In August, David Hunter, MD, PhD, chief of Ophthalmology at Children's Hospital Boston, operated on my eyes and did what I had thought was impossible: He made my eyes straight and gave me depth perception for the first time in my life.
My eyes had been misaligned for as long as I could remember. My parents told me that after I had a high fever as a baby, my eyes had become crooked, with the left eye turned all the way to the outside corner. I had surgery on my left eye twice as a child, once when I was 5 and again when I was 12. Despite the operations, my eyes had never been straight, and I'd never been able to focus both of them at the same time. As I got older, they got worse: I began getting double vision, usually when looking to the left side while driving a car or riding a bike.
Going through life with misaligned eyes affected me greatly. My self-confidence was always compromised, especially in my professional work. I never wanted to engage in conversations because I could never look people straight in the eye. I would spend a tremendous amount of energy trying to hide my eyes—I'd turn my head to one side, use glasses to make the misalignment less obvious and try to find a place to stand or sit to try to make my eyes appear straight. It affected me professionally, too: When I'd attend meetings and try to negotiate or debate issues, I always felt that my crooked eyes put me at a disadvantage. And as a professor of Management at Suffolk University for the past nine years, it's been difficult for me to teach large classes because my students didn't know who I was calling on.
Over the years, doctors shook their heads. Some told me that more surgery wouldn't help, since there wasn't any more room to move the eye muscle. Others insisted that my condition wasn't the result of that childhood fever at all, but that I'd been born with strabismus and there was nothing they could do.
Then I found Dr. Hunter at Children's. Although he specializes in treating children, he fortunately works with many adults. After so many years of hearing 'I can't help you,' he told me the opposite. He conducted the most thorough eye exam I've ever had and said he would operate on both eyes, which would help them work together. After I got over the initial shock of him wanting to operate on my "good" eye, his explanation started to make sense. He really listened to me and answered all my questions. When I didn't understand a particular point, he drew a representation of how my eyes worked before the surgery and how they'd work together after.
Dr. Hunter has a real gift for working with patients. His quiet confidence was very reassuring, and he interacted with me in a way that made me place my utmost confidence in him. It was clear the surgical team respected Dr. Hunter, too, and that they truly like working with him. Everyone kept telling me, "You've got the best doctor." As a patient, as well as a professor who studies leadership styles, I was impressed that my operation was being led by a surgeon everyone respects so much.
Dr. Hunter operated on both of my eyes at the same time. The results were immediate: Even with the redness from the surgery, I could tell right away that my eyes were finally straight. After a few days of rest, I went for a drive with my husband and children. On that ride, I noticed that the trees looked puffy, and assumed that my swollen eyes were making objects look funny. Much to my delight, at a post-surgical visit the next day, I discovered that what I was seeing was actually three-dimensional vision!
The surgery has changed my life in ways I never imagined. Every time I look in a mirror, I'm amazed that someone with straight eyes is looking back at me. When I talk to people, I can now look them in the eye and focus on what we're saying rather than think about ways to hide my face. The double vision is almost completely gone, which has been a huge relief, especially when driving. The most incredible part of all has been seeing the world in three dimensions and enjoying how much more beautiful trees and clouds look this way than they did in two.
My family's reaction to my new eyes has been a lot of fun. On our first family hiking trip after the surgery, my husband and children were surprised at how quickly I could climb down the mountain because my previous two-dimensional vision had always made that challenging. My husband describes me as now having a "laser stare!" Most poignantly, my mother, who has Alzheimer's, now lights up with a huge smile every time she sees me. More than anyone, she vividly remembers me growing up with strabismus, and her delight at seeing that my eyes are, at long last, corrected, seems to spark a flow of memories that she and I enjoy sharing with each other.