This is a thing I got yesterday. Not 24 hours ago, even.
Mel had it done last December and started dropping hints that I should also get it done pretty much that day. I stalled and dawdled forever, but I’ve been experiencing a lot of eye strain lately and was due for an eye exam anyway, so I finally made an appointment for Wednesday.
Not that Mel was continually bugging me to do it or anything, but when faced with the prospect of doing something terrifying, spinning it to myself as something someone else wants doing is a convenient brain hack.
Yes, terrifying. You see, I don’t like things i my eyes. I don’t like water in my eyes. I had never opened my eyes underwater until a couple months ago, and it still feels like a superpower to me. If I get an eyelash in my eye, I have to find a mirror and manually guide it out because it bugs me so much. And now I was facing a medical procedure that involved shining a laser into my eyes. A laser! You know where you’re supposed to shine a laser? Anywhere except into your eyes.
Everyone at the clinic told me reassuring things, like that it’s a cold laser, or it doesn’t hurt, or it’s over pretty fast, or whatever. No, no, you don’t understand. It’s not that I don’t like things in my eyes because some rational underlying fear. I just don’t like things in my eyes, the same way I don’t like sharp things under my fingernails, or I don’t like spiders. I don’t like it. It’s creepy and I want to run away from whatever it causing it.
Okay, this story seems to have gotten a little off-track. Let’s rewind.
The exam was more thorough than any I’d had before and relied relatively little on charts—which was reassuring. It mostly involved a variety of chin-and-headrest eye scope machines that, I guess, measured stuff. The coolest one showed a very blurry graphic of a hot-air balloon sitting on the ground against a plain background: the machine made machiney “I am worth every penny” noises ending with a decisive clunk, and the graphic instantly became crisp. It was just like digital camera autofocus, except backwards. I have no idea how it worked but I hope it actually measured the image reflected on my eye or something.
I discovered my dominant eye is my left. I don’t know if this has any real implications, but it’s interesting nonetheless. I’d forgotten that eye dominance was even a thing.
The worst part by far was a moisture test, because this involved getting some numbing eyedrops (ugh) and then having little paper things left resting against my eye under my eyelid (UGH).
I’d been under the impression that my eyes were worsening gradually, because my second pair of glasses had been stronger than my first, and lately I’d felt like my eyes were starting to get tired more easily and thus that I needed stronger glasses again. So my primary concern about getting lasik was that I’d just need to go back to glasses after a couple years, in which case, what the hell was the point. But it seems my prescription now is exactly the same as my glasses, and the doctor conjectured that my eyes hadn’t actually worsened, but that the two prescriptions had been written differently because I went to two different doctors. Okay, I can buy that, cool.
My new theory is that I just naturally get eye strain because both eyes have different astigmatism (are different astigmatists?), and glasses can’t correct for that very easily, so everything always looks slightly distorted and I’m continuously trying to refocus. Or not. I don’t know, I pulled that out of my ass and neglected to actually ask anyone whether it’s remotely plausible.
I was told I am an excellent candidate and have really thick corneas (ladies), and was given a calendar for scheduling.
I’m out of town the last week of October, and when Mel had it done they were booked pretty solid, so I expected to be able to put this off until at least mid-November. I looked at the calendar, checked the date, looked at the calendar again. Friday and Saturday of that same week were available. And I couldn’t do it any later than Saturday since I’d be on a plane days later.
I booked Saturday and reflected on this plot twist, in which I had been tricked out of a month of expected mulling and into directly agreeing instead, like I’m an adult or something.
The sense of mild panic started the night before and grew gradually through Saturday morning.
I got there, signed some things, paid them, discovered my debit card won’t let me charge more than $2500 or so at a time.
I had to put on a hairnet and some shoe covers to enter the Laser Room. They had a last look in my eyes and told me how this would go. I was already more or less familiar with the process—the laser room had huge windows along one side with a waiting room beyond, so your loved ones can watch your eyes get sliced open. Mel was watching me, as I had watched her last year.
First was several rounds of, of course, eyedrops. Also the doctor straight-up marked my eyeball with what smelled distinctly like a Sharpie™ to mark the angle of my astigmatisms. Then I lay down on a bed, holding a pair of heart-shaped stress balls they’d given me.
Let me explain how this works: lasik is the process of reshaping the cornea (the outer, clear coating in front of your iris and pupil) with a laser. But they don’t just shave off the outer surface; they cut a thin hinged ring in the outer cornea, peel that back, and do the actual correction on the middle layers. This is about as disgusting as it sounds.
So, the first half is to actually make this flap. Apparently this was originally done with a metal blade (!!!), but I had all-laser lasik, which involves using a different laser to make a layer of tiny bubbles within the cornea, which then naturally separate the top layer away to make the flap. It involves having a cylinder attached around the iris with suction to keep my eye open and steady. They told me I would feel “a little pressure”, but let me tell you, it felt more like my eyes were going to be sucked out into space. The actual laser wasn’t so bad; stare at a red dot, feel a little weird for like ten seconds, and then it’s done. My vision went dim and foggy for a bit, and they said the worst was over.
They were wrong.
Part two is the actual lasiking. A different bed, a different laser, a different thing under my eyelids to keep them open. (ugh) Everything was pretty blurry the entire time there, and the actual laser didn’t feel like anything. But the worst part was when the doctor peeled the flap back. Peeled. I couldn’t really feel what he was doing, but I realized here my mistake in having watched Mel’s operation last year: I’d seen this before. He was dragging a squeegee across my eye. I swear to god that is basically what it is. It was cool and wet and I imagined the sound it would make and it creeped the hell out of me. I swore I’d pop the stress balls.
Fiddling with the flap actually took longer than the lasering, which was all of seven seconds per eye. There was one little thing they didn’t tell me, which was that I could very briefly smell my eyeball being singed away. I think the laser technically “vaporizes” rather than burning, but ultimately that puts eyeball molecules in the air and some of them went up my nose and it was very distinct and very gross. I managed to not leap off the table and run screaming for the door, and then it was done.
I could immediately see better. Uncanny, really. The world was kind of foggy, like someone had turned the bloom up a little too high, but it was crisp and foggy. I don’t really know how to describe how “foggy” is distinct from “blurry” but the difference was extremely obvious.
One last glance in my eyes and one more set of eyedrops and I was done and could just walk out. I left my glasses in their donation bucket, in case someone else happens to have exactly my prescription.
I had to keep my eyes closed for 3–5 hours afterwards, so Mel drove us home. My eyes were kind of sore immediately afterwards, like I’d been awake for 72 hours and also dumped sand in them, and I grumbled about this until I dozed off in the car, and then again on the couch at home. (They recommend just taking a nap anyway. I wasn’t tired, but something about keeping your eyes closed for an hour has a way of putting you to sleep.)
I woke up some four hours later feeling much better, and it’s gradually gotten better since. I have antibacterial eyedrops I have to take four times a day, as well as artificial tears I have to use to keep my eyes from drying out every hour—which sounds like a lot, but honestly, my eyes dry out fast enough that I’m probably using them more frequently than that. I’m not thrilled about having to drip stuff in my eyes, but it feels so good.
I still have flaps healing on both eyes, so I can’t rub them or otherwise touch them at all, lest I totally fuck up my corneas. I even have some sweet shades to wear while I’m asleep.
Vision is absolutely serviceable. There’s a halo effect on light sources, like monitors, but that’s common and tends to go away after a few days—it’s already improved since yesterday. I think it’s caused by swelling while the cornea heals. It makes lots of text on a screen a little tedious to read in the meantime, though. Can’t really scan; have to read one line at a time. I can’t imagine doing any heavy programming like this and will probably take a sick day tomorrow if it hasn’t cleared up considerably.
As of right now, my eyes are still a touch sore when I blink, and I still sometimes feel like I have a grain of sand or something in one of them, but otherwise I’m fine. There is the minor side effect of having super ultra gross big red splotches on my sclerae—apparently these are “bruises” from the suction used while cutting the flap. I have a followup appointment tomorrow to make sure I’m not going blind or anything, and then another in several weeks, but I seem to be home free.
This was a really unnerving experience. If you’re considering lasik, you probably shouldn’t be reading this post. It’s over pretty quick, though.
They gave me some Valium to reduce anxiety. I was actually looking forward to that, because brain filters are endlessly fascinating, but as far as I could tell it didn’t help at all. I still felt pretty goddamn anxious the entire time. I’m just too much of a chicken, and even psychoactive drugs are no match for me. But I did it anyway, hey, so you have no excuse.
Little pricey—$3500—and was actually cheaper without insurance for
<%= reason %>, but that money was either going towards better eyesight or a stack of thirteen Android tablets, so.
I asked the doctor whether it’s true that looking at screens for extended periods actually damages your eyes, and she confirmed that it is not. But it does tend to dry your eyes out, because you blink less. In fact, I’ve used fake tears twice while writing this post. Even more reason not to sit here for hours on end for the next day or two. 8)
I keep getting the urge to put my glasses on, of course. It’s very strange to not have them on, after four or so years of wearing them. I thought I looked better with slightly-nerdy glasses, too, so either someone needs to tell me I’m wrong or I need to find a new facial accessory. I don’t want to be one of Those People who wears neutral-lens glasses, though.
You know, I still don’t recall a specific moment where I actually decided to do this, which makes it just a tad surreal in retrospect.