Almost a year ago, I had laser eye surgery. I did not write about it then because I did not have a blog (also, I was cranky and my eyes hurt). In the time since then, well, I just have not thought about it. It did not occur to me to write anything about the situation until I found the not particularly helpful photos I took during my week post-surgery. Eyeball surgery doesn’t really change how one looks so the photos are not really necessary but I am including them anyway because now I can delete them from my phone and have more space for pictures of my niece and nephew 🙂
I first got glasses when I was six years old and I probably needed them before that. My mom tells me that on the way home from getting my first pair, I was reading all of the signs and store names we passed, giving her the first indication that I had not been able to before! I started out with enormous plastic frames and moved on to a pair of round red glasses (made by Nintendo, my brother still has the case even though Mario wore off of it decades ago) of which I had a few iterations.
As I got older, my glasses got smaller, as was the fashion. This did not really work well, however, with the lenses getting thicker. I don’t know when I made the transition but for as long as I can recall being a part of the glasses-buying process, I always required the extra thin lenses in order for them to even fit into frames. My prescription got steadily worse throughout high school and tapered off by the time I was in college.
I started wearing contact lenses at around 13 years old; at first I thought they were the greatest thing ever because they let me pretend to be “normal”. In reality, they were kind of a pain in the [proverbial] butt. Still, having a choice was a real improvement. I bought my first pair of actual sunglasses that year and was extremely pleased by my ability to wear them. Over the years since first getting contacts, however, I got increasingly lazy about wearing them. By the time I finally decided to get surgery I was down to wearing them only when it would be especially bright out (so I could wear sunglasses) or wanted to impress somebody. Most of the reason for this was laziness but I also became self conscious about what I thought of as my piggy face. I was convinced that glasses helped my cheeks look less fat up around my eyes and decided that was a valid excuse to keep wearing them.
I had a consultation with a LASIK surgeon in the early 2000s but at that time I was told I could not be improved to 20/20, I would still have to wear glasses albeit weaker ones. I did not think much about it for a while after that although my father would periodically encourage me to consider getting the procedure, I would say that there wasn’t much point since I would still need glasses anyway. In retrospect, it may have been a good idea even then because the level of uncorrected vision that I had made me quite vulnerable. I would define my eyesight in terms of 20/20, 20/400, etc. but apparently it’s not really practical at my prescription. I have it on good authority though that I was worse than 20/1000 which means that I could not see at 20 feet what a normal person could see at 1000 feet if that gives any perspective; that is more than three football fields!
Anyway, I finally decided to get another consultation and it turned out to be an excellent idea. I went to Adelson Eye & Laser Center where they tested my vision and took weird measurements. I ended up waiting a while because they were behind schedule (something I would learn is a trend there) but the doctors were encouraging and answered all my questions and I felt like I was in good hands. Dr. Adelson was even willing to talk to my father on the phone about my surgical options. He understood that even though I am a grown woman, my physician father wants to know everything he can about my health care and procedures.
In the end, we decided that PRK (photoretractive keratectomy) was a better option for me than LASIK (laser assisted in-situ keratomileusis). Both involve removing the top layer of the eye (epithelium) and reshaping what is below it with a laser. LASIK has a quicker recovery time because the epithelium is cut into a flap so that it can go back over the eye at the end of the procedure and protect the tissue immediately although there is some risk of flap complications. In PRK, the epithelium is removed by either a chemical or abrasive process and has to regrow. This reduces the possibility of complications but adds recovery time and pain. The reason PRK was a better choice for me is because not cutting a flap allows more corneal depth to work with for the vision correction and due to the severity of my myopia, the doctor needed all the depth he could get!
I waited until my parents came to visit before actually getting the surgery then I stayed at my grandma’s house with them for several days afterward. I like to think of myself as independent but it was really good to have people there to get me food and put in my eyedrops (forcibly if necessary) when I did not want to even open my eyes.
The day of surgery (Thursday) I left work early and picked up my mother before heading to the eye doctor, my father met us there. I was given a Valium and waited (nervously, despite the drug) for what felt like an excessively long time before being called back to the surgical room which was basically a dark eye examination room with some extra equipment. The doctor gave me drops to numb my eyes which worked very well. He then held my eyes open with an ocular speculum (think “A Clockwork Orange”) and told me to keep very still. Then came the scariest part; a whirring brush came toward my eyeball and I just had to sit there and take it. It didn’t actually hurt although it seemed like it should have but the numbing drops were doing their job; it just felt weird, like a tickling or pressure. Anyway, he did this for both eyes and then started in with the laser. It was pre-programmed based on measurements they had taken already and I just had to look right at a red light while a weird humming happened but it didn’t really feel like anything.
The whole procedure took less than fifteen minutes from the time I sat down to the time that the “bandage contacts” were inserted; a set of clear lenses to protect my poor damaged eyeballs. Finally, they gave me an eye shield and sent me on my way.
The drive home was kind of amazing; I could see! My vision was not totally clear or anything but I could recognize my family members by sight, something I could not have done the day before [without glasses] unless I got close enough to smell them. The rest of that afternoon was not particularly eventful, I hung out in the basement and listened to an audiobook because I couldn’t quite focus enough to watch TV (reading was totally out of the question). By the evening though, I was not happy. My eyes hurt a lot. I had three kinds of eyedrops; a steroid to encourage healing, an antibiotic to fight infection, and something labelled “comfort drops” which was given to me at the doctor’s office. I was instructed to use the latter sparingly so as not to slow my recovery. I was also permitted to take NSAIDs as needed but I cannot say that the Aleve I downed really helped much.
My father held my eyes open one at a time to give me the drops I needed which was very helpful since I don’t know if I would have been able to open them on my own; the tiniest amount of light hurt me at that time. I was super cranky and refused to leave the basement even when I was assured that the blinds upstairs were closed. I was fairly certain that I looked like a monster because I definitely felt like one. The eye shield was probably a lifesaver at that time because I wanted very badly to rub my eyes and probably would have done so while sleeping if I did not have the protection it provided. Speaking of sleeping, it was all I wanted to do for hours at at time which is actually not too unlike my normal weekends but due to the circumstances, I was allowed to do it without guilt. That did not actually make me feel better though. Eating was hard because even in very dim light, I did not want to open my eyes to see where my food was. I ate yogurt while holding the cup very close to my mouth – so went my Friday.
By Saturday, I wasn’t doing much better mood-wise but I was able to stand a light being turned on around the corner from me for a limited period of time. Mostly I wandered around the dim basement in a cranky manner and made my mom put my eyedrops in since my father had gone to play golf.
On Sunday, I ventured upstairs but immediately regretted it and returned to my cave. Slowly throughout the day, I tolerated a bit more light and was willing to return upstairs by the evening while wearing sunglasses. As a side note, I got these sunglasses from the eye doctor and I quite like them. I’m still wearing them and will be sad when I inevitably lose or break them. Obviously I was still not in a good enough mood to brush my hair but I do seem to have changed my clothes, at least.
Monday was Labor Day, so I didn’t have to worry about going to work. I went for a brief walk outside, both wearing my sunglasses and looking down the whole time. I decided that I had to at least try that since I planned to go to work the next day and I could not avoid light forever.
On Tuesday, my mom drove me to work and I was able to get around okay even though things were a bit blurry and unfocused. I could read the mission statement banners that hang over the production floor and most paper put in front of me even though I had to move it back and forth a bit to get my eyes to focus (not unlike a person with presbyopia who refuses to admit she needs glasses). My mom picked me up early from work and I went to the doctor to get approved to drive. Although I did not feel that my eyesight was ideal, I got the okay since I was seeing at 20/40 and the cutoff is 20/50. I was super excited.
The next day I drove myself to work and returned home to my apartment, now able to take care of myself although apparently not able to take care of plants. My herbs all died while I was away. Well, they probably didn’t go from healthy to dead in less than a week but I had been neglecting them long enough that my six-day absence was enough to finish them off.
The next day was fine but on Friday, I had a tiny irritated feeling in one of my eyes which, by midday had turned into actual pain. My left eye was watering profusely and I couldn’t see well out of it. I called the doctor’s office and they told me to come in. I ended up waiting a while during which I convinced myself that my eye was horribly damaged and I would never be able to see again. It turns out that I had a small abrasion on my eyeball. The doctor inserted a bandage contact lens and I went back to work, slightly more calm.
Eventually the pain went away and I removed the contact lens myself. I did find that my eyes felt painful in a kind of rough way more often than they used to. Apparently, dry eye is a common side effect of PRK. I did not seem to have any other problems, however. I don’t have haloing or blurry vision. I do get some glare when driving at night but not any worse than with my glasses – actually, better than when I wore contact lenses! I put an eye chart up in my office and would stand in the doorway (ten feet away) to check my eyesight a couple of times a day, which was probably excessive. I also went back to see the eye doctor at all of the required intervals – one week, one month, three months, and six months. By my last appointment, I was not only able to read the 20/20 line on the eye chart but part of the 20/15 line as well!
So, I have spent a really excessive amount of time now talking about my eyeballs and the laser surgery I had on them to come to one basic conclusion: It was totally worth it! I do have to use eyedrops a couple of times a day now; just over the counter artificial tears. If I don’t use them enough, by the time I go to bed, my eyes actually kind of hurt a little. Still, this is a small (tiny, really) price to pay for vision which does not require correction. I look the same (at least the way I looked when wearing contacts) but I feel more confident and less vulnerable. I have peripheral vision and stumble into things less in the middle of the night when I get up and walk around. I do notice how squinty my eyes get when I smile because of my cheek fat but I’ve decided that it is okay. My dark undereye circles are more prominent without glasses to help mask them but I can ignore that too. I have mostly gotten used to not wearing glasses although I still reach for them occasionally in the morning when my alarm goes off. After 27 years of wearing glasses, visual independence is still new to me but I am happy to get to know it!