At first, they couldn't tell what it was. The pink blob that appeared on the television screen was too fuzzy to discern. A touch of focus, and voila: "That's Mr. Mahon's eye!"
About a dozen students from the McDonogh School got a look at laser eye surgery yesterday when they witnessed their science teacher, Robert J. Mahon Jr., undergo treatment for a serious case of nearsightedness.
"I've been waiting 35 years for this," said Mahon, during a pre-operation meeting with Tina Bodine, a patient consultant, at the TLC Laser Eye Center in Towson. "I can't wait to ditch my glasses. Look at those lenses! And those are 'featherweights.' "
Mahon got his wish within about 15 minutes -- that's about the time it took for Dr. Brett W. Katzen to cut open the teacher's corneas and correct his vision using laser technology. The show, including an up-close look at Mahon's bulging, vein-riddled eyeball, won him kudos from his students -- some of whom are eager to undergo the same procedure to correct their eyesight. A few are considering careers in medicine.
"Oh, my God -- they cut his eyes out," joked junior Steve Hallock, 17, of Cockeysville, when he first saw Mahon after the surgery. Students visited with their teacher while he rested in a darkened room. His eyes, a bit red around the edges, were shut tight.
"Did you see all the incisions?" Mahon asked his students, who huddled near him, congratulating him and clapping for him.
They saw it all -- including the moment when Katzen deftly flipped back the first layer of Mahon's cornea and used a laser with an eerie, purplish flash to reshape the teacher's cornea -- the cornea has five layers in all -- so that it will more accurately focus light on the retina.
Staring eyeball to eyeball with her teacher was a bit much for senior Jen Mishner, 17, of Pikesville. She squirmed during the surgical procedure, especially when a small machine was used to slice off the very top of Mahon's eye.
"I just ... it was gross," said Mishner. "I don't really enjoy the puncturing of anything in the body."
Still, most of the students enjoyed watching, commenting at times and posing questions to Dr. Richard Edlow, an Eye Center administrator who walked them through the surgery.
Edlow explained that Mahon's eyes would be bathed in anti-bacterial solutions before and after surgery and that the camera relaying the pictures they were viewing was mounted to a microscope. He showed the students a tiny sponge that Katzen used to reseal Mahon's cornea, which will take at least three months to heal. He won't be able to rub his eyes for about four weeks.
Mahon, 46, who participates in martial arts, rides bicycles and coaches football, was eager to correct his vision but leery of post-operative problems. He did a lot of research before he chose the Eye Center, he said. The procedure cost $5,500.
Once he made the choice, he invited students to look on. Although they learn about eyes and how they function in human physiology class, Mahon wanted the students to see optic mechanics up close.
"I can't imagine what it must feel like," said Cameron McGuire, 14, a freshman from Baltimore, who observed the surgery because he wants to be a doctor.
Although his students returned to class after the surgery, Mahon went home -- for a nap. His father, Robert J. Mahon Sr., drove him home to his house in Parkville.
As father and son prepared to leave, Mahon's father joked: "I wonder, did they do anything with the two eyes in the back of his head -- the kind that all teachers have?"