I’m back and better than EVER. For my hard-core fans (all three of you), sorry for my lack of posting over the past few weeks. As you may know, I had some pretty life-changing eye-surgery on July 4th which has affected the time I spent on the computer. I am happy to report I am *almost* back to 100% efficiency rate… Here is my laser eye surgery story.
On July 4, after almost 23 years of wearing glasses and contacts, I finally went in for laser eye surgery.
Choosing a Laser Eye Surgery Clinic
Although in my research I started at Vancouver’s Lasik MD on Georgia, I ended up changing my mind and having it done at the London Eye Centre in New Westminster. I actually even had an appointment scheduled at the Lasik Centre but was persuaded by my boss to at least go to the London Eye Centre for a consulation, as that’s where he had his done. After having gone to both the Lasik Centre and London Eye Centre spiels, I chose the latter for several reasons, the most important being that they a) had 20 years experience in doing PRK which was the type of laser eye surgery recommended for me, b) had a lifetime guarantee on the procedure, and c) most importantly, I felt like a real person there, not like just another sucker who got fast-talked into it.
At Lasik MD, I walked in and was greeted by very sterile receptionists who pointed me into a completely empty (though well-provisioned with its leather couches, flat-screen TVs, tropical aquarium and stacks of magazines… hmmm I see there’s lot of cream to skim, eh?) waiting room before an automaton-like generalist took standard measurements of my eyes and eye-doc-devoid-of-personality did the eye tests. I was then ushered into an office where a jolly Scotsman who I initially liked while offering to answer my questions, then pressured me into selecting a date and time for my impending surgery. I left that place feeling swindled.
By contrast, everyone at the London Eye Centre (after the tiring commute to New West, that is) was very personable. The waiting room didn’t flaunt money, suggesting that maybe profits went towards the lasers that would soon be burning my eyeballs rather than leather chairs (a reassuring thought).The technicians did their job efficiently and everyone had a very reassuring attitude – I felt almost like it was as if they were so confident in their status as the best laser eye gig around that they would be happy if you chose to do it with them, but would wish you well with much goodwill if you ended up going elsewhere after all.
Both the doc I saw and the ‘Education Director’ (read: scheduler) I saw were very accommodating to my 101 questions. Most importantly, I was not pressured into scheduling a surgery date before I left. In fact, the guy I spoke with, Michael, said, “well, if you decide to go with us, that’s great just give us a call, and if not, I wish you all the best” which, if you ask me, was definitely the best thing he could have said. I canceled my appointment at Lasik MD and scheduled it for London Eye as soon as my very accommodating boss approved it.
The Day-I-Bury-My-Glasses Arrives
The morning of my surgery, I was excited but nervous. I was pretty confident that the surgery would go well; strangely enough, my nervousness stemmed more from my dwelling on how not wearing glasses would affect my lifestyle and the way people perceived me than on the actual surgery itself and the recovery. I mean, I had done my research and had thoroughly quizzed my would-be optical assassins, right?
Oh, so very, very wrong. But that more applies to the recovery which I’ll get to in a minute.
Positive words of well-wishers echoed in my ears as Rob picked me up from the office the afternoon of July 4th. My surgery was scheduled for 2:20pm and we got there a bit early. As we sat waiting (one of us battling trepidation), a young guy about 18 or 20 appeared from around the corner. He was wearing sunglasses and I watched him as he answered his mom’s queries with “I feel fine mom, it went ok, I can actually see now!” and showed her the eye drops. He had just had it done, I deduced… and he looked fine! Better than fine, actually. He must have sensed me watching him and as my own name was called, he wished me luck.
In about half an hour, I couldn’t help thinking that he must have been playing Mr. Tough Man for the cute receptionist… this was definitely no walk in the park.
In the pre-consult, the nurse took my blood pressure and remarked at how calm I was. I laughed, oblivious to the torture that lay waiting for me. The doctor then talked me through what would be happening to me, step by step, in preparation for the surgery. He was very thorough and I appreciated knowing what was in store (or so I thought).
The PRK Surgery
I don’t know how much you know about laser eye surgery, so here’s a speedy summary. There are basically two types: lasik and PRK. In lasik, they cut a flap on your cornea, flip it over, laser under there and flip the flap back down. In PRK, they laser directly on the eyeball, usually because the thinness of the cornea makes cutting a flap potentially unsuccessful. As I said, I went for PRK and a procedure which, to my understanding, was called the No Touch™ Procedure (note the very important ™ trademark symbol).
Well excuse me for saying so, but “No Touch” my ass.
After having by eyeballs flooded by about twenty eye drops each (no lie – I wish I had counted but I didn’t think of it at the time) I was led into the laser room and instructed to lie down on a long bench-like chair. The same doc who explained it all to me was there, and, like he told me he was going to do, propped my right eyelids open with some sort of device that prevents blinking. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep my eye open for so long but it wasn’t an issue since once the rest of it started happening, you could say I was distracted. Also like he explained, he placed a small cylinder on my eyeball (which was numb from the eye drops) and dripped some more eye drops inside. This was the acid-type fluid that was supposed to remove the epithelium, or top layer, of the eye. And this is where the horror began. When the doctor removed the cylinder, some of the fluid ran into the corner of my eye where it burned and made me wince.
And THEN, I got to watch as the doctor proceeded to poke and scrape the surface of my eyeball with some sort of instrument that looked like a little stick. Believe me when I say it was more than a little disconcerting to feel and watch someone scraping gunk off to one side of your eyeball, then pick it up and lift it off slowly with the end of a stick. I think it was here that I really began to whimper. I don’t care what anyone else says, I could feel it, drops or no drops. And watching it definitely made it worse.
Once that was over, he positioned the laser over my right eye and told me to stare up at the orange light and to not look away.
The laser they use (the VISX ® Star S4 Excimer Laser System, supposedly the most advanced technology available) has something they call 3D ActiveTrak™ which basically tracks your eyeball so that any slight movements of the eye will automatically reposition the laser. The lasering started and as I listened to the SMACK-SMACK-SMACK of the laser and watched the orange light go fuzzy, an odour something like hair that gets caught in the hairdryer reached my nostrils… Yes folks, it was the smell of my eyeballs burning. How’s that for drama?
And by the time I figured out what the smell was, it was all over. For one eye, at least. I went through it all again for the left eye but by that time I was shaking so much I wondered if the left eye wouldn’t come out as good as the right.
The actual surgery took about 2 or 3 minutes per eye but they were the longest three minutes I’ve ever experienced.
The nurse popped some contact lenses into each eye (have you ever had other people do that for you? it’s very uncomfortably annoying) and, blearily, I followed her into the next room where another nurse inundated me with post-operative instructions.
She told me about how to use the eye drops I’d be taking home with me (one to be taken every 2 hours, one every 4 hours and artificial tears as often as needed) and the painkillers (Tylenol 3) and sleeping pills. No showering for a few days, no washing the eyes with water (which contains bacteria and therefore could affect the healing process) and sunglasses for the light sensitivity.
Good thing she also gave me a printed sheet with all these instructions because as she talked, I zoned out and tried focusing on the objects in the room and seeing if I could read the posters behind her. My eyes felt heavy-lidded but I had to admit, I could already see better than I used to without glasses. The thought buoyed me as I walked gingerly back out to the lobby.
The Healing Process
I was lucky to have had two people close to me go through the same thing, and they told me more-or-less what to expect. Of course, you never quite understand until you go through it yourself. In preparation, I had gone to the library and borrowed a stack of books on CD, bought a new eye mask (I was already a fan of sleeping with one) and gotten a couple of ice packs (the bag kind) ready to go. As recommended, I had brought along a pair of sunglasses but would soon find out that it was a good thing my boyfriend had brought the eye mask too, just in case.
Now I know what it feels like to be a mole – I had never experienced such light sensitivity in my life! My boyfriend guided me to the car mostly blindly as I could only bear to open my eyes in slivers every 10 seconds or so, even with the sunglasses. I thankfully put on the eye mask as we cruised back home (stopping for Slurpees on the way – I am so spoiled!).
When we got home, I settled myself on the couch with the drops for pain within an arm’s length and finally relaxed a bit. This wasn’t so bad after all. And in truth, it wasn’t. Until the next day.
Thursday, or day two, found me in serious discomfort. The closest I can come to describing it is the burning sensation you get when you accidentally get some shampoo in your eyes. Yeah, ouch. Now imagine having shampoo in your eyes ALL DAY LONG. The numbing drops helped a bit but only decreased the pain for 45 minutes at a stretch, which is how long they took to wear off.
This lasted all through day 2 and 3; the night between them was the absolute worst. When I was awake, I found the ice packs to be very soothing, and actually got through two books on tape which ended up being very helpful in keeping my mind off the pain, if nothing else.
During this time, I wore my sunglasses indoors and didn’t go anywhere. Ditto by days 4 and 5 and by then I was getting pretty bored, I have to say.
Day 6 was Monday and I actually went back to work. And here is my biggest peeve with the London Eye Centre.
They say you need “3-5″ days and then you are back at work.
This seemed pretty fast to me, and I thoroughly questioned the education guy at the Centre on this point.”Oh yes,” he reassured me, “most patients get the surgery done on a Wednesday and are back at work by Monday.” Which is exactly what I ended up doing, on their recommendation.
Well, come Monday, the pain was pretty much under control so that, at least, was good. I wore my sunglasses indoors (much to the suspicion of my fellow co-workers who didn’t know I had had eye surgery… I’m sure they must’ve rolled their eyes, thinking I was pulling a diva move) and was pretty ok until I sat down in front of my computer.
Here is the truth: Yes, you can go back to work 5 days after surgery… If you are a park warden. Or an ice cream vendor. Or a radio personality.
But if your work involves sitting in front of a computer screen, do not kid yourself. It will take a full two weeks before you can read that computer screen without having to place your face 6 inches away from it and squint at the same time.
It was torture, that’s for sure. And if I had known that, I might have thought this out more carefully, especially since it was a crucial time at work for me, with very big deliverables. On day 7, I traveled to Victoria to work with our web designer and programmer – a most frustrating two days indeed.
The Depths of Despair
It was about this time that I began to despair.
I knew that the first few days were going to be rough. But when a week had gone by, and then ten days, and then two weeks, I started to seriously worry. Every day, after hours spent squinting at my computer screen (which I had positioned 6 inches from the end of my nose), the same questions crept into my mind and began their dance of doom: what have I done?! What if I’ve ruined my eyes forever! Before, at least I could wear glasses or contacts and see better than this, what if this is how it’s going to be from now on! What if I’m one of the small percentage of people for whom laser surgery doesn’t result in 20/20 vision?!?!?!?!?
It’s enough to make you mad. I had more than one tearful breakdown at work. But I hung in there. What else can you do?
And then, miraculously, it got better. Rob and I went to go see the newest Harry Potter movie and I could see it just fine. And then a few days later I didn’t have to squint so hard at the computer screen. The computer was the last issue to conquer – when I had what I would say was close to perfect vision doing everyday things, I was still struggling with the computer for some reason.
And magically, about day 21 or 22… it was better. And I started to be relieved… and to finally ENJOY my new state of glasses-less-ness.
I can see clearly now… the fuzz is gone…
Today, it’s been exactly six weeks since my laser eye surgery. People have already forgotten to ask how it’s going or maybe even forgotten that I ever wore glasses to begin with.
My vision is 99% perfect, and the missing 1% I think has more to do with my eyes being tired after an extremely stressful 4 weeks of work than anything (we were putting together a new website which necessitated many, many, MANY hours staring at a computer screen, not even stopping on the weekend). Sometimes when my mind wanders, my focus relaxes naturally to fixate on a point much farther away and I have to concentrate and force myself to focus closer. But other than that, I’d have to say, things are looking pretty, pretty good (no pun intended).
I’m not sure if anyone with less-than-perfect vision will ever be able to fully understand what it’s like to finally be able to see again – naturally, without contacts or lenses – but for those who do understand, let me just say: it’s worth it all. It’s worth the $3000, worth the pre-operative trepidation, the pain and suffering of the healing process, the three days of non-showering, the humiliation of wearing sunglasses indoors, the depression of not being able to see properly for 3 weeks, and, most definitely, the cost of waterproof mascara for the weeks and weeks of eyedrops that ensue.
The first time I thought I could see clearly was one morning when I woke up, three weeks after the surgery, to see my alarm clock beside me. For a moment, I was confused as my brain registered that I hadn’t yet put on my glasses and yet, could see that it was 6:30 a.m. Even better, I looked over and could see the alarm clock on my boyfriend’s nightstand, too! I cannot express how extremely satisfying such a small moment could be. And it was – extremely satisfying.
Since then, I have worn sunglasses with glee and scratched my nose with abandon. I have learned to tuck my hair behind my ears without tucking it behind the arms of my glasses and have, for the most part, unlearned my secret twitch of adjusting my glasses when I was thinking really hard about something.
All small things, really. And yet, so huge.
I really am so lucky.
I’m Kasia 2.0.