Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Nine

Wil didn’t notice her interesting ensemble, and her mother was too kind to draw attention to it. Wil might have requested the information, had she known that a certain occupant of Building Five was spying more discreetly than even W could manage.

She and her mother suspected nothing. They walked their familiar, echoing path past the winter-dead trees and morning-shadowed playground. They spoke less than usual; they thought a lot more. Her mother had two coughing fits but insisted she felt fine enough to continue. Wil sighed deeply more than twice but insisted she felt fine enough to continue as well.

They walked the cold and empty route in a quiet unease; each with thoughts far from the areas she walked through or the person she walked with.

“All right, Wil…” her mother said once they were back at home. Her intended speech, however, was interrupted by yet more coughing. Wil closed the door, then walked her gasping mother to the couch. She held up the medicine bottle, the water cup, and then the nebulizer in turn. Cynthia shook her head at each but the last. Wil found and measured out the correct medication, attached the air hose, and offered its mouthpiece. She anxiously watched her mother inhale the vapor at a gasp in the coughing; cough; inhale; breathe out. Wil sighed, as she always did, in relief.

Her mother cleared her throat in the careful manner she’d used all weekend. “Now, Wil,” she said in a quieter voice, “Are you going to tell me more about your secret clues, or about Reagan, or…” She fixed Wil with a knowing look. “About why the playground outside makes you sigh?”

Wil looked up, shock plainly written all over her face.

“Or,” her mother said kindly, “Maybe you want to talk more about the letter from Gwen?”

Wil opened her mouth, changed her mind, and closed it. Her face changed expression to one of scrunched thoughtfulness as she considered what to say. She opened her mouth to try again.

“Mina!” her father said in surprise. He stood in the doorway to the hall, coat in hand and socks on feet. “We need to go!”

Wil hurried a glance to the microwave clock. They were late! “Oh! Sorry, Dad! Umm..” She searched around herself for what she might need to grab, as her thoughts searched around her head for what she might need to remember. Her mind grasped an idea before her hands did. “My bag! I’ll got get my bag from my room! Then we can go!”

She rose in a rush and made to dart around her father; who, for some reason, blocked her path. Wil looked up at him in confusion. A smile played at the edges of his mouth.

“Min- Wil,” he said. “Maybe pick some different pants first?”

Her gaze traveled back to her own person. “Gah!” she exclaimed, and again made to rush to her bedroom. This time her father did not stop her. In fact, she heard what sounded suspiciously like a chuckle just before entering her room.

 

Continued from Seventy-Eight.
Keep reading to Eighty.

Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Eight

The guard shifted again. W froze. Just as she thought to chase her instincts back to where her equipment waited, he sat up and turned on the bedside lamp.

“Mina?” his groggy voice asked, his eyes squinting. “That you?”

“Yes, Dad,” Wil answered, sighing.

Her mother moaned and moved her head. Wil and her father watched Cynthia roll over and turn off the breathing machine, remove the attached mask, and rub gently at her face. Perhaps sensing their attentions, she looked in Wil’s direction, then Rob’s. She smiled. “Good morning. Is it time for our walk?” She yawned and her audience felt obliged to yawn in reply.

“I think,” Wil ventured, “We’re actually a little late.” She came into the room, stepping over but mostly through the disarray. “Sorry, Mom.”

Her mother held out a friendly hand, which Wil took. “That’s okay.” She yawned again. “We’ll just do a few fewer laps.” Turning her attention to the bed and its surroundings, she said, “Now, if you two could help locate my clothes, I’ll get dressed and meet you at the door.”

Wil laughed quietly. “Sorry,” Rob supplied. “I’ve been meaning to pick up.”

“Looks fine to me,” Wil said, feigning innocence.

Now her mother laughed. Her father’s face twisted into an expression of humored irritation. “Suppose we both clean up today?” he proposed.

“Found ’em,” Wil said, grabbing at a pink bundle very near the bed on Cynthia’s side. She deposited them on her mother’s lap. “I’ll see you up front!” Her parents both watched the bouncing chaos of hair and stumbling movements of Wil skip from their room.

Rob sighed. He shifted and leaned over to kiss his wife’s cheek.

“Do you think,” Cynthia asked, pulling at the t-shirt she slept in, “She knows she’s wearing a striped purple top and plaid pajama bottoms?”

 

Continued from Seventy-Seven.
Keep reading to Seventy-Nine.

Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Seven

After their eventful weekend, Monday’s alarm startled Wil more than it usually did. She’d been dreaming of mists and searchings again, yet the feeling of the thing differed. Instead of a lost sensation, or a confused one, Wil had felt a …dread. The thing she sought in her dreams was now something she was not keen to find.

She lay staring up at her ceiling until the alarm rang again; she must have pushed Snooze at its initial sounding. “Oh!” she cried and fell off the bed. Graceful as ever, Wyl Winterling, she thought as she groped at the alarm and then at her laundry pile on the floor.

Soon enough, she had pants and a long-sleeved top. She resolved to ensure a matching outfit after the walk with her mother and a shower. Yawning and stretching, she dressed and clumped down the hallway. It was a good morning for Wil as she only bumped against the wall twice.

She heard her parents’ room before her eyes could make out the dark outline of its opening. A rhythmic machine-breathing came from that direction. The BiPAP was on again. She hadn’t heard it since the last time Cynthia was ill. Wil forgot how much she hated it despite how calm the soft, regular noise sounded.

W paused just outside the room, listening with an alertness acquired from years of training. A demonic *Shhhhsssshhh* *Shhhhhssshhh* emanated from the space, interrupted by a random rustling, a grunting snore.

What could it be? she wondered. She placed a thoughtful gloved finger to her lips in consideration. Alarm system? She’d disabled that upon entry, and the guard for good measure. Heating element? W knew no passive piece of equipment had a constant airflow, besides antiquated equipment like a ceiling fan. Is the hostage being subjected to a form of torture used decades ago?

With only one way to find out since her extendable cameras were inoperable this far beneath the ground, W peered around the corner of the doorpost.

At the sight of what lay beyond, she stifled a curse. Highly unprofessional, she knew. Still, what nefarious opponents had devised the assortment of cloth piles, closely-packed furniture, and random detritus before her?

A movement. A form upon the bed turned to its side yet still lay resting. The guard was asleep, then; good for him so long as he stayed that way. She turned her wary attention to her mission and her goal: the hostage. W gasped.

She realized, even before running a scan with her wristband, that the situation was more serious than she had been warned of. Her eyes traced the coils of tubing running from the box on the floor as her ears still heard its inexorable *Shsssshhhhssshhh* she’d first picked up outside the door.

Not only was the woman a hostage within the basement confines of a cement building, lying near a guard who might wake at any minute, she also literally rested within the clutches of a strange robotic device.

 

Continued from Seventy-Six.
Keep reading to Seventy-Eight.

Skinwalkers, XXVIII

Nathan scuttled nearer the cannibalized sensory modules as his friend got right to work. Before he fully settled onto the hard ground, however, something flew through the air and smacked him on his shoulder. It was the last meal bundle. “What the-” he began, looking up in time to see the tartlet falling toward him as well. In startled automatic response, he caught it.

“Smooth,” Shin said, glancing over. He laughed, deactivated power to the area, and began removing restraining bolts with the autodrill.

Nathan relaxed into a sitting position on the hard floor and watched Shin. He attempted to eat the food station’s final offering, and was not surprised to find the tartlet as tasteless as the rest. “Good effort,” he told the machine, mock-toasting it with the singed dessert.

“I can quit, you know,” Shin replied, in a bit of a grunt. His left hand was up inside the wall, twisting his back in odd convulsions. His gaze flitted to the scanscreen clutched between his right hand and the wall, checking to see when he made the appropriate connection. “There!” Dropping the scanscreen to dangle from a twist of wires, he marched to his satchel and pulled out a few more tools.

“Hey!” Nathan exclaimed, as Shin trod heavily very near to Nathan’s slipshod feet in passing.

Shin feigned innocence; began adjusting an interior mechanism. “Soon’s you’re done, sleeper, get over here.”

Although he’d had no desire to finish it, Nathan took a deliberate, minuscule bite of the tartlet. He kept his expression empty, in an overall appearance of nonchalance. Another nibble. Then another.

Shin stopped, turned, and put his hand on his hip. One of his eyebrows drew upwards as his mouth puckered in a twist. He even tapped a foot. The worn soles echoed dully in the near-empty apartment.

The treat in Nathan’s hand proved too small to keep him from action for long. Besides, the suncycle was moving on and he needed to rest. His wristwatch beeped in agreement.

“What was that?” Shin asked, saw the watch, raised a truly curious face to Nathan’s.

“A wristwatch.”

“Well, obviou-”

“Whatcha need me for?” Nathan interrupted. He rose and walked to stand near his friend, waiting.

Shin drew in a breath, a bit hurt, but not pressing the question. “Drag the tools closer, if you can.” Grunting, Nathan complied. Shin worked in near silence for half a tick, keeping further comments restricted to which tool he needed or whether he wanted Nathan to support a crucial piece.

“I’m trustly, you know,” he said, finally. His focus shifted briefly to meet Nathan’s eye, then back to the screen.

Nathan sighed. “I know.” He pushed tantalizing thoughts of forever friendships and open trust far from his imaginations, and left the conversation where it was.

“Time for the cover again,” Shin said. They hefted it in place and secured it. Shin reactivated power and the machine defied Nathan’s gloomy expectations by whirring to life. They could hear the cooling mechanism humming, even more quietly than it had before. Shin smiled. “Try it.”

Doubtful of the outcome, Nathan leaned in and pressed the Midmeal button. An indistinct whir of gears came to him from the food station, and a countdown lit up the display. “I didn’t know it could do that!” He said, and laughed.

Shin smiled a ghost of his usual expression.

*Ding* sang the machine, and a perfectly-prepared meal bundle landed in the vending area. It was even steaming.

 

Continued from Skinwalkers, XXVII.
Read to Skinwalkers, XXIX.

All You (Perhaps Didn’t) Want to Know About LASIK

I’ve put this off for awhile now, mostly because I don’t want my street cred as a depressive, put-upon, real-life person to be ruined. HOWEVER, when I was looking into getting laser eye surgery last year, I was frustrated that no one actually detailed the event to my satisfaction.

I’m a worrier. For some reason, I like to know exactly when the dentist is going to stab my gums or the moment when the scalpel will be applied during a Cesarean. In short, I hate surprise pain.

And so, a little over a year ago and thanks to reckless spending of Uncle Sam’s return, I had LASIK. Not only that, but I wrote about my experience once permissible to use my eyes. I include it here in the hopes that some other morbidly curious potential surgery-receiver may be helped by it.

I also split it into three parts, for your squeamish level convenience.

After all of the descriptions is the summary. Pick whichever section works for you, then scroll down to the three asterisks.

May 12, 2017

Safe Description (your queasy, paranoid grandmother could read this and not faint):
After sitting through a consultation in December, I finally scheduled and lay through laser eye surgery.
It was freaky but cool.
I seemed to be able to see as expected, so it worked.
Yay!

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Medium Description (you’ll only pretend to cover your eyes two or three times, but actually be fascinated):
In December, I sat through a standard consultation appointment at Hoopes Vision. It was free. It involved a video on an iPad, an exam with an eye doctor, and Dr. Hoopes himself talking to me about The Procedure. Then, I met with a man who discussed cost and price-matched what a neighbor of mine had been charged over five years ago. (It was still, understandably, a lot of money.)

After a few jinxed attempts at scheduling, I arrived ready for surgery the morning of May 11. This meant that I had arranged for payment, babysitting, a ride, two prescriptions, rewetting drops (that turned out to be the wrong kind), and self-control in the face of a terrifying situation.

Kevin (my ride and my husband) and I met with a woman who took our money and witnessed me signing the release agreement.
I was handed a summary of what-might-possibly-happen-during-each-laser, and it somewhat concerned me.
Then, we sat through a live human who gave us an automated message regarding surgery and recovery procedure (she did not crack a smile or deviate from her paperless script).
At her query, I reiterated that I did not wish to ingest the standard drinkable Valium. I was going in sober.
She put blue cloth covers (booties) over my shoes and a matching larger version (shower cap) over all the hair on my head.

I had another eye exam with a Dr. Macintosh because it had been nearly six months since the one during consultation. Six months is their cut-off time to get the surgery done, else one has to pay for a new consultation. She assured me that the summary description was generalized and I would not, in fact, feel pressure or black out as it suggested might happen. Yes, she’d had LASIK. Yes, she was still alive and could see.

I used the bathroom.

Just before entering The Room, I sat in a chair and had numbing drops put in each eye by another assistant. She explained that it would sting (it didn’t) but that was how I knew it worked. I explained to her that it didn’t feel nearly as bad as putting the wrong contact solution in one’s eye, and was personally concerned that it hadn’t worked because I hadn’t thought it stung. She assured me it had.

We entered The Room. Kevin sat outside. I was led to a space-age “bed” with a head area and a roll of cloth that was to sit under my legs. I lay as directed, and panicked a bit that they were just going to fire it up without telling me first. They talked me through another numbing drop in my right eye, applying stickers to my top and bottom lashes, and a special support to hold that eye open.
I saw a ball of light, like a picture of an atom in a science-fiction movie. Dr. Hoopes talked me through the machine getting into position and explained that the light was going to move around and then fade a bit.
Before you decide you’re too squeamish: It did not hurt. The only uncomfortable part was that the support piece holding the eye open poked my eye socket a tad. I have small eyes.
The right eye was done first, then the left. Each eye took fifteen seconds.

After moving the bed to the right, I sat up and walked over to lay under a different machine. This one had three colors of lights: two red to the right and left, and one green in the center. Things looked a bit blurry, but they always do for me.
Dr. Hoopes talked me through taping down eyelids/lashes and wetting my right eye then lifting the cornea. This is your second squeamish part. Again, it did not hurt. From my perspective, the lights got a bit blurrier. He told me to watch the green light; to keep track of it. The assistant said it would be nine seconds. The machine made a noise, Dr. Hoopes explained that the green light would blur a bit but it would be back again, and nine seconds later it was done.
He explained his actions in wetting and replacing the cornea.
They repeated this with the left eye, but it only took six seconds.

The bed moved, I sat up, and they led me from the room.

I was told to keep my eyes closed for ten minutes, while I sat in the chair I’d been in for my eye exam a few minutes prior.

Dr. Macintosh came back in, smiling and congratulating me. She looked at each eye, reminded me of the specific follow-up procedures, and gifted me a pair of cool shades.
She recommended we stop at Costco to purchase the correct rewetting eye drops.

I was on a schedule of Prednisolone (steroid) drops every two hours, Oxysomethingorother (antibiotic) every four, and rewetting drops every fifteen to thirty minutes. Expecting to have to record wet vs. soiled diapers as well; we were told that, unlike caring for a newborn, I only needed to apply the eye drops whilst awake.

Speaking of, I was also given two plastic eye shields to tape across my eye area when I slept. DO NOT APPLY ANY PRESSURE TO YOUR EYES in the next 24 hours, I was told -even to wipe away drop solution.

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Gory, Detailed Version (Do not read this if you can’t handle the truth):
I will only fill in some extra pieces to the Medium Description so we don’t overload l’internet.

The consultation video one watches on the iPad is informative, giving you the same information I did in the medium description. It tells you that the cornea will be cut by an amazing process of creating air bubbles in between the corneal layers to naturally sever its connection.
The video and their descriptions are detailed enough that you can safely say Hoopes didn’t mince words, but not so technical that you know the names of the founders of laser surgery and which machine they’re currently using at which speed per second laser, etc. That information is on a timeline on the wall, for Pete’s sake.
Many of the assistants have had LASIK. Dr. Hoopes himself had it done waaay back when, under much less safe conditions. He laughed and explained that his took more like a minute each eye, instead of a few seconds.
I found out that I have really good eyes for surgery. Who knew thick corneas were a desirable attribute? I also learned that surgery very rarely goes “wrong,” and most of those errors can be -and are- fixed by follow-up surgery.

Thursday of the surgery, we arrived almost-on-time. We handed over a cashier’s check for close to $4000. If you felt faint at that, you probably shouldn’t keep reading while I tell about the laser cutting my eye and such.
You’ve been warned.
I signed an agreement that said that many things could go wrong, although they weren’t likely to. It literally said they could not list every possible outcome and that I was agreeing that this was all elective and that I knew what I was doing.

The paper we were given from Assistant Robot Woman said that the first laser needed to come down and form a suction around my eye. It would apply a light pressure, and I might have my vision go completely black for a full minute.
I wasn’t able to read over all of the warnings about the second laser due to time, though Dr. Macintosh assured me (as I stated) that it wasn’t really as bad as I imagined it would be. She was right.

I was concerned about the numbing drops working because of perfectly normal paranoia, and also because of experiences with oral surgery and baby removal surgery in which the anesthesia had not fully saturated when they began operations.
Happily, Hoopes was correct. My eyes were numb.

I panicked a bit internally when the first machine came down toward my eye and formed its suction on the plastic plate. At the advice of Dr. Hoopes, who was detailing each step in a comforting tone, I trusted it would not hurt and that I was simply looking at a light.
It didn’t, and it is just a light. A glowing, ball-like light that moved in a circle; fading to a pinprick and then reappeared as a stationary, blurry ball.

On the second machine, the panicking part for me was the smell. As the laser was cutting for its nine seconds on one eye and six seconds on the other, I had trouble maintaining to my logical side that it was just a light when I could distinctly smell burning.
It did not hurt. It was not uncomfortable. It was just concerning.
I mentioned the smell to Dr. Hoopes. He agreed that the smell was there, and further explained that the laser used something called “cold heat,” and that doctors used lasers for years before a more technical sales person explained exactly why they could smell something as it worked. He also told me that the doctors performing this surgery repeatedly developed complications from ingesting the extra materials and now they all wear specially-formulated facial guards and why was his pink but his assistants got blue ones?
Just pull a blue one from their box. Sheesh.

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***It’s safe to look now.***

After the procedures, Dr. Macintosh explained that my vision was like looking through water. I thought it was like looking underwater while wearing contacts. I could see, in a different sort of blurry than I usually did, and with the sensation of having a contact lens in.
In fact, I told several people this summary since: I felt like I left my contacts in for too long, and wanted to pull them out. But, I couldn’t pull them out because they were my corneas and I needed to leave those in.

At the follow-up appointment nearly 36 hours after the procedure, I was cleared to drive and told I had 20/15 vision.
I still had the sensation of the old contacts, however, and was told this would remain for about three days.
The steroid and antibiotic drops needed to be put in every four hours for a week, then discontinued. The rewetting drops needed to be used every hour for a week, then throughout the day for a few months.

I was banned from high-impact activities like swimming (for one month) or water skiing (six months?) or impregnation (three months).

Such is the miracle of sight. Thank you for reading.

unsplash-logoMatt Evan
unsplash-logoNonsap Visuals
unsplash-logoMatheus Vinicius