Zapped eyes (LASIK)

As a birthday present to myself, I got LASIK. My eyeglasses prescription had stabilized quite awhile back. The changes had been minor and often just to justify new glasses for insurance purposes. After talking to some friends at work who had done it, I decided to go ahead and take the plunge. I ended up getting it done at Sharpe Vision in Bellevue. I’ve had quite a few folks ask for details about how it went and what was involved, while other friends (and notably, DH) are particularly squigged by any discussion of something happening to an eye. I’m writing this blog post to describe the procedure in detail for those who want to know.

When I went in for the consult, they spent a ton of time trying to measure my cornea thickness. My eyes were not cooperating with the machine-based measurement, and it took several tries for that to work out. They also numbed my eyes right then and used a manual device to measure the thickness and also to check on my tear production and eye dryness. My eyes had some dryness, not uncommon for computer users. My thickness was pretty normal, though, so normal LASIK was an option for me. (versus PRK which is used for certain circumstances, or some people opt for it based on what they want) The doctor explained what the procedure would be like, showed me what range of results I could expect (target, a little worse, a little better), what the “halos” would look like, etc. I felt very informed by the time I left the consult.

The doctor had recommended I use eye drops a few times a day in the week preceding the appointment as well as several times a day following, so I stocked up on eye drops from Amazon before going in. There’s also a set of prescription eye drops that you get for preventing infection and helping your eyes heal, which Sharpe Vision offers as a combo drop. The combo drop gets used 4 times a day for a week following the exam.

On the evening before the surgery, I was getting nervous. DH reassured me by saying that in the worst case scenario, at least I’d get a puppy. I ended up taking Duffy with me to the surgery so I’d have something to hold onto during. (You can bring a small stuffed animal into the room with you.)

DH drove me over to the office. Seattle was scheduled to get a typhoon during the weekend. It had been raining for 2 days straight, and that morning, the wind had kicked up so Lake Washington was in a tizzy as we crossed. (We were really glad for the new bridge!) We went into the office and hung out in the waiting room. I got a nametag that identified me and noted that I was having LASIK in both eyes (L.O.U.). I arranged my “post-op” supplies: combo drop prescription, other drops, and sunglasses. While we were waiting, we saw one person finish up and leave. Then, they opened the blinds for the procedure room, and I was able to watch someone else going through the procedure. (DH opted to head down the hall and look at other things instead.) I also had some chamomile tea and honey to calm my nerves while I waited. Then, they took me back to the pre-exam room. They went over the post-op care I needed to do and did some quick exams. I signed a few forms for consent to care, and I opted to have the blinds closed during my procedure (mainly to spare DH).

Sharpe Vision also gives you some valium by default (you can opt out) to help relax you before the procedure, so they gave me my dose, and I sat in the exam room hugging Duffy and relaxing with my tea. Dr. Sharpe (the surgeon) came in and talked me through what to expect (which I’ll describe as it happened in this narrative, but just know that I knew what was coming at every point). He also did a quick eye exam on me (the good ol’ “this one or this one? 1 or 2?”) to make sure that the target prescription we were using was correct and accurate. After that was done, they gave me a bunch of numbing drops. The first numbing drops stung (she warned me), but then they kicked in and it didn’t sting. There were two more sets of drops that went in, also for numbing and moisture.

A few minutes later, I went into the surgery room. They had closed the blinds before I went in, so I didn’t get to see or wave to DH (the only thing I regret about deciding to close the blinds). And I laid down on the table, which was very comfy and padded.

What follows are the specific details of the surgery, so only expand if knowing those details won’t bother you.

Spoiler

Once I was laying on the table, the first thing was that the doc put more drops in my eyes and covered one eye to work on the other one. This first part was the most painful part, and it was over in less than a minute, probably less than 30 seconds. Basically, they put a big ring tube thing on your face and it both presses on your face around your eye and creates suction to hold your eye in place. This is for the part where the laser (my LASIK was all laser, so no blades were used) cuts the flap in your cornea (which is why they need to measure your corneal thickness in the pre-exam). As the doc had warned me, it was a bit painful and then things kind of went black. (Or, in my case, a dark field of brightly colored tiny stars…really quite beautiful). The doc had warned me about this in particular, because he said it’s the scariest part, that it might feel like I’ve lost my sight, but it’s just temporary. Then, the suction machine was removed, and I could see from that eye again, albeit blurrily. The doctor added a bunch more drops and then the suction machine was placed on the other eye and that eye was covered up. The process was repeated. I did have a little more trouble on that side, mainly because my eye was kind of fighting the suction and trying to look away, so the doctor had to tell me to relax and try to just let myself look at nothing. That finished up just like the other one, with more drops, and then the next step was the shaping.

So for the shaping, there’s a few things. The flap is pushed back, and then the laser starts shaping your cornea based on what your prescription requires. Dr. Sharpe described this as hearing something that sounds like a bug zapper over and over again and possibly smelling something like light smoke. For me, I’d had a laser filling done before (at Lakeside Dental in IL), and the smell was pretty much the same. I mean, it’s a laser, and it’s using heat to remove something, so there’s a little smell. It’s not bad…just like when you just blew out a match or something, or if you’ve ever used a match to burn up a ball of hair from your hairbrush, it’s like that. While it’s happening, there’s a light you look at, and sometimes the light moves. When the light moves, you move your eye to follow the light. The laser is checking on your eye’s position something like 4000 times a minute to make sure that it’s getting the right spot. Technology! Woo! And then once the laser finishes (really fast), the doc adds a ton more eye drops, flips the flap back down, and then you do the next eye…same thing all over again.

And the doc and the optical assistant are right there throughout, and they kind of keep contact with you and talk to you, so it’s very comforting. Honestly, getting a filling is way more unpleasant (okay, maybe not a laser filling, but the normal kind). Even just a normal dental cleaning is way more unpleasant. You don’t feel any pain at any point, *except* that suction part that I mentioned…and then it’s kind of like someone is very slowly pushing your skull back, so it’s a lot of pressure. But, even that is over so fast that it’s not bad.

After the second eye is done, they helped me get up and off the table. I could already see better than I typically could without my glasses (better than I saw things when I walked into the room). They guided me over to the typical optometrist looks as your eyes machine, and the doctor checked to make sure things looked good in terms of the flap being placed correctly.

The whole thing takes about 15 minutes, maybe a little less. I was back out in the lobby and ready to go, and DH was startled by how quickly I was done. And, aside from everything seeming overly bright, I was already seeing pretty well at that point. The light sensitivity feels to me a bit like when you get your pupils dilated and everything just feels overly bright and a little out of focus, but you can still see.

heading home after LASIK
heading home after LASIK

I put on my rockstar sunglasses, and we headed home, by way of the Chick-Fil-A for my reward lunch. (Nuggets!)

The worst part of recovery that day was that I wasn’t supposed to look at screens (no phone, no TV, no tablet) and I wasn’t supposed to read. That left very little to entertain me. The doctor had given me one cold compress patch and I had prepared another, and they had told me that the cold compress as soon as you get home does wonders for making things feel better.

cold compresses
cold compresses

So, I covered up my eyes with cold compresses and a sleepy mask and curled up in bed. DH hung out with me. We listened to Michelle Obama’s amazing speech (that I’d saved for this time period), and then I had saved up a bunch of podcasts to listen to, so we set up one of those while I rested. Eventually, I drifted off to sleep, and DH went upstairs. A couple of hours later, I woke up feeling bleary-eyed. My eyes also felt swollen and sore. The doctor’s office had given me drops called “comfort drops” (basically numbing drops) to put in, so I added some of those (with DH’s help, because I kept missing), and a few seconds later, the soreness went away.

Spoiler

Aside from the swelling and soreness (which is normal…in fact, some people can’t even open their eyes because of the swelling), the feeling that you have is best described as feeling like you have a giant eyelash stuck in your eye. That’s basically the cut and where it’s healing. And, it’s worse if your eyes get dry, so you end up wanting to put drops in your eyes all the time (which is good for them). The cut is also why you get halos and some light sensitivity for awhile afterward. That eyelash feeling is still bugging me but less and less every day and mostly just if my eyes get dry.

rocking my sunglasses the evening after LASIK
rocking my sunglasses the evening after LASIK

I got up, put my sunglasses on, and wandered upstairs. I put my compresses in the freezer to get cool and grabbed an ice pack to wrap in a washcloth and lay on my eyes. I relaxed on the couch for a bit, and then I went back downstairs and set up my phone with a headset so I could voice call people and chat on the phone for awhile. And by around 8pm, I was actually feeling fine. The optical assistant who had prepped me had said that was normal, that around 7-8 hours after surgery, you’ll suddenly feel fine, like magic, and that’s exactly what happened. It was like my eyes just waited for a timer to go off before deciding they were fine.

We invited some friends over for board games, since that was something I could do. The next day, I went to a checkup in the morning. They tested my vision, and I was 20/20 in one eye and almost 20/20 in the other eye, and they said I was at 95% of target. I was cleared to drive, and I’ll have another follow-up in 30 days to see how things have settled and if I need any adjustments. We decided to go play Bridge in the afternoon. I wore sunglasses a lot for most of the weekend, and I’m still putting them on around the office or elsewhere if things are bright or I just want some extra protection. Dust and other things are still a particular hazard for the first week, so I’m not using any moisturizers or soaps around my eyes right now.

morning after LASIK, first glasses-free selfie
morning after LASIK, first glasses-free selfie

And, of course, I’m putting drops in all the time. That’s pretty much it. I can see most things pretty well. Things that are backlit (computer screens, phone, etc.) are a bit tougher and fuzzier, but that’s getting better already and will probably clear up entirely in a week or so. From my office window, I can see tiny houses across the sound, and I can see the antennas on top of Queen Anne clearly.

To help me remember to take breaks and use my drops at work, I installed this app on my work laptop called Eyeleo, which has a cute lion tell me to take a break and do an eye exercise or look away from my monitor for awhile. It also forces me to periodically take a long break to stretch and look at other things. That wasn’t recommended by the doc or anything…I just wanted an app to help me remember to take breaks.

work selfie
work selfie

I’ll update this post again at the 30 day exam with any details or news, but generally, at this point, I’m mainly wishing I’d done this sooner. I never had a pressing need to get LASIK. I don’t do sports or anything that makes glasses annoying. But there’s just a thousand tiny conveniences that you have when you’re not wearing glasses. At the same time, I feel a bit unprotected without something on my face right now (sunglasses help), and I still find myself panicking because I can’t find my glasses.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *