Taking the Plunge with Laser Eye Surgery (PRK)
Not unlike many others, I've spent my fair share of time working late into the night and staring into a computer screen. I often laid in bed glued to my iPhone right up until I turn off the lights. Sometimes even reading under the covers in the dark. I'm also guilty of wearing my contact lenses for 10+ hours a day. By the time I was 24 years old, my myopia [nearsightedness] was serious; without contact lenses or glasses, I could not function. Everything was a blur. My poor habits, and ignorance of eye strain grew to be unmanageable. I went too far.
DEPENDENCY ON CONTACTS
I started wearing contact lenses when I was 14 years old. I disliked wearing glasses; my flat nose did not allow for most glasses to stay put. So I wore my contact lenses all day, past their prime (~3 weeks, oops!) and delayed updating my prescription. By the time I decided to get laser eye surgery, I had logged more than 50,400 hours wearing contacts! At my worst, my prescription was around -6.00 in both eyes. If you stood a foot in front of me, I would not be able make out your facial features. In the bathroom, I had to bring up little bottles of toners and lotions within inches of my eyes to read them.
After a significant research and choosing a reputable eye center, I consulted with a doctor to determine my candidacy for laser eye surgery and discuss risks. A team of specialists performed a standard eye exam (acuity, eye pressure, and cornea shape and size).
The two most common options for corrective laser eye surgery:
- LASIK: Many people qualify for LASIK; the procedure is a newer technique and recovery time is reduced. During this procedure: a small flap is cut into the epithelium (outer most layer of your cornea), the cornea reshaped, and the flap is immediately replaced. You can be up and running in less than 1 day.
- PRK: The predecessor to LASIK; here the epithelium layer is removed before the cornea is reshaped. It takes 5-7 days for that outer layer to grow back and you need to rest during this time.
She ultimately recommended PRK after reviewing my test results and family health history, Technically, I would have been a LASIK candidate too but a family member has an existing condition that increased risks for future complications. For those interested,make sure to do your own research and consult with a doctor for information specific to you.
ACTUAL PROCEDURE: PRK
When the day finally came, I was both nervous and excited. My surgery was scheduled for the morning. I felt confident that everything would be fine. I followed a pre-surgical schedule of eye drops to the T and the team of specialists left me at ease.
The operating room was cool and dark (except for the laser area). My surgeon was fantastic as he narrated each step of the process. A quick synopsis (not comprehensive) of what happened:
- Surgeon applied anesthetic drops, and fits an eye speculum to hold my right eye open. He covers the eye not being worked on.
- A very small ring mold is placed on top of the eye ball (I felt a tiny amount of pressure here) and then an alcohol solution is applied to soften the epithelial layer (it feels like cool water).
- The surgeon used a wexel spear (a triangular shaped q-tip) to gently remove the softened epithelial layer in one circular sweep.
- The laser is activated. I look directly at the green light (laser) above me and treated to a short light show. A few seconds in, I smell burning - it's the laser meeting my cornea. The laser is following a pre-determined map to reshape it. This is truly the most amazing part of the process as the laser is very precise and will adjust if there are any eye movements. This steps lasts about 30-45 seconds.
- My eye gets cleaned up and the speculum is removed. Surgeon repeats the steps with my left eye.
The entire procedure took less than 10 minutes (from time I walked into the op-room to when I left). It was essentially painless.
I'm not sure that I can properly describe how it felt to sit up from the chair, realizing that I could clearly see my doctor's face. It felt like a pugnacious ball of joy was about to burst from my chest! The immediate results were astounding.
On my way out, the doctor handed me a prescription for a painkiller (didn't end up using), and a little bag of trinkets to use during recovery. I went home and slept the remainder of the day.
The first week of PRK recovery was bit of a roller coaster ride. My vision fluctuated up and down, sometimes it would be clear one hour and then blurry the next. I experienced sensitivity to light and had to keep my eyes closed most of the first few days. On the day immediately following the surgery, my vision was 20/60. Not something to write home about but part of the healing process.
The worst day that I had was the 2nd night post surgery. It was not painful but more annoying than anything else. I woke up around 2AM to my left eye watering heavily, and eventually my right eye as well. This kept up for the day rendering my eyes puffy and extra swollen. I went through an entire box of tissues. The experience is akin to having cried for an extended period of time, resulting in eyes feeling strained. It was difficult to keep my eyes open longer than 30 seconds. Good news though, my doctor saw that my epithelium was growing back ahead of schedule.
The remainder of the week was much better. The watering stopped by day 3. My vision was spotty (literally) because my epithelium was healing gradually (but not necessarily evenly). I experienced increased dryness but my overall vision was stabilizing. I also had double vision in my right eye temporarily but that lasted only a few hours. By day 6, my epithelium was pretty much healed. By day 7, I was 20/20 with both eyes.
I made sure to be disciplined with all of my medications, taped on eye shields before sleeping, and took vitamin C daily.
6 MONTHS LATER
I have had months to enjoy my amazing, clear, and AWESOME vision. It is truly a pleasure not to be plagued with contact lenses, cleaning solution, and lens cases. I no longer have to "feel" for my pair of glasses in the morning or bring items within inches of my face to read text. I am living a better life.
My recovery post-PRK is not without side effects. The biggest challenge that I had and am still dealing with is the dryness. I didn't have dry eyes before PRK. It is uncomfortable and I put in eye drops several times a day. Sometimes when I first wake up, it can be painful (but not every morning). It feels like there are small dry patches towards the back of my eyeballs. My doctor had me try gel eye drops and when that did not work, prescription eye drops (which is quite expensive by the way). The dry winter hasn't made it easier. I'm hoping that this will be alleviated soon, my doctor is optimistic.
Overall and despite the dryness condition, I would recommend going through with laser eye surgery. It has made a world of difference in my life.
So what about you? Do you have perfect eye sight or are you considering LASIK/PRK? Feel free to leave comments or questions below. I'm happy to answer any questions about my experience.