What is LASIK Like?
Earlier this week, I underwent LASIK eye surgery. In the past year, I had considered it more deeply than in the past. I figured that perhaps I would try to get it in a few years to mark turning 40 (as I am constructing a list of things I want to do to mark that milestone year). However, a few things had prompted me to get the procedure early. One, in April, one of my contact lenses (one eye) was back ordered for over a month. This meant that I had to wear the wrong eye’s prescription in the back ordered eye (as I had run out of contacts for that eye but was able to re-stock the other eye) for over a month. Two, in May, I actually lost a contact lens while at work. This meant that I had to have one of my housemates drive to my job with a replacement lens so I could see well enough to work. Both of these instances made me consider moving my timeline ahead. I ultimately decided to go ahead with LASIK because I found that I could qualify for reasonable financing, which made it possible for me to afford the procedure.
I began wearing glasses in the first grade. I remember that I actually WANTED glasses at the time, since I thought that glasses were cool. Although I had mild vision problems, I remember lying on the vision test since I really, really, really wanted to glasses. Yes, I lied. I began wearing glasses, which as is turned out, was not all that I hoped it would be. By the time I was in high school, I really hated wearing glasses, especially an exceptionally dorky pair that I had in 10th grade. As it turns out, glasses can be expensive and after my parent’s divorce, I remember getting a cheap replacement pair that I really hated since that was what my mother could afford. There is no shame on my mother or for being poor, it was simply a reality of my life and what we could afford. Thankfully, I was able to get into contact lenses in the 11th grade. From then on, I wore my contact lenses every day and only wore my glasses for a few minutes a day (such as when first waking up or just before bed). I wore my contacts without problem or incident, spare an inflamed cornea that I suffered in my early 20s. I switched contact lens brands and the problem cleared up, spare one week of wearing an eye patch….which I also didn’t mind for the pirate aesthetic.
However, in the past few years I have traveled a bit more and started to feel a longing to be rid of both contacts and glasses. In one instance, I remember traveling some very dusty roads in Namibia, which irritated my eyes. There was also a dusty windstorm which also resulted in dust in my contacts. Generally, wearing contacts during travel that involves camping, dust, wind, or water activities has been an inconvenience. In my imagination, I began to think that I would be more adventurous if I simply got rid of my contacts once and for all. This is patently untrue. I am not adventurous because I am cautious by nature. HOWEVER, I imagined going rafting, kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, camping, and other activities far more if only I was rid of contacts. In my medical imagination, I began to associate LASIK with freedom and adventure. Beyond this, almost everyone in my family has had LASIK. This includes my mother, father, brother, and even my grandmother. They are all advocates of LASIK, as it has worked out well for them. Therefore, I felt confident that it would probably work out well for myself as well…
I had not been saving for the procedure, as I had fantasized that it would happen at some far off time (in a fantasy world where I am better at saving). I noticed that Weiss Eye Clinic in Hermantown offered financing for LASIK. Before making an informational appointment, I checked to see if I would qualify for the financing option as that was no point making an appointment if I could not afford it. I qualified online, so I made my appointment.
The first appointment was a consultation with a basic eye exam. It was a short meeting which discussed how LASIK work and checked my eyes to see if I would qualify. One important test was the thickness of my cornea, which was well above average and therefore eligible for LASIK. Corneal thickness is important since LASIK reshapes the cornea. I was told about some of the risks, which I had already read about online and didn’t feel particularly concerned about (I suppose since everyone I know who had the procedure did not have any major complications). From there, I scheduled another eye appointment. This was scheduled over two weeks from the consultation date, during which time I could not wear my contact lenses.
Not wearing my contacts was awful. I hate wearing glasses. I actually had a count-down on my bedroom calendar. Each day, I checked to see how many days I had left on my calendar. I have not watched a calendar countdown with such anticipation for the end since I was a child and my mother would hang up a cloth Advent Calendar with pockets for each day. A stuffed mouse would sit in the pocket for each day leading up to Christmas, moving one pocket over for each passing day. I was very aware that I was always wearing glasses. They became sweaty and foggy with heat and temperature changes. They always seemed to get dirty, so I would wipe them off multiple times each day. It was my first time regularly wearing glasses since 10th grade. I also felt that I couldn’t do physical activities. I imagined them bouncing up and down on my face while running or just getting dirty and sweaty. When I went for walks, a sudden rain suddenly became an enormous annoyance as once again, the glasses became unusable. I know that people wear glasses without problem and actually enjoy wearing them, but to me, they are a facial prison. I can honestly say I hated every day that I had to wear my glasses. The only bright side was that I picked up a lot of overtime at my job. I had 25 hours of it one week. This made the time pass faster and made glasses less terrible, since I wasn’t doing anything public or active (just working).
After what felt like an eternity of wearing glasses, I had my eye exam. It seemed like a regular eye exam, which generally tested my vision to make certain that the surgery would make the proper refractive correction. I also had to watch a video and take a quiz about possible complications. The only unusual aspect of the eye exam was a glaucoma test, which I have not had before. My eyes were dilated for the test and remained dilated for several hours after. This made for an interesting morning as I went about my day in the intensely…painfully bright world. I went for a hike and imagined that I was a dark elf or some other mythical creature of a nocturnal world. I kept to the shadows of the trees, trying to avoid the sinister sunlight which I could barely endure. After all, this was my first time leaving the dark, matriarchal comforts of Menzoberranzan. (Yes, oddly I thought a lot about dark elves on the hike). I don’t own prescription sunglasses, which may have helped. I also went for lunch at Toasty’s, trying not to let the world see the fact that my pupils were giant lunar eclipses. By the time that I had a work meeting a few hours later, the pupils were not quite as huge- but still large enough that I felt that I had to explain myself. In any event, I was scheduled for the actual LASIK surgery about a week and a half after this exam.
It was smooth sailing until the surgery. I thought little of it and had no anxiety prior to the surgery. Oddly enough, I was not at all worried about having my eyes pried open and corrected with a laser. My only worry was that I might get sick from the Valium I was given before the procedure. I have emetophobia, so my main concern when entering a new situation is whether or not it will make me puke. I did not suppose the laser would cause me to vomit, hence it caused no anxiety at all. Thankfully, the Valium was awesome. I don’t drink or use drugs, so I generally enjoy when I am given a medically sanctioned sedative. I need to be sedated. I am stressed out about the world. I work at a domestic violence shelter. I feel like I am living life in a meaningless hellworld where everything will die, everything is painful, and there is nothing I can effectively do about it. Yay, Valium!
The procedure itself involved being given Valium, putting on medical booties and a hair cover, having numbing drops administered to my eyes, then laying out on a table. While on the table, my eyes were clamped open in a way that I imagine is similar to a scene in A Clockwork Orange. I was too numb and relaxed to mind. While on the table, I looked up at the laser. The procedure I underwent was Z-LASIK, which apparently is performed using only a laser and is marketed as bladeless. I understand this to mean that a laser is used to both make a flap in the eye and reshape the cornea. Thus, while on the table, a small flap was cut into my eye with a laser. Once the flap was made, the cornea was reshaped. From my own experience, it involved looking up at a red light. There was also a green light, which I was not supposed to focus on. The red light appeared diffuse with a focused red dot at the center. I gazed up at the light, like looking into the eye of a mechanical angel or God. There was a slight humming sound and accompanying odor, which was the smell of carbon atoms released from my cornea. It was not an unpleasant or worrisome smell. The whole process lasted less than a minute then was repeated on my other eye. I did not feel any pain or discomfort, though I could feel that something was happening to my eyes.
My brother warned me that he could not see at all after his LASIK surgery. However, I could see right away. My main problem after the procedure was that I had trouble walking, as the Valium had made me unsteady. After the surgery, I was instructed to sleep (as I would sleep through the pain as the drops wore off). When I arrived home, I slept from about 10 am to 3pm (I took a Tylenol PM). When I woke up, I could see generally well and didn’t feel too much discomfort, though light was shrouded in halos. I could see well enough to drive….and felt well enough to go to a HOTDISH Militia meeting and a Homeless Bill of Rights event that evening. My only error was that my night vision was not that great the first day and after both meetings, I went for a walk until dark, then had to drive home. So, as a word to the wise, it is probably better to test your vision a bit more after the surgery. I went to work the next day.
Aside from sleeping, I was instructed not to go into water (other than a shower) for two weeks, to avoid eye makeup for one week, to put antibiotic drops in my eyes for four days, wear goggles while sleeping, to avoid rubbing my eyes, and wear googles or sunglasses while doing outdoor activities that could result in a foreign object entering my eye. I had an eye appointment the morning after the surgery and another following up will happen at one month, three month, six month, and twelve month intervals. During the next two months, my eyes could change and adjust. For now, my main side effects experienced have been dry eyes after sleeping, halos, and lessened night vision. I have noticed that the halos and night vision has improved over the past few days. I hope that they continue to improve as my eyes heal, since I work at night. None of these side effects are severe enough that I regret having the procedure done, though I am still operating under the assumption they will continue to improve.
It is truly amazing to see with my own eyes for the first time since the first grade. Each day, I still come home from work thinking that I have to take out my contacts. It is great to wake up able to see and go to bed able to see. I think this will also help on flights and at work. Whenever I wanted to take a nap, even a short 15 minute nap, I have had to take my contacts out. This is because they always became uncomfortably plastered to my eyes after even the shortest nap (which I sometimes use my break to nap). This means that taking small naps on planes, buses, trains, or on work breaks has meant taking my contacts out. It is great to sleep without taking out my lenses! Flights are terrible because they have always dried out my contacts. At least now I can see on flights without removing my contacts. I also had the great realization that I can actually see in the shower. This seems like no big deal, but it is neat to be able to see ALL of the time. I think that it really does open up possibilities- especially in terms of water sport participation. I hate water. I am a coward when it comes to water. But, at least I will be able to SEE if I choose to go rafting again or SEE if I do any activity that involves water in my eyes. One of my goals is to try out more watery activities, even though I hate them…simply because I CAN!
My procedure, including all of the follow up visits, cost $3,300. My insurance covered a $400 eye exam prior to the LASIK, but insurance does not cover LASIK itself. Weis Eye Center offers financing through CareCredit which is a glorified, medical credit card. The main benefit of this card is that you pay no interest at all if you pay off the balance within 12 months. However, due to other bills and spending goals, I opted to pay interest and finance the procedure over 2 years. I could have chosen to pay it off in 3, 4, or 6 years, which obviously would have resulted in smaller monthly payments, but much more interest. My hope is that I can pay it off in less than 2 years to avoid paying as much in interest (even though I will pay some). I feel comfortable that this was not a terrible financial decision, even if paying it off in one year would have been more ideal. With that said, I believe that insurance should cover the procedure. While it is viewed by society as elective or cosmetic, I think that it is entirely reasonable to want functional eyes without the use of glasses or contacts. I have found glasses and contacts to have many draw backs, especially regarding travel and physical activities. I think that anyone who wants to have their eyes corrected should be able to access this (so, ideally, beyond insurance it should be a part of the services available to people if medicine was socialized). Of course, each person has to weigh the risks on their own. Dry eyes, halos, lessened night vision, or more serious complications are certainly worth considering. And, not everyone hates glasses and contacts as much as I have disliked them. Glasses can be fashionable and more comfortable than contacts. And, obviously, I wore contacts for years without problems other than minor inconveniences.
It is entirely possible that some complication could still arise or that my minor eye problems will not correct themselves. Still, to me, LASIK feels like freedom. I certainly idealize it. Realistically, I have not done a single adventurous thing since getting LASIK earlier this week (though I did SIGN up to do snorkeling on my upcoming trip). But, I have enjoyed the everyday advantages of not wearing contacts. Seeing all of the time is great! Not having to touch my eyes or take out my lenses is also super! I will be going camping next week, and it will be nice to be able to blindly navigate to a toilet at night or not have to fumble around to find my glasses in the dark. So far, I have enjoyed the sum of the small, everyday advantages of not wearing contacts. While I won’t magically become more intrepid it will at least give me one less thing to worry about. With that said, I definitely recommend LASIK.