I was shot in the eyes by lasers and lived to tell the tale. If you’re not curious about every little detail of eye surgery and recovery + gratuitous healing selfies, then skip this post. Otherwise, there’s link to the video of my surgery at the bottom of this post. Note: NOT for the squeamish!
I’ve had bad eyesight since I was in 5th grade. I was 10 years old, and after trying on another kid’s glasses in my class, I was astounded by the sharpness of the letters on the board & the clarity with which I was able to observe leaves fluttering on a tree outside. Since then, it’s been a procession of wire-rimmed glasses, 2-week contacts, eye infections, bright blue glasses, and eventually single-use, disposable contacts (the luxury and WASTE of which was not lost on me).
I’d always been curious about Lasik (which I thought was the only type of eye surgery to correct for myopia, or nearsightedness), but I never imagined wanting to allocate nearly $5k towards elective surgery (which is why I still have real boobs after all these years… ). However, after my boyfriend Matt got PRK last October, I started getting really excited about the prospect of achieving 20/20 vision without contacts or glasses.
LASIK vs. PRK
Go read about it on an actual medical website if you want the science of it, but my layman’s understanding is this:
LASIK: Lasik entails cutting a flap in your cornea, pew pew-ing some lasers at it, flapping the cornea back to normal & going on your merry way, with perfect vision achieved not long after the surgery. Little to no pain, only one day of down time usually, and low hassle. The downsides of Lasik are that you need a thick enough cornea (since you need some clearance after the flap is cut), and once you have a flap in your eyeball, you’ll always have a slightly compromised retina. If you’re someone who plays contact sports, serves in the armed services, or even if you’re just really clumsy… Lasik might not be for you.
PRK: Sear the top of your cornea off with some acid, scrape it off, pew pew some lasers at it, and let the cornea grow back over the course of a few months, with perfect vision achieved usually in about a month or two (and sharpening continuously for the few months after surgery). The upside: the cornea has grown back intact, so you don’t have a sketchy flap just waiting to open. The downside: painful recovery. Days off of work. Slower path to perfect vision.
I made an initial consultation appointment at La Jolla Lasik Institute in San Diego on June 3rd, 2015 (Dr. Angela Nahl is a rockstar in the field of eye surgery, and in addition to Matt’s glowing endorsement, she comes highly rated).
June 3rd, 2015: After going through a battery of refractive tests with Dr. Nahl’s friendly and comforting office assistant Shiggy, Dr. Nahl sat me down and informed me her tests indicated that I was a good candidate for both Lasik and PRK, with only a slight risk profile (due to a number of factors, including the degree of my astigmatism, some corneal scarring from previous eye infections, etc etc). In order to be eligible for Lasik, your cornea needs to achieve a certain thickness (generally >500 microns, to be safe) because Lasik requires cutting a flap in the eye. Ultimately, I was leaning towards PRK anyways- I didn’t want to deal with any potential flap issues, plus there was the scarring on my cornea that would effectively be “buffed off” by the PRK procedure. I went ahead and put down the non-refundable deposit ($$$) and chose a surgery date of June 24th, 2015, a Wednesday. Once my mind is set on something, I move quickly.
Shiggy and I hashed out the logistics of our next few appointments: another pre-op appointment/dilation/more refractions, then the surgery, then the post-op appointment the following Monday. I learned that I’d be taking Wednesday-Friday of surgery week off of work, and that I couldn’t wear my contacts for ~2 weeks before surgery (this allows your eye to go back to it’s natural shape and hence, better surgical outcomes). The time you need to take off of contacts varies based on the type of contacts you wear, but typically astigmatic candidates need longer for the cornea to go back to its normal shape). If you’re like me and wear contacts regularly, this period of time will be totally inconvenient and you’ll grow so sick and tired of wearing glasses every day that by the time surgery rolls around you’ll be BEGGING for dem laserz. I digress.
I stopped wearing glasses on June 14th, and went in for my final pre-op checkup + dilation on Monday, June 22nd.
THE PRE-OP CHECKUP + DILATION
More measurements were taken, along with a good chunk of the money in my savings. Most insurances don’t cover elective eye surgery, but check with yours anyways. I’d recommend starting a health savings account through your employer and using the tax-deferred money to pay, if that option is available to you. Anyways, they ran through all of the tests again because more data about my eyeballs = better. They also dilated my eyes, which was hilarious and inconvenient, as I ended up staying dilated for over 24 hrs and was pretty much useless at reading anything up close. All said, the pre-op appointment took about 2.5 hours, but when I left I felt that confident that Dr. Nahl was the right choice and totally ready for my Wednesday surgery date. They wrote me a prescription for antibiotic eye drops, steroid eye drops, some nerve pain medicine, valium, and norco… and I was good to go! With my insurance, all of the meds ended up at just over $70.
DAY OF SURGERY
Matt was planning on taking work off to take care of me on surgery day, but my amazing homegirl Elyse and her boyfriend Jake had surprised me by coming into town the Sunday before my surgery (and dropping into my yoga class, which obviously made me cry tears of joy), and then worked it out so that they’d escort me around on my surgery day and save Matt the PTO day.
My surgery was set for 10am. Elyse and Jake picked me up from my apartment just before 8:30. We went to Whole Foods in La Jolla for a breakfast of biscuits and gravy (!!), and at about 9am I popped my first Valium. If you’ve never taken Valium before, let me just say that it’s like the world has given you a giant hug and you just want to snuggle life. I felt the effects pretty quickly, and I’ll remember my valium experience as a very positive one. I think I said the word “CHILLIN” more than several times.
We arrived at the surgery center- an impressive, modern, but inviting building in La Jolla. I was thoroughly “chillin”, as I’d insist many more times, and Dr. Nahl personally greeted me at the reception. We made our way upstairs to triple-check all of my numbers. I had to do more vision tests, get my eyeballs inspected, allow numbing drops to be squirted into my eyeballs, and then finally it was go time.
Myself, Dr. Nahl, and her surgical assistants spent a great deal of time picking the perfect Pandora playlist for a relaxed surgery. I ended up settling on the Bon Iver channel, which is like the valium of music anyways.
Shortly after, we headed into the bright white surgery room, where I reclined on a surgical bed and started to mentally prepare myself for the process ahead of me. Before I could actually prepare myself, we were basically underway. Eyes harnessed open by some clippy device (which was less scary than I’d exptected), things were happening rapidly. My eyes were totally numb at this point, but I could feel the pressure of the procedure. I remember the surgical tech counting down as liquids were applied, corneas were scraped, and cool liquid was applied. After my corneas had been prepped, it was laser time.
I looked up at an array of green lights in soft focus. I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I’d be about keeping my eyes still (thanks, Valium!); it wasn’t difficult to gaze into the abyss as the lasers fired away. The only indication that anything was happening was the faint smell of burning… yep, that was my eyeball burning.
We finished up both sides in that order (I think?), they put a protective contact lens over my cornea, then I was taped up with a fancy shield, affixed with some sweet sunglasses, and sent on my way. Wait, was that it? It was over so soon.
Elyse and Jake took me home and helped me darken the entire apartment. My eyes were pretty light-sensitive, but I wasn’t in any real pain. Matt got home from work early and everybody went and got food from Point Loma Seafoods (a San Diego classic!), bringing me back a scallop sandwich. You’ve gotta eat well if you want to heal up, right? I popped some pre-emptive Norco and took a long nap, conscious of the toll that healing would take on my body in the next few days.
NIGHT FOLLOWING SURGERY
I woke up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain. I mean, searing uncontrollable pain like I’ve never experienced before. Fuck. I popped some more pills and hung out in the fetal position until the pain ebbed and I was able to sleep again.
DAY AFTER SURGERY (June 25)
My vision was not as bad as it was pre-surgery, but definitely not “good” yet. I spent the day popping pills and napping, rotating between the couch and the bed. I’m almost positive that I didn’t leave the house. I was in pain management mode, shutting myself indoors and accepting the food that Matt would so kindly bring home to me. I slept a little better than the previous night, but still woke up in pain. I took all of my pills on time, but I think I should have been more liberally with my pain meds.
TWO DAYS POST SURGERY (June 26)
Things are feeling better already. I’m significantly less light sensitive, and I’m overall just feeling less lethargic. My vision is still blurry, but that was to be expected. PRK healing is a marathon, not a sprint. I’m in it for the long haul. I was still able to watch TV without much of a problem, but my eyes would get really tired and I’d have to close them to rest. Reading and looking at my phone was the same way. At this point, I probably still wasn’t ready to drive, but I was definitely already feeling positive about the surgery.
WEEKEND FOLLOWING SURGERY (June 27-28)
My vision was gradually improving, and I felt good enough to teach yoga on the Sunday morning following my surgery (followed by TWO brunches with friends).
5 DAYS POST-SURGERY (Monday June 29)
I wasn’t feeling very confident in my ability to stare at a computer for long hours (my cell phone screen was still adjusted to large font), so I took the day off of work and took some long naps. I had my BCL removal (the contact that was applied post-surgery) that day, so I headed up to La Jolla, driving for the first time since surgery. The process of removing the contacts was easy, and the appointment went quickly. I was informed that the rate at which I was healing, while seeming to be VERY slow to me, was actually just fine and right on track.
1 WEEK POST SURGERY (Wednesday, June 31)
My vision had really started improving, but the left eye was getting MUCH clearer than the right. My night vision was still spotty in both eyes, with halos surrounding lights and lots of eye strain. However, it needs to be said that by this point, my vision was getting pretty workable. I was performing my normal range of functions (teaching yoga, light workouts, reading), with only small considerations being made for my eyeball handicap. Which is good, because the next day I was headed to DC.
8 DAYS POST SURGERY + BEYOND
I got on an airplane (air travel after PRK or Lasik is fine! your eye won’t explode in the pressurized cabin or anything, I promise), went sightseeing, wore makeup for the first time since surgery, went on a run for the first time since surgery… lots of good things happening just over a week post-surg. We were in DC for the long holiday weekend and I really barely noticed my eyes, except for during the nighttime firework shows which were blurrier than I would have hoped. However, I went into the healing process with an expectation of a long-tail process, so I was’t too disappointed.
NOW (July 10th 2015)
Healing is still underway. I woke up 3 nights ago with some pain in my eye, but other than that it’s been a pretty smooth recovery. I’m taking good care of myself- Vitamin C supplements, fish oil, sleep, and doing all of the recommended eye drops. My right eye is still lagging behind my left, but my left eye is probably 20/20 at this point. I’m working full days at my computer (WAH) and although my eyes are getting fatigued more quickly than pre-surgery, I’m trying to manage my eye strain proactively. I’ll probably go get a few more check-ups done by my surgeon in the coming weeks/months to make sure that everything continues to progress as expected.
If you loved the disgusting gifs of my eyeball, here’s a link to my eyeball video surgery, complements of Jake: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgZ6QKo4hJk
Are you thinking of getting eye surgery? Do you have any more questions for me? Let me know!
Having lost a battle with the end of a broom stick resulting in splinters and an abraded cornea, I can testify: eye pain is excruciating. They told me it’s because vision is so critical to survival. They also said eyes are some of the fastest parts of the body to heal. Same reason. But you’re right, it was a marathon, taking about a year before I didn’t wake up to pealing cornea from dry eyelids. Smart to keep those drops up. Good luck with that right eye.
Im on day 4 and freaking out pretty much… I hope it’ll get better.
Your blog leaves me feeling hopeful though. Thank you.
Just keep using some lubricating eye drops and getting lots of rest!
Thanks for all the information! I was wondering could you post an update? Or have you posted an update elsewhere? How are you doing now? Was it all worth it? Would you do it all over again if you could go back in time? Thanks!!
Nice Story! Hope everything is fine now!
I am just at 8 months post PRK myself – sharing my story here if you are curious:
Thanks so much for posting in such detail! Really appreciate it and I hope the right eye is doing better now. 🙂