Active Avoidance


Warning: if you are someone who is sensitive to the details of medical things, proceed with caution

I have an overactive imagination and an overly sympathetic stomach. They often join forces to work against me.


My husband can simply tell me about something disgusting. He doesn’t have to be overly descriptive. I don’t have to see it or smell it. My stomach will turn, and I will start burping as though I need to throw up. Thankfully, I don’t actually have to make a mad dash for the toilet, but I do have to let the unnecessary air conjured by my imagination escape until my stomach settles down after realizing there was never an actual inciting incident. It was all pretend.


In an effort to counter this self-sabotage when I can, I have developed a strange, possibly unhealthy, way of intentionally and actively avoiding things that bother me or that I think will bother me. If I don’t see something or understand it, I don’t have to experience the emotions that go along with reality. I like to think of it as being honest about my issues and then protecting my fragile disposition. To do this well is a balancing act. If I spend too much time thinking about something, it will trigger my imagination. If I spend too little time, it may catch me off guard.


Until early last year, we had two cats. When people would take care of them for us when we were out of town, I would show them how to cleverly dish the wet cat food without using any utensils. The idea of wet cat food touching the same utensil I put in my mouth makes me want to vomit.

Knowing other people might not feel comfortable with my ninja canned cat food moves, I told them that if they had to, they could use one of our utensils, but they must never tell me and must promise to have washed it and put it away with no signs of it having ever touched cat food by the time we got home.


To this day, I have no clue if anyone ever used our forks or spoons to serve up cat food. And if my brain ever wandered toward wondering, I could reassure myself that I had never seen any evidence of anyone spooning kibble, so all must be well.


I have since acquired a fork dedicated to dishing out wet cat food and can now use my own utensils with a clear mind and calm stomach.

Similar but different, in 2015, I had eye surgery. Until the day of surgery, the plan was Lasik. The ophthalmologist told me he would take final eye measurements the morning before my surgery to definitively decide which eye surgery would be best for my eyes.


He told me the other eye surgery was called PRK, but since I expected to have Lasik, I didn’t see a need to look at information regarding PRK at all.


I knew that for Lasik eye surgery, they would cut a flap in my cornea, lift it out of the way, and laser my eyeball.


That was enough for me to know. Possibly too much, honestly. I couldn’t think about it.


On the day of my eye surgery, after having completed all of the pre-surgery eye tests, I was told I was a good candidate for PRK, that it might be the better option for me, but that it was basically an even split as to which surgery was “best”.


I was asked which surgery I preferred.


Ummmmm … nope! I’m not a doctor! You tell me what surgery you think is best!


Ultimately, the doctor said he thought PRK was the better option for me.


Great.

He asked if I wanted to know how the surgery would go since we were changing from Lasik to PRK.


Nope. The less I know the better.


You have to be awake for this kind of eye surgery. You have to hold still. Look at one point.


I got myself situated on the operating table, swaddled with a warm blanket and holding a teddy bear. The swaddle blanket and stuffed friend were provided by the facility. The more comfortable you are, physically and emotionally, the better.

The assistant put some drops in my eyes.


I tried to think about other things. I mentally transported myself to a beautiful beach. Imagined myself relaxing on the sand. Nice breeze.


The assistant got me all set up and ready for the doctor. I was at the beach while she did some of the prep, so I missed the specifics.

The doctor told me to look at this red light on the machine directly above my head. Then he started playing hockey on my eyeball. He had this cute little black hockey stick and was moving it back and forth in front of my field of vision.


I bet this is some sort of numbing salve.


I imagined my pupil as the puck and the doctor playing miniature hockey on my eye. I couldn’t feel anything. He probably wasn’t doing anything important yet.

Next, he told me to keep focusing on the red light. He stepped out of the way and started the laser. He told me it would take less than a minute. I was worried my eye would randomly flick this way or that and the laser would cut through my eye in places it wasn’t supposed to. I stared intently at the red light, imagined a lightsaber frozen in action. I was frozen too. Staring at the beam of light. No way my eye could twitch. I was frozen.


And just like that, the first eye was done.


Now I knew the drill. Beach. Hockey. Lightsaber.


It wasn’t until after the surgery, when the doctor was telling me what to expect from recovery, that I found out what had really happened.


I was told that I needed to keep my eyes shielded from light for a couple days and that I would likely experience a good amount of pain while my corneas regrew.


I’m sorry. What?


Oh, right. What I told them not to tell me pre-surgery was that the main difference between Lasik and PRK is that with Lasik, they cut the cornea. With PRK, they scrape a layer of your cornea off.


WHAT?!


The doctor hadn’t been playing hockey on my eyeball! He had been scraping off my cornea! Clearly, the assistant must have numbed my eye while I was at the beach because it was completely numb (thank God!) while I watched the doctor actively scrape my cornea off right before my very eye!

And this is why I consider active avoidance my superpower. To imagine a doctor playing hockey on my eyeball is tolerable. Cute even. To KNOW he is scraping off my cornea?! Absolutely not!


I honestly don’t know if I could have kept myself still, let alone kept myself in the room had I known what was actually happening. I likely would have started burping because I would be imagining him (or just actually watching him) scraping my cornea off, and I would have lost my ever-loving mind.

I am so thankful to have had PRK. Almost seven years later, I still have 20/20 vision. It’s incredible to wake up in the morning and immediately see my surroundings. I spent most of my life waking up to a blurry bedroom.

If I have to actively avoid certain specifics of reality in order to lead a fuller and richer life, I think it’s worth it.

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