My Mama Said : Carrots are Good for Your Eyes

Sunday, September 9, 2012

I just finished a book that’s had me thinking about choice, and why some choices are as easy as deciding between hot or cold coffee, while others are labored over with such intensity, you’d think the fate of man was at stake. When I give it some thought, my methods for making choices seem scattered, disproportionate, arbitrary. Sometimes it will take me a full day to decide what to make for dinner, or a couple of weeks to decide whether or not to cut my hair. Yet I chose to move to Seoul in a matter of minutes. I don’t mean to negate the privilege that comes with choice. But I am trying to understand the cycle that occurs whenever it comes time for me to make a decision.

For years, I considered corrective eye surgery. I’ve worn glasses since the fourth grade, and contact lenses since the seventh, and if I didn’t set my glasses on the nightstand before going to bed, I’d spend a few minutes each morning looking for them with outstretched arms. The cost of LASIK in the U.S. had never been worth it to me, despite the fact that numerous people I know have had it done with terrific results.

I’d heard cosmetic surgery in South Korea was cheap compared to elsewhere in the world, and I wondered if it might be the same with eye surgery. It was. Armed with a recommendation for a popular clinic in Seoul, I made the decision without a second thought. No shopping around, no price comparison, and as a result, no additional stress.

The consultation was thorough. The optometrist and nurses were personable, professional, funny, and kind. The waiting room included a cafe with free espresso. My initial impression of Dream Eye Center in Gangnam was so good, I felt like I was missing something. When I met the doctor who would be performing the surgery, he was patient and precise. I left my first appointment feeling confident in his recommendation for LASEK over LASIK.

A month passed, and the date of the surgery drew closer. I began to get cold feet. Did I really want to go through with this? Wearing contacts wasn’t that bad, I reasoned. Am I tempting fate by messing with something as precious as my sight? On it went until I almost talked myself out of it completely. I became anxious, maybe more so because I felt unprepared. When the day arrived, I may as well have elected for an organ transplant. My friend, Paolo, was kind enough to come along.

I waited outside of the operating room with a nurse named Sunny. In a gesture that distinguishes a great nurse from a good one, she asked me if I wanted her to hold my hand during the procedure. While a big part of my inner child wanted to say yes, I laughed it off, thanked her, and told her I would be okay.

The door slid open, and I slipped off my shoes and into a pair of socks covered in cartoon characters. Another nurse tilted my head back and squeezed drops into my eyes to numb them. She rubbed orange disinfectant on my face and gave me gentle but clear instructions to keep my hands off. My contacts weren’t in, my glasses weren’t on, and everything was a blurry haze. I heard the low hum of a big machine in the center of the dimly lit room, hushed voices of professionals on a mission, and the beat of my heart as if it had swapped positions with my brain.

“Okay! We’re ready,” the nurse said. I shuffled to the table, laid down, and laughed. I didn’t want to cry, so I did the other thing I do when I’m really nervous. There’s always a modicum of time between the tidal wave of anticipation and the actual kickoff when I imagine turning back, changing my mind, returning to the safety zone. It’s the sense that things are just about to change to some degree, that I am only a small part of the equation, and that sometimes the most difficult part of it all is simply showing up.

I heard the doctor’s voice, his softly-spoken directions in a language I can minimally comprehend. He had actually showed up to this engagement. The window of opportunity to double back was narrowing by the nanosecond. His head appeared above my own, and he asked me how I was feeling.

Out of habit leftover from a Catholic childhood, I hoped a confession would mollify my nerves.

“I’m nervous,” I answered, and then I made a joke that didn’t seem to translate. When he laughed anyway, I was slightly relieved. But then he told me not to worry, and these are words that never succeed in what they set out to do. I would have kissed the man for a good dose of laughing gas.

Suddenly, I wished I’d taken Sunny up on her offer. My clammy hands were stiffly at my sides. My left eye was covered, awaiting its fate while my right eye fixed squarely on the green light that glowed from above, like I’d been instructed. The doctor began to make commands to the nurses. He explained what he was doing every step of the way, using descriptions that sounded as if Google had done the translations. My part in the whole play was rather menial, so I attempted to make it more interesting by pretending the red and green lasers above were coming from the stage at a psychedelic dance party. I was in a warehouse, not in an operating room, and the pounding of my heart was actually a drum and bass beat, a genre of music that wouldn’t normally appear in my fantasies. The images morphed across my vision as he power washed my eyeball, loosened the outer layer of the cornea with alcohol, and slid it out of the way using a skinny metal instrument. I imagined it resembled a miniature sterling silver fork, the kind often accompanying a crystal dish of cornichons.

Beats, beats, beats. The music was generous, and my heart kept the party going.

“It’s time for laser!” the doctor said, with more cheer than I expected to hear. “Keep your eye on the green light.”

Laser?!” I thought. “But we’ve got all the lasers we need!”

He, of course, meant the laser that would rectify my vision.

There it came, and the red and green images morphed into unrecognizable shapes and patterns. It was the apex of the whole procedure, the grand finale of a Fourth of July fireworks show. I tried to hold my breath to keep out the scent of burning hair, but morbid curiosity got the better of me, and I snuck short draws of it against my better judgement.

“Laser is complete!” said the doctor with as much enthusiasm as before. He washed my eye again after warning me that it’d be cold, and he placed a contact lens over my eye to protect it. Then he covered it with a patch. When I realized we were halfway there, I instantly felt my muscles relax and my heart rate drop to a more leisurely pace. The operation was all of the things my friends and family members had assured it would be: easy, quick, and painless.

I stood up from the operating table a little dizzier than usual. Those tears I had earlier exchanged for a laugh came tumbling through; I could already see much better than without my contacts. It was over. I had made it. And I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

Sometimes the best decisions are those that come with little to no scrutinization. The next time someone offers to hold my hand, I hope I say yes if I need it. Two weeks later, my vision is better than 20/20, and I actually look forward to my follow-up appointments. That’s something.

My Mama Said Carrots are Good for Your Eyes: A Soup (inspired by this recipe).

4 carrots, scrubbed and roughly chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 T grated ginger

1 can coconut milk

1 cup water

1/4 cup orange juice

1 T coconut oil (or olive – whatever you have on hand)

salt and pepper

toasted cumin, toasted almonds, and sour yogurt to finish

In a big pot, heat the tablespoon of oil. Stir in the onion and sauté for a minute or two. Add the carrot, ginger, and a good pinch of salt to the pot. Let cook for about ten minutes, and try to avoid the temptation to mix around the pot too often. The point is to let the carrots and onions caramelize. Pour in coconut milk, water, and orange juice, and bring the pot to a simmer. Let it all cook away until the carrots are tender, about twenty minutes. Add more salt to taste. When the carrots are soft, remove them from the heat and let them cool a bit. Purée to a smooth consistency (if you’ve got an immersion blender, this step is a breeze – otherwise, puree in batches in a blender or food processor, or, like me, with a Magic Bullet).

Toast cumin and almonds separately by adding them each to a dry pan over low heat, tossing frequently. They toast quickly so watch them closely. If they burn, which they easily do, toss them into the trash, curse with vigor, and try again.

Finish with a stream of sour yogurt under a sprinkling of toasted cumin and a few toasted almonds.

  • Nikoline

    What a crazy experience! And something I would never have the cojones to do. You are amazing and brave! Glad you’re able to look at a computer long enough to put it into writing. And fantastic writing at that.

  • jlgabel

    Thank you, love. And your cojones are bigger than you think.

  • Annie

    Funny that you posted about soup… Niki, Tony, and I were just talking about having a cooking party focused around delicious soups.. I wish you were here to participate in the festivities..

    On a separate note, will you be wearing nonprescription glasses just to look cool and trendy? Or is that not cool over there?

    Looking forward to the next post, as always.

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