Tag Archives: prk

2019 In Review

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Stuff That Happened

Stuff I Did

  • Things I tried and liked: line dance, spades, Master Swim Club.
  • Things I tried but did not like: CrossFit, acupuncture, testing for CPO.
  • I turned 30.
  • I KonMari’d my house. It is still just as organized, months later!
  • I visited Maui and Olympic National Park.
  • I saw ionnalee live in Seattle. I’ve been a huge fan of hers for a decade now and I was so lucky to see her while she was in the US.
  • I ran a 10k with a friend. I don’t have any desire to run farther than a 10k ever again, if I can help it; meanwhile, said friend is now training for a marathon!
  • I deployed for hopefully the last time.
  • I began the pre-separation classes from the Navy. I have a little over 200 days left until I become a civilian again.
  • I put in an application for graduate school!
  • I saw Hamilton (Hartford), Phantom of the Opera (Honolulu), and the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra play Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
  • I got PRK surgery and it changed my life.
  • I started volunteering at the women’s prison on Oahu.
  • My cousin came to visit me in Hawaii! This is the first time someone has come to see me since I joined the Navy.
  • My dad got married! We now have two teenagers in the house, and it’s actually pretty fun to have them around.
  • I read some books. Not as many as last year, but enough.
  • I started playing a lot of Pokémon Go. Like, a lot. I also met a ton of folks in my neighborhood this way.
  • Emma Donoghue visited a library near my mom. Not only did Mom get a book signed for me, she went completely over the top.

Favorite Book of the Year

Card reads: “Trash-talking, queer AF Necromancers in outer space! So many bones, such magic, major flexing. This genre-bending novel is my favorite thing published this year. I laughed, I cried, I obsessed and joined the cult of the ninth. Join me!”

(Kelsy from Savoy Bookshop & Cafe, Westerly, RI)

The hook of “lesbian necromancers” is obviously a huge draw, and it’s mostly true. Gideon the Ninth combines fantasy, sci-fi, and murder mystery in a big spooky mansion, where nine necromancers and their bodyguards have to outwit one another and overcome physical and mental trials to become the immortal, omniscient right-hand servant of their Emperor God. The titular Gideon, a rowdy, queer orphan, gets tricked into protecting the necromancer from the Ninth House, the ruthlessly ambitious and cruel girl who spent her childhood bullying Gideon. The two have to learn to trust one another if they’re going to succeed – and survive.

The majority of the dialogue consists of Gideon and Harrow mercilessly roasting each other (“I completely fucking hate you, because you are a hideous witch from hell. No offence,” Gideon tells Harrow early on, to which Harrow replies pityingly, “Oh, Griddle! But I don’t even remember about you most of the time”). But beneath the hate emerges fondness and respect; these two care about one another more than the job dictates. As they proceed through the tests, the relationships they develop with each other and the other necromancers and bodyguards are, at turns, intriguing and delightful and suspenseful, especially considering only one pair can win.

Muir sums up the tone of the story in an interview with Forbes: “I wanted a book that was absolutely saturated with horrible things, but leavened with a more flippant narrative style.” I enjoyed this book from start to brutal finish, and I intend to reread it soon – the sequel comes out next summer.

Runners-Up

City of Girls (Elizabeth Gilbert)
The Light Brigade (Kameron Hurley)
Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) (read for the first time this year)

Favorite Movie of the Year

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A down-on-their-luck working class family cons their way into a wealthy home by providing services to the family under false pretenses. As the story progresses, the means that the family is willing to take to keep their identities a secret escalates, going from amusing, slapstick obfuscation to a truly shocking display of violence. This is not a spoiler; the arrangement is quickly revealed to be untenable and the breaking point is inevitable, but you don’t know when or what it’s going to look like.

Moments of suspense are so thick you could cut them with a knife. What made this story stick with me, though, was its moral ambiguity, especially regarding its underlying themes of socioeconomic hierarchies and the cycle of poverty. It was all very disturbing, but in a way, I think, that people will come out the other side better and more empathetic.

Runners-Up

Booksmart
Bombshell
Marriage Story

Favorite TV Show of the Year

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Based on the very good memoir by Lindy West, Shrill explores navigating life – family, friends, work, relationships, dieting – as a fat woman. This is a story about moving through a world that demeans you at every turn, and it is incredibly rewarding to watch Annie evolve from humble, self-effacing, and apologetic into funny, brash, and brave. Shrill made a strong and lasting emotional impression on me, and it changed the way I see myself and others – especially their invisible struggles.

Runners-Up

Letterkenny
Good Omens
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

Favorite Game of the Year

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There was some quiet indie hype surrounding Outer Wilds. Published by Annapurna Interactive – which also produced Florence, a wonderful app game I reviewed in a previous post – this game is Firewatch meets Firefly meets Groundhog Day. The player, armed only with a translation tool, radio, and camera, is caught in a 22-minute loop, starting with awakening at a campsite beneath the stars, launching into space, and researching a long-dead civilization, before the sun goes supernova and destroys everything in the system. Wake up, explore, die, repeat – until you understand why it’s happening. And maybe do something about it.

Look, I’ll be real: if you are prone to existential dread, Outer Wilds is going to mess you up. The whole Groundhog Day gimmick is in service to a shockingly bold question about the purpose of our existence in a way that I’ve never seen any other medium – game or otherwise – try to do. I still think about it a lot.

Outer Wilds took me on an adventure I was not expecting or, honestly, entirely emotionally prepared for. It gave me moments of fear and triumph that haven’t experienced in anything else in some time. The game is far from perfect: the ship flies like a toilet covered with banana peels and it gives you no guidance whatsoever on how to actually finish the story (though, admittedly, that’s sort of the point). If all of this seems extremely vague, it’s because I desperately want you to play it for yourself and feel all these terrible and wonderful feelings without expectations, because the struggle is absolutely worth the payoff.

Runners-Up

Untitled Goose Game
Pokémon Sword and Shield

Dead by Daylight (not from 2019 – just played a lot of it!)

Favorite Album of the Year

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The trajectory of Lizzo’s career across 2019 is basically a straight vertical line: from the release of the music video for “Juice” in January to performing “Truth Hurts” at the BET Awards in June, Lizzo went from relative obscurity to the longest-running #1 song by a solo female rapper in the unbelievable span of only six months. Cuz I Love You had more plays for me than any other album this year by a long shot, and for good reason: Lizzo’s incredible pipes and relentless confidence, packaged in 11 unskippable tracks, create a nearly transcendent state of positive self-love. The twerking-while-fluting is a great gag, too.

Not sure if Lizzo is for you? Watch her NPR Tiny Desk Concert, where she is at her most effervescent and charming.

Runners-Up

Dedicated (Carly Rae Jepsen)
Wasteland, Baby! (Hozier)
My Name is Michael Holbrook (Mika)

Resolutions for 2020

See as many movies as I read books

I’m always scrambling at the end of the year to get caught up on the pop culture that I was neglecting throughout the year, by which I mean movies and TV shows. I think I’ve figured out my problem: when I’m sitting at home, I rarely want to take a risk on renting a movie I’ve never seen before, potentially losing an hour or two on something I won’t like, and instead defer to a movie I’ve seen a million times but know I will love, namely Mad Max: Fury Road or Pride and Prejudice or Spirited Away. But I end up missing out on a lot this way and I’d like to do better. So, for 2020, my big goal is to see as many movies as I read books, which usually works out to one per week. I’m not the movie-watching type, but I’d like to be!

Get out of the Navy

You’d think this was a done deal by now. I think it is. But I guess you never really know; I could sleepwalk into my own reenlistment (story of some people’s careers). Regardless of whether or not I get accepted to graduate school, my time in the Navy will come to an end in 2020. It’s just a matter of when: July or October.

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PRK, Courtesy of the US Navy

Refractive eye surgery is pretty well advertised on my installation here in Hawaii. Long-term, it makes more sense to permanently correct the vision of eligible servicemembers than supply them with new glasses (and contacts? some fliers get free contacts?) every year. I knew my summer deployment was probably going to be my last one, so I thought I’d ask if I could get my eyes fixed before I separate next year.

The keyword there is “ask.” I’m in a deploying billet and a flight status. I was prepared for a struggle, one I suspected would result in the negative.

Somehow, it actually worked. It was six months of persistence and administration and, frankly, the kindness of my leadership, and even now that it’s all done, it still seems too good to be true. I got PRK surgery in September, and it was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. It changed my life.

Here is the how the whole process went down, from start to finish.

Get permission

When I first asked permission from my command to get a completely elective surgery, the Officer in Charge said no. I expected this.

A lesson I learned while stationed on the ship was to not see a “no” from the leadership as a closed door. I missed an opportunity that was important to me because I saw a negative as the end of the story, and I was too timid to press. This time, though, I wasn’t; I asked my commander, “What would have to be different for you to change your mind?”

Turns out, when actually asking for quantifiable criteria, he didn’t throw a book at me saying that deploying sailors can’t get an elective surgery. He gave me two completely understandable reasons, one social and one administrative. (The specifics don’t matter.)

I asked if he would hear me out if I could think of compromises. He said he would.

And so I began scheming.

Attend information brief

Tripler Hospital only holds these briefs once or twice a month – and sometimes not at all, just to spice things up. There, you learn about the different types of surgeries: PRK, Lasik, ICL, ICP. You hand over a bunch of paperwork, including a year’s worth of prescriptions to show your vision is stable and documentation proving that you have at least a year left on-island. Then the staff makes an appointment for your first consultation. For this appointment, you have to be out of contacts for a month (to let your eyeballs resume their normal shape, which is something I learned during this brief) and your command’s permission (for the eyeball zapping).

I made my first appointment around my return from deployment, about mid-August. It gave me plenty of time to come up with a plan to convince the OIC to sign that permission slip.

Stay out of contacts for 30 days

I left for deployment not long after attending the information brief, so I figured staying out of contacts would be pretty easy. But a full four months elapsed in between the first consultation and actually getting the surgery (more below). During that time, I came to appreciate how much wearing glasses affected my quality of life, something I completely took for granted while wearing contacts. They slid down my nose when I ran. I had to switch between glasses and goggles at swim practice to read the white board and the clock. The arms of the glasses caused headaches when I wore the headset on the plane. More and more, the idea of being free from glasses (annoying but stylish) and contacts (natural but expensive) seemed like an unimaginable luxury.

Two consultations

In between the information brief and deployment, two important things happened: our OIC turned over to someone new, and I came up with a plan than seemed to satisfy all concerns. I was also annoyingly persistent, like a fly that gets into your house and seems to never ever leave, which ultimately worked in my favor but definitely earned me a fair share of well-deserved eye-rolls. I made it to the first consultation with a commander’s letter in hand (thanks, mom and dad!).

The next step was the see if I was physically eligible for the surgery. This is where things started to move more quickly.

At the first appointment, they went through my medical history and did a ton of eye exams. I learned a lot about how the eye surgery actually corrects vision and how the eye’s topography affects how we see. Very gross and cool. So far, so good. My eyeballs were bad (20/400 vision) but not disqualifyingly bad (I guess your eligibility drops off as you surpass 20/800 vision).

At the second appointment, just two weeks later, they did more eye tests, but with the bonus fun of dilation! I met with a doctor and he double-checked everything, from my paperwork to the actual dozens of eye exams and imagery. We talked about my options for surgery. Fliers are supposed to get Lasik for the shorter recovery time (one month), but I was insistent on PRK (three months recovery) because I’m an asshole. There was a few cautious attempts to change my mind, but I said my command was okay with the longer recovery (thanks, fam), and heck, it’s my eyeballs after all. Then I made an appointment for the surgery – just another two weeks later!

Holy crap, it’s actually happening!

The day of surgery

If eye-stuff bothers you, you might not want to read this next bit. The surgery itself was some dope sci-fi stuff but potentially icky.

Honestly, it was a lot of sitting around a dimly lit staging area while my very patient coworker read comics in the waiting room. And, naturally, I went last, so I got to live vicariously through the excitement of other folks as they emerged from the surgery room like phoenixes from the ashes, delighted and a little blurry.

They numbed my eyes with drops and then laid me flat on a table, positioning the machine directly over me. I was very nervous but the staff was talking and laughing about stupid stuff, so the fact that they weren’t tense and serious about the procedure made me feel less scared, too.

First, the doctor put in eye clamps (A Clockwork Orange style!) and reshaped my cornea. Both of these were the most uncomfortable parts. Imagine someone grinding down your eyeball with an electric toothbrush (sorry), because that’s what it looked and felt like. I worried that my eyeball would be moving all over the place, like I would try to be looking away from the pain, but the pressure of the tool kept it more or less in place. Then they shot a laser into the eye: I looked at a blinking red light for maybe five or seven seconds. It let out a strange smell, like burning hair or flesh, that was vaguely worrying. Next, the doctor washed my eye out with different solutions, one of which was to discourage scarring (the paperwork was sure to mention that this was not tested by the FDA #yolo). This particular medication turned my vision completely white and I was immediately gripped by a nauseating surge of panic. After you just stared into a laser beam, it’s not hard to make the leap to HELP I’M BLIND. The doctor flushed it out, restoring my vision, and put a contact lens on to act as a bandage (also somehow not FDA-approved!), repeated the process on the other eye.

And that was it. It took me longer to describe the surgery here than the time it took to complete the surgery itself. It couldn’t have taken more than ten or fifteen minutes total.

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A quarter of an hour on a table with the doctor and his staff joking above me. A little bit of discomfort. A coworker to drive me home and a week off from work to recover. Three months of no flying. That was all it took, and my life was forever changed.

First week of recovery

Maybe you’ve heard about PRK surgery recovery. If it sounded really bad, it’s all true!

The first 24 hours were fine. I couldn’t see well, but there wasn’t much pain. I puttered around the house more or less as usual. A week off from work seemed excessive.

The next three days were a whole ‘nother story.

If you wear contacts, imagine being stuck in the dirtiest, grimiest lenses you can imagine. And you can’t take them out because your eyeball is an open, gaping wound. It’s worse than that. If you don’t wear contacts, imagine a combination of soap and sand in your eyes at the same time, and no amount of eye drops or tears or blinking brings relief. It’s worse than that, too. The only comparable experience was OC spray, but even the devil’s capsicum goes away with water and a short time.

I began to appreciate the impossibility of ignoring eye pain. I could distract myself from other varieties of discomfort pretty easily, but the eyes are so hard to ignore. Looking at things hurt. Not looking at things hurt. Keeping my eyes open felt dry and scratchy and my vision was so blurry that it made just as much sense to be blind-folded. Keeping my eyes closed left me dwelling inescapably on how much my eyes hurt.

Around the third or fourth day, I lost my near-sightedness. This was alarming because I’ve never had a problem seeing things close; it was always my distance vision that was absolute trash, and by distance I mean anything farther than a few feet in front of me. This lasted for a while – maybe three weeks? – with varying severity. It was hard to see the computer both at home and at work. I read books pressed up to my nose, like a nerd! Inconvenience had replaced the pain, and it was a pretty solid trade-off.

I also had to use a carousel of eyedrops throughout the day, some hourly, some four times a day. Putting them in the refrigerator made them feel absolutely divine when administered, like the purest, most refreshing dew. One of the drops always left a terrible taste in my mouth, which was an alarming reminder that all of your face machinery is interconnected. That’s right, I was tasting with my eyes. It was super gross.

Just in case someone is reading this who had PRK and are worried that they are going blind: you’re not! I hear you protesting: but I had the surgery five, six weeks ago! Breathe, keep reading. You’re going to be okay.

(People had warned me of this beforehand and I still freaked out a little.)

First month of recovery

Even after a few weeks of recovery, my vision wasn’t great. I struggled seeing people’s faces from afar (I don’t need help being more socially awkward, thanks much), signs on the highway (not at all dangerous), my TV across the room (harmful to quality of life). It felt exactly like when I was in elementary school and a teacher, noticing me squinting pathetically at the blackboard, gently asked if I might need glasses. So, blurry but functional, definitely not ideal. I worried that this was going to the extent of my healing.

At my one-month follow-up, they tested my vision and said I was close to 20/20. I was skeptical but they said to give it time. What else was there to do? I gave it time.

Three months post-surgery

This is where I am right now! I have my last follow-up soon.

I am all done with the menagerie of eyedrops, with one exception: I need the lubricating drops as soon as I wake up when my eyes are unbearably dry, but that’s the only time the drops feel truly necessary. I use them before bed and after being outside or in the water, too, but just for comfort and precaution. I was getting really terrible headaches for a few weeks (adjusting to new vision?), but generally I got ahead of them by pounding a ton of water, popping a painkiller, and keeping the brightness low on screens. My night vision is a little worse than it was before the surgery – I see soft halos around lights like I did when I was wearing contacts that needed to be switched out – but it isn’t severe enough for me to be concerned. My left eye is so sharp that I feel like God’s most perfect hawk, my right eye not quite so, but as time goes on they seem to be getting closer to meeting in the middle.

Which is to say, it was all totally worth it.

When I’m getting ready for bed, I still reach up to my face to pinch out the contact lenses, and then I remember: oh yeah, this is just my eyes now. My vision has been bad since I was a child; three months of clarity hasn’t been enough to undo lifelong habits. I still catch myself gazing around in awe, appreciating how everything is so clear – completely without aid. I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity. When I came back to work and thanked my leadership for letting me get the surgery, I got choked up, very emotional, with gratitude.

Hell, I got choked up now just thinking about it, how it would have been so easy, even expected, for my commander to say no. There were so many reasons to not let me: losing an otherwise healthy flier for three months, arguments it caused with our associated command, pure administrative inconvenience, potential health and safety concerns, the fact that I am separating from the Navy next year. But she said yes, and it changed my life more radically than I know how to express. My commander’s choice to improve my quality of life despite the risks made a huge impact on me both physically and emotionally. It’s a gift I get to carry with me for the rest of my life. I’m not sure I’ve felt more grateful for anything else, ever, and against all odds and maybe even against better guidance, my leadership in the United States Navy gave that to me.

So should you get refractive eye surgery, if you think you might be eligible?

God, yes. Don’t think twice. It’s a little bit of inconvenience and pain for a lifetime of clarity. It was so worth it.

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