Is LASIK Terrifying? (Hint: Yes.)

Less than 24 hours ago -- I haven't even gone in for my 24 hour checkup yet. And it was really not that bad. Far less terrifying than it looked (I made Ron videotape the entire looks pretty freaky. I'll upload the video later), anyway.

EDIT: Here's the video!

Anyway, here's what it was like -- in case you are interested in getting LASIK, or, at least, reading about someone who got LASIK. My surgery was performed by Dr. Angela Nahl of La Jolla LASIK Institute. Before surgery day, I had two appointments -- a consultation, where they took most of my measurements and instructed me to stop wearing contact lenses for the next three weeks, and a pre-op, where they took my measurements again (like three times), gave me extra-strength dilation drops, and told me to stop wearing eye makeup and drinking caffeine. I definitely did one of those things, but I was in the middle of drinking a Diet Coke when I read the instructions about avoiding caffeine. Whoops.

Day of surgery: They gave me a prescription for Valium and told me to take one about an hour before my arrival time. I did this and was disappointed that I didn't feel any immediate effects. The point of the Valium was to make me feel less nervous, but I wasn't all that nervous to begin with. I asked Ron, "Do you think I seem nervous?" He shrugged. "Not really."

We arrived at the surgery center. My eyes were still semi-dilated from the super dilation drops they had given me two days prior at the pre-op, and were therefore still a little light-sensitive. Pro-tip: San Diego is a terrible place to be if your eyes are light-sensitive.

They checked my eyes again. My prescription was the same, but I wasn't seeing as well because of the dilation. I asked if this would be an issue with the surgery, and the optometrist said no -- it just meant I might be a little more light-sensitive than usual after the surgery. We waited in the semi-darkened eye checkup room for several minutes. Ron fell asleep. 

After several minutes, they took us into the waiting room right outside the surgery room. The optometrist prepped my eyes by putting in two sets of anesthetic drops and two sets of allergy drops. She also swabbed my eyelashes and eyelids clean, and instructed me not to touch them. I told her I had to go to the bathroom. She said fine...just don't touch your eyes. I decided that having to go to the bathroom probably meant I was nervous, so I popped another Valium. No immediate side effects. "Why do people even bother getting addicted to this," I asked Ron. 

After they gathered my hair up and put it in one of those blue mesh surgery caps, it was GO TIME. Dr. Nahl came out, but I didn't really recognize her until she was about two feet in front of me, because I wasn't wearing my glasses. She talked about things like GMAT test prep and overseas teaching for a few minutes (I think she was trying to make me less nervous), and then it was time to go. 

From the second I walked into the surgery room, it was definitely GO TIME. There were two techs -- one who was assisting Dr. Nahl with various doctor stuff, and one whose entire job was to talk to me and tell me where to look and what was happening. This seemed to be a very efficient setup.

Talking tech told me to lie down on a white table, and place my head in a little donut. The machinery surrounding the table didn't look all that scary -- less scary than an MRI machine, and well, I can't really tell you what it looked like otherwise, because I wasn't wearing my glasses. There were machines, let's just say that.

As soon as I was down, they covered my left eye with a patch and started taping my eyelashes back. They also put a little metal eye expander underneath my eyelids, while liberally applying drops. This didn't feel like much -- I was afraid it would be uncomfortable, but it wasn't at all. The metal eye expander felt like super soft plastic, and I didn't even realize it was metal until I watched the video. But yes, it looked exactly like this:


Talking tech told me what was going to happen: "There is going to be a green light. Look at the green light. At one point, you will feel pressure on your eye and the light will change to red. Look at the red light. Then, after the pressure part is done, you'll see the green light again."

Seemed easy enough. I focused on the green light while they lowered a black ring around my eye. "This is the pressure part," the talking tech said. I started to feel pressure around my eye -- not on my eye, presumably because my eye was numb at this point. But it felt like I had swim goggles on. The pressure increased a little, but not so much that it was uncomfortable. During this point, I saw a red light which started to move. The tech instructed me not to worry about following the light, and told me that the light was going to go away for a moment -- nothing to be alarmed about. I knew that this was the part where they were cutting the flap -- basically, cutting open my cornea -- but for some reason this did not alarm me. Might've been the Valium at work.

This only lasted for about 15 seconds. Then the black thing was lifted away from my eye, and there was a perfectly round circle in the center of my vision that was a little blurry -- like looking through foggy glass. Ah, I thought to myself, part of my eye is missing right now. That's cool. Again, Valium.

I could see Dr. Nahl bringing what looked like little needles close to my eye. Normally this would alarm me, because I am irrationally afraid of needles. But I somehow convinced myself that these metal things were very precise eye droppers (after viewing the video, I would discover that these were not eye droppers, and were in fact tools used to lift and remove the flap of cornea). 

After the eye droppers/cornea lifting came the LASERS. During this time, I was still looking at the green light, as a dark machine was lowered over my face. Everything went a bit darker, and I started to hear the whirring of the machine at work. I also started to smell...burning. This was a little strange, but I don't mind the smell of burning eye flesh (apparently), so it didn't bother me. However, I can see how some people might find this weird. This lasted about 15 seconds, and then Dr. Nahl came back with the eye droppers (aka cornea lifters), and replaced the flap. I saw some sponge-like things come down and apparently touch my eyes to smooth out the flap, and then they put eye drops in my eyes, removed the metal eye-openers, and ripped off the tape from my eyelashes. The most painful part of the whole process was when they removed the felt a bit like...removing tape. So yeah.

The second eye was very similar, except it seemed to take a bit longer for them to remove my cornea flap. Aside from that, nothing felt different or less comfortable (it was all surprisingly comfortable, in fact), and even the tape-ripping was less painful the second time around.

Once the surgery was finished, Dr. Nahl took me over to a seat where she used one of those light wands/magnifying glasses to check my eyes. Everything looked good, so she lead me out to the waiting area, where Ron informed me that the surgery was "the most terrifying thing I have ever watched." My eyes felt fine, but the world was a bit fuzzy -- it looked like I was looking through very fingerprint-smudged glasses. The optometrist taped some plastic shields over my eyes, gave me a pair of sunglasses, told me to wear Ron's hat, and informed me that I should sleep for at least 4 - 6 hours because my eyes would feel "sandy."

On the drive home, I noticed my vision improving drastically. But once we got to the hotel, I could barely keep my eyes open. I wasn't tired, but my eyes definitely felt "sandy." And by "sandy," I mean it felt like someone had thrown a bucket of sand and mace in my eyes. So that was kind of annoying, but after about a half-hour of being annoyed, I took another Valium and FINALLY fell asleep around 2 p.m.

I woke up at 1 a.m., ate a salad, played some iPhone games, and put in a series of eye drops (steroid drops, antibiotic drops, and artificial tears), and then I taped my mask back on and went to sleep for another six hours. And here I am!

My vision is greatly improved, but I didn't have that AHA moment that a lot of LASIK patients talk about -- mainly because I've been wearing contact lenses for almost 20 years, and for the past 8 years or so I've been wearing PureVision Toric lenses. PureVision Toric lenses are rated for up to one months' straight wear -- that means that, for the past 8 years or so I've been wearing my contact lenses for one month straight. Most people can't do this, but my eyes are ridiculously okay with foreign objects, it would see, because by "straight" I mean I slept in them, swam in them, etc., and only took them out (to change them) once a month.