Laser Eye Surgery: Yea or Nay?

So, just like my post below promised, here is my story about having laser eye surgery.
I’ve been wearing glasses since I was about 12 for near-sightedness and a severe astigmatism in my right eye. I’m ok with glasses for the most part. I learned to live with them for most of my life, but they were still a little inconvenient, and it meant that I always had to take them off for certain activities.
I tried wearing contacts when I was 15-16, but they were incredibly painful for me to wear, dried out my eyes and took about 45 minutes to put in and take out every night. So they got the boot pretty quickly, and I went back to glasses.
Fast-forward to summer 2007. I’m on a self-improvement quest, taking action against my acne, weight and general appearance. I don’t think I look too bad in my glasses, I had some nice titanium lightweight rimless glasses that made it look like I wasn’t actually wearing them.

Silhouette Frames

I’ve been participating a great deal in my Shaolin kung fu and sparring, and the tipping point for me was when I decided I really loved the art, and wanted to genuinely improve my performance. So I started considering laser eye surgery.

Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t only the kung fu that made me want to do the procedure. I had been thinking about it off and on for a while, and how it would change my life for the better. People would be able to see my eyes, my face, I’d be prettier and I could participate in a lot of activities that are not condusive to spectacle use.

So I asked around and did some research and went for a consultation at TLC Laser Eye Centers one afternoon. If you’re interested to know why I chose this company rather than the others, here are my reasons:

1) My neighbour had her eyes done there and had a good experience
2) They had a good reputation otherwise
3) They were cheaper than the Bochner Eye Institute
4) They weren’t using old technology and blades like LASIK MD

If I hadn’t chosen them I probably would have gone with Bochner for similar reasons.

So they had me come back for some tests and measurements to see if I would be eligible for the surgery. Most people don’t realize that not everyone can have the procedure. My aunt is one of those people that can’t.

The Testing

The testing was free and consisted of looking into a lot of beeping light-filled machines that apparently mapped my cornea and measured it’s thickness and probably some other really cool stuff.

The Verdict

I was a safe candidate, but would never have perfect vision simply because of the way my right eye was formed. You know what? I was ok with that. I didn’t expect to have perfect vision (although it is achievable with this technology) and I just wanted to be rid of my glasses.

The Technology

Because of the way my eyes had formed, I needed their newest (and most expensive, eek!) technology to fully map out my eyes for the laser. Apparently some people with minimal work to be done can get away with using preset coordinates for the laser. This makes it cheaper. Alas, I needed to have custom LASIK with Wavefront technology. Although it was bladeless and also prevented night halos and other disruptions in vision. That’s always a plus!

The Cost

Dun dun DUN!!! This procedure would cost me a whopping $4600 for both eyes, and because it was elective outpatient surgery my insurance covered exactly 0% of the cost. If this price tag scares you a little, that’s ok. It scared me, too. But I would rather pay more and get a better job than have something go wrong… it also helped me to see the costs broken down.

The actual surgery itself was only $4000 (no tax) and each of the 6 post-op appointments was $100 each. Antibiotic and steroid eye drops and a take-home kit were also included in the cost. Moving on to…

The Procedure

First I had to see my optometrist and get a clean bill of ocular health. I had something like 3 months to proceed with the surgery after that initial inspection. I booked my surgery for mid-October and went back to TLC for a more intense mapping of my eye. I was absolutely happy to sit there and stare at bright little lights for 2 hours while they measured and tested my eyes, ensuring they got the best map possible. I did NOT want anything to go wrong!

I was pretty freaked out about the whole procedure, I’ve got some sort of phobia with the eyes, they totally squick me out. I can’t normally think, look or talk about them without making my skin crawl and wanting to vomit. Which is why I’m so surprised I actually decided to do this to myself.

They made me watch a little educational video on how the procedure was done, what tools they would use, what to expect, and positive and negative outcomes of the procedure. I pretty much skipped over it all, since it would freak me out even more than I already was. Normally I like to know every little detail about things like this, but this time… I just wanted to trust that they weren’t going to damage me. This was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life yet. I’m pretty sure childbirth will be a walk in the park after this.

Anyway, freak out moments aside, I was still ok with having this done. Especially since I would be given a sedative to keep me calm and relaxed during it. Or not. I put off reading the contract and waiver til the day before, and literally signed my life away. My parents had to sit with me and calm me down (I started crying like a baby) and remind me how great it was going to be afterwards. I was terrified, but still willing to go through with it.

The day of surgery we arrived and waited around for hours. Then I was taken into a dim room in a reclining chair, where some anasthetic eyedrops were given to me to numb my eyes. The attendant was really nice and did her best to calm me down, chit chatting with me and telling me exactly what would happen to me in no uncertain terms. The rational side of me felt better with this knowledge, but I was still shaking with fear. Have you ever had those moments where your base and emotional side just wants to scream and run away, but your rational mind is telling you : Hey Ginger, chill the fuck out! Its just a little surgery with highly trained professionals!

Luckily I had a meeting with the surgeon himself next, and he saw how freaked I was and listened to me when I said that “No sir, one valium will definitely not be enough” (I had another doc give me valium ahead of time to see how my body would react to it, and I would need at least 2 pills. Most people can get through the surgery without any sedatives).

So I got my two valiums and tried to calm myself down. I watched the lady before me refuse the sedative, go in for surgery and come out 15 minutes later saying “It was so easy!”

Finally it was my turn. I was still pretty nervous, but it was the moment of truth and I was NOT going to back down. They led me into the operating room (which looked like an alien abduction scene from the X-Files) and laid me down on the table, all while holding my hand and talking to me calmly. The doctor was great, he explained to me what he was doing, but without actually telling me what he was doing since it squicked me out. He just told me what I would feel in a nice, soothing voice. It definitely helped.

They did my left eye first. They clamped my eye open a la Clockwork Orange, then placed some suction-cup type thing on my eyeball to hold it in place. This was probably the worst part of the procedure. It didn’t hurt, but I could feel the pressure and it was very uncomfortable. I lost vision in that eye, and that’s when they made the corneal flap with the first laser.

I regained my sight when they took the suction ring off, but it was all blurry. At this point they had peeled the flap back. I was asked to focus on a little red light in front of me, and they did a countdown from 30 or so. There was a funny smell and loud banging noise that was caused by the laser doing it’s work (No, the smell was not my eye burning, you silly goose!). It was over in a flash. The second worst part was the doctor using this little sponge on a stick to smooth my flap back into place. Again, no pain but it bothered me to watch and it felt uncomfortable. They taped my eye shut then repeated the procedure with my right eye.

All in all the surgery went fine. I was in and out in 15 minutes, though it felt like much longer, owing to my nerves. I gave up all pretenses of being “strong” in the surgery, and started singing the ABC’s to distract myself, while wringing my hands. Eventually the nurses had to hold me down because I started to panic. It was quite embarrassing and unneccessary. I shouldn’t have lost control like that.

The staff was nice and professional and really did there best to help me through it, and for that I thank them. I think for any normal person this surgery would be quick and easy, but I just blew it out of proportion.

Once I was done, I was sent home with all my drops and instructions, and I slept for the rest of the day. I had sight right away, but it was blurry for the first 2 days and my eyes felt gritty and dry. After a while though they began to heal, and I could see! It was incredible!

You have no idea how liberating it is to wake up in the morning and be able to see clearly without glasses. I had nothing hanging off my face and fogging up outside anymore. I don’t have to worry about accidentally sitting on my “eyes”. And I look so much prettier!

It wasn’t until I finally got rid of the glasses that I realized how much they were holding me back. I am much more confident about myself now, and am free to do all the wild activities (kung fu, skydiving, white water rafting, horseback riding) I couldn’t do before. Every day I am delighted to realize that I don’t need glasses anymore. Little things throughout the day stick out at me, like not having to change between glasses and sunglasses all the time. It’s great!

Having my eyes zapped was one hell of an experience, and one that I would rather not go through again. However I am infinitely glad that I sucked it up and went through with it. It was truly the biggest challenge in my life and I faced my fears and came out alive.

So, dear reader: If you are curious about laser eye surgery, I recommend you do your research and pick a reputable clinic to do it for you. Don’t be afraid to fork over the cash and go through some discomfort for several weeks. In the end it is absolutely worth it.

I hope this helps anyone that was interested, and if you have any questions about my experience, feel free to drop me a line at gingercorsair at gmail dot com.

5 thoughts on “Laser Eye Surgery: Yea or Nay?”

  1. Sorry this has nothing really to do with this post but I was browsing through your blog and just had to say you are officially my favorite person for having a wedding fund even though you are single!
    You’ve inspired me to start a wedding fund (when I actually have money to save!) even though I am very very single too 😀
    You have a great blog! I’ll be back to read more!

  2. Hey thanks so much! Oooh I am just tickled pink at your comment!

    Yeah I am a planner by nature, so wedding = big cost, and if I’ve learned anything about personal finance, it’s about using time to your advantage and starting early!

    I’m so glad you’re going to start a fund of your own. Good luck and keep me posted! :)

  3. Ginger this post is amazing! Thank you for describing it in so much detail and fessing up to your panicking lol. I think I would be the same way. There are so many of us that are curious about this procedure and I thought your post was great!

  4. Hey Ginger,
    Thanks for sharing your experience.
    How is your eye doing now? Are your eyes still 20/20?


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