So I went and had LASIK

This is one of my infrequent personal posts, feel free to skip if you don’t care about such things.

Some background first. I started wearing glasses when I was about 10 years old after being forced by my school to do so. Although I was slightly nearsighted the majority of my visual issues were due to astigmatism. Accordingly, I was advised to wear them even when reading. I didn’t quite understand why but it did help. By the time I was entering high school I was wearing them almost all the time.

Fast-forward to 1984. I woke up one morning to discover my glasses had broken for second time in a week. I told my wife that we were going to the mall and getting contacts, which is exactly what we did. I started with soft lenses, tried hard contacts for a while and eventually went back to soft lenses. The hard contacts were bifocal and were very effective but not very comfortable. When I went back to soft lenses I switched to what is called “monovision” – a close up lens in one eye and a distance lens in the other. Not everyone can handle it but it worked for me.

Fast-forward again to the beginning of the year. The lenses I wore were discontinued. I tried a couple of different ones but nothing worked. I hung on with my last pair and contemplated an online search for more.

Six months before that my wife floated the idea of LASIK as a great solution to my vision issues but I was uncomfortable with the concept of laser beams in my eyes and I dismissed the suggestion. But then a friend at karate had gotten it and was more than pleased with the results. I started to change my mind.

I went to the seminar at Flaum Eye Institute and discussed with one of the surgeons what my options were. I wasn’t totally put off and scheduled an exam to see if was truly a candidate. I gave myself a month or so to change my mind but ultimately went through the exam. Since I wore contacts that correct astigmatism, I had to stop wearing them for a couple of weeks prior. Still, there was some concern over slightly differing results so I ended up going back twice to be sure. Then there was an exam the day before the procedure and a fourth and final one just before it began.

This is an example of why I chose to go with Flaum and Dr. Scott MacRae. They could have just gone ahead and done the LASIK based on the initial exam but they took the time and effort to make sure they were correct. It paid off.

The procedure itself doesn’t take very long, about an hour or so if they correct both eyes. Each eye takes about 20 minutes but there’s setup time between (plus the extra exam for me) so it takes a bit longer. There’s no pain involved (they numb the eye) and only a bit of discomfort as part of the setup for each eye. There’s a device that holds your eye open and while it feels odd it’s not bad and you really don’t notice it.

You don’t actually sense the laser working although you do hear the machine make a sound when it fires. All you have to do is lay there and stare at the red spot. This helps make sure your eye stays somewhat still. But the LASIK machine corrects for eye position hundreds of times a second and shuts off if you move too much so you don’t have to overly concentrate on not moving. The doctor can only fire the laser when the machine is happy that you’re in the right position and sufficiently motionless.

You will smell something. Let me get that out of the way. It’s not unpleasant but it’s certainly odd. If you think you’d find that off-putting they offer Valium to keep you calm during the procedure. I am not ashamed to say that I took it and didn’t even notice anything until I was laying there thinking to myself this was my last chance to run away and deciding not to.

When it’s over, your eyes will be irritated and you won’t want to open them much. You must have someone to drive you. Don’t think you can be a hero and go solo. Once you’re home, they strongly recommend you sleep the day away or otherwise spend as much time with your eyes closed. I spent most of the day alternating between naps and listening to podcasts on my phone.

The following morning I awoke being able to see better than I had in a while, at least within my bedroom. Extreme distance vision was still a little hazy and again it’s a good idea to have someone drive you to the follow-up exam. That’s when they give you steroid and antibiotic drops to use to cut down on inflammation and possible infection. I was doing fine and worked from home that day. I was able to drive the day after that even though my extreme distance vision wasn’t 100%. They recommend you use artificial tears regularly to avoid that dry eye feeling and I expect I will continue doing so for a while.

A couple of days after that it cleared up and I was seeing everything just fine. Well, almost everything. Notice that I mentioned that I was wearing a close up lens in one eye. Now, my eyes were both set up for distance. This means I have to wear reading glasses for certain things, but conveniently not the computer screen. Flaum gave me a pair and I’ve been wearing them for books and magazine reading along with when I use my phone. It’s a small price to pay.

My vision continued to improve for a couple of weeks and has since settled down. At my one month checkup I was told there still might be some changes due to the degree of astigmatism correction I required. I’m more than happy with what I’ve got now and notice a real difference when reading in that the letters are uniformly black now. As long as it doesn’t degrade, I can’t imagine being more content with the results.

Some caveats: Not everyone who wears glasses/contacts is a candidate. Everyone is an individual and some vision issues are simply not correctable. Flaum will help you in those cases as well so it doesn’t hurt to go for the exam. Also, sometimes a followup correction is required, which they will do once you’ve fully healed and your eyes have settled. And of course, if you’re over 40 or so you will probably need reading glasses because age-related closeup problems are due to the stiffness of your eye’s lens and can’t be fixed by LASIK.

In case you’re wondering why I chose Flaum and Dr. MacRae it was for a number of reasons. They have a remarkably good record for not having complications or “do overs”. Dr. MacRae has patents on the equipment he uses and he instructs other doctors on how to use it. He literally wrote the book on LASIK. They took the time to make sure they were correct before doing anything. They were more expensive that the other LASIK office in town but even if you have to get a loan (they can help) you have to ask yourself if your vision is worth it. To me, it was a no-brainer.

If you have any questions, you can hit me up on email or in the comments and I’ll try to answer them.

Flaum Eye Institute

100 Meridian Center, Suite 125
Rochester NY 14618
(585) 273-2020
http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/eye-institute.aspx

Afterword [8/30/2014]

I realized that I had somewhat understated how much of a difference this has made in my life, so I thought I should talk about that here.

First of all, I think it’s important to say that everyone I know who has gotten LASIK made the decision because something major changed. That is, they were wearing glasses or contacts for years without issue and then their new pair didn’t work right or the brand was discontinued (my story) or some other annoying change happened. Note that none of these are particularly serious, but they introduce lifestyle changes that you’re not really happy to go through. Choosing to undergo surgery, no matter how minor, is always difficult. No one really wants to, but they realize that the benefits outweigh the risks and inconveniences. So while it may seem trivial, those changes are perceived as important enough to motivate people to get surgery.

Now we can talk about what happens when you have LASIK.

I’ve been waking up to a slightly blurred world since I was a kid. As you’d expect you get used to it. You wake up, grab your glasses or pop in your contacts and the world clears up. I wore both since I was a volunteer firefighter and would have to get up in the middle of the night and need to move quickly. Either way, it was just part of my life and I barely noticed. Until I did.

As I said above, I spent the rest of the day of the procedure with my eyes mostly closed in a dark room. Waking up on the following morning is when it really became obvious that Something Had Changed. I could see everything in the room clearly. When I looked out the window I could see the yard and everything was in focus. More importantly, I didn’t need to put something on my face or in my eyes to do so. If you wear glasses or contacts you know how big that is.

It wasn’t perfect, there was still some haziness in the far distance, but it was still pretty amazing. For the most part I was able to see the way people with normal vision see. That’s because for the first time in my life I had normal vision. It’s been over a month now and I’m still amazed sometimes when I look at something in the distance and I can see it clearly. Medicine has come a long way and I’ve benefited from the progress.

So I mean it when I say go ahead and ask me about LASIK. I promise I will talk your ears off.

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