Saturday, October 10, 2009

Greece Travelogue #5 and last

We really enjoyed the rest of our stay in Athens. We were able to move to a room at the rear of the hotel, which was **much** quieter. So that was great.

On Friday, we walked around the downtown area a bit, then went to the Byzantine Museum -- the two maps we had showed the entrance on two different sides, neither of which were correct, so we had to walk all the way around the entire block before we finally found the front! But it was worth it -- it's really a nicely laid out and interesting museum. We mostly spent our time looking at the statuary on the first floor, which is organized historically and very interesting -- the second floor is mostly organized by "type of object," which seems like a tedious way to do things. Rooms full of ceramics, then rooms full of jewelry... yawn. But I did like the ancient glassware; it was amazing how well preserved some of it was.

We spent Saturday morning on a walking tour (starting in Syntagma Square with the *unbelievably* goofy changing of the guards at the Parliament building; finding crepes (chocolate & orange, yum!); strolling through the Zappeion area and visiting the reconstructed Olympieion; seeing the incredibly ancient Temple of Zeus (and running into Rao Kambhampati!); and then wandering around through the Plaka, doing our souvenir shopping and stopping for lunch, then later for coffee. It was a little drizzly, but not too bad. We also went to the Roman Agora.

Sunday we flew home. Let me correct that. We attempted, and failed, to fly home.

Sanity tip #1: Do not, under *any* circumstances, *ever* fly on Olympic Airlines! They are the most mismanaged, incompetent airline I've ever seen. Apparently they are state-run but switching to being non-privatized, or the other way around, or there are political pressures to move in one direction -- whatever's going on, they have their heads up their asses. Our flight from Thessaloniki to Frankfurt, which claimed to be on time right up until they boarded (late), was delayed by FIVE HOURS. First they said they were boarding, but didn't for another half hour. Then they took us on a bus way across the airport, driving forever, and circled around a whole row of parked planes before finally circling back and stopping in front of *a plane that we'd driven past before*. Then they took forever to board because they *checked everybody's passport again as we got on the plane*! (which they'd already done at security and then at the gate -- and don't forget this was traveling between two EU countries.) We finally boarded, then waited a long time for the last bus full of passengers. Then we waited. And waited. Finally they announced that there were delays with security, but they were ready to go and we'd be taking off in 10-15 minutes. Then we waited. And waited. Eventually they said we were supposed to be leaving, but the control tower had informed them with "a problem with the flight plan," but it would be sorted out soon and we'd leave in 10-15 minutes. (Are you detecting a pattern yet?) At this point it was at least an hour after the original departure time, and we were pretty sure that we'd miss our connection (only one hour and 25 minutes), but maybe they could have made up the time in flight -- they were claiming that they would. Then more waiting, and more waiting, until finally they announced that there was a mechanical problem, but the engineer was about to look at it. (Just before this some guy who was sitting in the back of the plane had gone up to the front and gone into the cockpit; this seemed odd, but later we found out that was the engineer -- and he flew with us to Frankfurt; maybe all of their planes are falling apart and they always travel with a mechanic?) More waiting, more waiting, more waiting. After an eternity (during which they actually started coming around with water because people were starting to get dehydrated; we're now about 2-2.5 hours into the delay), they said that some people "no longer wanted to travel with them to Frankfurt," so unfortunately they would have to let those people off and they would have to get their luggage off too. Since that would take a while, they were going to deplane everybody and take us back to the gate!

Then things really started to deteriorate -- people were yelling at the flight attendants about missed connections. They finally got us back to the gate, and it was utter chaos. For one thing, they started to hand back the boarding passes they had collected -- but they were doing this by calling out names *without using the microphone*! So hardly anybody could hear what was going on -- there were over 100 passengers all crowded around the desk, half of them yelling at the gate agents. Then they started calling for people who wanted to "cancel" but wouldn't really explain what this meant -- were there other flights? Would we get our money back? Would we be rebooked? Would the connecting airlines honor our flights that we had missed and rebooked us? If we didn't cancel, when would the flight leave? (Of course, their answer to that was "we'll reboard as soon as we get the luggage off, and the plane is ready to leave." Yeah, right.) Finally, after an hour of utter madness -- during which we were going to cancel ourselves and try to find an alternate way home, but then heard from people who had called US Airways (our connecting airline) that it would be better to go to Frankfurt and take care of things there -- they reboarded the plane. Now it was maybe 4 hours after departure time. And we sat on the plane FOR ANOTHER HOUR while they offloaded and onloaded luggage, and repeatedly told us that we were about to leave when we weren't.

It was truly an awful experience. Not as bad as those folks who were stuck on a plane for 8 hours with overflowing toilets, but plenty bad enough.

When we got to Frankfurt (which luckily we did; no noticeable problems with the plane...), there was an Olympic agent waiting at the gate to tell us that all of our flights had been rebooked and we should go to the ticket counter to get our new tickets. Of course, by then all of the US Airways flights had left for the day, and the US Airways office was closed. They had rebooked us on our original flights but 24 hours later, although there were several United and Lufthansa flights leaving for Dulles within the next few hours. That REALLY sucked. Made me wish I was wealthy -- I would have just gone and bought a (first-class, of course) ticket on Lufthansa and gone home then. Of course, then we had to wait an hour at the ticket counter with the other rebooked passengers, then wait half an hour to retrieve our luggage, then 20 minutes for the shuttle to the hotel. At least they put us up in a hotel and fed us dinner and breakfast, and actually it was a very nice hotel (the NH Frankfurt Niederrad) with good food and extremely comfortable rooms. So we had a good night's sleep.

The next day, we went very early to check in at the airport, just to be on the safe side. Good thing, too. The checkin line wasn't that long but moved incredibly slowly -- it was at least an hour wait. Then they took one look at my cast and said, oh, that's a problem, you'll have to go over to the ticket counter to talk to them about that. They wouldn't tell me what the "problem" was or whether it might actually prevent them from letting me on the airline. Turned out they claimed that my arm might swell up inside the cast, causing a medical emergency. (This despite the fact that I'd flown from Baltimore to Philadelphia to Athens to Thessaloniki to Athens to Frankfurt without incident.) They were willing to let me board, but only after notifying US Airways in the US -- which took 20 minutes of the ticket agent going through various people and voicemail mazes on the phone, and smiling sheepishly at me at frequent intervals.

Other than that, and the fact that we had to walk at least a half-mile to our gate at the Frankfurt airport -- only to board a bus which drove us back to right near where we started -- the flight home was relatively uneventful. It was a very long day, since we had to fly through Charlotte with a 2.5-hour layover to get to Baltimore. And of course we didn't have the "recovery day" that I'd planned, since that was chewed up by the 24-hour delay. So I had to get up and teach the next day, and Caroline had to get up and go to school. We've both been playing catchup since then, both on sleep and on work/homework. Finally things seem to be back to normal.

Remind me again why I like to travel? I think I'll be home for a while this time... maybe I'm just getting too old for it!!

Lasik - Last visit!

I had my last Lasik follow-up visit on October 2 (5.5 months post-op). Everything looks great. At the last visit (a month or two ago) I had a bit of astigmatism in my left eye, but that appears to have cleared itself up. Now I'm 20/20 in my left (dominant) eye and 20/40 in my right eye, which is exactly what they were aiming for with the monovision.

I have ZERO regrets about the surgery -- I'm incredibly glad that I had it done. I can see in times and places I never thought about not being able to see before -- when I look at the clock in the middle of the night, when I first wake up in the morning, in the shower, swimming, when my eyes are tired and dry. *Always*. It's more freeing than I even imagined it would be.

The only negative side effect that I notice is slightly more haloing at night -- but to be honest, I'm really not sure if that's because I have more haloing or because I notice it more. Also, with the 20/40 right eye, there definitely *is* more blurring and haloing, especially at night. It's not debilitating, but I'd feel safer if I had less blurring. So the optometrist at LasikPlus gave me a brochure for "Spare Specs," and I'm ordering a pair of glasses for night driving (clear glass on the left eye, small correction to bring my right eye to 20/20, $24.95 plus S&H). I imagine that eventually my presbyopia will worsen and I'll still need reading glasses, but that would have happened if I *hadn't* had the Lasik too.

I highly recommend looking into Lasik and considering monovision if you are middle-aged and starting to experience presbyopia. Of course, YMMV, but I can say that I'm totally satisfied with the outcome.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Greece Travelogue #4

Here we are in Athens!

Getting the complaints out of the way (saving the best for last?) - the traffic noise (at the Best Western Pythagorian on Agiou Konstantinou) is appalling, and let's face it, it's *not* the best neighborhood. Hopefully I will sleep better tonight (the unmuffled peeling-out motorcycles at 3am didn't help my beauty sleep...) Oh, and despite being named "Pythagorian," the street isn't really even diagonal. I mean, honestly.

The last day of the conference was the best from a work standpoint -- even though I only went in the morning, the poster session had two very interesting and relevant papers. So that was good.

We had an evening (6;30pm) flight, but not that much we particularly wanted to do, so we just had a leisurely lunch, then sat at a coffee shop for a while, then went to the airport early. Uneventful trip. Our taxi driver in Athens *was* a trip -- he has a son who's a cardiothoracic surgeon in Pittsburgh, so his English was good and he was delighted to have passengers from the US. Gave us some key beta about sights to see & where to eat.

The hotel is loud but otherwise OK. What the pillows lack in softness, the beds more than make up for... oops, that was another complaint, wasn't it? The quick-meal options were rather limited, so we ended up at McDonald's for a late dinner. I did have the European-fast-food "French cheese salad" (saganaki-style fried camembert on green salad, not bad really).

Today we slept in a bit and then had breakfast in the hotel. We took the metro (very easy, very well marked, very clean & quick) to the Acropolis station and visited the New Acropolis Museum (just opened in June). It's really beautiful and very well done. The excavated ruins are all visible below plexiglass floors (which my mom *hated* walking on), and there are lots of beautifully restored artifacts, including a life-size display of the entire Parthenon (well, the marble carvings) on the top floor -- with the Elgin marbles conspicuously replaced with plaster copies. (The Greeks really want the Elgin marbles back, and I totally agree -- come on, England, you took care of them, but now Greece is a big kid and you should give them their toys back...) We had lunch in the museum restaurant (salted fish plate for Caroline, potato salad w/ anchovies for me, spinach salad for Grandma, and a cheese & fruit plate to share). Beautiful view of the Acropolis from the patio.

Then the long, sweaty, hot hike up to the Acropolis itself. It's really an amazing place -- to think that 2500 years ago (more if you count the Myceneans who built there before the Greeks), they could build this entire fortified city with marble temples on top of a huge craggy rock -- the engineering feat just boggles the mind. And that so much of it is still there to see is incredible.

They've been restoring the Parthenon & other buildings, so unfortunately there is a lot of scaffolding. But it's still breathtaking.

Afterwards, we made our way back down, walked through the ancient agora (mostly ruins but with a few restored buildings), and then had a late-afternoon snack (fried calamari and taramosalata) at a cafe along Adrianou (Diaskouri, recommended by our guidebook). Then took the Metro back to the hotel (very crowded at rush hour, but only a few stops -- good things, because the Greeks are even pushier on the subway than New Yorkers, and less considerate of old ladies, people with casts, and children!) Sat in the lobby playing games (Lost Cities & Five Crowns) for a while, had Caroline work on some of her makeup homework, then went out for a late dinner at a place called Megae Alexandros (Alexander the Great). Very traditional Greek -- lamb stew, saganaki, spinach pie. The pie was just so-so but the rest was very good. I really like how in Greece they always bring you some extras -- today, tzaziki, olives, and peppers with our fresh, warm bread, and a plate of assorted baklava after the meal. Picked up an ice cream cup for Caroline on the way back, and now I'm trying to get caught up on email and blogging. :-)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Greece Travelogue #3

Things are certainly looking up. Once we got out of the Hotel from Hell, life seemed much better. There's a bit of traffic noise here, but it's just normal noise, not like the Elektra Palace. [Kiri: I have earplugs, but this was not earplug-relevant noise. i.e, he noise filtering provided by earplugs was negligible compared to the decibel level being produced. :-)]

Today I went to the conference for a while (yes, there actually is a conference, and it's pretty good despite receiving little mention in the blog... because really, who wants to read a blog about AI planning papers?) Then we picked up a picnic lunch (prosciutto and toast crackers) at a deli, and walked down to the White Tower, where we caught the "tourist bus." The deal is that for two Euros, you can ride the tourist loop all day, getting off and back on whenever you want. The problem is that it only runs once an hour -- and as we found out, not on a particularly fixed schedule. So we got off to visit a church, the Roman Agora, and the ancient baths, got back 55 minutes after we disembarked -- and the bus never came. So we went up to see an old mosque and stopped at a "Krepas" (crepe, surprisingly common around here) shop for a snack, then picked up the bus again -- 10 minutes earlier in the "hour cycle" than we'd been dropped off. We also stopped up at the Byzantine walls and strolled through the old monastery (though the buildings themselves were closed for the afternoon "siesta"). Then we rode the bus back downtown. I tried ouzo (very strong anise liqueur, actually rather good albeit pretty intense) at an outdoor cafe. (The city is positively *littered* with outdoor cafes and bars -- many more cafes and bars than actual restaurants, or than any other type of place of business. People here are very serious about their relaxation!) Then we strolled around for a while, looking for a restuarant in the guidebook. We never found it, but ended up at 1901, "a traditional Greek taverna," which turned out to be quite good. We had beet salad (kind of like tzaziki (yogurt sauce) with beets mixed in), grilled calamari, french fries, and (for Caroline, of course) smoked salmon pasta. Later we wandered back to Aristotelus Square and got Caroline a cherry crepe -- but she was quite disappointed, because we expected real cherries and ended up with a crepe filled with maraschino cherries. So we also got her mango ice cream.

The bus trip back was a bit of an adventure, but we found our way.

To answer Kiri's questions -- I don't have many Greek phrases, but do know how to say thank you. When I can't remember how to say something, I usually ask how to say it in Greek. That does break the ice for a lot of people. I think we just had bad luck with a few people early on. I do feel like the culture here is very aggressive -- people in general won't step aside to let you off the bus, or take turns when there's a crowd trying to get through somewhere. And forget about anybody offering a seat on the bus to an older lady, or a kid, or a person with a cast. (Hey, we're the traveling trifecta of neediness, but you wouldn't know it in this country! Luckily despite our helpless appearance we're actually all pretty tough. :-)

Tomorrow: the end of ICAPS and onwards to Athens! Internet access in Athens unknown, but I'll keep y'all posted. :-)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Greece Travelogue #2

Sigh. This trip is not going the way I'd dreamed. For years I've wanted to come to Greece -- it's one of the few European countries I haven't been to -- but I imagined it as peaceful and friendly. Instead my experience so far has been loud, stressful, and not (for the most part) welcoming.

I'm hoping things will turn around now that we're at a different hotel. A different hotel, you say? But you weren't supposed to go to Athens until Wednesday. Yes, we're still in Thessaloniki, but now at the Hotel Queen Olga.

Last night we strolled up Aristotelus Square, shopping a bit (bought new shoulder bags and some gifts), and were shanghaied into an open-air restaurant by a very aggressive waiter. OK, it looked fine, and actually the food was quite good, and cheap too! I ordered moussaka and a glass of retsina -- or I *thought* it was a glass, for 3 Euros, but they brought me a whole liter bottle! We were pestered by a stream of peddlers and beggars trying to sell us various things or beg for money, but that's just life when you're traveling (especially in the middle of a global recession...) So dinner was fine, though when we asked for the check, we instead got another round of drinks (including another whole liter of retsina for me)! Turned out they were just comping us some drinks, which was actually nice of them (score one for the friendlies). But we really were ready to go, so we paid and left. We stopped on the way back to buy Caroline a Nutella crepe -- again the girl behind the counter acted sort of cold and unfriendly, but then when she was wrapping up the crepe and saw it was for Caroline, she handed her an extra napkin with it, which made me smile, and she smiled back. So like I said, some of the people don't act overtly friendly the way they would in the US, but that just seems like a cultural difference.

Then we got back to the hotel. We were exhausted, so we crashed shortly after 9:00. And were woken up around 11 by unbelievably loud music coming from the banquet room down the hall. Even though we're in Greece, I hadn't actually planned or hoped to find myself in the middle of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" (as an extra who doesn't get to have any fun or any food, just noise!) I called down to the front desk, and they helpfully (*not*) told me that it would only be "for a few more hours"!! He did say he would talk to the banquet manager, but it only got louder after that. Finally the music stopped around 1am, then we had to listen to drunken Greeks yelling up and down the hall for a while longer. Eventually it started to quiet down -- but a group of men from the party apparently went outside to smoke and party some more, because then we were kept awake by loud yelling and singing out in the courtyard until 3am.

So finally, finally, *finally* at 3am it was quiet enough to fall asleep. Until 7am, when the construction started right next door. Just incredibly loud, banging, crashing, drilling, sawing, hammering, yelling, nonstop for the rest of the morning. I think Caroline eventually got a bit more sleep, but I never did.

When I went down to the front desk to ask what they could do for us, he said he could move us to the 6th floor -- on the same side of the hotel! When there was another (Greek, actually) woman complaining about *her* room on the 6th floor and how loud the construction was! I asked if they would at least credit me part of the cost of the previous night's room, and he said snottily, "You'd have to talk to accounting." He also said I should have asked to change rooms last night. "In the middle of the night??" I replied. "Why not?" he answered (again, snottily). So I just said, fine, we're going to find another place to stay and we'll be checking out. Which we did.

So now we're over at the Queen Olga, farther away from the city center (but closer to the conference, and the same distance from the museums, and on a major bus line). Our rooms face the bay and seem very quiet -- plus we're at the end of a hallway, so nobody will go back and forth past our rooms. They also seemed reasonably competent and polite at the front desk. I even have an Internet connection here (supposedly the Elektra Palace did too, but it never worked).

Hoping things will get better... and trying not to hold the hotel desk clerk's obnoxious and unsympathetic attitude against an entire country...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Greece Travelogue #1

I thought I'd try posting a running travelogue on my trip to Greece. Since I don't have a good Internet connection at the hotel yet, we'll see how this works out. (Next trip I'll try to figure out how to post photos from my camera too... but let's not get too ambitious prematurely.)

We (my mom, 12-year-old daughter Caroline, and I) left on Friday. Difficult to travel to Thessaloniki - short flight to Philadelphia, long layover, 9-hour flight to Athens, long layover, short flight to Thessaloniki. At BWI, they tried to convince us that since the flight was delayed by 20-30 minutes, we should instead take a cab to National Airport for a 1:20 flight. This was around 11:45am, so it seemed unlikely that we'd even make it on that flight. The ticket agent got very snippy and said she would put a note in our record saying that we had denied their offer to help, and basically implied that if we then missed the Athens flight it would be our problem. But with a 3+ hour layover in Philly, it seemed very unlikely that we'd miss the flight. The gate agent was much more reassuring, and as it turned out, also more competent -- the flight left 45 minutes late, arrived 30 minutes late, and we had more than enough time.

Uneventful (but lo-o-o-ong) flight to Athens, during which none of us slept particularly much, but at least we dozed some. In Athens, it immediately became clear that I should have paid more attention to those Greek letters in mathematical equations. I've been practicing, though, and can now decipher most signs -- but of course the words are so different from most of the languages I speak (English, French, some German and Italian) that it's pretty hopeless. Luckily most people speak some English, but it's definitely challenging trying to communicate.

We had to check in for our flight in Athens, then had a lot of time to kill -- picked up some breakfast, sat and waited, waited some more, waited some more... the only really bad part is that nearly everybody in Greece smokes, and although there is a separate smoking area in the Athens airport, it's entirely open to the rest of the airport, no physical separation whatsoever. So the whole place just reeks of smoke. Pretty unpleasant when you're used to the nice smoke-free environments in the US or even the rest of Europe. (I looked up some statistics: nearly 50% of Greek men smoke, and 25% of Greek women, according to what I could find. And Greece has the 5th highest rate of lung cancer in the world. Someday maybe they'll figure out this correlation -- Aristotle would have spotted it in a second.)

We took a taxi to our hotel, the Elektra Palace in Aristotelus Square. I've noticed that Greek people aren't very friendly initially, but sometimes warm up a bit if you wait patiently. So at first the taxi driver was completely silent (except for the incessant cell phone calls, a bit scary considering he was also swerving in and out of traffic, blowing his horn, and not wearing a seat belt -- consistent with the risk-taking smoker's mentality, I suppose -- at least he wasn't smoking...) But eventually he started chatting a bit and pointing out a few landmarks. So far I feel like the locals really aren't that friendly, and people are *really* pushy (you have to shove your way through the crowd -- there's no concept of waiting in a line or taking turns). But I'm trying to reserve judgement until we've been here for a while longer.

The hotel is fine; there are a bunch of fans outside our room, generating white noise that covers up the city/traffic noise. Our neighbors were unfortunately in a couple of rooms and had kids running up & down the hall, banging on doors. But we were so tired by the time we went to bed that we mostly went through it.

After unpacking and resting a bit, we strolled down to the water -- the area we're staying in is right in the center of town, so there are lots of outdoor cafes/bars with tons of people on a Saturday night and loud music (and of course lots of smoke...) We walked down a little ways west and then up Aghia Sofia, looking for a restaurant that was listed in my book. But then we spotted a "Restaurant Cafe" (just off Aghia Sofia Square) whose name we couldn't decipher, and the food we saw people eating was very tasty, so we stopped there. Turned out to be Kourdisto Gourouni, a hybrid Greek/German restaurant, with over 50 different beers and a mix of dishes from the different cuisines. Caroline had a very tasty rabbit with black truffle sauce; mine was a Greek specialty (stuffed cabbage in a lemon sauce); and Grandma had wiener schnitzel. We also had a grilled cheese appetizer and local white wine. Everything was delicious.

After dinner we walked down to a cafe we'd spotted with a good ice cream selection, then strolled back to the hotel. I think we ended up crashing around 8:30, and I set my alarm for 7:30. Other than waking up a few times during the night and having trouble getting comfortable, we (Caroline and I) both slept straight through. I feel pretty well adjusted to this time zone - we didn't make the mistake of napping in the afternoon when we got in, so we had a good night's sleep on local time. Caroline woke up a bit when I got up, but was sound asleep again when I left.

They had a very nice breakfast buffet in the open-air rooftop restaurant (best part: sour cherry juice). Then I decided to be a risk-taker and took the bus to the university. Bit of an adventure -- I wasn't quite sure what bus # (turned out to be 12), how to pay (luckily had the right change to pay on the bus), or where to get off (bus driver waved me off at the right stop). Then I couldn't figure out where the university was, but walked in the direction he pointed, and eventually saw the buses (from the main hotel) with the "ICAPS" signs, then someone wearing a lanyard who was also going to the conference.

So here I am, blogging and sitting in the Learning & Planning Workshop. Tonight I'm planning to skip the conference banquet (it was way too expensive, around $100, to get tickets for Grandma and Caroline), and we're planning to try a local popular restaurant that was listed in my mom's book (Aristotelus, just a block or so from the hotel). Grandma and Caroline were thinking to take a taxi up to the museum area when they got up, but I haven't talked to them today, of course.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Thoughts on Nearsightedness

This is pure speculation on my part. But I've often read that nearsightedness and intelligence/being good in school are correlated. I've also often heard people claim that reading too much causes nearsightedness.

What if it's the other way around? What if some people, like me, are born moderately or severely nearsighted? As an infant/toddler/young child, it might be years before the condition was diagnosed. Meanwhile, activities like throwing/catching balls and climbing trees, which involve gross-motor skills and major physical activity, would be challenging. But reading and fine-motor skills, done close up, would feel much more natural. So nearsighted kids would naturally pay more attention to manageable, nearby things like books and blocks; might become early readers; and might develop a tendency towards the "intellectual/internal" and away from the "adventurous/physical."

Like I said, pure speculation, but it does seem like it might make some sense. Of course, I can also imagine some co-evolution going on (intellectual ability as a compensatory trait to protect us hapless nearsighted organisms).

Lasik - Two-Week Followup

I had my two-week followup today in Rockville. I continue to be a near-textbook example of Lasik surgery success. :-) My vision is still 20/20 in my dominant eye and 20/40 in my other eye, and I could read the smallest line of text on the "presbyopia" card. (Today's appointment was also quicker -- I was in and out in less than half an hour.)

I do have some minor annoyances, which I hope will fade over time. My eyes are occasionally dry, but really no worse than before the surgery -- I think I just notice a bit more, because the dry eyes do seem to affect my vision a bit. And they say that using artificial tears regularly helps with vision and with corneal healing.

As far as the monovision, I basically have no difficulty at all with normal distance vision -- I do notice the imbalance between my eyes occasionally, but it doesn't bother me much at all. The near vision is a bit more problematic -- I think that's because for near vision, my right eye needs to "take over," and it's not used to being the dominant eye, so my brain has more trouble adapting to that situation. I expect this will keep getting better over time.

I definitely notice that my vision is worse in low light than it was before. I think this is partially related to the monovision -- my theory is that whichever eye is having more trouble focusing on whatever I'm looking at tries to dilate more in order to see better, and this actually makes my vision worse in the other eye. I'm not as confident that this will fix itself over time, but hopefully I'll at least get more used to it. It's not *bad*, but it can be annoying at times (e.g., when I'm trying to do a crossword puzzle or read in bed before bedtime).

I do see very noticeable "starbursts" around any light source when I'm driving at night. I find this pretty annoying, and on top of the increased difficulty in focusing in general, and reduced depth perception from the monovision, it definitely makes me a little nervous. But I'm fine, really, I just need to concentrate a bit more than I used to (which is actually a good thing!) and to slow down a bit (ditto). Driving in the early-morning fog yesterday, driving Heather to school for her spring trip at 5am, was definitely not a great experience. But it's not anywhere near debilitating, and definitely very worth the tradeoff! I do think that the starbursts will improve somewhat over time, as my corneas heal -- as I understand it, while the flap is healing, there are imperfect contact points between the corneal flap and the cornea itself as the re-adhesion process occurs, over the 3-6 months after the surgery.

All of these minor side effects were exactly what I had expected from my reading about the Lasik surgery, and they're actually much less severe than I worried they would be.

It really is pretty amazing to wake up in the morning, look out the window, and be able to see every single plum blossom in bloom on the tree outside. At night, when my eyes start to get tired, I still have this moment where I think, "Oh, I should take my contacts out"; and in the morning, when I wake up, I often start to reach for my glasses before I realize, "oh, yeah, I can already see the clock and everything else I need to!" I've worn glasses or contact lenses pretty much every single waking hours for the last 38 years, and if I could ever make out any details on object smaller than a foot across, more than a few feet away, I couldn't remember it. (I started wearing glasses when I was 5 or 6, and I imagine that my eyes were quite nearsighted for years before that, before anybody realized how nearsighted I was.) Now I can just simply *see*, after an incredibly quick operation with near-zero complications. What's not to love?!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lasik - Postop

After the surgery, I opened my eyes now and again, but everything was really pretty blurry and very, very bright, so mostly I tried to keep them closed. I think I really didn't want to know, at that point, whether my vision was any better than it had been before -- either it was or it wasn't, and I knew it would take some time to settle in, so I didn't want to start overanalyzing.

They had me wait a bit, then the doctor looked in my eyes to make sure everything looked OK, which it did. That was it -- I was free to go. (I'd already made my one-day and two-week followup appointments.) We stopped at a drive-through and I ate in the car on the way home with my eyes mostly closed (the light was *really* blinding now that we were outside, even with the super-dark sunglasses they'd given me).

When I got home, I pretty much went straight to bed, as they had told me. The directions were to take a three-hour nap, which I did, more or less, except that I woke up and staggered to the bathroom a few times. It's not like real surgery, where you've had anesthetic and are still out of it from the drugs, but I think just because my eyes *so* didn't want to be open, and because of the huge adrenaline rush of the surgery, I was really groggy and out of it.

Once I woke up, I put in the antibiotic and steroid drops as directed. (I did forget that I was supposed to use the steroid drops every hour that day, and only used them every 4 hours with the antibiotic. Oops.) Then I pretty much tried to not look around too much and again, not to think too much about how my vision was. (Answer: Still kinda blurry and hazy; certainly less nearsighted than before, but hard to tell, really.) I figured reading was hopeless, but that I could kind of half-watch TV, which is what I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening doing. I had forgotten how mind-numbing it is to watch TV all afternoon and evening.

By late that evening, I decided I could definitely see pretty well, but was still trying not to make any assessment until the morning, since there was still a bit of haziness. I checked my email (but only very briefly, especially since John scolded me when I opened the computer). I did do one crossword puzzle before bed, just to prove that I could still read.

I slept pretty well, despite the goofy goggles, and when I woke up -- well, I looked outside, and it was still a bit too bright for me, but I could *definitely* see with more or less normal vision -- the buds are coming into bloom on the maple outside our window, and I could see each and every one! Weird. Amazing and weird.

I drove myself (wearing the super-dark sunglasses) to the postop exam. Not a problem at all. The monovision is definitely going to take some getting used to, but it doesn't affect most activities. If I am trying to focus on something specific, at whatever distance, I'm very aware that one of my eyes is working better than the other, and sometimes it's a little disorienting. Like when you're wearing contact lenses and one of them is really dry and blurry, or you need a new prescription in one eye. I wonder whether I'll always be as conscious of it as I am now -- hopefully not.

The postop exam took a long time (they really kept me waiting -- I was there for an hour and a half, for two 5-minute checks -- one of my actual vision, and one to look inside my eyes). The vision check was just as they'd aimed for -- 20/20 in my left (dominant) eye and 20/40 in my right eye, and no problem reading close up (as long as I can use my right eye!) When they looked in my eyes, the doctor told me that I had a little inflammation under the flap in my right eye. So she told me to use the steroids more often (every 2 hours) for the next 2 days, and to come in on Monday to make sure it's not getting worse. Other than that, everything looks perfect.

It really is incredible that with a 10-minute operation, a lifetime of myopia is just... gone. Poof. I can see like a normal person. (well, except for the funky weird monovision thing.)

Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, the blurriness of the monovision caught my attention, and my immediate reaction was to think, "Oh, I should take my contacts out." Very disconcerting. Good, but disconcerting.

At the moment, I'm not experiencing any bothersome symptoms whatsoever except for the adjustment to the monovision. There's maybe a tiny bit of ghosting around bright lights, but it's not nearly as bad as the glare that I would get off my glasses (and forget about scratches and dirt!) So far I haven't tried to drive at night, but it doesn't seem likely that it will be a problem. My eyes aren't even particularly scratchy or dry. I think I'm like a poster child for Lasik. :-)

More posts to follow if there are any interesting developments to report. Otherwise I guess you can all count me as a satisfied customer!!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lasik - The Surgery

I went for my Lasik surgery on Friday, March 20, 2009, at LasikPlus in Rockville, Maryland. My surgeon was Dr. Jay Lustbader (who's done 10,000+ Lasik surgeries and is also the Chair of the Department of Opthalmology and Director of Cornea Service at Georgetown).

Before the surgery, they checked me in (and collected my payment of course! - for the record, with a discount they gave me for my insurance plan, I paid $3390 total for both eyes, with a year of postop exams and lifetime "enhancements" (touch-up surgeries if I have any problems) - the "standard" price is $2099/eye). Somebody examined my eyes to make sure the corrections they'd recorded earlier were still accurate, and I met with somebody else who gave me the post-surgery care instructions.

Finally I was called in by Dr. Lustbader, who I liked -- he was very relaxed but professional, explained the surgery, and asked me if I had any questions. They sent me back out to wait for a short while, then brought me into the operating suite (which is partitioned from the waiting area by a glass wall, so you can watch the surgeries, including a TV camera showing the eye as the operation proceeds).

They gave me "squeezy balls" to squeeze (and telling me to squeeze those, *not* my eyes!), then put numbing drops in my eyes, and a patch over my right eye. Then Dr. Lustbader inserted a lid holder into the left eye, which wasn't exactly painful but was *really* uncomfortable. After that I couldn't really see very well. Then he put some sort of cup device over my eye, at which point I basically couldn't see anything (but he had warned me about that). Then they cut the flap (I have no idea how that went, since I couldn't see or feel it!) Same thing on the other eye.

Then I had to get up (with my corneas cut away) and walk across the room to the other table, which was a little weird and disorienting. That's where they did the actual surgery on the cornea itself. Again with the lid holder, and this time they also taped my eyelashes down -- again, not painful, but very uncomfortable and not at all pleasant. The weirdest thing was when I could see the doctor's hand coming at me with a pair of tweezers to peel back the corneal flap (which took a few tries).

Then there's a flashing red (now very blurry) light you have to look at, and the laser makes these funky clicking noises, and you are very aware that your cornea is being reshaped, which is quite disturbing and sends an adrenaline rush through you like you wouldn't believe. The squeezy balls turn out to be quite useful at this point.

They were great about telling me exactly what they were doing and how long it would take. Then I was done, and that was it - the nurse walked me out to the lobby and told me to wait with my eyes closed for a few minutes.

More in the next post...

Lasik - The Decision

I thought I'd write and share my (ongoing) story about getting Lasik surgery.

I first thought about Lasik maybe 5-10 years ago, but when I looked into it, it seemed that there was a fairly high rate of complications (especially halos and glare), which made me nervous. I just didn't think it had been tested enough back then. Then as I got older, I thought, well, what's the point now? Sure, if I was 25, it would be worth doing it, but not now.

A few years ago, though, I started to develop presbyopia, and more people I knew were having Lasik surgery, even people in their 40s, 50s -- this year I found out that a 72-year-old I know just had Lasik! And the rate of complications seemed much lower. Looking around on the Internet, it wasn't that easy to find people who were unhappy -- and most of them seemed to actually have relatively mild complications (e.g., they would complain that they still had to wear glasses -- well, I have to wear glasses *now*, so that doesn't seem like a tragic outcome). My biggest concern had been major loss of eyesight, but I really couldn't find *any* stories with extreme outcomes like blindness. Given that millions of people have Lasik every year, it seemed like it had gotten pretty safe and straightforward.

I went to the LasikPlus in Columbia (recommended by a friend who had had the surgery) for an evaluation in September 2007, and they said that I was a candidate. But they also told me that I had presbyopia (which I knew) and that I'd need reading glasses after the surgery. Trading one kind of glasses for another didn't seem all that appealing. They mentioned monovision, but I didn't think I could get used to being severely nearsighted in one eye and fairly farsighted in the other eye.

Fast-forward a year and a half, to late 2008, and my presbyopia was clearly getting bad enough that I was going to need bifocals pretty soon. (I couldn't just take my glasses off to read; I actually had to replace the regular glasses with reading glasses, especially if it was dark or my eyes were tired.) So I thought, OK, now the tradeoff seems worthwhile.

I made another appointment at LasikPlus (this time in Rockville, because the appointment times were more convenient) in February 2009. Again, they told me that I was a good candidate (pupils not too large, correction not too extreme (-3.75 diopters with mild astigmatism in one eye, -4 in the other)). They also told me more about monovision -- I had gotten the impression that the "close vision" eye wouldn't be corrected at all, or very little, but they told me that I could expect to have 20/20 vision in the distance-adjusted eye and 20/40 in the close-adjusted eye. They gave me some of those goofy insert-a-lens glasses with the monovision correction to wear while my eyes adjusted. It seemed like something that I could probably adapt to, and they also told me that if I didn't like it, I could come back after my eyes healed to change the close-adjusted eye to distance vision at no charge. (Of course, then I *would* have to wear reading glasses.)

I was also somewhat worried about glare and night vision, but it seemed that with the new laser technology, fewer people had long-term problems with these issues than even a few years ago -- and the night vision problems that can be caused by monovision (extra glare/halo from the blurry distance vision in the close-vision eye) can generally be fixed by wearing night glasses (that give you that extra bump in distance correction to even out the eyes).

I also talked to several friends who have had Lasik and are wildly satisfied with it, including a student who has monovision. I decided that the risks are small enough (possibility of still needing glasses, now or in the future; possibility of night glare or blurry vision, especially during healing) that I was going to do it.

I scheduled my surgery on Friday, March 20, 2009. I'm planning to post a series on the surgery and healing process, so stay tuned!