Josh Drummond tried everything to improve his sight – glasses, contact lenses, religious ceremonies... And then, a few weeks ago, he finally saw the light.
When I was about 11, God’s servant came to town, and I went to experience a miracle. The meeting was at a school auditorium. While the mighty man of God – the late New Zealand property developer and evangelist, Bill Subritzky – took the stage, the healing sessions were held in prefab buildings nearby, where an assistant pastor minion asked me what my affliction was.
“Short-sightedness,” I said. If this was weird, like someone asking for prayer to grow back a missing leg, he didn’t show it. At his prompting, I removed my glasses, closed my eyes and received an enthusiastic prayer.
I opened them again to a white fluorescent ceiling light through a blur of tears, brought on by the excitement of being able to see without glasses, which I figured were the source of most bad things in my life. The lives of small, socially awkward, unco-ordinated boys with anxiety issues are not usually improved by having to wear glasses and I was no exception. I hated them. “Can you see? Are your eyes healed?” the pastor asked. “Yes! Sort of?” I said, squinting. I walked out of the room, not quite knowing how to feel about my miracle. I kept my glasses off for the rest of the night and experienced a bright new world of banging into things, tripping down stairs and being unable to read. The glasses went back on the next day, and they stayed, punctuated by multiple bouts of contact lenses.
Bill’s miracle may not have worked for me, but I never lost faith, which is why, several weeks ago and 25 years later, I found myself sitting in the waiting room of another healer. This one would use a different kind of magic. It was called SMILE, short for Small Incision Lenticule Extraction. A powerful, expensive, invisible light, not of God but of coherent photons, would be beamed into my eyes. A very thin slice would bubble, like water on the boil, and I would go (hopefully briefly) blind. The surgeon would scoop inside my cornea, “with a thing like a spatula” as he put it. Like an egg on a frying pan, he would loosen and ligate the slice and pull it out, looking something like fish scales, through a narrow opening. I’d be awake throughout. After, I would be able to see. Unlike Bill’s healing crusade, which had the upside of being side-effect free (as well as the downside of being free of any effects at all), this one had a litany of potential problems. The surgeon explained at length that the rare things I shouldn’t expect but that definitely weren’t impossible included infection, the potential to need more surgery, and a practically unheard-of post-surgery horror where my cornea would “sort of melt”.
Friends were mostly encouraging. Most of them said that laser eye surgery was the best decision they had ever made, including – I’m assuming – marriage and having children. “They don’t tell you about being able to smell your eye burning under the laser, though,” one said, ominously. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos of the surgery in anticipation. They were intriguing, but people who started watching them with me generally didn’t finish.
So when I signed up and paid for the surgery some days later, I was determined to stay alert. I wanted to know what burning eye smelled like.
Waiting for the surgery, the nurse gave me a pre-emptive paracetamol. She took my glasses away and the world blurred. The surgeon’s cap (I could see it when I squinted) had tomatoes printed on it. “Open your eyes,” he said.
He joked with me as I watched my own surgery from a unique vantage point – my vision whiting over from the outside-in while the laser blazed, his spatula working to extract a slice of eye. There was no pain and, slightly disappointingly, no burning smell.
After the surgery I was bundled carefully into an elevator. Things were still quite blurry. The miracle was real this time and I still didn’t quite know how to feel about it.
Once outside, I recognised my wife walking towards me from a hundred metres away.
There were tears in my eyes, but then they’d just been cut and poked with a very sharp stick, so it could have been that.
My eyes got better and better until the next day I went back to the surgeon who told me that the surgery had been a complete success and my vision was now better than 20/20, and I laughed.
That night, I went to bed, feeling strange. It took me some time to figure out what the problem was: I felt like I’d forgotten to take out my contact lenses. But I had taken them out, forever. I turned off the light and got into bed. As my eyes adjusted, a bright white light, with a delicate tracery of dark shadows, appeared on the bedroom wall. A breeze blew outside and the shadows moved. Half asleep, I watched the light flicker, fascinated. “What’s that light?” I asked. “It’s really beautiful.” “That’s the moonlight shining through the tree behind the leadlight window,” my wife said. “It’s there a lot.”
I said: “I’ve never seen that before.”
“The lives of small, socially awkward, unco-ordinated boys with anxiety issues are not usually improved by glasses.”