The Complete Scaredy-Cat’s Guide to LASIK
People who’d undergone LASIK were quick to tell me “Nothing to it!” or “Best thing I ever did!” Occasionally, someone would say, “I had to go back in for a tune-up.” or “I had to rest a few days afterward.” But no one ever told me about the procedure itself.
Like I am about to tell you.
2. Pre-op appointment (7 days pre-surgery): I was greeted by the smiliest optical tech imaginable. Lisa rechecked all the previous measurements on my eye — the laser will be set with these numbers so accuracy is imperative. She then had me watch a 15 minute video.
In the clip, a man who plays a doctor on General Hospital told what I should expect from LASIK. It may or may not not give me the vision I seek. It may cause complications like halos, glare, over- or undercorrection, dry eye, even blindness. It may require a second procedure. Afterward, I signed the forms, hand-writing a paragraph of consent.
Dr Kumar, not stingy with his time, spent 30 more minutes answering my questions and calming my fears.
I paid the bill out of flexible spending funds, thereby fully committing to return next week. Really? Did I REALLY just do this?
3. LASIK day: Surgery was scheduled for 2:30 pm, but I was to arrive at 2:00 to take the magical Xanax. I knew my eyes should be on the prize of better vision, but my only goal was to get to the pill.
My sister and driver, Tami, picked me up and calmed me down. She got me up to the door of the surgical center and made me walk the plank through the doors.
She handed me off to Karri, my concierge, the woman who had been telling me since October that I could do it. She’d held my had figuratively and now, literally.
I was seated in a small curtained room, adorned with blue booties and a hat, and given the blessed Xanax. They’re coming to take me away, ha ha. They’re coming to take me away, ho ho, hee hee, ha ha, to the funny farm, where life is wonderful…
My expectations of Xanax were clearly too high because when Dr Kumar came to take me into the OR, I wasn’t ready to be taken away, ha ha. Instead, I asked for more drugs. If I’m still able to be that assertive, I’m not relaxed enough to endure the procedure. Soooo, more Xanax.
The next time the doctor came in, I wasn’t given an option. Time to go.
I laid down with my head on a doughnut-shaped pillow. Karri sat by my side, stroking my arm, a comforting presence. She gently taped shut my left eye. I was having only my right eye corrected for distance, leaving my left eye for reading, a treatment choice called monovision.
Dr Kumar told me everything he was about to do. First was to deposit numbing drops in my eye. I then heard him recite a bunch of numbers to a technician, who, I assume, was comparing the measurements in my chart to the settings on the laser.
Dr Kumar gently taped my right eyelids open. Next he said, “I’m inserting the speculum to help me control your eye.” I vote speculum as one of the ugliest words in the English language. I’m not quite sure what this entailed, and I don’t want to know.
“Now I’m going to create the flap. Look at the green light.” This is where he removed the top layer of the cornea. I dutifully looked at the green light. And didn’t feel a thing. I didn’t see much, either. Just a green light that came in and out of hazy.
“You’re doing great. Now you’re going to feel some pressure while the laser works.” For my correction, -3.0 diopters, the laser would need 6 seconds to reshape my cornea. Here is the only icky part:
There was no pain, only pressure. So much pressure that my vision went dark, just as Dr Kumar had said it would. Fear gripped me that I’d been blinded forever. Tick. tock. tick. tock. tick. tock. Mercifully, the green light re-appeared in my line of vision as the pressure let up, and I noticed a faint burning smell. And suddenly everything went red. My whole field of vision was a mass of squiggly red bits. “Everything’s red!” I panicked. “That’s OK, you’ll see the green light again riiiiight… now.” And I did.
That was the worst of it. “Now I’m laying the flap back down.” Again, an odd sensation as I saw a medical wiper blade smooth down the disturbed tissue, but felt nothing. After a few seconds, Dr Kumar said, “I’m putting in some lubricating gel. You’re all done.”
I sat up and Karri put some protective goggles and sun shades around my head. I was to wear the goggles until the next morning and nightly thereafter for a week, to prevent me from rubbing my eye in my sleep. The flap must remain undisturbed for up to 3 months, the first week being most critical.
Dr Kumar walked me to the curtain room where Tami was waiting. Time passed? About 8 minutes.
I could see Tami from across the room. Clearly. She was a sight for sore eyes.
I began to shiver in post-stress release. I had survived. Mommy got LASIKed. The adrenaline coursed through my body and I wanted to cry from exhaustion.
4. Post-op: I was ordered to take a 2 hour nap at home to let the flap settle and to take it easy the rest of the evening. For the next week I followed a regimen of antibiotic and steroid drops 4 times daily. I put in lubricating drops every hour, whether my eye felt dry or not. I wore the goggles at night. I wasn’t to swim, get into a hot tub, or wear eye make-up. I checked in with Dr Kumar the day after and the week after. I’ll check in again four times in the next year.
When I awoke the next morning, I could see! I could drive! In fact I did — to Dr Kumar’s office.
Things looked weird as my brain tried to get used to tuning into one eye when I was looking far and the other eye when I was reading. I passed the vision chart test at 20/20. Dr Kumar said my flap was doing well, and that he got the outcome he’d expected. He said that my vision would continue to improve over the next few days.
That night I went to my kick-boxing class (but had to wear a doofy sweatband to make sure nothing dripped into my eye).
By day 2, there was no more weirdness. I could see without glasses/contacts. Liberating!
Verdict? The procedure was not quite the “nothing” that brave people had breezily labeled it, but it was definitely not as awful as I had feared. The proof? I can bear the thought of doing it again.
But thanks to the expertise of Dr Kumar, I probably won’t have to.
Disclosure: I received a pair of night-driving glasses from Denver Eye Surgeons in consideration for writing honestly about my experience with its LASIK clinic.