24 hours ago, I had LASIK surgery.
I first got glasses in the middle of 2nd grade, so I’ve been wearing glasses or contacts for almost 32 years. As LASIK technology improved, my curiosity was piqued, but I decided to wait til I had kids because I had a totally irrational fear that something would go wrong and I wanted to be able to see me future kids. (This is TOTALLY irrational — no one has ever been blinded by LASIK, by the way.) Also, I have a major ick factor with eyes. I remember a 3-2-1-Contact episode from when I was a kid, where they dissected a cow eye, and it just grossed me right out. Eyes are gross! Lasers in my eyes? EGAAADDS.
I asked my regular optometrist about it, and she recommended the doctor in Waterville, which is about an hour from my home. I made an appointment for the evaluation in October, and my concerns were about whether or not I was a candidate, and if I should do PRK or LASIK. (PRK has a longer recovery time and no flap, LASIK is a shorter recovery with a flap. If you don’t qualify for LASIK, you might qualify for PRK.)
The evaluation was about an hour, and required having a driver because they dilate your eyes. I did several tests, and watched an informational video, and was told that I qualified for either PRK or LASIK, and that it was my choice. I signed up to do LASIK, but picked a January date so that I could plan for it with my FSA. (Note: an individual FSA is maxed at $2500, but as a married couple we could each have a $2500 FSA that could be used for either of us, so Dave maxed his as well. We typically go through about 1k in FSA a year, anyway, so the max was my LASIK and our general FSA expenses. Many practices offer financing, but this saves us at tax time and I just consider the FSA deduction from the paycheck our ‘payment.’) I also wanted January because I have allergies, and January is about the best time to avoid itchy allergy eyes, and by doing it now, I’ll be healed for allergy season and summer swimming, etc.
The cost of the evaluation was $150, and the surgery was going to be $1800 per eye, and follow up care (which I am doing with my own doctor) will be about $225. The surgical method I had was Intralase bladeless wavefront LASIK, where they map your eye and use lasers for the whole thing – no cutting with a physical object. This method has been shown to have less problems with halos and starbursts, one of the most common side effects. (However, I get halos and starbursts with my glasses, so I’ll be interested to see how it is with LASIK.)
My appointment was scheduled for Friday, and on Monday I had to return to have my eyes re-mapped, to make sure it was the same as the October visit (there was no addtional charge for this. Most people do everything in the same month, but I had split my visits up to see if I could, and then to take advantage of my FSA.) I had five prescriptions to fill — 2 for eye drops, and 3 pills — a valium, a restoril, and a percocet. With my insurance, that cost about $60.
Yesterday was the surgery. I had read a LOT of LASIK stories beforehand. (Whcn I told a friend I’d read “about 100” she replied “you probably left off a 0 or two” — I am known as an over-researcher. I had also talked to people that had had it done, and even a few that used the practice I was going to. One person had had the side effects of halos and starbursts, and said it was tough to drive at night, but that even with those complications she’s still glad she had it done.
Here’s how it all worked:
2pm, I arrive, and am taken to the back room, where there are three ‘stations’ separated by curtains in a big room, with a central desk. In the first bay I see a woman with a hairnet on, waiting her turn, and I sat in the middle. A nurse seated me and looked over the prescriptions (I was told to bring them all with me)and then went over the aftercare instructions, which seemed complex to remember, so I was glad she told me that they had been written down for me. She told me the restoril and percocet were optional (and I was told the valium was, too, but for ME, an anti-anxiety was an option I was going to exercise), and she took my blood pressure, and reviewed the risks and had me sign another form there. Once I had signed, I was given the valium. Dave was able to hang out with me while I waited. I didn’t feel like the valium was doing anything (and I never really felt weird or anything, but I also didn’t freak out, so I guess it worked), and then they came and put my hair in a net, and put booties over my shoes. They also took my glasses — for the last time!! I was given a series of eyedrops – at least two, but maybe three — I can’t remember – and then they swabbed my eye area with iodine or betadine. I could hear the laser clicking away in another room, but that’s about it.
The doctor came out and looked at my eyes, to make sure they were free from infection, etc, and then it was time to go. Dave went to the waiting room, and I went with the surgery coordinator to a large room, where there were several people — 6 or 8. Definitely more than I expected. Between the two lasers was a chair like a dentist’s chair, reclined. I got on that and laid down, and had to scoot back (this was actually made harder by the shoe covers on my feet, I couldn’t get traction) and I was given a stuffed dog (named Seymour, har har) to hold on to. That sounds hokey, but they have you hold it so you don’t reactively reach up to the laser, and it definitely helped.
I knew from reading that the “suction eyeball into place” was the most uncomfortable part, and I’d agree. As you look up you see something coming toward your eye (which is TOTALLY numb from the drops) that reminded me of those little handheld microscopes from a kid’s science kit, clear plastic. The instinct is to “squeeze it out,” which they told me, but I didn’t quite get what they meant til it was in, and I was tensing my cheek up when it went in. Once he pointed out that that’s where I had to relax, it was easy to do, I relaxed my face and breathed through my mouth (which, from reading I’d heard that you can smell your eyeball tissue being lasered away, and I wasn’t interested in that.)
Suctioned eyeball in place, the doctor had me look straight up and held up his finger as a focal point, and then slip me under the laser that does the flap. He told me to look at the ceiling, and this was hard because it was dark, no focal point under that laser, or light, or anything, so I was nervous that I wasn’t looking in the right place, but after just a few seconds, it was done, and the flap was created. He repeated it with my left eye, and then swiveled the chair about 15 degrees to the right for the corrective laser.
For that, there was no suction, but a clamp was in place to hold the eye open. Again, there was no feeling — it looked maybe like tweezers coming at me (even though I know they aren’t) and it didn’t hurt, and I didn’t feel the same pressure to squeeze it out like I had with the suction. They rearranged the pillow under my head to be wrapped around it more (I think there were wires or some structural elements to the pillow to help with that, it wasn’t a standard pillow.) There was an orange light I was to stare at, and at one point it became very dim and I told him I couldn’t see it but he said it was okay, that was what was supposed to happen. It quickly came back and it was much easier to focus under this laser because there WAS a laser to focus on. My right eye, someone in the room announced “19 seconds….. 10 seconds….. 5…… done.” I found that really reassuring to know when it was over. Then they smooth the flap back over, but all it looked like was somebody waving a toothpick in front of me, no sensation, and a really small instrument. He rinsed or added drops, and then let it ‘dry’ for a minute, before moving the left eye. Same for the left (only it was 21 seconds for that one.) Toothpicks, rinse, dry, etc.
Then it was done! They sat me up and asked if I was lightheaded, and I was, just a tiny bit, but I think it was because I hardly drew a breath through the surgery. They didn’t do any big reveal like most seem to do — “READ THAT CLOCK!” — but I did notice I could see the time on the clock across the wall. I could see, but it was cloudy, which was explained that it was because of the eyedrops (which are milky looking) and the fact that I’d basically just had ‘eye trauma.’ (Not that anything went wrong, just that surgery is a big deal!) They taped on my plastic shields and put on the sunglasses and gave Dave my bag of stuff, and we were done! We walked out at 3:15.
They told me I should sleep, but I really wasn’t very tired. I did nap for about half an hour in the car while Dave went to a record store, and I had preloaded a bunch of podcasts on my phone, knowing I was going to be spending the rest of the day with my eyes closed. When we got home, I hung out in our room and tried to rest, listened to podcasts, and Dave took care of my eyedrops when necessary. I did take the Restoril to sleep, since I hadn’t had the nap they’d told me to have, and I slept great all night.
This morning we headed back for an 8:40 checkup, where they took off my shields and tested my vision, and I was 20/20 in both eyes! The doctor looked at the flaps again and said it was great, and we were on our way. I brought my own sunglasses for the return trip, and we went to a store and out for breakfast and it was just wild to just… see. I keep wanting to compare my old vision and my new vision by moving my glasses, but I don’t have my old vision to compare – I just have this vision, which is 20/20. So strange.
My left eye feels like nothing at all has happened, and my right eye feels a little like I have a dry contact or eyelash in it, but that’s it, and is alleviated by drops. I will need to wear the shields at night for a week (honestly, I’ll probably do 2 weeks because I am an eyerubber ANYWAY and am paranoid) and follow the drop schedule. My right eye is more bloodshot than my left (this comes from the suction machine) and that might also be why I feel more sensitive in that one. I can see up close and at distance — at 38, I know I will likely need reading glasses in a few years, but that’s common for any adult, LASIK or contacts or perfect vision or not.
I’m so excited to be able to just see. I didn’t mind my glasses vanity wise — I actually have had some fun specs over the years — but to be able to know I can see in an emergency, without fumbling for my glasses. Or to be able to go running and not have them bounce, or fog, or get wet, or compete with my headphones for real estate. To be able to just SEE is pretty incredible. I’m only 24 hours out, but apparently it improves over the week, so I am looking forward to my next check up to see how I’m doing. (I plan to update this post as my recovery progresses.)
Update: I’m now on day 3, and things are going great!
Everyone asks “what’s it like to wake up and just see?” and for that, I really don’t have an answer yet because I am still sleeping in the plastic shields. They have a clear spot that you should be able to see through, but my eyes don’t line up with them so I am looking through the perforated areas, so when I wake up it’s more like “waking up and just seeing through scratched safety goggles.” I’ve also been wearing the plastic sunglasses they gave me when I left to keep water out of my eyes in the shower. I am VERY paranoid about rubbing my eyes, and I want to get some clear safety glasses but my attempts to get to a store that might sell them have been thwarted by weather and other things.
I drove at night for the first time last night, and it was great. When I wore glasses, I would get glare and see long vertical lines of glare when I looked at streetlights or oncoming headlights, etc, so those are gone, but there is a slight halo around lights now. I don’t know if that’s how normal people see lights, or if it’s a side effect, but even if it’s a side effect it doesn’t impair my driving – I keep looking at lights to see what I see, not because I am distracted. I definitely do not have starbursts — those I know from having dilated eyes, and that would make it very difficult to drive at night, etc. On this halo simulator, I’d say that what I am seeing is about a size 29/density 49.
I am being religious about my drops, and using the tears at least once an hour, even if I don’t think I need to. Side note – your tear ducts are connected to your throat, so you can taste the drops.
My eyes are still red from the suction, but that will go away in a few weeks.
Update: It’s been one month and things are great. I switched to wearing just the sunglasses to bed by about day 3, because the tape was irritating on the shields, and since the reason for them was to keep from rubbing the eyes, I figured the shades would work fine for that (and they did.) I’ve been pretty good about the artificial tears, and haven’t had the dry eye issues that many complain of. Night driving is fine – perhaps improved. I do find that when my eyes are tired at the end of the day, I have a little shadowing in my vision, where I might look at white text on a black screen and see a ghost of the text hovering below it, like a drop shadow. But, this happened even before I had LASIK, so I’m not sure if I’m just noticing more because I am more aware of how my vision has changed. It is never in both eyes at once, and only at the end of the day — 9pm or so. I spend a LOT of time in front of a screen, so I’m sure that doesn’t help.
I’ve since been skiing, and back to the gym with my new vision and it’s great. For skiing, I can now wear any goggles I want (although I’m still wearing my glasses friendly ones) and I’m not dealing with foggy lenses when I come inside. For the gym, I can wear my headphones and not have to stack them with my glasses and deal with things bouncing around both sides of my head. I’m really looking forward to running outside in the spring and not having to deal with fog and mist clouding my vision!