If you have concerns about choosing an eye surgeon, about the procedure itself, and questions about having the procedure done at all, then I hope I will be answering those for you in the following paragraphs.
Glasses at 13?!
I was a normal kid and did normal sports especially swimming. But sometime during the fifth grade, my eyes started to change. I didn’t say anything at the time, it’s just that the chalkboard was a little blurry when I sat in the back of the classroom. So for two years, I just chose seats closer to the front of the room and sat a little closer to the television.
By the time I hit junior high and seventh grade, my strategy no longer worked because we switched classrooms for every subject and I had no control over where I sat anymore. I just couldn’t see in class. My mom took me to the eye doctor and my vision was something like 20/100 and I needed glasses to see things far away. I had no problem with my close vision. This was a traumatic moment because seventh grade is when appearance and popularity really started to become super important. So my parents bought me contact lenses in order to save me the embarrassment of glasses and braces at school. I did get a pair of glasses, too, for home when I was tired and really needed to give my eyes a rest from contacts.
Change is Inevitable
Contact lenses served me well through junior high, high school and college. I wore them full time until I was forty years old when I discovered riding. Horse riding that is. I’m an animal lover by nature, always have been. And when I was looking for a hobby and a sport that was easier on my knees than running, I just fell in love with horses and riding and jumping.
Wearing contacts and riding worked sometimes. But when I started getting sand in my eyes and would be riding with one hand over one eye and riding with only one hand on the reins, something had to change. That was just too dangerous and having sand in my eye with contacts really hurt.
Wearing glasses wasn’t an option for me because I just didn’t see as well with glasses as I did with contacts and it was a matter of confidence. When you are riding a horse that weighs upwards of 1200 pounds, jumping over fences and trying to concentrate, you really need to be 100% sure of your ability to see well. I just didn’t have that same confidence with glasses. Further, on rainy days (yes, you ride in the rain), glasses get wet and there are no windshield wipers on glasses to keep the lenses clear.
Fortunately there was an alternative. Lasik surgery. And so my quest began to find out as much as possible about the surgery and if it could help me.
Quest for the best
Anything to do with the eyes makes some people squeamish. I know. I am very protective of my eyes and have tried to take very good care of them my whole life. Having surgery on eyes is scary. You don’t want to go blind because of something you chose to do that you didn’t have to do.
No one has to have lasik surgery. It is an elective procedure. Most insurance won’t cover it. This money usually comes out of your own pocket. And since it was coming out of mine, I was going to be darn sure that I picked the very best lasik surgeon I could find.
I called around and asked just one question before continuing: How many lasik surgeries has Doctor So-and-so done? If the answer was not in the thousands, then I went on to the next one. I was the first of my friends and acquaintances to have this done, so I just couldn’t ask anyone for a recommendation.
When I finally found a doctor that had done more than 3000 lasik surgeries, I made an appointment for an eye exam and evaluation.
I met the doctor for an initial eye exam and eye health evaluation. Since I was over 25 (eyes are mature after that age) and my eyes were very healthy (yay!) I was a good candidate. By this time, my eyes were 20/200 and the doctor thought that I would be a good candidate for lasik and I could expect close to perfect vision after surgery. I wasn’t looking for a doctor that I could be friends with, nor one that impressed me with fancy offices, I was looking for the best technician in my area. I was sure, at this point, that I found the right one.
For two weeks, I had to ready my eyes for surgery with drops and minimal eye strain. I was told that the procedure itself took less than 20 minutes, and my total time in the office would be about 35 minutes. I think I can tolerate most anything for 20 minutes, so I was not worried about pain, or discomfort or anything like that. I was worried that I wouldn’t see well enough to ride without contacts.
The day of surgery
You need to have someone drive you home from surgery because your eyes have bandages over them to keep them clean and to help them heal. I asked my mother-in-law to accompany me and we set out for the surgical center. Nice offices. No one there but my doctor, his assistant, my mother-in-law and me. It seemed strange, especially when you see surgeries on television and there seems to be a dozen people in the room.
I sat upright in a chair and the doctor coached me through what would be happening. There will be pinching. (It wasn’t bad, just clamp-like things that kept your eyelids from closing and your head absolutely still.) I’ve been through childbirth. It was a big nothing by comparison.
At this point, I’m counting minutes in my head. Twenty minutes was promised. There was a lot of clicking. This is the laser working on sculpting a new shape that would enable better focus. The clicking went on for maybe ten minutes. Then the doctor applied gauze over each eye, taped the gauze and that was it. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I thought that there would be more drama. There wasn’t. I’ve had tooth cleanings that took longer and hurt more. I won’t call the procedure painful, it is just inconvenient for a short while when you have to stay absolutely still. Emphasis on short.
The drive home was weird. I’m usually the driver. And I knew the route home in my head so I was aware of every turn at every intersection even though I couldn’t see anything through the gauze bandages. When I got home, I was told to rest and not do anything. Easy to do nothing when your eyes are bandaged, but still not a normal everyday occurrence. So I sat, listened to the radio and ate a small dinner. Finger foods. Small bites.
After dinner, more radio. I went to sleep early. It was a trying day, but not in the way I thought it would be. It was different and the stress came from not being able to do much but sit and listen.
The next day
I was told by the doctor that I could remove the bandages the next morning when I woke up. So I got up carefully and peeled away the adhesive tape around my eyes. I could see the time on the clock: 6:48. I’ll never forget. I hadn’t woken up being able to see for the past 30 years without putting in my contacts or putting on a pair of glasses. I looked out the window and saw leaves on the trees….not just a green mass, but each single leaf. I cannot explain what it felt like to see again without contacts or glasses. All I know is that I was happy to the point of tears. I could see.
My doctor re-check appointment was at 10 and I happily drove myself to the office, retracing the route that I took blindfolded the afternoon before. When the doctor projected the familiar eye chart on the wall, I could see not only the first row, but down to the last rows. My eyes were a bit “overcorrected” to 20/15…which the doctor said would settle to 20/20 over time. A rousing success. I could never have imagined how much this would mean to me. I could go swimming and see just fine. More importantly, I could ride without glasses or contacts and without worry that sand would get in my eye and I would be blind in one eye until I stopped and removed the sand grains….(I also had to stay out of the barn for 10 days because of the airborne debris that might get into my eyes and cause an issue…small price to pay though.)
It has been seven years since I had lasik surgery on my eyes. I am older, and now need glasses to read up close. (I am thinking about having a second procedure done to fix this.) But my eyesight is still 20/20. This is one of the best things that I ever did for my health and overall happiness.
Is lasik right for everyone? No. It won’t work for some people due to differing eye conditions. Only a doctor can tell you if you are a good candidate. You need to have healthy eyes. You need to want it. And, you need to have a surgeon that is the best technician in town. One that has seen it all and can tell you, based on the thousands of eyes he or she has worked on, if this has a good chance of success for you.