The Public Eye: Watching My Friend Get Lasered
On a snowy Chicago night a few years ago, a man named Davy walked to his car and found this letter tucked into his windshield:
I fucking hate you. You said you had to work then whys your car HERE at HER place?? You’re a fucking LIAR. I hate you I fucking hate you.
PS Page Me Later
He loved the note, clearly intended for someone else, which so aptly showed the range of rage, vulnerability, and hilarity of human emotion, and he wanted to share it. After posting it online to a huge response, Found was born, an online collection of found photographs, love letters, to-do lists, napkin doodles, and, as their mission states, “anything that gives a glimpse into someone else’s life.” The site includes links to similar online collections, like found grocery lists, book inscriptions, and abandoned photos.
There are so many ways to steal glimpses into other people’s lives. While sites like Overheard in New York, Texts from last night, FML: Your everyday life stories, My life is average, and FailBlog offer mostly uninspired snipits of overheard conversations, luke-warm musings, and not-quite-clever one-liners and anecdotes, more interesting and artful sites are popping up, like My Parents Were Awesome, which showcases old photographs of young couples before they became mom and dad, and Learning to Love You More, maintained by author and performance artist Miranda July. LTLYM sends readers on assignments which they complete and post, some with quite beautiful results such as: life story told in one day, or freckle constellations.
But taking our wandering eyes to a new level is the Park Avenue Laser Vision, which performs its vision-correcting surgery in a glass operating room that faces 25th Street just off Park Avenue, where it routinely encourages passersby to gawk, and friends and family to come watch the surgery around the chair in the OR, or broadcast on a high definition television in the waiting room where the faint-of-heart could watch from the comfort of leather couches.
Via Facebook, my friend David invited me and twenty others to watch his eyes being operated on. He wrote:
Hey all!! Come see my eyes go from -4.25 to 20/20 or better in about 90 seconds. That’s all it takes for them to laser my cornea, and seriously, you can be in the OR with me and watch. Or you can watch on the big screen TV right outside. Or if you really want to stay outside, you can watch from 25th Street. The point is, they like people to watch…and I’d like my friends to give me a thumbs-up and wish me luck.
He told us they’d even feed us fruit and salads and wraps. I was fascinated by this display of meta-voyeurism – watching a dissection of the thing that watches. So at five o’clock last Wednesday evening, my friends Emily, Jay and I somewhat cautiously entered Park Avenue Laser Vision to find David massaging Dr. Emil Chynn, the surgeon who in a half an hour would fire lasers into his eyes.
“Don’t get him too relaxed,” David’s sister laughed nervously, watching Dr. Chynn’s sleepy face resting in the cushioned face support of the massage chair. Offering massage to staff and visitors of the center was only one of the bargains David struck in order to lower the cost of his vision-correcting surgery. The more significant agreement was allowing his surgery to be performed in the glass operating room, and to let anyone who wanted to watch.
Emily, Jay and I were greeted by a team of sales people who insisted on giving Jay an eye test (Emily and I claimed immunity by explaining we were press), and very strongly encouraged us all to take advantage of a complementary consultation with Dr. Chynn. After Jay’s test, the staff pinned a number that indicated his vision on the front of his shirt.
There was pear-blue-cheese-grape-pistachio-spinach salad, and an array of sandwiches, cookies, and fruit spread on a glass table underneath a wall-mounted flat screen television surrounded by Dr. Chynn’s certificates and diplomas. Ten people who were considering the surgery had come to watch David’s, and lounged on the couches, with their vision numbers pinned to their fronts, eating off plastic plates and making small talk. “This how I imagine a scientology center,” Emily whispered to me.
Before the surgery, David was asked to say a few words about why he’d decided to give up glasses forever. But by then the valium he’d taken about thirty minutes prior had begun to kick in, so he stood in front of the group and simply said, “I’ve had glasses since the third grade and I’m pretty much over it.”
Several doctors then addressed the group, praising Dr. Emil Chynn and the 12,000 successful vision-correcting surgeries he has performed (with no law suits to date, they said). Dr. Chynn took the stage and described the procedure, and how his technique is different from anyone else’s in New York City – there is no cutting involved like in traditional Lasik (his surgery is called Lasek), rather he moves aside the epithelial tissue, the protective barrier of the eye, and reshapes the cornea with a laser. For three days following the surgery, the patient must keep his eyes closed and wear non-prescription contact lenses while the epithelial tissue recovers. Dr Chynn fielded questions about eye drops (you’ll need them for a while) and pain during recovery (people may experience some “discomfort” for the first day or two post-op).
Emily asked, “Have people ever freaked out that they’re in a different reality?”
Dr. Chynn replied, “Yes, a few people have felt anxious for about a month after the procedure because their vision was too sharp and they weren’t used to it. But people acclimate,” he assured her. He also said he could also change their vision back to poor if they really missed the blurry edges. He also explained that he wasn’t in the business to make money, rather because he simply wanted to help people see (though he didn’t address why he also offers Botox and eyelash extension services at the same facility).
Finally a nurse handed out blue booties and bonnets for anyone who wanted to join David in the OR, where from the waiting room I could see he was laid flat in an operating chair that looked like a dentist’s, receiving nitrous oxide through a plastic mask.
David’s eye soon filled the screen in the waiting room.
“Your iris is more unique then your thumbprint,” offered the South American doctor who stood in the waiting room with us. Dr. Chynn explained that David wasn’t feeling a thing, as he removed the “skin” of his eye. In addition to the valium and nitrous oxide, David also had numbing drops in his eyes.
After the first poke at the eye, I realized I did not have the constitution to watch, so I watched my friends’ faces instead.
It was Nip/Tuck come off the screen, Nurse Jackie played by Dr. Emil Chynn.
I soon needed a break from the doctor’s play-by-play narration, and Emily and Jay’s gasps of horror, so I took my basil mozzarella tomato panini outside to where a group of high school students had gathered to watch Dr. Chynn finish removing the skin off David’s eyeballs.
“If I come in, will they give me free coffee?” a few of the boys asked.
“They will,” I said. “There are cookies too.”
Ten kids lumbered in off the street, their backpacks bouncing behind them. The receptionist welcomed them and took all of their names and contact information. The lounge occupancy doubled as they continued to watch from inside.
I stayed outdoors where I could watch the proceedings in the fresh air.
A woman passing by paused and asked me, “Excuse me, what is this, a school?”
“No, it’s an operating room.”
“And anyone can just watch?”
A receptionist from inside saw us talking and rushed over with her clipboard. “Would you like to come in for a free consultation?” she asked.
“Do you wear contacts or glasses? This is only for people who need to correct their vision,” I offered, trying to save her the hassle of getting involved.
“No,” she said, “my vision’s fine.”
“Well,” the receptionist countered, shooting me an annoyed glance, “you might have friends or family who could benefit from this procedure. You’re still welcome to come to a free seminar.”
“Even if I don’t get the surgery?”
“That would be great! I’d love to come just to watch.”
- David, after surgery.
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