Laser eye surgery – the during

This is my experience with PRK laser eye surgery. While I think mine is a fairly typical case and should give you a decent idea of what to expect, clearly everyone’s experience will be unique. If you are concerned about your recovery, speak with your surgeon and/or optometrist. Only they can tell you what is normal. Seriously.


When I arrived at the clinic on Monday morning I was a tightly wound bundle of nerves. I signed and initialed my way through a pile of forms with the receptionist, charged a rather large sum on my credit card, and then settled in the waiting room against John’s shoulder.

There was another woman about my age sitting in the waiting room, also awaiting PRK as I overheard. Something about seeing another person volunteering for this made me feel slightly less insane. Also, just simply being in the clinic, with its neat and pleasant waiting room and the small but proficient team of technicians and receptionists puttering around felt reassuring.

While I was having my final measurements done, John discovered the two binders sitting on the waiting room table, filled to the brim with thank you cards from former patients. Over and over again they relayed the same basic story: “I’ve had glasses since I was a young child and could never imagine my life without them. Thanks to you I now have perfect vision – I can never thank you enough for this gift.” (Note to anyone planning to start a laser eye clinic: get one of these books and then do a good job so you can fill it up.) It was reassurance we both needed at the time.

Soon enough more worries were melted away with the old standby – drugs! Two Advil, a Tylenol-3 and a gravol. Then they doused my eyes with the first set of what would become seemingly thousands of eye drops.

After some more instructions they led me to the surgery room, which was surprisingly ordinary looking: just a bed with some machinery next to it and a sink in the corner. Except for the laser contraption, it could have been my family physician’s office. This was quite the disappointment. I think I was expecting a sleek, perfectly white room with glowing blue lights illuminating a variety of holographic computer screens all surrounding The Laser, which would be engulfed in a mist of dry ice (for keeping its delicate parts cool of course).

Instead, I lay down with my head in a very non-futuristic little donut shaped pillow and a block under my knees for comfort. The technician placed a stress ball in each of my hands, which was a nice touch though by this point I was feeling relatively calm, resigned to my fate. This was happening.

The surgeon settled in behind my head and positioned the laser-majig over my face. Then more drops again until eventually they just formed a steady stream pouring into my eyes. (They really want your eyes to be numb and bacteria-free, bless them.) I was asked to stare at the green dot in front of me – and that green dot became my life for the next five minutes. To ensure uninterrupted staring of The Dot, he propped my eyes open with a small metal bracket, which honestly felt much more comfortable than you’d think.

Rough approximation of laser wormhole*

And just like that, it was time for the laser to fire. Around the green dot colours shifted like a sci-fi depiction of travelling through time in a wormhole. The tiny part of my brain that wasn’t dedicated to STARING AT THE DOT actually thought that this was pretty freaken cool and wished John could see it. The fountain of numbing drops worked like a charm: throughout the procedure I felt absolutely no pain or discomfort. But as they warned me I would, I briefly smelled the odour of burning hair while the laser fired. Mmmm… frying eyeball.

Before the procedure I had worried about being able to stare at that dot perfectly. My conclusion: you’re better at it than you think you are and even if you’re not, the computer is. (But really you are.) The surgeon is tracking your eye the whole time and the laser can adjust to small movements and will stop instantly if your eye moves too much. At times I felt like my eye moved a bit but apparently I did just fine.

In fact, it was all rather ridiculously easy. In total I was under the laser for about five minutes. The surgeon talked me through everything very calmly so nothing felt rushed, but it all went by so quickly and smoothly that I hardly believed anything had even happened. It felt as though this should have been the practice run, the lead-up, not the part that altered my vision for forever and always.

And holy instant gratification! Even as the laser finished firing on each eye I realized that the previously blurry green spot above me had become a distinct dot.

I will honestly never forget the moment the surgeon pushed aside the machine to reveal his face above mine. A face I could see. A face that minutes earlier was nothing but a fuzzy mess to me. I had to fight back tears.

And that’s where the instant gratification portion of this experience ends unfortunately, but I’m telling you, it was fantastic while it lasted.

*Laser wormhole does not look like this. In fact, there is no such thing as a laser wormhole.


Posted on March 13, 2012, in Health, Life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. You make it sound so easy! (So far, anyway.) I’m glad to hear the procedure went well – and since you wrote this post, I’m guessing your recovery is going well, too!

  2. So, so fascinated by this! Glad to hear it was pretty easy and painless… it’s definitely making me consider having the procedure done someday. Am eager to hear about the recovery process, too.

    • Oh yay, I’m happy that my experience is helpful to hear. I’ll post about the recovery soon, though it will likely need a follow-up as it is still ongoing.

  3. So cool that you’re writing about this! I am terrified of all things eye-related, which is a shame, because I am equally upset about my gradually worsening vision. I don’t even have glasses yet, and I’m already worried about laser eye surgery because I can’t handle the thought of having less than perfect vision. It’s my botox.

    So thank you for making this sound less scary than I thought it was. I’m super impressed with how well you did! I just made the google mistake a couple weeks ago abt a newly discovered allergy and oh man, how true your wise words abt the mutual commiseration of the internet are. So hard to not get sucked in!

    Wishing you a speedy recovery!

    • It’s SO HARD not to google! And then that information is in your head forever, taunting you. I need a “do you really want to google this?” warning function on my browser I think.

  4. GAHHHH this gives me the heebie jeebies, but I am this weird combo of repulsed, fascinated and crazy jealous (I’d love to lose my glasses forever) – YOU ARE SO BRAVE! THIS IS SO COOL! Fuckin’ SCIENCE, man!

  5. You have NO IDEA how helpful this is. Especially because when I eventually do it, I’ll have the proceedure (not the 24 hr heal one, boo!) … and there’s not a lot of info that isn’t terrifying (or supremely unhelpful) … so this is great. =)

    And honestly, I would have sobbed upon seeing his face clearly like that. SOBBED.

  6. YAY! So glad you’re OK and that you had the instant gratification moment xx

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