I have been meaning to poke my eyes out from under my dark sunglasses and write a bit about what it was like to have laser eye surgery, for all those who i know are rather curious. It seems that everyone is curious about the procedure, and everyone asks me how it went and how it felt, and if it hurt, and if it's worth it. Well, it's fine to be curious, but it seems that when i actually get to telling about it how it was and what it felt like, i notice a common response which involves a hunch of the shoulders and a scrunch of the eyebrows and a signiture sucking-in-air noise, like a snake recoiling, all of which is to say, "Yeah but No. Keep it to yourself."
But now that i can vaguely see the computer, i am determined to tell all. So be warned. If you want to know the real truth about my laser eye surgury and what it felt like, read on. This entry may include grafic details and some ickiness....
To prepare for the Laser Eye Surgury procedure, i needed to discontinue wearing my contacs for at least 2 weeks prior. I upped the anti by wearing my glasses for THREE weeks, one because i'm hard core like that and two because i was out of disposable contacs and didn't want to purchase more. About the procedure, i was told that it would be rather quick, about 25 seconds of lasering for each eye, but that i would need to be at the clinic for two and a half hours total. I was told that most people do not experience any pain, but a mild discomfort afterwards like that of having sand in your eye. The day of the surgury i would rest and then the next day i could go back to work after my follow-up appointment.
From an instructional video and from my doctor, i learned that This is what happens in the surgury:
The eye is held open by a speculum, so that the patient cannot blink. The eye is surrounded by a round mechanism that suctions the eye ball to keep it in place while an incision is being made in a circle around the top of the eye. In the past decade this incision was habitually made using a metal rasor device, but now thanks to developing technology many doctors use a special laser technique to create an incision that is less like a circle and more like a man-hole-cover, increasing precision and decreasing healing time. After the flap is created, the suction is removed, and the doctor used a metal tool to lift back the flap above the eye, exposing the cornea. The eye is placed under a laser machine which burns down specific areas of the cornea, based on the patient's vision perscription. The foundation of the laser procedure is that the misshape of the cornea creates nearsitedness. Therefore shaping the cornea to more idealy refract light will improve distance vision. As the cornea is being lasered, it is imperative that the patient continue to focus on a specific red light. If the patient moves the eye or loses focus, the laser will have to be stopped and restarted, which could adversely affect the results of the procedure. After the lasering, the flap is replaced, and the procedure is completed.
Then, according to the video, everyone is free to walk on the beach and go windsurfing, free from the burden of glasses and contacs. Hooray! This all sounds easy enough. Side effects may include slight discomfort, eye dryness, and light sensitivity for up to two weeks after the procedure. Sounds like a piece of cake, right? I thought so. And Windsurfing! Well you bet i went for it. How hard could it be? Here's what you really want to know folks... Here's what it FELT like...
Dan and i arrived at the laser eye surgical center at 7:30am. We were the first people there, and the receptionist offered us coffee. I was a little (read: A FREAKIN LOT) nervous, so i declined. The office was very poshly decorated, in dark soothing shades of blue and green. After a few minutes the receptionist took me into a small room to explain my post-op directions. Oh, and she also gave me 5 millagrams of Valium. She explained: you will wear these protective eye guards all day after your procedure and every night for the next two weeks. In addition, wear these heavy UV sunglasses all the time until light sensitivity goes away. Do not touch your eyes, under any circumstances never ever, for the next two weeks. Do not swim, hot tub, or sauna. Do not exercise if sweat might get in your eye and you might wipe it. When you shower, stand with your back to the spray and don't let any soap get in your eye and even better, wear your sunglasses in the shower. Antibiotic and Antiinflamitory drops every two hours for the first day and four times a day after that. Tear drops every hour our more often if you like. And of all this, the most important single piece of information is that if you touch your eye at all if you are awake or asleep or in the shower or working out, there is significant danger that you will move or wrinkle the flap that has been cut and is protecting your cornea, and this will require further surgury to repair, and that will significantly suck, so freakin don't touch your eye, okay?
Two weeks? that's a lot longer than i bargained for! I had my windsurfing all set up for this afternoon. Oh well...
...5mg of Valium is a LOT of Valium for a lady my size.
I went back to my seat, where Dan seemed to have gotten nervous there all by himself, although anouther couple had come in so now the nervousness was a shared quality in the room. I told Dan about what i would have to do and gave him the written instructions for the drugs for the rest of the day, just in case i was a little incapacitated. We sat for about ten minutes, and then i had to get up to go to the bathroom. I stood up... and almost fell down. My feet weighed about a million pounds. When i moved at all it felt like my head was filled with water. Dan said, "Do you need help getting to the bathroom?"
Again, 5mg of Valium is a LOT of Valium.
I managed to get to the bathroom but while in there i knocked over the soap dish and upset the box of tissues. I came back to my seat and Dan said, "Do you know you're walking funny?" I repeated about the Valium. I said "I can't believe anyone would use this as a recreational drug," but it came out like "I caaaaannnt belieeeeeeve any-waaaaaaaaaan....." Finally, after about a half an hour, the nurse came into the room and called my name. It was my turn! This was the moment i'd been waiting for and dreading for two weeks. This was the moment of truth. The machines were ready. I was drugged up and ready. I turned to Dan, my most beloved, potentially the last face i would see on this planet if anything went wrong, and i said:
"Will you watch my purse?"
"Good Luck" he said.
I said: "...And my iPod?"
The nurse led me into the surgury antchamber where i found my Doctor (huray!). He explained to me (again) exactly what would happen in the procedure, and how important it was for me to stare at the red light. I was glad he was only repeating information we had talked about earlier because i was having a hard time paying attention. i got the important thing: stare at the red light, stare at the red light. The doctor put numbing drops in each of my eyes. The nurse covered up my shoes with paper boots and my head with a paper cap. They led me into the surgury room.
Dun Dun Dun.
There were two very very large white machines at the head of a white table. The surgical room was obviously very clean, and there was my doctor and three nurses all in surgical scrubs. The nurse had me lie down on the table, and they gave me a little teady bear dressed up like a doctor to hold onto. Incidentally, this bear is a great touch, not only because it makes the patient feel a bit more comforted, since we have to be awake through the whole thing, but if i had not been clutching that bear the whole time i would have bored holes with my fingernails straight through my palms, i am sure.
I lay down on the table. This was all happening so fast! The doctor moved my head into position, and covered my left eye. He placed the speculum in my right eye to hold it open. I was surprised that this felt like nothing, and was not at all uncomfortable. Then they placed something around my eye, which also felt like nothing, and the doctor said "Suction On." My vision all of a sudden went black, although there was no discomfort, and i said "Is it okay that i can't see anything?" The doctor said this is completely normal and also please don't talk just now. They moved the first laser machine inplace and told me that they would begin. I could see nothing, and apart from the light feel of suction on my eye, i could feel only a slight pressure moving in a stop-sign shape around the top of my eye. It was about the same intensity of feeling as if you took a blade of grass and lightly brushed it against your skin. I could hardly feel it. The doctor said good, that's done, and Suction Off. My vision became not black but blurry. I said, "my vision is blurry" and he said "that's normal" and i thought: all in all he's being very patient with me, considering he probobly told me just recently that all this would happen and would be normal. The doctor took a pointy metal object and peeled the top flap away from the top of my eye, and as he did this i could see the metal object and the flap as it was being pulled away. That was kind of cool.
Okay, the doctor said, after the second laser was moved into place, now i'm going to show you that red light. The red light came into my view and i stared at it with all my might. He said good, and told me that they would begin the laser. I heard a buzzing, and a nurse counting down "20 seconds left.... 15 seconds." The doctor continued to say good, and i continued to stare as hard as i could at the red light, and the nurse said "5-4-3-2-1." And then it was done! The doctor said perfect and that i had done a great job. My heart was beating at about a million beats per minute, but all in all i was proud of myself and soothed that I had not felt any pain or discomfort.
Way to go Leah! I knew you could stare at a light! All that intense focus inhearant in your personality has finally paid off!
The doctor let that eye sit with the flap open for about a minute, and washed it out with a lot of watery solution. Then he used the metal instrament to replace the flap, at which point i saw complete blur. He removed the speculum and my eye closed. When my lid snapped shut i felt the top lid move over the cuts at the top and bottom of my eye and this was strikingly painful. My heart raced a bit. The doctor covered the right eye and moved over to my left side.
Wait, we have to do this again! But we just finished the first one! And i just realized that this kind of hurts!
On the left side the speculum again felt fine, but as he turned on the suction i winced. I felt an intense pressure on my eyeball, like i was getting punched in the eye continuously, and although i was trying to be brave and hard core and all that i wimpered audibly and said "this really hurts." The doctor said to the nurse, "I don't like this suction, i'm going to do it again" and to my relief it let go and it felt like my eye ball dropped with a thud back into my head. But only for a brief moment because the suction was on again and even more painfull than the first time and the doctor was saying good, keep still, we're making the flap.
I said "this hurts a lot more than the first eye" and he said "everyone says that."
Any hopes i had held of being brave and hardcore were out the window, because i was shaking and crying and gripping that bear with all my might. I realized then why they had given me so much valium, so that i would not actually be convulsing there on the table. Though i imagined myself screaming and crying, i'm sure that to the doctors i was actually quite still. I could feel each and every sharp cut go into my eye in the shape of a stop sign, and it felt like eight sharp cuts going into my eye in the shape of a stop sign, and it felt like a knife that was very sharp and very tiny and very very very slow.
Then the suction was finally off, but i was not at all calm and i could not see a single thing. All was a total white blur, and when he turned on the red light i said "where?" and when he said, "Can you focus on the red light?" i said, "uh... sort of." I was very worked up, because my eye hurt a freakin lot, and most of all i was scared that i was f-ing up the whole procedure. My vision was very blurry, and the truth was that i was trying and trying, but that red light kept slipping out of focus. It was such a blur to begin with, and i just couldn't keep it in the middle. The doctor had to stop the laser three times and tell me to refocus. Each time he stopped i felt myself hyperventilate a little bit, and when the nurse finally counted down from five i thought for sure that i was going to faint. I was sure that i was a complete failure at eye surgury, and i would never see again, and the doctor would call my parents and tell on me, and worse: the whole thing would go on my permanent record.
Well, moments after the doctor sealed up my left eye it became very painfull. I could feel the bottom portion of the cut stinging, and the bottom ridge of my left eye was in throbbing pain. The doctor told me that despite the choppy lasering on the left eye, everything had gone beautifully, and he would see me in anouther half hour after i rest. The nurse taped protective shields over my eyey, and she sat me up. She asked if i could walk and i told her i might throw up. She said "Take your time."
My eyes felt glued shut, and beyond that they were covered with the bug eyes and lots of medical tape, so i couldn't see anything. The nurse led me through a door at the end of the operating room and sat me down in a big arm chair. She told me to wait here and that she'd be right back. I realized that i was around the corner from the waiting area, so i called out for Dan. He came running, and sat by my side, and took my hands in his, and asked me so lovingly how i was feeling. I said:
"Where's my purse?"
He said it was on the couch in the other room with his jacket and all our stuff. I said:
"Well bring it in here. You can't just leave the iPod out in a room full of people."
My Dan is so good to me. I'm going to marry him some day.
Dan lovingly brought our things and we sat and sat and sat for about a half an hour, in this room and then in anouther. The pain in my eyes continued to intensify. My left eye hurt more than my right; both hurt with a stinging sensation on the bottom cut and also over the whole bottom edge of the socket. Also i felt very heavy and nausious from the Valium and the stress. I had an overwhelming urge to lie down, but this was impossible. I kept thinking i can't wait to get home and lie down.
Finally the doctor came in and did the most irritating thing possible: made me open my eyes and shined a bright light into them. Of course, this was necessary, but opening my eyes felt like peeling a bandaid off my jagged eyeball. He said the procedure went perfectly and everything looked wonderful. Which i was relieved to hear but almost didn't believe. I told him that the left eye hurt a lot more. He said that's normal. I told him that it all hurts a lot. He said, "Well, you just had eye surgury."
The doctor told me to go home and lie down, and after i have a nap i'll feel like a new person. So Dan took my things (purse, iPod and all) and led me through the waiting room. To the poor couples who were waiting there monday morning: i'm sorry that i seriously scared you by looking like a zombie in my bug-eyes taped to my face, stomping like my legs were 90lb weights, blind and groaning. In that atrium of the hospital, the light was so bright it felt like the sun was a centimeter from my face and it was burning two holes through to my skull. And this was with the bug-eyes and dark glasses and my eyes closed. Dan somehow managed to get me out the door and into the car, purse iPod and all. On the ride home, I imagined i was crying and screaming and carrying on about the pain, Oh the sun, the bumps, the stinging and the throbbing... but Dan tells me that all i said was very calmly: "This actually hurts... a lot." Ah the Valium.
When we got home i went straight to bed, and it's true the pain did subside a bit once i woke up. But while i no longer wanted to end my life because of the pain, i still was in a fair amount of discomfort. Every hour while i was awake i needed to rip the medical tape from my face to put drops in, which stung the entire surface of my eye, and especially around the bottom of the cut. I could hardly open my eyes to 50% until about 3:00 in the afternoon, and then i could see only blurry. I was so sensitive to the light that i could only rest when i had the bug-eyes, the sunglasses, and a towel over my face; and in addition to having the shades drawn, i made Dan hold a blanket over the windows to block out the light when i needed to put the drops in.
This is what you should know about laser eye surgury: It is elective surgury. Compaired to other surguries, the procedure is quick the recovery period relatively swift. But beware: it IS surgury. It is painfull. You don't just recover in an hour, and then like start windsurfing right away. Check me out! I don't need contacs anymore! Woohoo, i'm windsurfing; look at me Go!!!
Monday night i woke up many times, sometimes because my eyes hurt, and sometimes because my eyes were so itchy that i would have scratched them completely from my head had it not been for the shields. Tuesday i woke up with my vision and pain-level much improved. In fact, i was quite exuberant from being able to see and finally feeling free of the effects of the Valium. But i am still quite sensitive to light, and need to wear my sunglasses all day, even in the house at night, even with the lights off. My eyes get very tired at times during the day, and my vision gets blurry at around 6pm. It is day three since the surgury, and my eyes hurt mildly throughout the day, and more stingingly when i put in the drops. I have tested with 20/20 vision, but during this recovery period which will last about two weeks it is very tiring to read or watch TV and i have trouble tracking objects that move through my field of vision.
And all this because my contacs were mildly iritating to wear during Yoga. I warn you all! In the days to come i will write about other developments that arrise in my recovery. I know others have said that laser eye surgury is no big deal, a few hours and then you're done, but beware. They freakin cut into your eye! They Cut Into Your Eye! With a laser! And it hurts. It really really hurts.