So once again, if you don’t follow me on Twitter, you probably have no idea that I had LASIK surgery two weeks ago. I very bravely sandwiched the surgery in between two trips. I went to Toronto and came back (late) Wednesday night. My surgery was Thursday. The following Monday I flew to New York City for Digital Book World, where I appeared on a panel on Monday. I don’t recommend that kind of schedule to anyone, but lucky for me it worked out beautifully.
But quite a few people asked me to share my experiences with the surgery, because they’ve been thinking about it for themselves. I wish I’d had someone with recent experience to really hear the details from, because I like to know what I’m facing, so I’m sharing them here for anyone thinking about LASIK. I’ll get the important stuff out of the way. Am I glad I did it? Not only yes, but hell yes. Do I think others should think about it? Yes, definitely. My caveat is to make sure you research your doctor. My doctor has worked on everyone from professional football players to Air Force pilots. He was the perfect mix of arrogance and knowledge, he and his team answered every question I had, anticipated any problems that could occur and were bluntly honest about possible complications. They were very, very thorough and, in short, incredibly competent and knowledgeable. If you go for an evaluation and don’t get that feeling from the doctor, and his team, find another.
Because this is such a long post, I’m going to place the rest of the story after the jump.
So let’s start with the evaluation. Because I live in a smaller area, I had only two choices for where I could go locally. Josh and I agreed that if I didn’t like either of the choices, that I’d go to the Baltimore area instead. As it happens, I didn’t like one place right off, just calling to set up the appointment, so I didn’t even make the appointment. My second option was where I ended up going and I’ll call him Dr. Q for the sake of clarity.
I called Dr. Q’s office to set up an evaluation. Most LASIK offices will give you the evaluation for free, because they’re hoping to hook you into the surgery, which can cost several thousand dollars per eye. During the phone call, the LASIK nurse asked me a series of questions and then gave me an evaluation date a month in the future. If you’re a regular contact wearer, you should not get an appointment any sooner than two weeks away, because you have to be out of your contacts for at least two weeks, in order for your eye to readjust and the doctor to get an accurate reading and image mapping of your bare eyeball. Contacts actually change the shape of your eye, so your eye needs time to readjust before the evaluation. I could never have done this surgery in the summer, with all the time I spent in glasses leading up to the evaluation and then the surgery, because I lived in my contacts/sunglasses in the summer. Anyway! After the phone call, the LASIK nurse sent me, via mail, a packet of information to read about both the surgery and the evaluation process. Very professional!
At the evaluation, I was given a number of tests. To start it seemed like some of the normal tests that you’d get when you get your vision tested. But they also tested thickness of the cornea–you aren’t a candidate for the surgery if your cornea is too thin–, tear production–you’re not a candidate for the surgery if you have very dry eyes–, glare/dilation of my pupils–if you have pupils that get large in certain light, it indicates that you may have problems with light sensitivity and glare after the surgery, more on this later–and they also dilated my eyes to look for any eye issues, etc. One of the steps includes some numbing of the eyes, which makes your eyes feel weird and heavy. I accused the nurse of getting my eyes drunk, which she thought was funny. But it’s a great description of how my eyes felt.
During this time, I had the opportunity to meet with both the LASIK nurse and the doctor, and ask them both any questions I had. And I did ask questions, mostly about the doctor’s experience–how many surgeries he’d done, for how long, how many of those had resulted in complications, if he’s ever told a patient they’re not a candidate for LASIK, etc. This is important, asking questions, and if you’re too shy or nervous to ask questions then…come over here and let me smack you around a little. Never be afraid to ask questions of ANY healthcare provider! You’re hiring them, you need to know that they know their stuff!
Going in, I had no idea there were so many factors that determined whether I’d be a good candidate or not. I just kind of arrogantly assumed there would be no problem getting the surgery. Lucky for me there weren’t any, since I’d have had a hard time spending that flex money! So, um, take it from me and don’t increase your flex plan to set aside all that money until after you’ve had your evaluation. Oh, and one other thing to know, it seems that most places say your evaluation is good for about three months and then, if you don’t do the surgery, you have to get re-evaluated, since your eyes change. And then you might have to pay.
Okay, so my evaluation was in December. Surgery was then scheduled for January, and that meant another two weeks out of my glasses. Approximately two weeks before the surgery, the office again sent me a packet of papers. This packet had all of the pre and post op instructions I needed, as well as the consent/release forms for me to read before the day of the surgery so I was aware of all the possible complications/issues that could arrive. I really appreciated having these beforehand, to read, because I was a little distracted the day of!
The day of surgery, I was instructed to wear no makeup (and I later found out that it’s a good idea not to wear makeup the day before either, because you’d be surprised how much of your eye makeup lingers!), loose clothes and not to use styling products in my hair. Basically, they want as few chemicals as possible around your face so as not to irritate your new eyes post surgery. Ladies, take this as permission to wear no makeup, not do your hear and wear yoga pants. Total comfort!
The first thing I did was sign all of the consent forms. Second, they took me back, put me in a dark room and a technician, we’ll call him Dan so I can tell you a later story, did image mapping of my eyes. This part was really interesting to me, because first I had to close my eyes and keep them closed for a few minutes, so when I opened them, my eyes were adjusted to the dark. Then, I looked into a piece of equipment that showed a red dot. The instructions were to look at the dot without focusing on it. The best way I can describe this is when you’re lost in thought, or daydreaming, and you’re looking at something but in an unfocused way, so you’re not really seeing it. That’s what I had to do here. I asked a lot of questions during this step (I told you, ask questions!) and it turns out this is to take pictures of your eyes as if you were looking at the laser doing surgery. It maps your eyes and delivers an image, which is what they use to program the laser for surgery, tells them the numbers to use and where/how to laser. In other words? Kind of an important step. Turns out that this step also allows them to see what kind of glare your eyes have, and they can also adjust for that during the surgery, using these images, to help reduce the glare you experience. I was fortunate to have a tech who was patient with all of my questions and very cool in that he brought me around to his side and showed me all of the pictures/images and explained all of this to me. I highly recommend asking if you can do the same! This is the final step to make sure you’re a good candidate for the surgery, tells them exactly what your vision is (turns out my glasses prescription wasn’t quite right and that might have caused some headaches!) and gives them the settings for the laser.
After imaging, I then paid for the surgery. Someone mentioned to me that they thought it was weird that I had to pay before, because they didn’t pay until after. I was actually surprised that I didn’t pay when I signed the consent forms, but apparently they wait until after the final confirmation of the imaging. And one of my clear thoughts after the surgery, as I was preparing to leave, was how very, very glad I was they’d had me pay before, so I didn’t have to deal with it after. So. Glad.
The next step was surgery prep. For some reason, my doctor was hanging around by this point, and so we were shooting the shit. No really, that’s what we were doing. They were taking my blood pressure, putting the hair net on me, sticking gauze over my ears and using alcohol wipes on my face and eyes to make sure no makeup was left (at which point we discovered there was and I got a lecture from the doctor about not wearing makeup the day before. Also, I discovered I am a girl because I mentally squealed when they used alcohol wipes on my face. Hello! Drying!)
The doctor was redoing everything the nurse did (I’ll bet she wasn’t so glad he was hanging around) and I was giving the doctor a hard time. Turns out, I must have seemed incredibly mellow, because he commented that I was “very chill. Are you always so chill?” He might have thought I was on drugs. I assured him I’m not a very high-strung person, and that it wasn’t fair that no doctor would ever be prescribing me Valium. He then mentioned that part of Dan’s job (Dan the imaging guy, remember?) was to put people at ease and make them comfortable, to which I replied incredulously, “Really? Because he made me incredibly nervous!” Dr. Q was quite taken aback and couldn’t believe it. Until the nurse and I bust out laughing and then he just kept repeating, “you got me, oh man, you got me. Your sense of humor, I can’t–argh!” and the story had to be shared with the rest of the LASIK team by the nurse because, I guess not many people don’t take Dr. Q seriously (I did mention earlier he was arrogant, right? I liked that!). So, there I was, very chill, teasing the doctor and with my blood pressure something like 120/80. High for me! To be honest, for some reason it wasn’t the surgery itself I was nervous about, but the healing because the doctor had stressed to me that I wouldn’t be able to rub my eyes after the surgery. No rubbing your eyes! (I’ll say this again later).
About that Valium. My doctor doesn’t use it unless a patient is incredibly anxious. Clearly this wasn’t a problem for me, except for my natural curiosity about what it would be like to take valium. Though, we discussed this, as I was being tilted back in the operating chair (I’m getting ahead of myself, but I’ll backtrack) and he said, because I’m so calm, that valium has just as much chance of making me hyper. Good point.
So the next step was to take me into the actual LASIK room. Where I immediately noticed it was kind of cool, but I think there was an evil master plan to this. They had me lay in a chair, much like a dentist’s chair, and because it was cool in the room, they explained, they were going to cover me with a hospital blanket. I later determined that they did this instead of strapping you down, since I’ll be people don’t like that. They tuck the blanket around you and I’ll bet it’s effective in being the second line of defense if someone panics and their arm lashes out. Why the second line of defense? Because the doctor brilliantly handed me a bright yellow stuffed duckie (wearing a surgeon’s hat) to hold on to under the blanket, with instructions to squeeze the hell out of the duck during the surgery. I laughed when he handed it to me (being chill and all) but was pretty damn glad for that duck, actually, and it was one of the primary thoughts I had during the surgery, how happy I was to have something to squeeze in my hands. So you might ask before your surgery if the doctor gives you anything (even a rolled washcloth) to hold and squeeze during surgery, and if not, could you bring something small with you? Not a huge thing, just something small that you can hold in both hands at the same time and squeeze.
At this point, I’m laying in the chair, holding the duck, covered by a blanket and they start to tip me back and then scoot me back in the chair (I’m kind of short, don’t tell my husband I said so) so my head was laying on one of those pillows with the little beads in it. The doctor molded it around my head so it held my head still and I was positioned perfectly. In the room with me are the doctor and three team members. I’m not sure of everyone’s specific duties but I was especially grateful to the lady who counted down. I’ll get to that. So I’m laying in the chair, feet higher than my head and they put something over the left eye (cover it) and proceed to first tape my eye open and then put clamps on it to keep it open. I think this must look rather torturous. It didn’t feel horrible, not even that uncomfortable. Oh, somewhere during all this they put numbing drops in my eyes. Both eyes, I should mention that! Numbing drops are important when you’re getting a laser to the eyeball, no? I was happy they got my eyes drunk again, though I did make a crack about hoping the hangover wasn’t too bad. That’s me, chill to the end.
The uncomfortable part came next. I’ll be honest, I have no idea what this step was, but it involved pressing something down on my eye. Hard. It felt like a dull pressure but a really hard dull pressure. A really hard dull pressure that made me say “ow” and squeeze the damn duck. At which point I was told not to talk (sometimes I was allowed, sometimes I wasn’t. I became less in the mood to talk as time went on). So after the “ow” the doctor said “just hold on” and that’s when the nice lady started counting down and telling me “thirty more seconds (eternity!) fifteen more seconds (will the duck’s head come off if I squeeze hard enough?) ten more seconds (I’ve given birth, this is nothing) five more seconds (four, three, two, your time’s up! your time’s up!) Time!” Of course, it’s not as easy as all that, because they were pressing down to create some sort of suction and (I think) put something on my eye, so they weren’t quite done until they got it exactly right. I didn’t ask. I forgot. You should ask though, before you have surgery, what that step is for. But I was glad they were so careful about getting it exactly right.
Once that was done, it was under the laser. They call out everything to each other, as a fail safe, but the machine also has a bunch of fail safes built in, which is reassuring. So I’m told to look straight ahead. Many times I’m told this. At one point, I’m thinking it’s impossible to know where I’m looking! During this, most of what I see is a red light/laser and then this…ring of light. When they lasered things and moved it around, I could…see it. It was very strange, like first it was unfocused, then it was blurry and I couldn’t see and then it was a more focused ring of light. During the laser treatment, they were super encouraging and the nice nurse once again counted down while I squeezed the duck. And it wasn’t that it was painful, because it really wasn’t, it was just nerve wracking to suddenly realize what was being done! After the lasering of one eye, the doctor did some weird…squeegy-ing of the eye. Okay, you know how they have those things at the gas station you can wash your windows with? I would relate it to that though obviously he used something different 😛 He wiped down and smoothed down my eye, saying he was just making sure it was all smoothed out and even and perfect. He said something about painting…or paintbrushes and using them to smooth things out. Whatever he was using, it was obvious he was very focused on the details and making sure it was perfect. I appreciated that.
It was time for the second eye, so the first eye was (carefully) covered. I’ll be honest, I dreaded the second eye, not for the laser part, but for the pressure part. Unfortunately for me, that part lasted a little longer because they couldn’t get the suction they wanted. But the nice doctor did put extra numbing drops in my eye before he started. He’s lovely. So the second eye (the left eye) went much as the first, and it was still weird to see my vision moving around. Oh! And something I didn’t mention with the first eye, he would be putting some sort of drops in my eyes, and the color of the ring of light I was looking into would change. Like a cool acid trip. We again repeated the bit with him squeegy-ing my eye and smoothing everything out. I got antibiotic drops in each eye. And that was it. The laser surgery was done and the duckie was still in one piece.
I entered the imaging room, the first step with Dan, at 12:20 pm. At 1:18pm, the surgery was finished, my ey the doctor sat me up in the chair, asked me to look back over my shoulder, read the clock on the wall and tell him what time it was. Tada! I had new eyes. The entire process took less than an hour. The laser part? Probably no more than 20 minutes, from the time I sat in the chair.
From there, I went back out to the prep room, where the doctor examined my eyes with that examining thingy eye doctors use (my use of technical terms in this post is astounding to you, I can tell). My right eye was experiencing some burning, and watering quite a bit. The doctor pulled a lot of gunk out of each eye with a little “paintbrush” thing and also showed me some leftover eyeliner (which can cause your eyes to gunk up and is why you should get as much of your makeup off as possible and avoid makeup the day before as well). I told him to blame MAC for making liquid eyeliner that only comes off with a chisel. He said “Oh, yeah, MAC is good stuff.”
At this point, my eyes are tired. So tired. Those numbing drops work well but they made me feel like I could hardly keep my eyes open. That and the trauma to my eyes and the rush of adrenaline leaving my body. I could not believe how tired I was. My right eye was still burning and had this weird feeling of something in it. The doctor looked again and yep, more gunk had formed, so he pulled it out. Now, remember what I said? No rubbing! It’s at this point where I thought this might be impossible, because that right eye was bothering me, but they both looked good according to the doctor, and I could see and read things across the room, despite the discomfort. I was given some horribly ugly old lady glasses (because they’d run out of the cool ones and I complained bitterly about this. They were ugly! Old lady glasses! And they were too big for my face). But I only needed them to shield the glare from the sun. Because I was done and on my way home. Remember when I said I was happy I’d paid before surgery? Here’s where I was thinking that, because I could hardly keep my eyes open, I was tired, my eyes were watering and I just wanted to go home. Thankfully, my husband was waiting. Of course, he took one look at me and broke into hysterical laughter and said (I’m not kidding) “You have ugly old lady glasses on. Ahahahaha. Ahahahaha.” Jackass.
I kept my eyes closed most of the way home. I did mention they were tired, right? Once home, I went straight to bed and was asleep in minutes. I slept for several hours (I don’t know how people have this surgery and don’t nap, but I’d also been traveling and gotten home after midnight the night before). The first thing I did when I woke up was the first thing I still do two weeks later, just to check–I looked at the clock across the room. I’m fairly sure this is what everyone who has LASIK does. Post nap, my discomfort was gone, both eyes felt mostly normal though still tired, dry and a little itchy. And I could see. I could SEE!
For the rest of the day, I took it easy on my eyes. They were still fatigued, so I avoided TV, the computer (which was hard) and reading (also hard). I distracted myself with an audiobook (a JD Robb novella for those wondering) and I went to bed early. The next morning, I was able to drive myself to my follow-up appointment where I was told my vision was 20/20 and 20/25. Less than 24 hours later!
My post-op: In addition to the ugly old lady glasses I’ve already gushed about, I was also sent home with bottles of antibiotic drops, steroid drops, eye drops and clear plastic eye shields. The first day, I used the antibiotic drops and steroid drops every two hours, and then for the first week after, every four hours. The eye drops I was instructed to use approximately the same but more frequently to help with dryness. I was instructed sternly, multiple times, even as I was walking out the door after the surgery, “Don’t rub your eyes! Do NOT rub your eyes.” That night, the doctor called and left a voicemail message and the very last thing he said was, “Don’t rub your eyes!” Apparently, some people rub their eyes and, um, mess things up. Eek!
Other post-op instructions included the plastic shields. Using paper tape, I taped them over my eyes at night, and when I napped, to avoid accidentally rubbing or bumping my eyes when I slept. Those were used for the first week and at first I thought it was odd, but they weren’t uncomfortable and I can see how easy it would be to either damage your eyes in your sleep by rubbing or bumping them, or to not sleep well for fear of damaging them. In addition to all that, there were instructions not to wear makeup for the first week (I lasted four days, but in my defense I was attending a conference), no exercise for the first week and a few other things. After two weeks, it’s all systems go.
The biggest struggle for me actually was not rubbing my eyes. Attending the conference four days after having surgery didn’t help, because I was awake for long hours, focusing on the sessions, and by day two of the conference my eyes were terribly, terribly fatigued. Remember, the eye muscles have to get used to the new focus, so they’re working hard! At that point, I wanted to rub my eyes and wake them up. But other than that, I’ve been incredibly lucky in quick healing and a fantastic doctor, because I’ve experienced none of the side effects. No major issues with dryness, no sensitivity to light any worse than pre-LASIK, no glare at night worse than pre-LASIK (remember, my doctor tries to adjust for this during surgery). In short, I got all of the benefits of LASIK and none of the drawbacks (well, I’m a little lighter in the bank account).
At my one week post-op checkup, he confirmed that my eyes look amazing, I have at least 20/20 in each eye, probably better but we only tested to 20/20. Yes, there’s a great possibility I may need reading glasses in the future (something all LASIK patients should be warned about prior to surgery), but I’m fine with that. I have a few small dry spots on my eyes, but again, they look great.
Now, almost two weeks after the surgery, I still experience some minimal eye fatigue and dryness. I have the expensive, fancy eye drops to put in my eyes (no Visine, please!) and some eye gel to put in at night, to help alleviate any lingering dryness. I can see perfectly, I still have to consciously remind myself that I’m NOT wearing contacts and…I can wear sunglasses whenever I want.
The first morning after LASIK, I sat up and poked my husband. “Honey, guess what?
“I can see the clock and I’m not wearing glasses!”
Would I do it again? Yes. Yes. And yes again. Was there a lot of pain involved? No. I experienced worse pain three weeks ago when I got a second degree burn on my hand from the steam from the teapot. The pain of LASIK is fleeting and not so much pain as discomfort. Should you do it? I don’t know if it’s right for you, but you should consider it and the free evaluation, if you think it’s in your budget. It was worth every penny for me. Being able to see without glasses and contacts is…priceless. Really, amazing and priceless.