest onset of darkness outside. It's harder walking down the street, when shop windows throw out some inner emotion or some glimpse of your future. Hard to stay sane when you look in the rear-view mirror of your Peugeot 206, and see a drunk about to smash into the back of you; you spend the next few hours wondering when (even if) he's going to appear for real. I don't drive so much now. Not if I can avoid it, anyway.
I haven't told the doctors. I haven't told anyone. I don't want to become a case study, a footnote in a medical textbook. I've been looking into the statistics for people who've undergone this kind of eye surgery - suicide, self-mutilation, mental health problems. It's well buried, but easily done with a little cross-referencing. The percentages are scarily high; I would say I'm not going to join them, as I'm pretty good at rising above it, treading water where others might give up and go under - but I've seen some things that might suggest otherwise. If anything does happen, it won't me too melodramatic. That's not really my style.