Bargain Basement Lasik
Sara, my wife of 18 years looked up from reading the Sunday morning newspaper.
“See, I told you the price would come down” Sara said.
“What price came down?” I asked.
“Laser eye surgery. See here – it says they will do it for only $129.95 per eye. That’s less than the cost of a good pair of glasses.” Sara replied.
“They must be pretty desperate to lower the price so much. Those machines are expensive, and malpractice insurance costs are through the roof these days. Let me see that ad.” I replied.
I took the newspaper from Sara, and looked at the ad. Sure enough it read $129.95 per eye. But then as I looked at the small print I saw the kicker.
“See here in the small print. It is only good for + or – 3D or less. Stronger prescriptions are slightly higher. Come in for a consultation.” I said.
“Here, let me see that. Sara replied. “Oh, you are right; the sneaky buggars are just trying to get you in the door.
Sara had taken her glasses off to read the small print, and I had gotten horney just watching her bring the paper up to within about 4” of her nose. She was about an -8.50 or so, and she very seldom took her glasses off. I wasn’t too worried about the ad drawing her in for Lasik, because I think she knew that I had a passion for girls who wear glasses, but one can never be too sure of things.
Of course, with my luck she would be tempted and go for the surgery some day. She was the only one of her entire family who could have lasik done. Even our two daughters were above the limit, and since Caitlin and Brittany were 16 and 14 respectively I knew their prescriptions would only increase beyond the -14D and -12D they had now.
I had been attracted to glasses wearing girls as long as I remembered. And when I started to date Sara I was excited to find out that she was a contact lens wearer who considered herself blind as a bat without her lenses in. I didn’t get a chance to see her in glasses for a few months and by that time I was certain I had gotten the gold ring. Her grandmother was myopic, and wore very thick glasses with myodisc lenses. Her mother was about a -12D myope and her two younger sisters had pretty strong prescriptions. Her 2 older brothers both wore glasses in the -10D range, and her dad wore glasses that were in the -5D range. But like I said, when her glasses were revealed to me I was disappointed to find that Sara was the lowest myope in the family, just slightly higher than her dad’s -5D.
Of course I consoled myself with the thought that Sara would have a few increases, and her -7.50D starting prescription would likely climb significantly. After all, with as much myopia as there was in her family it was almost a certainty – wasn’t it?
Well, unfortunately it wasn’t. Her brother’s prescriptions both increased as they grew older and married. Harold, her oldest brother married Kelly who was a pretty high myope, although I very seldom saw her wearing her glasses. Danny, the next brother also married a girl with a prescription just a little stronger than Sara’s. Barbara’s prescription kept increasing over the years, and now about 15 years later she needed around -14D. Both of Sara’s sisters now had prescriptions that were bouncing right around -20D, and there wasn’t one of the younger kids who had a prescription of less than -10D by the time they went for their driver’s license.
But here I was married to the one with the lowest prescription. Nothing seemed to budge Sara’s prescription and in the 17 years we had been married she had only climbed to a measly -8.75D with a little bit of astigmatism. Sure, this is still strong enough to be a respectable prescription, and I would probably have loved it all the more if I hadn’t been so certain that she would have been wearing double digits by now. And to have her expressing interest in lasik – that made my heart shudder.
However I wasn’t as worried as I might have been. I didn’t think Sara would ever go for this. I was pretty sure that she knew that I loved girls who wore glasses, because over the years she has caught me staring at so many of them. And after we were married I convinced her that I liked her in glasses, so for the past 17 years she has been wearing glasses instead of contact lenses. Because of her lead in wearing glasses, neither of my girls have been too interested in getting contacts, although that might change now that Caitlin, the oldest, was getting her license.
I wasn’t sure if it was heredity or my helping hand that got my girls to the point where they each had a decent prescription for their age. I made sure that once they needed glasses that they had eye exams every 6 months, and although they never once were given a little boost in prescription by me, their prescriptions had gone up steadily.
Over the next few days that lasik ad bothered me. I am a computer software engineer, and I write a lot of computer programming, as well as doing problem shooting for some of the companies in the area that have the big CNC computer operated milling machines. An idea began to form in my mind. If I could get my hands on the program that ran this lasik machine I could see if there was something I could do.
It took a while before I could get a look at the machine. We had a massive power failure in our city, and when the power came back on there was a pretty good surge that blew out a large number of surge protectors. The doctor’s office that had the cheap lasik surgey offer was one of the ones that were affected, and they lost the power supply and their master program was corrupted by a sudden shutdown. So I was called in to see if I could reinstall the software for the machine. I was able to do so, and I also managed to duplicate the installation disc for the software.
I took this disc home with me, and in the evenings I looked at the code line by line. Sure, it would have been a simple matter to rewrite the code so that the machine changed the sign of a patient’s prescription from a plus to a minus, which would mean that if a -8D myope went for surgery they would end up with a -16D outcome after surgery. But this was too dangerous. If I did it to everyone that had the surgery they would soon realize that the machine had been tampered with. Then it would be easier to track the alterations in the programming back to me, and I didn’t think I would like the outcome of that much.
What I did manage was to write the code so that the patients who had their prescription reversed were done on a variable scale. One week three patients would have disastrous outcomes, the next week everyone would be successful, and then the following week one would come out altered and so on. This meant that 4 to 6 patients a month would have their surgery go wrong for the doctors.
I had placed a back door into the machine when I worked on the software install. So I accessed the computer that ran the machine, and I found that my back door not only allowed me access to this one machine, but it also allowed me access to every other machine in the system. All these machines were linked by the internet which I had actually suspected. The reason for this was because all these lasik machines were being leased to the doctors, and the offshore company who manufactured them was getting a royalty from the doctors for each patient as part of the lease. That also meant that the company could upgrade the software at any time, which would effectively close my backdoor. So I could be out of business very quickly. But hopefully the insurance companies that handled the malpractice insurance would blacklist the manufacturer of this particular machine before they could find out that the program had been altered.
I was going to have to work quickly in case they came out with a software upgrade. But I received a bit of a surprise one evening after I had been going over a lot of the code to make sure I had it right.
“You are working on something to do with that lasik surgery machine aren’t you?” Sara asked.
“I should probably lie to you, but I never have in all the years we have been married. You are right, that is exactly what I am doing.” I replied.
“What are you trying to do?” Sara asked.
“I am trying to set that machine up so that every so often it takes a person’s prescription and instead of bringing it to zero diopters, it will take it and double it.” I replied.
‘How can you do that?” Sara asked.
"I have written code that will take the sign in front of the prescription and change it. For example, if someone comes in with a +4D prescription the sign will change to a minus, and the machine will then shape the persons cornea to correct a -4, which will effectively double their prescription.” I replied.
“So if I went in with my -8.75D prescription I would walk out with -17.50D” Sara said.
“Well, it is not that simple. I had to write the code so that it only picked a small percentage of the patients, and I had to make sure that no more than 4 to 6 patients a month were selected for the sign switch.” I replied.
“So you have no control over who gets the wrong outcome.” Sara asked.
“No, I don’t. I will only be able to write the code and then install it on all the companies’ machines.” I replied.
“Could you select one particular prescription to double?” Sara asked.
“I would have to rewrite the code, but yes, I could do it.” I replied, wondering what was up.
“Do it. Do it for me!” Sara exclaimed.
“Are you serious?” I asked dumbfounded.
“I am. I know you would love for me to have to wear stronger glasses. And my sisters both have stronger prescriptions than double mine would be. It doesn’t affect their lives at all. And we could likely sue the laser center for a fair bit of money.” Sara said.
“Sue them for something I have dreamed of ever since we got married? Not on your life. I would gladly pay them to do that.” I replied.
“But if you don’t sue them then you would be a suspect if it was discovered that you worked on their computer.” Sara said.
She had a good point. I knew that anything done to a computer leaves tracks behind. But I was just beginning to like my dream, and I was getting really hard. So I convinced Sara that it was time for bed.
The next morning came way too early. I barely slept that night thinking about the possibilities of doubling the strength of Sara’s prescription. I knew that if I did it, I was going to have to slip the program in immediately, and I was going to have to have it self destruct after a short period of time.
“Well, what are you going to do?” Sara asked when she woke up.
“I’ll do it for you.” I replied.
“You are not doing it for me. You are doing it for you. I will accept it, because I love you, and I know you want it.” Sara replied.
“Set up your consult appointment, and if it is a go, let me know the date. Then I will write a program so that on that date only your prescription will have the sign changed.” I said.
So Sara went for a consultation, and they told her that her corneas were thick enough, and her eyes healthy enough that even with her strong prescription she would be a good candidate. Of course the price quoted was a lot more than the $129.95 special, but even at $599.00 per eye that was still quite reasonable. Her prescription was exactly -8.75 x -1.00 x 90 for both eyes, so I wrote a program that would change the sign on the spherical only, and it would leave the astigmatism so that her new prescription should be exactly -17.50 -1.00 x 90.
The night before the operation I slipped my program into their machines. Of course, anyone else who came in with a -8.75D prescription for both eyes that day would have their prescription doubled as well, but I didn’t think that would be too likely, and if that did occur it wouldn’t be a real problem.
Sara went through the operation quite well, and the doctor declared it a success. Her eyes were bandaged, and she was given a pair of big wrap around sunglasses. They told us to come back in 3 days, so we left, with me guiding Sara to the car.
Sara was prepared for a few days of pain, but actually she didn’t have any problems. The only problem was that she couldn’t see much of anything. We knew that it wasn’t a good idea to have purchased a pair of -17.50D glasses before hand, but Sara did borrow a pair that was just a little weaker than that from one of her sisters a couple of days after the surgery. My wife was a fantastic actress, because she played the fact that the surgery had gone wrong to the hilt with her sisters.
I had removed the code that I had written for Sara, and I did insert the other code. Sara would now be the first, but there were others to follow. I really did not care about the outcome, and I managed to write code into their program that would completely wipe the hard drive of the machine if anyone tried to change the code.
When Sara and I went back to the doctor for our appointment on the third day they could not understand why Sara was wearing such strong glasses. Her response was that she couldn’t see a thing without them, and she was just fortunate that she was able to borrow an old pair of her sister’s glasses or she would be virtually blind. I know that they were checking the machine for a problem while the doctor examined Sara’s eyes, and I knew exactly what they would find. I had programmed the code so that even if the operator had entered the correct prescription to correct – with the proper minus sign, the machine would later change what the operator had entered to show that the operator had entered a plus sign.
I could see a great deal of activity around the machine, and I had a feeling that the operator was getting a real dressing down for her mistake. I felt a little bad for her, but not bad enough that I was going to confess and get her off the hook.
The doctor came back out with Sara. He had a long sad look on his face, as if to say he knew he was in deep trouble. He tried to explain that to the best of their knowledge the operator had made a mistake. His first offer was to return our money and they would fix Sara up with a new pair of glasses in her new prescription for free. I told him to keep the money, because they would need it to pay their lawyers. I also suggested that they might want to speak to their insurance company before they wasted a lot of money on lawyers.
“I know you are upset Sir. But even if we do have to pay out on our insurance policy I am still willing to supply your wife with a new pair of glasses in her current prescription. We feel very badly that this mistake happened, and this will help your wife because it looks like she is going to need this prescription forever now. There is nothing we can do to correct this error.” The doctor said.
So, Sara and I chose a nice, fairly expensive frame, and we ordered her a new pair of glasses with the 1.74 plastic lenses. I had a feeling that I would like these glasses very much.
I didn’t even care what went on with the lasik machines now. We won our lawsuit and I did hear from our lawyer that the insurance companies all dropped any form of coverage on that brand of machine. As well, the premium for any clinic that did elective eye surgery jumped to a point where the cost of insurance premiums effectively killed the rest of the bargain basement lasik clinics.
My self destruct program must have worked, because no one even suspected me. And I love looking at my wife, with the light glistening across the front of her -17.50D lenses.