Getting laser eye surgery can be a life changing decision which may seem like a risky procedure but in reality, has proven to be very safe and effective. Ask around, you'll be surprised how many people have had the procedure or know someone who has, with very positive results. I should know, I'm one of them - and I've had a different experience than most people that I'd like share. Hopefully you'll be able to relate to my story and then decide if it is right for you. After all, how many people can say they had both procedures done at the same time?
First off, let me say that I've never been one to shy away from taking risks; many a friend can tell you some crazy stories. But risks and stories aside, laser eye surgery does affect the eyes after all, and I made absolutely certain to take every precaution and research everything before going through with the procedure.
First, let me start by telling you why I decided to have the vision correction procedure. I had worn glasses since the age of 10, replacing them as my prescription changed, changing styles as designs changed, enduring them breaking or the lens popping out when playing soccer or basketball (insert your childhood experience here).
I eventually switched to contact lenses, and although aesthetically I felt they were better, contacts came with their own set of problems. For one, they were never completely comfortable, especially after wearing them for long periods of the day - my eyes would dry out, become watery and there would be a general redness of the eyes. Not only that, after some time they began to really irritate my right eye, and after seeing an ophthalmologist (eye doctor), it turned out they had actually scarred my cornea due to them not being cleaned properly (I knew I shouldn't have switched solutions!). Much to my chagrin, I was forced to switch back to glasses until my cornea fully healed (which would be at least 3 months).
This was ok until one fine day when I went skiing on Cypress Mountain. The overcast day started off well until it started to sleet (snow/rain) on the mountain. I had been skiing fine with my glasses on, but as the downpour increased, I tried putting my ski goggles on over my glasses. It worked in preventing the snow from building up and obscuring my vision but now they were getting fogged up underneath my goggles. Let's just say that as vision decreases, fear and frustration increases when trying to ski down a mountain. After suffering/surviving the next couple of runs and feeling dejected over a wasted day of skiing, I decided that there must be a better way.
I even thought about all the times I went to the beach with my glasses, only wishing to wear sunglasses. Then wearing contacts so I could wear sunglasses but then losing the contacts in the water. And then finally getting prescription sunglasses but not being able to go into the water for fear of losing them. God help us poor, partially blind souls.
The investigation began...
I'd seen some ads in the paper and saw prices as low as $490 an eye to as high as $1200 for vision correction surgery. I always thought this was considered cosmetic or elective surgery but learned that many health insurance plans started covering a portion of laser eye surgery similar to glasses and contacts. This was encouraging and I suggest checking out your plan and you'll probably discover the same thing if you have a decent health insurance plan.
I then asked around to find out if anyone had actually had the procedure done and found some - my wife's cousin, and a colleague from work - both had had their procedure done at different places and were very pleased. Each told me that the initial consultations were free and that's the best place to start. You can schedule a no obligation appointment and they'll measure your eyes and tell you what type of procedure you're eligible for. They'll then recommend a procedure (as everyone's eye shape and prescription is different). I had astigmatism as well but this is not an issue for them to treat. They will finally quote you a price and leave you to decide when, or even if you'd like to go through with it. No pressure.
So I first tried the place my wife's cousin recommended - Vision Med. The friendly staff at their office did the consultation in about 1.5 hours - recommending that I get PRK done on both eyes - a more expensive procedure but with better long term success.
My colleague had gone to London Eye Center which was located a little too far for me to see however he highly recommended it and said either way, do the most expensive and safest procedure as this affects your eyes after all. - Good advice.
The next place I decided to consult was the one with all the ads around - Lasik MD. I found out that this chain had done more than 300,000 procedures including the Canadian Armed forces. First impression was that it was a really nice, welcoming office a few blocks away from Vision Med. I must admit, I'm a fish guy and the large aquarium they had warmed me up to them too. Their consultation took about 3 hours and I felt was much more thorough. They immediately noticed the scratching on my cornea and said that although I qualify for Lasik (the $490 per eye deal) that PRK may be a better choice. What's more is that in a strange twist of fate, I learned that the same ophthalmologist I had seen regarding my eye, was also one of the doctors at Lasik MD.
Lasik vs. PRK
There are 2 procedures that can be done with laser eye surgery - Lasik and PRK. Without getting into too much detail or history I'll break down the main differences. If you qualify for both, its really just a matter of recovery time, money, and comfort level.
What you'll first need to understand is that your eye, and specifically your cornea, is layered like an onion (I think of Shrek every time I explain this). Interestingly enough, the outer 2 of the 5 layers of your eye will grow back or 'regenerate' themselves - the lower 3 do not. This is the basis for laser eye surgery - they use a high precision laser to cut away at the layers of the eye to reshape it and correct the way light enters it; correcting the image our brains interpret.
The difference between Lasik and PRK is with Lasik; they first cut away the 2 layers of the eye, make the laser incision, fold the 2 layers back and allow the eye to heal. Since just the incision has to heal, the recovery time is drastically reduced (as well as healing discomfort). The downside, is that the Dr has to make the incision. PRK on the other hand is considered 'No touch' meaning no doctor/human touch needed -just straight lasering of the eye and the 2 layers need time to grow back on their own. Apparently, long term this is said to have a higher success rate since there is no room for human error. Recovery time is much longer and can be very uncomfortable but is apparently safer as they place a contact lens and bandage on your eye, ensuring nothing enters it (dust) which healing.
The laser technology has also advanced over the years, although they are both affective, the newer model lasers have more precision. This in turn makes using the new laser more expensive. The original laser is a cheaper procedure and the one generally offered with the $490 per eye promotion if you qualify.
Well, all that more thorough testing at Lasik MD paid off since I did in fact qualify for the lasik procedure. I had limited vacation left at work and liked the fact that I had the option to choose for myself. In the end, I decided lasik would be the best procedure for me, however, after speaking to the doctor that would actually be doing the procedure (yes my now good ophthalmologist friend) - he actually mentioned that there's no reason I couldn't opt for Lasik on the left eye and PRK on the right. That way the cornea scarring caused by my contacts would be eliminated as well. Brilliant!
The Day of the surgery
All the preparation, discussions with family and seemingly endless anticipation passed, and the day of the procedure finally arrived. Now I've been skydiving, bungee jumping etc, and I have to admit, the moment before I lay under the laser, I had that sudden rush of adrenaline and thought to myself- "Am I really ready? What if something goes wrong? Do I really want to go through with this?" and then I reminded myself of all the extensive research I did beforehand and am now sharing with you.
So in I went under this white behemoth of a machine - honestly just amazing technology even just to look at. The doctor put some drops in my eyes which numbed the area, they then put something in to keep my eyes open and he steadied my head under the machine. The Dr then made his incision for the left (lasik) eye. Picture a little robot-like guillotine on its side, on tracks. It purposefully slid over my eye making the incision. This was the only time I couldn't see, and a little worrisome although I was warned/prepped it would happen. The laser then goes to work and in about 15 seconds, the eye is done. The Dr then finished up and bandaged the eye (My vision was blurry but I could see).
It was now time for the right eye which was to use the PRK procedure. This was much more straightforward as the Dr told me to simply look at the honeycomb-shaped lights of the behemoth, and after 15 seconds of zaps, the procedure was done. Of course, no one tells you about the burning hair smell which is actually your eye burning, but in the end what else would you expect? That it would smell like Cool Water? :)
Leaving the facility, you can still see although its very blurry - but reassuring none-the-less that you can still see. Also, you can drop your glasses off in the large bin by the entrance - I hear they donate them to third world countries - enjoy pirates!
Having both eyes done with different procedures, I really got to experience the difference between the two. For the first couple days, you're all bandaged up and can only function in really low light. The pain killers help but early on it was hard for me to know which eye is was more sore. However, after the first couple days its obvious - the PRK eye hurt like a $*@!%* compared to the lasik. But with lots of rest and painkillers it's definitely tolerable. Pretty soon, I didn't feel any discomfort in the lasik eye and was even trying to watch tv to cure my boredom. Here's the interesting part, my vision was blurry but improved in about 3-4 days considerably in my left eye; the vision wasn't perfect but was really good. My PRK eye on the other hand, well that took a good 10-12 days, but my vision was becoming even clearer than the Lasik eye. After about 2 months, the PRK eye was pretty much perfect, while the lasik eye was still a bit blurry. 4 months later and they were both excellent.
Throughout the recovery, there is constant stream of eye drops to deal with the dryness. You also have to deal with copious amounts of boredom from not being able to focus on things. There are a number of post-op checkups where they test your eyes after the first week, month and then 3 months after the procedure. Their goal is to see how your eyes are healing and to ensure that you wouldn't need a follow-up correction. This happens on extremely rare occasions but is covered when you decide to get the procedure done.
I'm happy to say that its been 2 years since the vision correction procedure and I proudly have 20/20 vision. There are very minor halos at night (no worse than when I wore contacts) when you look at things like lampposts or headlights. Of course, I now have complete freedom to go to the beach or ski whenever I want without glasses or contacts. Overall, one of the best decisions I've ever made and a safe procedure I highly recommend to all my friends, family and anyone else who took the time to read this novel.