The day I thought our house burned down

Yesterday I thought our house was burning to the ground.

Here’s what happened:

It was a beautiful, warm sunny day. Our first warm day so far this spring. I spent the afternoon gardening. Eventually, I decided I needed a few perennials for a shady area near the entrance to my studio. Pretty it up for the people coming to my classes, you know? (Who am I kidding, I wanted them for me, too!) So, I went to Walmart and spent a highly enjoyable hour or so looking at all the baby plants and various bulbs and bags of dirt and compost. I filled my hatchback with good stuff and went on my merry way.

While driving home (and while I was still in town – we live outside the city limits), I saw a huge, wide column of very black smoke out on the horizon right – it appeared to my estimation – where our house should be. But I tried to tell myself no, our house isn’t on fire. That smoke is probably way farther away than it looks, and someone is just burning a field. But the smoke was SO BLACK. Not what burning a field usually looks like. My next thoughts went like this, as I tried again to reassure myself: “You didn’t leave the kiln on or the dryer on or the oven on or the stove on… you haven’t used any of those things all day.”

But the closer I got to our house, the more and more it looked like the fire was coming from our property. And then when I turned off the highway onto the gravel, “smoke” was pouring down the road. (I later figured out that it wasn’t smoke, it was road dust from the incredible amount of emergency vehicles and responders.) And I could see multiple flashing red and blue lights at the top of the hill right where our house is. You can’t see our house from the bottom of the hill, but you can see emergency flashers, apparently!

Naturally, I started freaking out that our house actually was on fire and the only thing I could think was, “Thank God, I left Poppy outside on her chain. Maybe somebody rescued her for us!” Poppy is our puppy. Yesterday was the first day since we got her that I left her outside in the yard while I went somewhere else. When I finally crested the hill and I pulled into our yard, I could see that the fire was at our neighbor’s barn. It was fully engulfed. There were vehicles with flashing lights everywhere. Cops and deputies and firetrucks and ambulances were all over our yard. My husband was here and I ran to him right away and started sobbing because I had really really really thought our house was burning down. It was so scary.

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One of our other neighbors is the one who called it in. He was out doing tractor work in his yard. He saw all the smoke, and he knew that my husband was at work and I would never be burning something in our yard to make that much smoke, and neither would anyone else in the neighborhood. So he and his friend drove up to see what was happening. They could see the fire from the road; they called it into 911 before they even got out of the vehicle. We are blessed with good neighbors!

However, neither of them knew the address of the property with the fire, so they called it in as my husband’s and my address. My husband was at work and he heard over the radio, “Barn fire, building is fully engulfed,” at our address, so he got worried and sped to our place. On the way there he was trying to decide if he should attempt to go in and drive out the truck we keep in there, but then he saw all the smoke from the road and figured it was already a total loss.

Needless to say, we’re both super glad that it was not our house or barn (though honestly, I would have been relieved to pull up and see our barn on fire vs. our house, if I had to choose!). The one that burned down was quite old, and it was filled with scrap metal and piles of wood, so the loss wasn’t enormous. I’m glad everyone is okay and the damage was contained. It did make for a scary evening, though!

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This photo by Ashley Renee Pitt.

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After the firefighters left.

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Wreckage today.

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Sentinel Sale and Surgery

Ok, here’s the rest of my major news. In October, a Des Moines art appreciator approached me regarding two of the four Sentinels I had remaining in my studio after my sale to the Williston Public Library last May. He purchased Sentinel No. 5 (my personal favorite!) and Sentinel No. 6.


The timing of this sale was perfect, as I had had an appointment with an eye doctor in early September. At that appointment, I was informed for the second time (I was told this by a different optometrist last year, too) that I had essentially developed an allergy to soft contact lenses. Something to do with my eyes making too many protein deposits. I don’t exactly remember all the technicalities.

All I knew was that it constantly felt like I had huge chunks of stuff in my eye. No matter how much I cleaned them, my contacts were only comfortable for a few hours every day. Turns out my eyelids were like “sandpaper” from all the deposits. So, my choices were to wear glasses for the rest of my life, or have laser eye surgery.

Being an artist, and a person who would rather die than be blind, I was (naturally!) terrified of surgery. My then-boyfriend, now-fiancé encouraged me to have Custom ASA laser correction. He had it a few years ago and has loved his results. I was too scared. I decided to have the surgery if I could get the doctor to trade art for surgery. He couldn’t. So I thought, well, that’s that. And I continued to wear my glasses. And I hated every minute of it.

Wearing glasses is annoying to me for several reasons. I don’t want to sound vain, but I never feel pretty when I’m wearing glasses. For some reason it makes me feel half-dressed. So it’s hard for me to feel really awake during the day for the same reason. And then there’s the part where I like to play volleyball, and the part where glasses fog up going in and out of warm and cold places (and I live in Iowa, so this happens a lot!), and the part where my glasses gave a small field of vision and made it hard to see everything I was working on in my studio in one glance. In short, I was really frustrated.

And then, I was approached (sort of out of the blue) regarding the Sentinels. I decided it was a sign and went through with the testing for ASA. I went to Dr. Ejaz Hussein because he seems to have the most experience of anyone in the Des Moines area. I was near tears at every single testing appointment (there were several) because I was so scared. His assistants were very kind and answered all of my questions, over and over again. I decided I was going to have only 1 eye done at a time, despite numerous reassurances that it would likely go well and I should just do both at once.

But then my grandfather died, sadly, and my schedule for the two surgeries got thrown a bit, because I really wanted to go back to ND for his funeral. I was exhausted and gave in, deciding to have both done on the same day.

I had them done on Thursday, December 10, and I flew to ND on Friday morning. ASA has a much longer recovery than lasik (a month vs. a day). It was a little weird to go through airports with dark sunglasses, not being able to see very well, but it went fine. With ASA, your vision is good the first day, then it deteriorates for a few days before beginning to rebound.

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Getting a ride to the surgery center

Having the surgery done was scary. Kyle was with me and he was calm and confident the whole time, which made me feel better about it. You get to the surgery center a couple hours before your surgery and they start give you a bunch of eye drops, every 15 minutes, for numbing and for softening your tissues, I think. Then they give you Valium. Which I needed because the closer it got to my turn, the more I wanted to cry. Then you walk down the hall and sit in a dentist looking chair (I think… I was sorta doped up!). The nurses point to a poster on the wall and ask if you can read it. Of course I couldn’t. My prescription was 20/1000 – way worse than legally blind.

The doctor comes in. He and the nurses put things on one of your eyes so that you can’t blink. You go under the laser machine and they get it positioned. It tracks your eye, so even if you deviate from looking at the red light, it will follow your movement and zap the right places. Next they put a tool like an electric toothbrush on your eye and scrub away the surface cells. I think Kyle said that was the only part of his surgery that was uncomfortable, but I didn’t think it was bad (I thought a different part at the end of the surgery was bad, and that part didn’t bother him at all). After they scrub your eye, they start up the laser. It shoots a bunch of little dot beams on your eye, burning it to the correct shape. Kyle told me beforehand it only lasted about 15 seconds for his surgery. The nurse overheard us, and said, “Umm, actually, it might last up to a minute for you, Amy, because your correction is so severe.” Ohh kay.

I asked a nurse to hold my hand during the surgery. She did.
So you lay under the laser and it does its thing. I didn’t feel anything, but I could smell it burning tissue away! Man that was weird, to lay there knowing the surface of your eye being burned is what you’re smelling. And you don’t care much. It’s very detached.
Anyway. After the laser was done, they flushed my eye with ICE cold water. They warned me beforehand and geez, they were not kidding. It’s the worst brain freeze I’ve ever experienced. That’s the only part I didn’t like, and it’s the part that didn’t bother Kyle at all.

Then they put a contact lens on as a bandaid, and some drops, and that eye was done. At this point, I remember looking up at the ceiling and thinking, “Oh my gosh, I can see each ceiling tile, and all the dots on them!” The doctor asked if he could proceed with my other eye. I said, “Yes!” And he did. Afterward, they sat me up and asked me to look at the poster again. I could read all of it. I looked at a nurse and I could see her whole face clearly, right down to each individual eyelash. This time, I did start to cry. “Oh no, don’t do that, you’ll cry out the contacts!” I got the feeling they were very used to people crying out of amazement and joy right after their surgery. Ha!

Kyle got to watch the surgery live on a TV in another room. Here are some pictures he took.

After the surgery, you go home and lay around with your eyes closed for 24 hours. You’re supposed to take it easy for a few days. I didn’t, but I wore sunglasses all the time and was really anal about my nieces and nephews being careful of my eyes when they sat on my lap over the weekend. You also wear really beautiful hard plastic eye shields to bed for the first week. You tape them to your forehead. Hot.

There is a really strict regimen of eye drops for a week before and several months after the surgery. The first week after is the worst for that, but then it gets better. You slowly taper off the drops – not quite two months out, I’m down to rewetting drops as needed, a steroid drop 3x a day, and a thick ointment at night.

I struggled with reading and halos at night for about a month, but since then, everything has been perfect. I’m also getting used to falling asleep while being able to see. It was so weird; I had a really hard time falling asleep for 6 weeks. I think it was because I was so used to taking my glasses off right before bed. Because my vision was so poor, taking off my glasses before bed was like shutting off my eyes (almost literally). The action sent a signal to my brain: Time to go to sleep now. It was hard to sleep without receiving that message! I still find myself automatically groping the bedside table for my glasses a couple of mornings a week, too. Old habits die hard!

At any rate, you are probably bored of reading this. So, I will tell you that at my 1 week follow-up, I was 20/20. And at my 7 week follow-up, I was 20/15! That’s better than “perfect” vision! I’m super happy with the results and I think it’s the best money I’ve ever spent. I’m grateful for the sale of the Sentinels that made it possible!

If you’re interested, I have two Sentinels left. They are unique in that they are terracotta (red clay), whereas the others are stoneware (grey clay). Here are some pics! They are made of an architectural clay, so they will withstand the outdoors and would be beautiful in a garden. They also have drain holes in the bottom, perfect for rainwater to escape. Let me know if you want to make one yours!

What about you? Have you had laser eye surgery? What were your results?

PS. The main difference between ASA (also sometimes called PRK) and Lasik is that there is no flap cut in your cornea for ASA, but the recovery time is much longer (1 month vs. 1 day). Why have ASA, if the recovery time is so much longer?

There are four clear advantages of Advanced Surface Ablation over LASIK (according to Dr. Hussein’s webpage (http://www.dmeyemd.com/)

1. It is a safer procedure since there is no flap creation and thus less thinning of the cornea.

2. There are no flap related complications.

3. CustomVue wavefront technology may be more accurately applied to the cornea in ASA than with LASIK. [Better visual results]

4. There are fewer problems with dry eyes after ASA.