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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2002-03-30

Doctor My Eyes ---
Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love the laser

By Peter Read Miller, Sports Illustrated

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin
When I first mentioned that I was considering Lasik eye surgery, I got two very different types of reaction from my friends. My non-photographer friends all said things like "wow", "great" and "how exciting".

The comments from my friends in the business were more along the lines of "oh really?" "you're kidding, both eyes?" and "not your shooting eye!"

Despite this lack of encouragement from my peers, I felt almost no fear or anxiety about the procedure; and now four months later I have no regrets.

Over the past ten or so years as my vision progressed from good to sometimes needing reading glasses, to always needing reading glasses, to needing glasses for both distance AND reading --- I continued to ask my eye doctor about Lasik. She had, until last year, always discouraged me.

Telling me that although the procedure was well suited for people with nearsightedness, it was not as successful in the correction of my primary problem - farsightedness.

Last summer however, she finally allowed that the procedure had evolved enough to be helpful to my eyes. She then referred me to Dr. Robert Maloney, who she described as "the best in town".

I did not contact Dr. Maloney immediately, because as annoying as the constant wearing of glasses was to me, I was still able to shoot without them. That changed in the fall.

About a month into the football season, I grudging realized that cranking the diopter correction on my EOS-1v all the way to the plus side just wasn't doing it any more. Canon auto focus is great, but you still have to be able to see what you're focusing on.

Not to mention that when I took the camera away from my eye I couldn't see the film counter, the aperture or worse the TV cables on the ground!

My first attempt to deal with this problem was shooting with glasses. I know that many great photographers have shot (and lived) their entire lives wearing glasses. Well, my hat's off to them, but shooting with glasses did not work for me.

Since my progressive bifocal glasses were useless for shooting ---t he correction changes continually along the vertical axis so the slightest movement of my head produced a change in apparent focus --- I had a pair of glasses made with just my distance prescription.

No way they fogged in the cold, misted in the rain and steamed up in the heat. Not to mention that I still couldn't see that well up close, so I still couldn't read my frame counter.

So, I'm hating shooting with glasses, and I'm not much liking wearing them the rest of the time either.

I'm thinking about the upcoming Winter Olympics, where as a warm blooded Californian, I just hoping to survive: fogged glasses, cold glasses, dropping glasses in the snow, glasses frozen to my face?

I am also starting to shoot with digital cameras, and seeing how much time you spend reading menus, changing settings and reviewing and editing images.

Glasses onglasses off, glasses on. glasses off, glasses on

I was ready. I made an appointment with Dr. Maloney.

My consultation visit with Dr. Maloney --- or rather The Maloney-Seibel Vision Institute --- consisted of a number of steps. I was first sat down to watch a video; some information and a lot of testimonials. People, both famous and not, proclaiming the joy of their new vision.

Photo by
It was a little strange, and seemed a lot like a sales pitch-which basically it was. Did I really care that Dr. Maloney had performed Lasik on BOTH Michael Bolton and Kenny G. (aren't they the same person?).

This was followed by a complete eye exam, including a computer generated mapping of the inside of my eye that looked pretty cool. Both the technician and the doctor who did the exam were very pleasant and seemed very competent. I was feeling a little better.

At that point Dr. Maloney came in and we spent about fifteen minutes talking. He looked over the results of my exam, said he thought I would be a good candidate for Lasik.

He seemed to listen to and acknowledge my particular concerns as a photographer. He was honest about the risks, and about the results I could expect-20/40 or better distance vision and improved close vision with the possibility that I would still need some help for reading.

I was reassured and impressed. I got the same feeling from him that I've gotten from a few pro athletes I've met-not cocky, but quietly confident.

Photo by
According to the Los Angeles Times, over one million Lasik procedures were performed in the US last year. The Times also cites a rate of 1 to 1.5 percent of some sort of problems.

The cost of the surgery can vary by as much as a factor of 10. I based my decision on the recommendation of my personal eye doctor and my impression of Dr. Maloney and his practice. I didn't price shop.

Surgery --- the big day. A friend drove me to Dr. Maloney's office in Westwood. Dr. Maloney's staff offered me a small dose of Valium. Scariest moment of the morning --- waiting for my credit card to be approved

PreOp consisted of drops to numb my eyes and some sort of clips to hold my eyelids open. Then into the operating room: the laser is actually guided by computer-based measurements of your eye, so a few moments of programming here.

Now I'm lying back on a couch, one eye covered, looking at a red light. The light is sharp, the light is blurred, the light gets dark for a moment, the light is blurred, the light is sharp. The doctor is saying "all right, let's do the other one".

That was it. About one minute an eye.

Yes, I was aware that something was being done to my eye --- actually the cutting and folding back of the outer surface of the eye; and, the laser reshaping the lens of the eye was the darkening of the red light. The second blurring was the replacement of the flap on the eye.

Through it all, however, there was absolutely no pain or even discomfort-unless you count the little burning odor I smelled.

Out of the operating room --- "keep your eyes closed for six hours". In other words: go home and go to sleep.

No problem there, although just by peeking I could see thatI could see!

That night, I had dinner at a Cuban restaurant with Bert Hanashiro and Ron Taniwaki. Without my glasses, I could read the menu, I could read the specials on a blackboard on the wall, I could see my food, I could see Bert and Ron (talk about pain and discomfort).

I had been told that, as a far-sighted person, my recovery would be more complicated than a near-sighted person's would be. In the first few days after the surgery I was blessed with incredible microscopic vision. I could read the bible on the head of a pin, but everything past the hood of my car was pretty much a blur.

This gradually changed over the next few weeks, however, not always in a consistent manner. One day I could see close, one day far --- it was a little unnerving. Eventually, things settled down to the vision I have now, which is simply: good vision and no glasses!

I had no problems at the Winter Olympics, even when the snow was too thick to use auto-focus. I am shooting with no dioptic adjustment on my cameras. I can read my frame counter. I can read the menus on my EOS-1D, and see the images (although a zoom feature would be still nice). I do need mild reading glasses in very low light, a dark restaurant or reading on a plane at night. I can live with that.

The main downside I'm experiencing as a result of the Lasik surgery (aside from having to take the $285 prescription lenses out of my Oakley sunglasses and pay to have non-prescription lens put back in) is an increase in eye fatigue.

Going outside after a day at the computer or the light table, or after shooting in low or flat light-night game at Soldier's Field or the Speedskating Oval --- I find that it takes fifteen minutes to a half an hour for my distance vision to really clear. The doctor tells me that this is due to the muscles in my eyes still not being adapted to my new way of seeing. Whether this will get better over time, no one seems to know, but again, it's something I can live with it.

Bottom line: my experience with Lasik surgery to this point has been almost entirely positive. I'd recommend that anyone who is not happy with their vision and/or tried of dealing with glasses or contacts investigate this procedure.

For me at least, the gains in my ability to see and the freedom of not needing glasses far outweigh the risks involved and were definitely worth the cost.

(Peter Read Miller is a staff photographer with Sports Illustrated based in Southern California. Despite what he says about his vision, he could be totally blind and still out shoot Bert Hanashiro.)


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