Since fourth grade, or so, I've been badly nearsighted. I don't know what my actual vision ranked at, it was in the "worse than 20/400" category with significant astigmatism at the pre-op exam. I know several people who have had the procedure, but I never heard it described much, so I thought maybe it would be interesting to share.
I decided this would be a good idea a few years ago, when I wanted to take a trip which would involve a couple days of physical exertion and no access to running water -- and I realized that I couldn't do it. I can't wear glasses while exerting myself outside (they slide around and the lenses steam up). But my contact lenses don't work without a lot of babying. (Due to astigmatism, they never work well enough to read with, but are okay for running.)
When we moved (sort of) back to the Chicago area, I looked into doctors and found a couple highly-regarded options. But 2011 was crazy busy. A couple months ago I finally got around to contacting places and made an evaluation appointment.
The office I chose is downtown in the Loop, in a super-swanky office building, prime location. They have a whole floor. The candy on the reception desk? Truffles.
Yeah, it's not a cheap procedure.
But, we could afford it, and the money wasn't doing anything for me, while being able to see could be useful! I wasn't sure I'd be a candidate, and I never assumed that I could get fully corrected vision. I was okay with having to still use glasses, so long as I could see well enough to survive without them. It really was a safety issue for me, not vanity. If I lost my glasses and contacts, I was completely helpless. When I was young, every so often my glasses would break, or I'd lose a contact (I never had both at the same time.) Each time I had to endure a terrifying month of navigating by color and memory before we could afford a replacement.
I got the procedure done less than a week after the initial exam. The initial evaluation involved half a dozen different machines, and eye-numbing drops. Which are weird, because you don't normally feel your eyes much anyway. I think the coolest exam then was the little tiny ultrasound pen, that checked the thickness of my cornea. The device which "read" the prescription of my glasses by clamping on to them was kind of cool, too.
Turned out that I was a great candidate. Not having worn my contact lenses much helped. I suspect not using eye makeup was good too. The doctor recommended LASIK (with a cornea flap) rather than PRK (no flap -- cheaper, safer, but more more traumatic and much slower recovery).
The pre-op was just like the evaluation, with a few added fancy machines, and pupil dilation. I got the (extra $$, recommended, optional) wave-guide scan, where a laser scanned my eyeballs ahead of time for optimum tracking accuracy. That was, like most machines, looking through a tube at a light. This had a light shaped kind of like an omega (, which waved around when it scanned. Kind of fun.
Spent some time in one of the inner waiting rooms while my pupils dilated. The walls were covered with autographed pictures of Chicago Bears players, dedicated to my doctor and saying things like, "Thanks for the new eyes," and "Thanks for the perfect vision." (I suspect they get PRK rather than LASIK, though... I mean, I'm not supposed to take part in contact sports for a few months!) I wasn't nervous, much, but it made me feel more confident in the procedure to see those.
Got my prescriptions for pain killers and various eyedrops, a folder full of instructions, and some samples of artificial tears. The next day I came back for the operation itself.
First thing they did when I showed up was give me a Valium. Apparently this is to keep people from panicking at the idea of LASERS CUTTIN' MAH EYES. I am not really the panicking sort, but I accepted the Valium because I was curious to see what Valium was like.
Conclusion: I hate Valium. I suppose if I was going to be enduring something truly horrible, and had enough forewarning to have a pill on hand, it would be suitable, but on that day, all it did was make me very, very stupid. Kind of like being really drunk, without any of the fun, feeling-good part. Bah. Fortunately my liver was all, "Oh heck no. Get rid of this crap," and it wore off in about 15 minutes. (I didn't tell anyone that.)
The Valium also reduced my ability to remember the first part of the operation: cutting the flap. Of course, they took my glasses away so I couldn't see anything anyway. :) I remember being strapped into a comfy, reclining chair (like a at a dentist) but this one held my head in place. Lots of numbing drops put in my eyes. The two assistants kept chatting but I couldn't keep up because of the stupid Valium. After a while the doctor showed up, clamped my eye open, and started the flap-cutting.
I'd been warned that it would feel like a pressure, and it would last for 15 seconds. It did last 15 seconds (they counted down for me) but I didn't notice a lot of pressure. I think trying to focus on the light -- which of course I couldn't see because I had such bad vision -- and the oddly-comfortable eyelid-clamp distracted me. Seriously, you'd think having your eye clamped open would be hideous, but it was totally fine. Weird.
Once both eyes had flaps cut, I had to walk into the next room for the cornea-sculpting part. I felt a little weird about that, I mean, didn't I have flaps cut in my eyeballs? How could I be walking around?? But while the flaps were cut, the flap itself hadn't lifted yet. So long as nothing bumped or rubbed my eyes, it was fine.
I settled into a different chair. More numbing drops. My eye was clamped open, and the laser apparatus lowered over me. I felt some air flow and sensed oxygen. Then there was kind of a long delay, which was fine with me, since it let the Valium wear off. (I later learned the doctor was putting his lunch order in, ha!) The whole time I waited, the targeting light blinked right above my eye. Blinked, and blinked and blinked. I kind of wanted to make a joke about being left in the Tantalus Machine, but I suspected the assistants would not understand my joke.
Eventually the doctor returned, scraped my flap open with a little soft spatula-like thingy. And if I'd thought the light was blurry before, OH BOY. What had been a little blurry blinking spot was now a huge blinking blob. When the doctor said to keep looking at the spot, it was so large! Where do I look? Then he directed me to not try to track it, and I guess my eye settled down.
Normal LASIK sculpting takes 15-30 seconds. Mine took 50. I had a lot of work to do. :)
That part, I couldn't feel at all. It was just looking at a blurry, blinking spot and trying not to move. The smell of smoke was a tiny bit disturbing, though...
The next eye was the same, and each was followed by putting the flap back and smoothing it out with the little spatula. Which was probably the most disturbing part of all because... really. Watching a little tool rubbing across my eye. Erk.
The clamps were removed and I closed my eyes as they moved all the equipment away and sat me up. And then came my first test: open my eyes and read the time from the clock across the room. And... well, it was an analog clock, which I suck at, but I was able to see it. I eventually figured out the time. ;)
Then I shut my eyes and let Chris guide me. We took a cab back (I don't think the 'L' would have been a good idea!) On the way I started to get some feeling back. I kinda wondered why they just didn't give me a cup of those numbing drops to take home. As directed, I took a Percocet, accompanied by a Clif bar.
I'd been instructed that the most comfortable option would be to go home and take a long nap after the procedure. I shorted myself a little on sleep the night before, hoping to help this. It was not enough. I put on the safety goggles I was given and propped myself up in bed to rest, but was pretty much just miserable for about six hours. I am normally good with pain, but apparently I have wimpy eyes!
It felt just like you'd expect. Stinging, burning, sore. Gunky and teary. Inky kept me company. Squinting carefully, I bought a new album through the Amazon MP3 app on my phone, and listened to that. When I had to navigate I could see well enough. Everything looked frosted, but in-focus. Like looking through lightly fogged glass.
I could not resist opening my eyes on occasion overnight to look at the ceiling. I could see the ceiling!!
By the next morning I was pretty much fine, which was good, since I had a follow-up appointment to get to, using the train. The frosted-ness has gradually decreased ever since. The hardest part was the feeling like there was something in my eye... because I knew that there wasn't really anything there, and I absolutely couldn't touch it. Also sleeping with goggles on for a week was kind of a pain.
The big, temporary issues with vision now are "halos" around lights, probably due to etching on my cornea, and lack of tears. I had no idea tears were such an important part of vision, but apparently they is essential to getting a sharp image. I knew dryness was an issue for a while after LASIK, though it didn't make sense. Shouldn't a cut in your eye mean MORE tears? I did a little research and apparently there are nerves that run through the cornea that signal tear production, and these get severed during the procedure. They'll grow back, but it takes a while.
Result: right now, I have 20/20 or better vision, which continues to improve. Decreased tear production still interferes a little bit with making out very small text, but I've been assured that will clear up over time. Overall, I'm very pleased!