Having grown sufficiently sick of grappling with contact lenses (which resulted in a diagnosis of giant papillary conjunctivitis – a fancy name for “eyelids allergic to contact lenses”) and wearing eyeglasses (favorite eyewear moment – hiking in the Redwoods, unable to see a damn thing from the constant mist and fog appearing on the lenses), I decided earlier this year to get LASIK.
I — like everyone who has ever done it — was a little nervous. So beforehand I copiously researched all the little details about the procedure, right down to the type of goggles I’d have to wear after my eyeballs were re-shaped. However, most of the articles online are either written by doctors’ offices desperate to bring in new clients, or written by professional writers who are very careful not to over-state or under-state what the experience is really like. So, this is how it went, for me, written in a helpful second-person voice to help you feel what it’s really like. (Note: The veracity of this report is affected by the Valium I took beforehand.)
1. First your appointment begins with a last-minute check of your vision to make sure they have your refraction correction right.
2. Then, things quickly get different when they hand you a Valium so you don’t bolt. Yay to Valium!
3. Once you seem sufficiently like Jeff Spicoli, they usher you to the surgical room.
4. You lay down on a cushy bed. Someone swipes your eye lids with Betadine to help sterilize your eye area.
5. Then they put a series of drops in your eyes to numb them and what-not.
6. One eye is blocked off with an eye patch. On the other eye (the one to be operated on first), the doctor places clear adhesive retractors in your upper and lower eyelids. S/he then folds those back and sticks them against your skin to fully expose your eyeball. A narrow donut-shaped sheet is placed around the retractors. While this is going on, you look upward at a comforting green light (comforting because you can see it and know you’re not blind).
7. Next comes the slicing and dicing part, or as they politely call it, “creating the corneal flap.” A tubular device comes down on your eyeball, and is basically smooshed really hard against your eye socket. Everything goes gray at that moment. A person will say “suction on.” (I presume this means the eyeball is immobilized so you can’t jerk your head and end up getting flaps cut into your earlobes.) More mumbling from the surgical staff ensues, and in under 20 seconds, something cuts your cornea open. There is no pain, just pressure. (Still my heart was racing at this point.) Luckily you can take deep breaths and think about kittens. Then someone says “suction off” and the device is moved away.
8. The doctor then gets a paintbrush-like tool and pushes your freshly sliced flap back and manipulates your flap and your eyeball. (I experienced a brief moment of motion sickness when he was moving my eye around, because I wasn’t in control of it and the room was moving around. Ugh. But it ends quickly.)
9. Next comes the laser! I, ever the nerd, asked “Is this the laser?” excitedly.
10. A weird goggle set is swung over. Lights flash on – big red swooshy lights. Someone starts counting the progress 20%, 30%, 50%. Full disclosure: You can now smell the laser working. Yes, tiny bits of your eyeballs are vaporized and you’re inhaling that. Thankfully, this only takes around 10 seconds, depending on how bad your eyesight is (my left eye’s vision was worse so it took about 4 seconds longer).
11. The laser is moved away. Now everything happens in backward steps. The doctor gets his tools all up in there and pushes the flap back down into place, gently painting it with something, somehow forming a seal.
12. The most painful part is really the last step – when they peel away the retractors. It’s like having a Band-aid removed from your inner eyelids. But—your eyes are numb so it’s not quite that bad.
13. Everything is repeated on the other eye, and that goes a lot faster because you’re not so nervous.
14. The whole thing takes about 20 minutes, if that.
If you’re like me, you have some REAL pain the next few hours. My eyes kept tearing up, and searing pain that felt like I had shoved fresh onion slices onto my eyes. What helped: Avoiding light — any light — as much as possible. Taking a pain reliever ASAP and falling asleep, which is great for healing your corneas, or so they tell me. As I tried to pass out, I listened to podcasts on my iPod and at one point even sang along to Wilco to help distract myself from the pain (you can’t read or watch TV – and my god, it would hurt too much to even try). When I woke up later, wow, so much better!
The next day, I had a little bit of pain. Then the next day, even less. And yesterday, nothing at all. (You get a bunch of different medicated drops to help with eye dryness, inflammation and to ward off potential infection.)
All in all, four days out, I’m glad I did it. Even if it meant inhaling the gasses of my former eyeball parts.