LASIK surgery: a post-op post-mortem post

Family photo
An early photo of me (and the rest of my family) after getting glasses. Only sort of embarrassing, I guess. Can you tell this was the 90s?

Since I was 8 years old and in the 3rd grade, I’ve had to wear glasses. In 6th grade, when I was 12, I started wearing contacts. But from early on, I hoped it wasn’t a long-term thing. My vision kept getting worse year after year, though, a trend that finally stopped last time I went to the eye doctor and found out things had improved ever-so-slightly (I was still in -4.5 and -4.25 contacts, though).

My parents and I had discussed LASIK as an option, first as a possible graduation present when I got out of undergrad, then again when I finished grad school. The timing and financing and all that just never seemed to work out quite right until a few weeks ago when a Living Social deal for the procedure at Clarkson Eyecare arrived in my inbox. Thus began the trek toward fixing my vision.

Even though the Living Social deal expired before we decided to move ahead with things, Clarkson Eyecare let me have the promotional price and I scheduled a consultation on May 7. For two weeks before the consultation, I had to give up wearing my contacts, which I wasn’t a huge fan of, but it worked out alright. Your contacts reshape your eyes, so in order to get an accurate measurement of your prescription and the shape of your eyes, it’s important to have that reshaping go away. The consultation involved your typical eye exam things (lines of text to read — or not read in my case since everything was so blurry — pupil dilation, and A or B? 1 or 2?) in addition to three extra machines and readings that mapped out my eyes and made sure my corneas were thick enough to go through with the procedure. Turns out I actually have thicker-than-normal corneas, which the doctor says is a positive thing. I was cleared to schedule surgery, which we did for May 30.

I was able to go back to wearing my contacts for a week or so, but had to give them up again two weeks before the surgery itself. A week before the surgery, I started Restasis drops twice a day to ramp up my tear production, and I’ll continue those for about 3 months. Three days before surgery, I started an antibiotic drop called Besivance. Besivance has a consistancy like hand lotion, and the opaqueness to match. When I first put it in, I thought it’d gone bad. It got better as time went on and my eyes got better at absorbing it, but the week after surgery that I had to continue it couldn’t end fast enough, really. The stuff was nasty. For the week after surgery, I used a steroid drop, Durezol, twice per day also, which was also kind of gross and stung a little, but it wasn’t as bad as the Besivance,

My sister's text the morning of surgery. Luckily her hopes were fulfilled.
My sister’s text the morning of surgery. Luckily her hopes were fulfilled.

My surgery was initially scheduled for 8:45 a.m., but had to be pushed back to 2 p.m. because my surgeon broke his leg and had an appointment with his own doctor that morning. Because they want you to go home after the surgery and take a 4-6 hour nap, I was a little concerned about the surgery being so late in the day but it ended up working out ok. I stayed at my grandparents’ house for the night and my cousin Kara drove me to the surgery center that afternoon.

On arrival, I had to sign and initial a lengthy disclosure and release form. It basically reiterated everything they’d already told me and made sure I understood the risks of the procedure. The Living Social price was for Custom WaveLight LASIK, which is a newer product designed to take your eye’s natural movement and curvature into account in its calculations for reshaping, but the corneal flap would be made with a blade instead of with a laser like in some newer procedures. This carries a higher level of risk, but they had told me the outcomes were pretty much the same and I wasn’t able to find any information elsewhere that said otherwise.

Last glasses selfie ever, about 5 minutes before surgery.
Last glasses selfie ever, about 5 minutes before surgery.

I was taken back into an exam room and given a 10 mg Valium (I never noticed an effect from this, others might tell you another story haha) and some antihistamine allergy drops that the nurse said would help prevent itching and burning afterward. She put covers on my shoes and a hat thing on my head (pictured). She went over the post-op care and some final instructions. Then I waited.

A little while passed, and they took me into the operating room. Right beforehand, they took my glasses away, so I had to laugh when they introduced me to the surgeon and the nurses because I couldn’t really see any of them. I was told to lie down on a table with an indentation at the end for my head. As soon as I was settled, the table rolled backward under the laser apparatus (also pictured). The first of three treatments of numbing drops were administered. They covered my left eye, and taped back my eyebrow and eyelashes on my right eye. By that point, the numbing drops had kicked in, and they put in a thing to keep me from blinking.

This is a generic photo of the Wavelight laser that I found online. It's pretty much the same one they used in mine.
This is a generic photo of the Wavelight laser that I found online. It’s pretty much the same one they used in mine.
This looks like a prop from an alien abduction movie, right?
This looks like a prop from an alien abduction movie, right?

A flashing green light was directly above me. They told me to look at it and focus on it during the whole procedure. At that point, they put a suction cup thing on my eye to keep it from moving while they made the flap and applied pressure. They told me everything was going to go black (it did, and it was a little disconcerting). Then they made the flap, which was a little strange since they didn’t tell me the thing they use to do it makes a whirring sound. I still couldn’t feel anything but pressure though. My vision started to come back, but when they moved the flap back everything went cloudy, but I could still make out the blinking light. They warned me that the laser was about to start, and I heard it kick in, and while it was going there was a clicking sound, a burning smell, and the nurse counted down the seconds. The doctor, assisted by the computer, had used the measurements they’d taken of my eyes during the consultation to determine how long the laser needed to be on and where it needed to be aimed. For me, that meant 12 seconds (one of those weird things that sticks out to you — during the nurse’s countdown, at 6 seconds she said “halfway” instead of “6”). One the laser was done, they replaced the flap, and in another kind of surreal moment the surgeon was using an instrument to flatten it out and make sure there were no air bubbles underneath, but because I was so numbed up, it was like watching him clean a piece of glass right over my face.

They proceeded to uncover my left eye, which was when I first noticed a difference in my vision between the two eyes because the flashing lights were clearer on the right side. They covered my right eye and repeated the whole process on my left eye. Having the right eye done already, the left one was a lot less stressful. When it was over, the surgeon told me everything had gone extremely well and the table rolled back out from under the laser. I stood up, and could make out people’s facial features and other things around the room pretty well, but everything was still pretty cloudy. They’d warned me beforehand that it would be like when

All the stuff I won't need on vacation this week
All the stuff I won’t need on vacation this week

you open your eyes underwater, and that was pretty close to right. They gave me a pair of sunglasses to wear, told me to keep my eyes closed on the way home, and sent me on my way (Kara drove home, of course).

I went back to my grandparents’ house and tried to take my 4-6 hour nap. I lasted about 2.5. It was late enough in the evening that I went ahead and got up, planning to just go back to bed earlier than I normally would in order to get a longer night’s sleep. At that point, everything was much clearer than it had been right after the surgery. My vision was a little cloudy and my eyes felt very dry — like I’d left my contacts in too long, or slept in them. I used artificial tears like I’d been told to, and put in the evening doses of the medicated drops. I watched the Cardinals’ game and FaceTimed with my parents. Aside from the mild discomfort and dryness, everything was pretty much back to normal.

The next morning I had a follow-up appointment, and my eyes still felt tired and dry, but not as bad as the night before. My vision was still improving — they measured it at the appointment as 20/20, but still cloudy at times. That continued to improve the day after, and by Tuesday the dryness was vastly improved, even while I used my computer at work. Wednesday and Thursday, the dryness was enough better that I kept having to set reminders to use the artificail tears, because otherwise I kept forgetting them.

Yesterday, I was done with the medicated drops and was down to just a couple artificial drops during the day. Today was my second follow up, and the doctor said everything looked great, maybe even healing ahead of schedule. I don’t have to go back now for another 3 months.

My vision is clearer now, obviously, but what I wasn’t expecting is that it’s also much sharper than when I was wearing my contacts or glasses before. I don’t know if it’s something with my depth perception or what, but the contrast between objects is more stark, and I can make out much smaller things and a much greater spectrum of color at a much further distance than I ever could with glasses or contacts. The closest comparison I can make is that if my glasses/contacts vision was standard definition TV, my LASIK’d vision is like HDTV. It’s crazy. Well worth a Living Social deal, that’s for sure.

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