Posted: Apr 15, 2014 8:00 AM
Ever wondered what it's like to have laser surgery to correct your vision? Read on for my experience, and a few tips to help you decide.
Photo credit: DawnPoland/ E+/ Getty Images

I won't lie to you, getting LASIK surgery was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. I stepped through the doors of Durrie Vision that day having done precious little research and having no clue what to expect.

The one thing I did know was that my vision was getting worse, and that's bad news for a writer. I found myself hunching forward to see the computer screen as I typed, which was taking a toll on my neck and back. My only eye issues were near-sightedness and astigmatism, so I was a perfect candidate for LASIK (as opposed to PRK, which I'll explain later). My doctor explained the science behind the surgery, and I was comforted to know that the price included a couple years' worth of post-op care.

The day of surgery

The first thing we did that day was run my eyes through extensive testing to make sure nothing about my vision had changed since my initial consultation. There were numbing drops, little cameras that took pictures of the inside of my eyes, even examination of my tear ducts. Everything looked good, so I waved goodbye to my family and headed back to surgery.

I laid down on a table (which reminded me of a chiropractor's). Several numbing drops were dripped into each eye, which made me nervous. It felt a little like I was popping a Tylenol before amputating a finger, you know? They don't put you under general anesthesia as they slice up your eyeball… really!?

Here come the lasers

They brought some apparatus around my head and put these little eyelid holders on one eye. This held my eye open, which seemed like it should be uncomfortable, but it wasn't really. It was actually a relief because it kept me from blinking, which I knew I couldn't do. And because of the numbing drops, I didn't need to blink, as my eyes couldn't feel dry.

I was sent home about an hour and a half after my arrival with some hard core sunglasses and the promise that I'd have 20/20 vision by bedtime.

The friendly Dr. Stahl lowered a display in front of my face and told me to focus on the blinking light. I want to say it was red. This part is a little blurry (ha!). I focused on that dot with everything I had… again I was so nervous I'd accidentally look away and ruin the whole thing, but my eye was steady as the first laser cut open a flap of my cornea. Then, another machine was wheeled in front of me (or was I wheeled to it?) that was home to the laser that would re-shape my eye. Toward the end of that very short process, I think there was some sort of disc placed on my eyeball. All I know is that I could see something lower down onto my eye, and I felt pressure (not pressure like the "pressure" in childbirth… just normal, painless pressure), and my vision went dark. This was a great relief because I didn't have to stare at the dot anymore. The lid-holder was removed and I could blink again, though my vision was quite blurry.

This process was repeated on the other eye, and I was sent home about an hour and a half after my arrival with some hard core sunglasses and the promise that I'd have 20/20 vision by bedtime.

Recovery from LASIK

eyedrop bottle
Photo credit: design56/ iStock/360/ Getty Images

I was given two prescriptions for eye drops, an antibiotic and a steroid I believe, and began using them before I left. I was also told to get preservative-free eye drops, which I'd use every 15 minutes or so that first evening.

For the first few hours after surgery, my eyes were crazy dry. I began to understand why they had me using artificial tears four times an hour. I noticed they felt worse when I was reading or looking at my computer, probably because we blink less when we're focusing. I felt much better while watching some mindless TV. After the first three hours or so, the discomfort began to wane and I even slept well that night (a rare thing for a mother of two… eye surgery or not!). My vision fluctuated, and even more than a month later, it still fluctuates at times. But even that evening, I could see better than I could earlier that day.

Now, I have 20/15 vision and no astigmatism.

Bottom line, the procedure was somewhat uncomfortable, the recovery was somewhat more uncomfortable (I won't go so far as to call it painful), and all of it was totally worth the results.

Options: LASIK vs. PRK

My eyes underwent "Advanced LASIK" that day, but another widely used type of laser corrective surgery is PRK, or Photo Refractive Keratectomy.

The most significant differences between PRK and LASIK are the initial discomfort and the speed of visual recovery.

"In LASIK, an eye surgeon makes an incision (with either a laser or a blade) in the cornea to create a flap of tissue. The flap of tissue is lifted so the laser can be applied to reshape the inner layers of the cornea, according to "In PRK, the eye surgeon does not create a flap of corneal tissue. Instead, the outer layer of the cornea is removed to expose an area for a laser to reshape. This makes PRK a better choice for people whose eyes meet certain criteria, such as having thin corneas or chronically dry eyes. The most significant differences between PRK and LASIK are the initial discomfort and the speed of visual recovery. Recovery from PRK takes a little longer than from LASIK because the outer layer of the cornea needs time to heal."

If you've been considering laser corrective eye surgery but have been worried about the pain or recovery, let me ease your mind. The surgery itself was painless and recovery was just uncomfortable. Do it! You could have a lifetime of perfect vision ahead.

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