On December 6th, I voluntarily let someone stick a laser in my eye with hope of being able to get 20/20 vision without glasses or contacts for the first time since 1982.
One week in, this is the story so far…
Before I feel I can get into the operation and the recovery, I wanted to type a bit about the why of it all. After all, my prescription has been stable since 1990; I even have a pair of prescription Ray-Ban Wayfarers that I had made for my high school graduation in my nightstand… did I know that if I kept them for 20 years that they would be in style again? No, it was mostly for perspective and to have a spare set… only after making the decision to get PRK did I dig out all of the spares and found that I have over a dozen pairs of glasses (or extra frames) from the last two decades.
So what led to the decision to get the surgery now? I’m hardly young; if anything, I’ll be showing off age lines rather than hiding them behind lenses. I’ve gotten by with what little sports I’m involved with (read: almost none) without any issues… my first attempt at skiing went fine with sunglasses; when I go snorkeling, I got a prescription mask. And it’s not like I have “slight” nearsightedness; my “stable” prescription is -5/-4.5 with a very slight (and seemingly ignorable) stigmatism. What does that mean in layman’s terms? Know that big E that’s at the top of the charts? If you can see that, you are 20/200. At my level of nearsightedness, that is a big, blurry blob rather than a letter, which more advanced eye charts put me at 20/3000. More than just a slight blur to a whiteboard in a class, I can tell you that.
If I had to put a point on it, I’d say it was the snorkeling that started this most recent round of thought on corrective surgery – being able to see in the water was awesome – but it’s not a simple “one point” thing. I’ve tried contacts a few times over the years… nothing more terrifying that going from normal vision while on a freeway to near blindness in one eye in the span of a second. Long story short, I was told my eyes were too dry for contacts. After the last attempt with them, I said screw it and having tried it since. Yet, for some reason, whenever I got a pair of prescription sunglasses, I always wanted the original lenses, you know, just in case I ever had a chance to use them. First time I did that was in 1996; I did it again in 2006… guess I’m due for another pair in 2016. The bottom line to this is that I think I’ve always wanted to not have to bother with glasses – I just needed to find the right “fix” to go with.
Over the past decade, I’ve known a bunch of people that have corrective eye surgery. The first was my aunt who had the old-school, scalpel-based RK; Jolene is the most recent person I’ve known to get PRK. A few people have work have also gotten LASIK. I watched Jolene’s like a hawk and not just because I was on hand to help with her recovery, but because I wanted to see what it was like. With all of the people I know, their stories have all been different. And the technology had advanced over the years. My childhood ophthalmologist was actually licensed in the technology for years, but was so conservative that he didn’t offer it to his patients – to my knowledge, he still doesn’t recommend it in his practice. Some people went to 20/15, some people have halo effects, some people still need glasses, some people have one eye for near and one for far vision, some had pain, some didn’t – it’s a very diverse result set.
In all cases, it corrected vision from where it was before… for some time that wasn’t good enough for me. I wasn’t going through all the cost and recovery for 20/60 and the idea that “well, it’s better than it was.” I wanted 20/20, at least.
After debating this in my head for years, I finally said “I think I’ll give myself a birthday present” and got the whole process in motion. For my eyes, I was told that I’m in a good place for this: stable prescription, not “really bad” myopia, and – after a screening – I could go with PRK or LASIK. I did some spot research on the technologies and opted for PRK. While the recovery time is longer [than LASIK] it is the less intrusive of both options and the stronger down the line. Either one of them will likely add to the chances of farsightedness as I get older but both of my parents have bifocals, as did my grandparents that lived past 50 years old… I’ll just plan to rock the professor-ish half moons when the time comes, hopefully some time in 2022.
The day of the surgery. What did I got through? I needed a ride to the eye center; no way around that. After signing a bunch of forms, they tell you to take off your glasses for the last time. If you’re going to change your mind, this is a good time to do it, because nothing medical has been done yet… following that, they gave me a Valium so I could relax during the procedure along with booties, a hairnet, and some betadine around my eyes. Thus begins the three weeks of not being able to rub your eyes!
The laser room looks like a cross between a dentist’s workstation and science fiction… you lay down in a swivel chair, you get a teddy bear to hold onto, and you’re put under The Machine. The Machine at this point consists of a ring of white light – at this range you’d think it’s the size of a quarter, but it’s hard to tell because you know it’s taking your entire field of vision – and a fuzzy orange pip of light in the middle of the ring. Next up, you get your other eye taped closed so you can see out of just one at a time. Then come the numbing drops, which felt large and cold. At least the first set did, since my eyes did in fact go numb. Next was the gizmo that holds your eye open. While I couldn’t see the contraption, I did not feel like I was in A Clockwork Orange – in truth, for the first eye, it didn’t feel bad at all. I kept thinking I was blinking even though I wasn’t. At this point, the order of things gets fuzzy. I know for PRK that a tool is put on your eye so they can burn away the outer layer, before the laser can get to your cornea. I also know that they used some sort of tool to “clean-up” my eye. This was the most wild part of the procedure because as they do this, you can see the Q-Tip like thing coming to your eye but then you lose sight of it; as the Dr is using the tool your vision of the two lights gets pulled and jiggled. It’s like the iPhone apps that you can take a picture, put your finger on it, pull in a direction, and the picture will stretch but then snap back into place when you let it go. If you can get past the thought that this is your eye and your vision that’s getting mucked with – and I think the Valium helps with this concept – it is the coolest thing ever.
After all of the prep work, they put an air tube off to the side of the lights, but between your eye and the light itself; that’s when the laser engages. The air tube? I think it’s there to suck in the smell of burning something. Is it your eye that’s burning? Yes! You are putting a laser into your eye on purpose – you shouldn’t be surprised. Besides, I’ve smelled worse at hands of a dentist’s drill. During the laser you have to keep your eye on the orange dot. This was my biggest fear before, during, and after the whole thing. They say that the laser will know if your eye moves and insta-shut off, but that sounds a lot like software and well… you know. Once a tester, always a tester. Anyway, the interesting thing with the orange dot is that it gets fuzzier and fuzzier until the thing is almost done and then *BAM* – it becomes crystal clear.
Once the laser work is done you get this super cold water flushed into your eye. Incredibly clean feeling sensation, in spite of the Mr. Slurpie suction that is trying to keep up with the flow of water… again, very much like a dentist. Last thing was to put the “band-aid” contact lens in place. This helps the eye heal, in that it prevents your eyelid from scraping the cornea while it grows back.
All of that was for one eye; lather, rinse, repeat, and they did my left eye. Only noteworthy thing – for me anyway – was that the eyelid holder thing hurt in this eye… experiences vary of course :)
Day 1, Part 2
I could already see clearer than I had been able to for years, but text was sorta fuzzy and bright lights made me tear. If I had to guess, I would say my vision was 40% of where it was. Recovery-wise, I did the best thing I thought I could do: put some [medicated] drops in when I got home, sleep through the day into the night. Easier said than done, as I was up every 65 minutes, and made it to morning.
Long-range vision was likely 50% better than my original starting point. The pain wasn’t too bad when I got up, but the longer I stayed awake the more it hurt, so I used the prescribed pain medication. This surprised me, to be honest. Jolene never used hers; I never used it for any of my other injuries… dislocated knee cap, sprained ankles, wisdom teeth removed – I’ve had teeth drilled with no Novocaine. In this case, I wasn’t having any part of it and took the medication all day. Drops, drops, drops, too. Whenever I felt I needed them as well as the required times; lubricating drops are your friend! Sadly, I had trouble reading all day… I did get through a clogged in box, but if you asked the people that got emails from me… well, not the best thing for me to do. Besides, I was moving the laptop and iPad like they were a freakin’ scratch and sniff book. All in all, a lost day.
This was where the doubt started to creep in. Vision was slightly better but jeez, my eyes hurt. No matter how many drops I put in, my eyes felt dry. My head was pounding because of the lack of sleep and trying to sleep on my back. Biggest question: “why did I do this?!” followed by “I wonder if my eyesight will get better or if this is ‘it’?” At some point I called into the Dr office to confirm that this is part of the process… again, Jolene went through the first week with worse sight than mine but also without a lot of pain… something felt “wrong”. Dr office confirmed that the second day was worse than the first… some how this made sense to me – even though it was the third day – and I felt better about it. Additionally, I was reminded that the “band-aid” contact would cause additional blurriness until it was out. Lastly, I got the best advice of the day: put a bag of frozen peas in a towel and put that on your eyes for [up to] 20 minutes. I had frozen blueberries and I never went longer than three minutes, but holy crap, this took the sharp pain in my eyes completely away… stopped using the pain medication once I starting using the blueberries; slept through the night pretty well too.
Vision slightly improved and pain was gone. Mostly gone… since I’ve worn contacts before, I know how imitating they can be, when you aren’t used to them… I can honestly say I never got used to them, so I know they’re there and they are often dry. Vision was probably close to 60% of original – based off what I see around my living room, I can judge it pretty well day to day… pictures that had blobs where letters should be start to become more refined blobs now… computer reading still sucks… yet another day off work. While the reduction in pain was nice, the vision was so sporadic that I was worried about getting to the Dr in Seattle that I asked another ride into the office for Day 5… even taking a bus worried me: one number off an I’m in another county. TV was working OK but no subtitles. Certainly no reading books and no Xbox.
In the spirit of RPG’s, today was the day of the “great respawn.” Not sure what the hell happened but I work up in the morning and rolled a 20 for Vision. I could see and read things that I couldn’t before… went into the Dr for the first follow up. The eyes were healing nicely but not enough to take off the contact lens; that was pushed out for three days. However, at this point I was cleared to drive, since my vision was now 20/40 in one eye and 20/30 in another. Yeah, that’s not a typo: five days after surgery, with a lens still in, I went from 20/3000 to 20/40. Tiny street signs are a challenge, sure, but the big signs are easily readable, in time to take action on them… reading also became possible, especially with the Kindle. Since the Kindle isn’t backlit, it didn’t hurt my eyes; since eInk looks so much like ink, it was easy to read, particularly with the jacked up font. …and I realized that I don’t have to read a lot of text to play Halo Reach, so I powered that up as well. In limited amounts… only 2-3 games in a row and then a rest. Not sure what’s going on with that, but I’ve been beating the crap out of BTB – 37 kills and no deaths in one game of CTF. Very odd.
Day 6 and Day 7
Subtle vision improvements each day… continued irritation with the contacts but no pain of any other kind… drove to a few different places without issue. Haven’t been out night driving yet, but nothing I’ve seen indicates that I should expect halos… Halo Reach BTB slaughter continues both days. Even read some regular books across both days. Email is still a challenge… but I did type ou this entire post on the evening of Day 7, so I think it’s getting better…
Tomorrow I get the contacts out… I hope is that once those are out that my eyes pop to 20/20 or better. Right now some text is still fuzzy. Reading is challenging. I have trouble focusing on some things some times… like one eye is sharper than the other or something. Or like the contact is cloudy more in one place than the other… and there’s still considerable healing time to come: it can take up to two months for everything to finish up. I’m trying to keep my expectations in check… after this weekend, it will be enough to just be rid of the contact scratchiness. And the eye guard – that’s only for the first week.
A work in process, at any rate!