School ended on June 23 and on June 24 I went in for corrective eye surgery known as photorefractive keratectomy (PRK). It’s nearly identical to LASIK, which you have probably heard of, but there is a key difference to how the procedure is done.
I opted to have this procedure in order to remove my dependence on glasses. I had only been wearing glasses for two years leading up to this and I was frustrated daily with wearing them. I have a few “weird” issues that complicated matters.
First, I have rather long eyelashes. It’s like having an army around to protect my eyes. That’s great for keeping my eyes free of debris, but I can’t seat a pair of glasses where they’re supposed to be because my lashes rub against the lenses. Second, I’ve had three major concussions in my life and I live with constant headaches. Wearing anything on my head aggravates them further. So, no hats either.
Getting rid of glasses was going to help.
I was due for a new prescription of glasses anyway. I should say overdue, actually. And when Kevin did his research and found a reputable specialist, I also went in for a consultation.
I was concerned because I have astigmatism. But now even that can be corrected. I was excited about the prospect and even though I was nervous about the procedure itself, I wanted to go ahead. So I did.
Before I get to that, I made the “mistake” of watching Kevin’s procedure the week before. The office had a camera set up for a live event they had done. I get squeamish. I don’t do well with movies that are too graphically violent or that do things to people that aren’t supposed to be done. So watching Kevin’s procedure was probably not my smartest move.
If you don’t want to know what happens during the surgery, skip ahead to the next paragraph right now and don’t finish reading this one. If you’re squeamish, you may not want to know. Still with me? Well, in LASIK, they make an incision in the corneal stroma and peel it back. Then they zap your eye with the laser and put the flap back down. The main difference in PRK is that they can’t use the flap method. In my case, the astigmatism was at a level where there was no guarantee that the flap would heal correctly without leaving a visible seam in my vision. So, for PRK, the top layer is scraped off. Quite literally. It was really freaky to watch the doctor clear that layer off Kevin’s eye, knowing he would be doing that to me one week later. Really, what was I thinking? I may be oversimplifying the process, but that’s the gist of it. And a week later, Kevin took a video of that being done to me. (I’m not sure if I want to post that here or not.)
On the day of the procedure, the team takes a new set of measurements to ensure the laser can do its work properly. They don’t just use the last set they took, and I’m glad they’re so thorough. Then it’s a matter of sitting in a dark room, letting the eyes relax until the technician comes in and adds the first set of drops. Ironically, the drops meant to numb the eye are the one that sting. Go figure.
Going into the laser room was neat. There were four people there; two to help the doctor, the doctor himself, and the technician who was taking the pictures and video I had requested. I laid back on the table and clutched onto a stuffed animal they handed me for the purpose. The eye drops continued at that point.
Here again, you may want to jump ahead to the following paragraph if you don’t want to know the details. Go ahead, I don’t mind. So, laying there, I have to look up at the tiny red light. Sounds easy enough. They’re going to fix both of my eyes and to protect them, they tape one eye shut as the other is being repaired. While I’m staring up at the red light, I see a blur and feel a little pressure on my right eye. Having watched Kevin’s procedure, I knew this was the removal of the top layer. Then, while still staring at the red light, the laser comes on. It pulses fast and as it does its work there is a faint smell of burning and a growing blue haze that appears with each pulsing moment. I wish I had known about the smell and the haze ahead of time, because I immediately went into a sort of internal panic. And when they went to work on my second eye, I had a harder time keeping still and not freaking out.
The laser itself is super fast and it tracks the eye in case you move. Of course you’re going to move. Even when you try not to, movement happens. And when you know something is being done, of course you’re going to move. But the laser follows and if it can’t target correctly, it just waits until you’re back in alignment. Technology is great there.
When both eyes were done, I stood up after lying there for
two hours… no, I’m joking. Time sped up in my mind as all the thoughts were rushing in. The entire procedure part of the day for treatment of both eyes was less than four minutes long. Really. Four minutes.
I then sat in the recovery room with Kevin, sporting my new shades, and the doctor gave a post-op and then sent me home with instructions.
The first day (surgery day) was fine. I was much more light sensitive than usual. The second day I felt a little more dry in the eye. The third day was awful. “Pain” isn’t the right word. It’s a lot of irritation as the outer layer of the eye heals itself. Also, there was a bandage contact lens over each eye. I have never had a contact lens in my eye ever before and I was struggling with the awkwardness of that alone. But the third day was really uncomfortable. On the fourth day, one eye was much better, but my left eye was still itchy and irritated for most of the day. And in terms of “pain,” that was it for the entire process.
Of course, I also had to learn to put eye drops in. I’ve never done that before either so I wore a lot of drops on my face. And on my third day, Kevin had set an alarm on his phone and just came down every forty-five minutes to add more artificial tears. I was also using them in between his visits sometimes. They helped but I really just wanted to rub my eyes; you know, when something hurts, press on it! But I diligently kept my hands away from my eyes aside from drops.
After a week, one bandage lens came out because that eye had already healed itself externally. The left eye took almost a full week longer. I was admittedly devastated when the second one had to stay in and then on a second checkup it was taken out and then determined that it had to stay in even longer, so a new bandage lens was put in. But if it wasn’t healed yet, I wasn’t going to rush it. Finally it healed and I was relieved to have the lenses out at last.
Now the process is over and this Friday will be one month later. Now this part I wasn’t expecting: My vision isn’t perfectly clear yet. Each eye has its own double vision thing going on. The left eye splits images vertically and the right eye splits them horizontally. The further away an object is, the further the splitting. So imagine what lights in the distance look like!
I went in to see the doctor last week and he decided to end the steroid early since my eye pressure was a little high. A few days later, some of the double vision issues calmed down some.
Kevin was already on this, but I checked too… This is normal. Some people heal pretty fast, but even with that, not everyone remembers after the fact how long things took. Each day, I do feel some improvement in the vision and I am confident in the doctor and his staff. Everything agrees with everything I’ve read. But I have to admit, in my naivety, I thought I’d seeing perfectly by now.
I can already tell you, though, that the astigmatism was corrected. I used to have a floating glowworm in my vision that was just off of center enough so that if I tried to follow it, it zoomed aside. That lifelong annoyance is currently gone. And also, even looking through a watery effect with the double vision, I haven’t had any of the vision-related headaches that I had before. (It’s amazing that I can often tell the source of a headache; mostly it’s from where and how it propagates through my head.)
So there is my recount of the past month. I try not to work too much on the computer or iPad because it does tire my eyes out. Some days are better than others and it’s all part of the quality of life improvements I’m working on right now.
I’d like to give a big thank you to Dr. Werner and the staff at Stahl Eye Care Experts. Everyone there has been incredibly friendly and helpful. It is a professional staff and they all work together as a team. With all the post-operative checkups between the two of us, we’ve seen them all a lot.
I did mention a video, right? This one’s safe to watch and was taken and arranged by one of the technicians. Take a look.