We arrived at the TLC Laser Eye Center in Edgewater, Md., for my 8:40 a.m. appointment about 35 minutes early. I have no recollection as to whether the next forty minutes flew by while I sat idle (you’re not allowed to read pre-LASIK because it can change your prescription), or whether the time flew by because I was filling out paperwork and handing over my credit card, authorizing a $4,290.00 charge.
I was more excited than anxious. They took me back soon after the charge cleared, and sat me in a typical eye exam room where I was instructed to watch a short video of my doctor — Dr. Maria Scott — explaining what was to come. Then I was given a cap for my hair and booties for my sneakers, along with a glass of water and a Vicodin.
Several minutes later, I was retrieved and taken to a separate waiting room. When the girl in front of me was taken into the surgery room, I could hear the loud, punctured sound of the laser: tik-tik-tik-tich-tich-tik! It was much louder than I had imagined.
Soon enough it was my turn. I was taken into the surgical room and asked to sit on a padded bench and then to lie down. As soon as I was prone, everything started moving at a fast, practiced speed. One girl handed me a stress ball to squeeze, and another stuck several drops into my eyes. Dr. Scott was behind me, talking to me. The machine to my right was humming loudly, making it hard to hear the doctor’s soft speech, but I tried to concentrate.
My left eye was taped closed, and a circle was placed over my right eye and pressed downward. There was a lot of pressure, but it wasn’t terrible. My eyes were numbed from the previous drops, and I was aware of movement and pressure but there was no pain as the bench was moved underneath of the machine on my right and the laser created a flap in my right cornea. The bench was swung back in between the two machines, and I watched as Dr. Scott removed the circle of pressure and used an instrument to lift the corneal flap.
As soon as the flap was completely moved out of the way, everything went… dark heather charcoal. I can’t call it “black”; it wasn’t perfect blackness, but mottled with the idea of light. Some other device was used to hold my eyelids open, and I was swung under the machine on my left. Dr. Scott told me to find the blinking red light and to stare straight at it. Amazingly enough, I could see the blinking blur. I squeezed the stress ball a few times and told myself to pay attention, to stare at that blinking blob without glancing around.
Even though I knew it was coming, I was surprised when the laser started. TIK-TIK-TICH-TICH-TIKA-TIK-TIK-TIK! Like a bug zapper running at the pace of a jack-hammer. It was so much louder than I expected, and a quiet reminder in my ear allowed me to keep my focus on that little blur… wait. As the laser worked to correct my vision, I WATCHED the red blur come into focus! Craziness. (And total craziness requires a few more squeezes on that stress ball!)
Once the laser was finished, I was swung back to the neutral position. Dr. Scott flipped my corneal flap back over, and then tweaked its position with what felt (and looked) like a wet paintbrush. Gentle, cool strokes nudged my flap into place. Keeping with the fast pace, the lid keepers were removed from my right eye as the tape was ripped off of my left. I jumped in surprise and may have exclaimed a disgruntled, “Ow!”; the tape removal was by far the most uncomfortable part of the process.
It was time to repeat the process with the left eye. My right eye was taped shut and the circle placed over my left eye. Now… you’d think that the anxiety of not knowing what was about to happen would mean that the process of doing LASIK on the left eye would be easier. And you’d be wrong.
As soon as the tape was taken off, I was aware that my eye didn’t want to fully open. It wasn’t much of a problem, because I knew they’d manipulate my lids to be as open as they needed it to be, but the feeling was a bit disconcerting. The pressure from the ring was more intense, uncomfortable, although I still didn’t feel any pain. The creation of the corneal flap and pulling it back went fine, but when I was moved underneath the laser on my left I had trouble holding a steady gaze on that blinking red blur.
Dr. Scott must have noticed my difficulty, because slightly over the hum of the other machine she repeatedly asked me to squeeze the stress ball and to try to focus on the red dot. She repositioned my head twice, which was frustrating because I felt like it was too far south and to the left to focus on comfortably. The bam-bam-bam! nature of this procedure was slowed as Dr. Scott waited to start the loud jack-hammering sound of the laser. A deep breath and a couple of squeezes later, the laser began and my internal chant started, “Stare at red dot, squeeze ball, don’t look around, breathe, red dot, red dot, squeeze, breathe, red dot!”
It was over relatively quickly, and after being swung into the center position my second corneal flap was painted back into place. The lid holders were removed from my left eye and the tape from my right. I was helped into a seated position, and then eased off of the table. As I gained my feet I looked around — it was like looking at the room through a mosquito net, everything was shrouded in this 40% white opacity.
I was led down the hall and back into the eye exam room. Dr. Jones looked at my eyes through that standard eye doctor machine that uses white light and mirrors and magnification, and pronounced me good to go home! I was escorted back to my mom in the main waiting room, reminded to don my TLC-provided wraparound sunglasses before leaving the building, and instructed to sleep as much as possible — both on the way home and once at home.
The ladies in the reception part of TLC were awesome, in that while I was in surgery they faxed my completed, signed FSA form and my paid invoice to my insurance company, helping me to get a jump start on getting my reimbursement. I left the office with both the original documents and a confirmation page in my hand.
In the car, I reclined in the passenger seat with a pillow behind my head and sunglasses shielding my eyes. From the ride home on Wednesday to today — the following Monday — I can’t say I was ever in any pain, nor can I equate the discomfort of dry eyes to what I experienced when I was in Perth, Australia in 2001 and got a grain of sand lodged underneath my upper eyelid. (That was miserable, tear-inducing, eyeball-wiping, major-blinking discomfort.)
Talking to a co-worker today, I described the dry-eye feeling more like being a bit wrinkled, like a raisin. In fact, when I left TLC I felt like I had folded-over contacts stuck in my eyes whenever they were open and/or blinking. Closed my eyes felt fine, and after both a nap on the car ride home and a four-hour nap at home in bed that feeling went away completely. Now, when my eye gets really dry I feel wrinkled and tired… like I spent a long day out on the beach, exposed to wind and sun and sand.
None of the four different eye drops I’m currently taking really sting, but the Vigamox® and Omnipred™ leave me with a medicinal taste in the back of my nose and mouth. Omnipred™ is probably the most medicinal-tasting and is milky, leaving a charming white goop in the inside corners of your eyes. I’ve never had a problem with the Restasis®, which I started taking a month before the surgery, and I’m on the fence with the Systane®.
An over the counter product, Systane® feels great when you first administer it (hourly relief for the dry eye), but doesn’t really seem to last past blinking your eyes clear of the excess. In fact, yesterday I felt like I was doing quite fine without drops, but I didn’t want to not adhere to my post-op instructions so I got up and placed a drop in each eye. Afterward, my left eye felt like it had a wrinkle in it and was uncomfortable. It took several more drops and lightly pinching the dried drops off of my lashes to make myself comfortable again.
I’m fairly comfortable with the speed in which my eyesight is clearing up and with the amount of dry eye I’m experiencing. However, two things have made me grumpy post-LASIK.
1. The adhesive on the tape I was given to tape these clear, domed and ventilated disks over my eyes before sleeping for the first week post-surgery. I don’t mind sleeping with my eyes behind what is effectively plastic cups; the peace of mind knowing that I can’t bury my face into a pillow and dislodge that corneal flap is worth it… but I hate waking up and trying to figure out how to get that adhesive off of my skin without getting soap or water in my eyes. (For the first week after surgery, you can’t get any water in your eyes because of possible bacteria.)
2. The eyelash goop and crust that comes from the eye drops. It’s gross, people. My eyelashes are coated in slime and stick together, which can cause me to think that I’ve got something in my eye when I don’t. And even if I did, I can’t rub my eye to get the feeling to go away. I can get up, look into a mirror and very carefully use my fingernails to pluck and pull the goo and crust off of my eyelashes. Like I said, kinda gross.
Today at work, the fluorescent lights and the bright computer screen bugged the heck out of me and gave me a headache. In order to get through the day, I resorted to wearing my wraparound sunglasses indoors, much to the amusement of those who walked past my open door. Around mid-day I had to take some Aleve, and thankfully the skies clouded over again before I had to drive home. Driving to work this morning in the rain wasn’t so bad (I waited until the sun came fully up so I wouldn’t have to deal with headlights, too); I blinked a lot and tried to figure out whether the blurriness was my eyes or the rain. Driving home, without the rain, was much easier save for the remnant headache pounding at my temples.
I’ve already been asked, “Would I do it again?” and the answer is, undoubtedly, “Yes.” However, I think I would’ve scheduled my surgery for right after Mom’s birthday (January 1), when the speed at work is still slow from the holidays and the bad weather (I stayed much longer at work today than I should have because I had so much to do). When potential snow (or, in our case this year, blizzard) days would grant me extra days at home. When daylight savings time was not in effect and it gets darker, earlier. Though, I haven’t tried driving at night and I don’t know how bad the halos and star bursts are going to be, or if they’ll bother me at all. But, if DST wasn’t in effect, it would be cold and I’d have been happy to hibernate, whereas right now I’m itching to get moving… to put the windows down when it’s 70 degrees outside (a no-no for potential dust, pollen and dry eyes). To get back in the pool (still not sure when that’s going to happen. Two weeks post op, maybe?).
Later the same day of my surgery, Dr. Scott called to see how I was doing and advised me to not “rub my eyes” for at least a month. In my one-day post-op appointment with my local eye doctor, he said that the corneal flap takes 3-4 days to seal all the way around the incision, but that it takes up to six months to “completely” seal. He said that four, five months post-op I could go back in and Dr. Scott could lift the flap up and re-laser my prescription if needed. Craziness. Where’s that stress ball?!
So, this Thursday at my one-week post-op report I’m going to try to get more answers. When can I splash my face with water? Can I really stop sleeping in my eye shields at night after one week? If I can wear eye makeup after one week, can I lightly rub my eyes to remove said makeup? When can I wear goggles (hello, suction!) to go swimming in the local pool (hello, chlorine!)?
And in the meantime? I’m still reminding myself every night that I don’t have to take my contacts out. That it’s okay to SEE until I turn out the light. I guess 15-year habits die hard.