Thursday, August 2, 2018

What LASIK is Actually Like (Without Too Many Graphic Details)

by Kate Wolfe Maxlow

I've had glasses or contacts since I was 10. I cannot remember a time when the world hasn't been blurry without the use of a seeing aid.

About a month ago, I went for a LASIK consultation and the doctor, who looked suspiciously like Marvel's Dr. Strange, declared that my eyes were perfectly healthy and great candidates for LASIK. (Great job, eyes!) The consultation itself was free and took about two hours. They put me through every eye test known to man before I met with the doctor himself, who explained the procedure and answered any questions I had. I also had to make sure that I didn't wear my contacts for a week before the procedure because apparently contacts can change the shape of your eyes and invalidate the tests.

After all the tests, the doctor said my left eye would be easy peasy (not his words; Dr. Strange doesn't say "easy peasy"). The right eye, at a -6, would be slightly trickier but certainly not outside his ability to fix, nor even the worst he'd seen.

He did say that sometimes an eye doesn't heal exactly the way they want, and they end up having to back in to do a follow-up surgery. Those follow-ups are free for the first year, and then at a deep discount thereafter. The doctor said that if either of my eyes needed a follow-up, he bet it would be my right eye.

Of course, LASIK isn't be cheap (they won't even give you the price until after you've had the consultation), but I knew that going in and the office had a payment plan system so I wasn't going to have to hand over a few thousand dollars out-of-pocket.

My "prep" for the procedure actually begin two weeks before the surgery. I had to forgo contacts that entire time and stop wearing eye make-up three to four days beforehand. The office called me twice to make sure that I still wanted to go through with it...I guess a lot of people back out. I also had to secure a driver (my husband) who would stay at the office during the entire procedure and then drive me home. Trust me, there's no way that you can drive yourself home afterward.

The office where I went traditionally gives folks a prescription for Valium, which I had to turn down because I react oddly to medications meant to calm me down, and promptly freak out instead. Therefore, I went into the appointment stone-cold sober and aware of everything. If you're the Valium type, they have you take it when you first arrive, and then again about half an hour before the procedure.

My husband and I arrived at 1:30pm for my 1:55pm appointment. Per their instructions, I brought a zip-up sweatshirt for the freezing cold operating room. The sweatshirt has to zip-up so that you can easily remove it afterward without accidentally hitting your eyes. I chose one without a hood because I figured it would be more comfortable for lying on my back (I was right). I wore jeans and a button-up shirt, but I should have just worn yoga pants and a t-shirt so I didn't have to change before going to bed.

The office was running behind (or maybe they make everyone come an hour early so the Valium has time to kick in?), so I didn't actually get called back until about 3pm. My husband and I headed to the small examination room where the nurse went over the post-operative care. For a week following the procedure, I had to keep my eyes as clean as possible, which means no gardening, no chlorine, no dusting, no exercising that could cause sweat. So far, this was sounding great.

For a month, she said to also avoid natural waters, like lakes or the ocean. If you're the beach type, you might not want to get LASIK in the summer. I'm not, so I just shrugged.

She also said no eye make-up for at least a week after. Blergh. I'm 38 and my eye make-up helps me look awake at work. But whatever. I could deal. She said I could wear lotions or foundations but have to be really careful when applying around my eyes.

She went over three different types of drops I would have to take. There's an antibiotic, a steroid, and an over-the-counter moisturizing drop (she said I could use any kind as long as it's preservative-free). I have to use them every 2-4 hours for the first two weeks and she gave me a copy of the schedule so I could check off when I used each. My husband had to listen to the schedule, too; I assume most people are deep into their Valium by that point and need someone else listening.

About half an hour later, they called me into the surgery room itself. They weren't kidding; it was cold. There were two or three nurses and the doctor in there with me. They had me lie down on something similar to a dentist's chair and told me to close my eyes while they did some initial measurements and lined up the machines with my eyes. The doctor explained that while I needed to stay still, I shouldn't worry too much; the machines are made so that they follow my retina as it moves and simply shut down if they sense a big movement (like if I moved my head). In other words, if I suddenly sneezed, I wasn't going to lose an entire eye. This comforted me. Also, the doctor still had his Dr. Strange goatee, and I figured if anyone could be trusted to laser my eyes safely, it was Dr. Strange.

After the initial measurements, they taped a giant plastic cover over my right eye so they could focus on my left eye first. They added tons of numbing drops, then did the first part of the procedure. The drops had made everything blurry and because of the machine they were using, I couldn't actually see much. I kept my right eye closed. This part of the procedure involved a ton of pressure and I'm not going to lie; it hurt. I squirmed a bit and the doctor reminded me that it would be over very soon so I just kept breathing deeply. All in all, it probably took about 30 seconds.

Then, I got a rest for about a minute while he transferred the plastic cover to my left eye and prepped my right eye. Same procedure, same horrible pressure, again over relatively quickly.

Now it was time for the actual lasers. They went back to my left eye and affixed a machine to it and told me to look at a blinking light in the machine. I did and he turned on the lasers and then suddenly I could smell something like a soldering iron. This part felt kind of strange, kind of like my eye was being tickled, but didn't really hurt, so again I focused on my breathing and the blinking orange light. It again took a minute or less. Then, the doctor repeated the same process on the right eye...and it was all over.

The actual procedure took less than 10 minutes.

They took me back to the first small room and gave me big, dark glasses to wear outside and asked if I had any final questions. My eyes felt gritty but I could actually see in the hallway! Granted, things were blurry...but not nearly as blurry as my vision 10 minutes earlier. The lady at the front desk advised me to keep my eyes closed during the drive home.

One thing that no one told me about and I wasn't expecting: it was hard to swallow afterward. I don't know if it was from all the pressure causing junk in my sinuses to move around or somehow the numbing drops went down into my throat. It wore off within about 15 minutes after leaving, though.

We live about 45 minutes from the eye center and we had to pick up the kids on the way home. For the first 10 minutes of the drive, I was laughing and joking. I felt hardly any pain and didn't understand why the doctor kept saying I should try to sleep for the first four hours after the procedure. Then the numbing drops wore off and I was like, "OH." The hour plus that it took us to get home was...not pleasant.

I made my husband stop for Taco Bell on the way home, because it was about 5pm by this time and I hadn't eaten since noon, which was giving me a headache and nausea in addition to feeling like someone had just..well, shot lasers into my eyes. I then proceeded to blindly eat the tacos in his exceptionally clean car, and to his credit, he didn't even try to argue. It's possible he was staring at me in horror the whole time but whatever. I kept my eyes closed like I was told.

When we got home, I immediately went upstairs. It hurt to open my eyes. It hurt to keep them closed, too, but not as badly. It was only 5pm, but I had my husband get me some ibuprofen, a Unisom, and some melatonin (I checked with the doctor, and he said it was fine). My husband administered my eye drops (there's no way I could have put them in myself; he had to hold my eyes open). I put on my super sweet sleeping goggles (which I have to wear for the first week whenever I sleep so I don't accidentally rub my eyes), and then laid there. Even with all the Unisom and melatonin, I didn't fall asleep for awhile because of the pain.

On the pain scale, I can safely say that childbirth is worse. Gallstones and kidney stones also score higher. Still, this wasn't pleasant. I would say it's probably closest to the time I burned my hand on the stove and went to sleep with it throbbing.

At some point, I did pass out. My husband came up about 8pm to give me more eye drops and brought me a snack. My eyes still didn't feel great and my vision was still blurry, but I was no longer in intense pain. I passed back out.

I groggily woke up several times throughout the night. Sleeping goggles, as it turns out, are exactly as comfortable as they sound.

This morning I woke up and immediately rolled over to my bedside stand to grab my glasses...which of course weren't there. Then I blinked and realized...hey, I didn't actually need them anyway! My eyes still felt dry and gritty, but I could open them. I put the refreshing drops in right away and they were instantly soothed.

I went in to wake up my two year old daughter, whose first words to me were, "Mommy, get glasses." I explained to her that I didn't need them anymore. She shook her head and ran into my bedroom, then ran back confused. "Can't find glasses!" she told me in exasperation. I explained again that doctors had fixed my eyes and I didn't need glasses. "Need glasses," she insisted. Truly, she's only seen me without them a handful of times, so I can imagine it's a shock to her.

Today, the day after surgery, my eyesight is at least as good as it was with my contacts or glasses. Supposedly, it's going to continue to improve. My eyes still feel sore, dry, and itchy, but just like I've been wearing my contacts all day. I'm apparently able to work on a computer well enough to write this blog and my vision seems to be improving every hour. I can definitely tell when it's time for my eyedrops, though. I suppose I could have gone back to work today, but I'm glad I took the day off so I can go lie down with my eyes closed whenever my eyes start to feel tired.

So, one day in, I'm glad I did LASIK. Like most people, I had some serious apprehensions, but everything went as well as it could have. I'm looking forward to all the things I'll be able to do without having to worry about glasses or contacts getting in the way.

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