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Laser eye surgery – the aftermath

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.

On the First Day

The first day was spent in a daze. I was slightly drugged up from the gravol and the Tylenol-3, exhausted from industrial-strength worrying the night before, and still feeling the echoes of that first lens-free moment.

Originally I asked John to take half a day off work so he could take me to the clinic and back, but fortunately, despite my objections, he opted to take the whole day off to take care of me. This turned out to be really very nice.

The regimen of drops on that first day quite literally required a spreadsheet and the setting of reminder alarms. One type of drop every 2 hours, another every 3 hours, two of this one, one of that, ten minutes between each set, on and on. Sure I could have handled it on my own if I had to, but that would have required alertness. Instead, I got to lay in my bed in a sleepy daze in my stylin’ Kim-Jong-Il-inspired protective glasses, listening to audio books while John diligently dropped medicines into my eyes right on schedule.

On Pain

Along with all my eye drops, I was told to take ibuprofen every four hours for the first few days for the pain. They also gave me a prescription for a few Tylenol-3 and Adavan (an anti-anxiety medication that can help you sleep) in case the ibuprofen wasn’t cutting it. At each of my three checkups that week, the first question they asked me was about my pain levels.

As this all makes clear, serious pain is a real possibility with PRK.

Fortunately, I didn’t experience much and didn’t need to dip into my stash of drugs. In fact, none of the handful of people I know who have had PRK have described severe pain. So while pain is most definitely a possibility, it’s nowhere near a certainty.

For the first 2-3 days my eyes did sting, as though I had been cutting onions. It was uncomfortable but may actually have aided my healing because it encouraged me to keep my eyes closed. Very occasionally I felt sharp jabs of pain that luckily only lasted a second or two, but to be honest, I might have just dreamt those up as some sort of sympathy pain for the less fortunate.

All discomfort faded by about the fourth day, after which I was able to keep my eyes open comfortably and mostly rejoin society.

On Vision

I’m almost afraid to say anything for fear of setting up expectations, because let’s face it, you just had layers of your cornea fried off! Shit’s going to get WEIRD before it gets better. Just roll with it. Think of it as a journey through a funhouse, hosted by your eyeballs! More scientifically speaking, as your cornea heals it regenerates a new top layer, which will start off bumpy before it all smooths out.

Here’s what my journey was like, presented on a scale of 1 to 10, where my vision without lenses pre-PRK* is a 1 and my best lens-corrected vision is a 10:

Right off the bat I shot to a 7 (potential waterworks moment), which after a couple of days dropped to a 4 (but there was three of everything! how FUN!), then gradually climbed back up to about a 6 by the end of the first week.**

To give you some reference, at a 6 I could watch TV without getting the characters confused, I could technically drive according to the law (though that seemed insane as I could barely read street signs), and I could comfortably go for walks, shop, cook (sans recipe), and do work around the house. Basically, I could function pretty well.

However, after the first week (which they ask you to take off work) I still found it challenging to read or use the computer comfortably. I managed at work by adjusting the fonts, resolution and position of my monitor, though I was glad that I had a seminar right when I came back so I was spared from sitting in front of the computer until a few days later.

On the Untold

You will be dirty so your eyeballs can remain pristinely clean. This manifests in the following ways:

Water is not sterile enough to come anywhere near your eyes for the first week, so no showers for you! If you’re into personal hygiene (princess), you might be able to sneak in a sponge bath at your own risk. I didn’t. I just stank and owned it.

Even I have my limits, so after the first day I started cleaning my face by rubbing on a gel facial cleanser with a cotton pad and then wiping it away with a damp one, taking care to keep everything far away from my eyes. It worked well.

Also, since you literally cannot touch the one inch perimeter around your eyes, you will develop crusties (eye drop remnants that cannot be wiped away no matter how badly you want to). Keep. Those. Hands. AWAY. Luckily they give you a solution that dissolves the crusties (especially necessary in the morning) but you’ll still be kinda gross. Settle in.

Due to all of the above, I would not recommend you use this time to bond with any brand new person – choose company who is bound to you by law, blood, or shared furniture.

I will be back with another update in a few weeks when hopefully I’ll be nearly all healed up. Until then, I’ll return to my more typical fare of discussing the complicated problems of my DINK*** life.

* I went in with a prescription of -6 and -4.75.
** For those of you who prefer a scale that might actually mean something, this translates to about 20/40.
***Dual Income, No Kids.

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.

To see clearly

My new paper weight

As promised, I am writing this post without the aid of any lenses, for which I am incredibly grateful.

My vision is not quite perfect yet but it is getting closer every day. When I go to bed now, I feel unsettled because clearly I have forgotten to take my contacts out; a blurry world was my cue to sleep. I am getting used to it amazingly fast though. In another 6 months I’ll probably be taking it completely for granted. We get used to comfort way too quickly.

I’m working on writing a description of the procedure and recovery because I feel this might be one of the extremely rare times that the internet actually needs my perspective. My typical, non-freaky, totally average perspective.

The intertubes really are the most fertile ground for growing horror stories. Every little complaint and freak situation finds an outlet and a flock of affirmations on blogs and obscure discussion boards and Google will happily dredge them up for you on command.

I know of what I speak, because in a moment of weakness the night before my surgery I googled “PRK recovery.”

This was stupid,  clearly. I had done my research, but like a good academic I had mostly confined myself to peer-reviewed, scientific literature. Fuelled by my nervousness, I was craving something more personal, more human.

I soon found blogs of people documenting their recoveries in excruciating detail and let myself get sucked into their stories and eventually into gut wrenching anxiety. They made the recovery sound so slow, so difficult. Commenters confirmed their experiences. I suddenly worried I had no idea what I was actually getting myself into. My ever-rational husband calmed me down by reminding me of how much the internet skews reality, but I still barely slept that night.

Of course in hindsight I can recognize that the stories that bubble to the top are always going to be the bad ones because they attract the commiserating masses. No wonder the innocent bystander who stumbles onto this mope-fest gets the impression that this experience is typical. It’s how this place works – misery loves company meanwhile the happy are out there living their lives, too busy to be chronicling every moment on discussion boards.

But I’m not too busy – I will chronicle it for you. No really, all I did tonight was eat dinner, cuddle with my dog with such dedication that John had to wait on me hand and foot so I wouldn’t disturb her, and snort-laugh through Thursday night’s hilarious TV line-up of 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and The Office.

So if you haven’t completely lost respect for me after reading that, stay tuned!