Two days ago I underwent Lasik surgery to correct my nearsightedness. It went as well as could be expected, and I'm currently seeing 20/20 without glasses or contacts. There is a little bit of hazy ghosting around bright objects, but that's supposed to go away as my corneas heal.
First, the place where I had it done, LasikPlus, is first-class in every respect. They understand customer experience, and do everything to make the experience, including coughing up around $4K, as pleasant as it can possibly be. And my doctor, Bruce January, M.D., had a positive energy that was so infectious that it inspired confidence. The staff also did a great job explaining just what will happen, including trying to explain what it will feel like. The thing is, that only goes so far. So here are my impressions.
The first step in the process is cutting a flap in your cornea's surface to expose the main part of the lens. There are two separate machines involved, so they have you lay down on a small (comfortable!) table that pivots between two machines. The first machine is where they place a circular device on the eye to hold it still.
Before this is done, some numbing drops are placed in your eyes, so there is no pain. You are told that you will feel it pressing on your eyeball, and that while there won't be any pain, it will feel a little weird. That's an understatement! After the device is on your eye, they move you a few feet to the second machine, which does the actual cutting of the cornea using a femtosecond laser. This is where it gets trippy.
You're staring up and see several very bright white lights, but of course, you can't blink. When they have you lined up, the machine presses down hard on the aforementioned circular device, and sure, it feel strange having that much pressure on your eyeball. But is even stranger is that you go blind in that eye! From bright white lights to black in a split second! Then you start seeing all sorts of colored patterns moving around. If you ever pressed against your closed eyes when you were a kid and saw the resulting visual effects, it's sort of like that, but 100 times more intense. I saw spots of different colors that moved around randomly, leaving a trail of dots behind them. And while the visual show was interesting, the whole eyeball pressure thing was getting more and more uncomfortable. I'm not sure of the elapsed time; it was probably less than 30 seconds. But it felt a lot longer! When it was done, the pressure released, and the white lights reappeared. Now it was time to be wheeled back to the first machine, and repeat for the second eye. This time I had a much better idea as to what to expect, and while it was equally uncomfortable, it seemed to go more quickly.
Now it was time to get up and walk to the machine that actually reshaped the lenses. It was odd – I could sort of see where I was going, but felt quite a bit disoriented after the previous procedure. The operating room assistant guided me over, and I laid down for part two.
This time there was no discomfort; nothing pressing on the eye, just a small device to keep you from blinking. They told you to just keep focused on the green dot in the middle, while the red lights around it danced and blinked. After a few seconds of blinking it sounded like someone turned on a vacuum cleaner, and the red lights got more intense. The green dot turned into a green patch as the laser etched the lens. Then there's the smell – you've smelled burning hair, right? Well, it's pretty close to that. I don't know why I was surprised, since I knew that the whole point of this procedure was to have a laser burn away parts of your lens to re-shape it, but smelling it brought home the reality of what was going on.
The whole process lasted only a few seconds. The smell went away, the vacuum sound stopped, and the green light returned to a dot. Then I saw what looked like a small brush going across my eye. This was the surgeon replacing the corneal flap over my eye. My wife was watching this on the monitors and said it looked like the doctor was smoothing wallpaper. Oh, I didn't mention that the whole procedure area is viewable from the waiting area, including monitors that show what the doctor is seeing. Just one more thing that showed that they put a lot of thought into the whole experience. The photos here were all taken by my wife Linda while I was undergoing the procedure.
Repeat with the other eye, and done! When I got up, I could see clearly enough, although everything had a fuzziness to it. Off to the side room where they give your eyes a quick once-over, repeat the instructions to you for applying the various drops, and we're done!
I put on the sunglasses they give you, and got in the car for the ride home. Even with sunglasses and my eyes closed, it was uncomfortably bright outside. I kept my eyes closed for the whole ride home, only opening when we arrived. By now the numbing drops were beginning to wear off, and my eyes were watering like crazy. They were also beginning to burn a bit, and soon reminded me of the time I was cutting jalapeño peppers and absent-mindedly rubbed my eyes! Every so often my eyes would get uncomfortable and I'd open them a bit, only to have tears come gushing down my cheeks! It was clear that my eyes were not very happy! I did end up going through a lot of tissues that day!
They advise you to keep your eyes closed for several hours, and recommend that you take a nap. They give you some Tylenol PM to help you sleep, but that didn't do anything at all for me. I have some over-the-counter sleep aid pills that I use when flying overseas, so I took a couple of those, and slept for the next 5 hours. When I awoke, my eyes felt better, although still a bit scratchy. I kept the drops up, and tried to keep my eyes closed as much as possible.
The next morning I awoke to much clearer vision. Bright areas had a soft halo around them, but that's to be expected as the cornea heals. I kept up with the drops, as my eyes would start to feel a bit scratchy if I went too long without them. I had my day-after exam, and all was fine.
So 24 hours after having my eyes zapped by lasers I was able to return to working, which requires staring at a screen. The trick is to limit it to 20 minutes at a time, after which I put in more eyedrops and get up to walk around and let my eyes focus on other things for a few minutes. And yes, this post was written in small chunks to give my eyes some rest.
Some post-Lasik thoughts:
As is common with people my age, I need reading glasses. Before the surgery, when I was wearing my contacts and needed to see something up close, the readers were necessary. However, when I removed my contacts I could see perfectly well up close. This was handy when I would awake in the morning and want to set an alarm on my phone for, say, 5 minutes of snoozing. Since the surgery I can't read my phone when I pick it up in the morning! Guess I'll have to keep a pair of readers on my nightstand.
Somewhat related to this, when I rolled over to say good morning to my wife, I couldn't see her very clearly, either. This was far more troubling to me. I guess I had taken it for granted that I would always be able to see her when we woke up. This will take some getting used to. I'm hoping that as my eyes heal, this will not be as severe. I'm not sure the convenience of not having to wear contacts is worth losing this.