On Saturday March 5th, I finally took the plunge and had LASIK surgery on my eyes. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for close to ten years now, but given my profession, I’ve always been very hesitant about it.
I feel stupid saying that to be honest because I’m sure everyone says something similar. After all, how do you do home repair if you can’t see the nails to hit them with a hammer? What about hair dressers, administrative assistants, or virtually any other profession. The idea that I think that my vision matters more than theirs is actually a bit absurd. But nonetheless, I’m entitled to feel that my vision is important.
Based on the success statistics, it seems fairly safe, but as we all know, numbers and statistics can be manipulated and placed into marketing material to say just about anything you want.
Since making it generally known that I was considering it, people I know have come out of the woodwork to share their experiences with the process. I knew about a dozen people who had it done prior to announcing my intent. Then I found perhaps another dozen people I knew had it done. A few people have asked me to share my experience and blog about it. So that’s what I have decided to do.
To begin with, I had planned on getting surgery in April or May of this year in preparation for my trip to the Bahamas in June. I simply wanted to be able to wear sunglasses instead of my regular glasses and some weird contraption to help shield my eyes from the Caribbean sun. When I went to Aruba for my honeymoon back in 2003, snorkeling was fun, but I couldn’t really see most of the fish very well.
I knew I had three months before my trip, but I wasn’t sure how long the waiting list would be or when they would have openings available. I happened to be home for a week after being grounded with pneumonia so I decided to make an appointment for an evaluation.
One place I called couldn’t get me in for an evaluation for another 2 weeks and told me up front that the cost would be $2,300 – $2,500 per eye. I had actually expected it to be a little lower because I had been evaluated back in 2005 and was told it would be $2,500 per eye back then. I was hoping the price would have dropped over time as the procedure became more widespread, but I live in the Boston area so things tend to be more expensive. For a bit of context, I knew my brother-in-law and his sister had theirs done in Canada nearly 10 years ago. It cost them about $1,500 for both of them and that included both eyes.
In any case, I knew I wanted to “shop around” a bit. The last thing you really want to be paying Wal-Mart prices for is eye surgery. Let’s face it. Joe’s Discount Lasik isn’t a risk you want to take. But I didn’t want to pay top dollar and not actually get any additional benefit other than the knowledge that I paid a lot more for it. As with just about anything, there exists a quality bar for eye surgery and once you’ve passed it, you’re overpaying. The extra money is not really granting you a lot of extra benefit. Whether I paid $3k or $5k, chances are pretty good that my vision would be about the same afterwards.
I was disappointed about the wait time for a simple evaluation and realized that although they did eye surgery, they also did a lot of cosmetic surgery, which made me wonder about their qualifications. Did they rent their equipment? If so, how often was it used? Was it moved a lot, did it need to be calibrated, etc.
I called another place which seemed to do a lot of surgeries. To my surprise, they could evaluate me in 2 days so I made an appointment. After the evaluation, they concluded that I was a good candidate for the procedure. I had somewhat expected this, given the results of my evaluation from 5 years ago. I had two different options available to me: standard LASIK and what they were calling Custom LASIK.
My understanding (which to be sure, is as fuzzy as my vision was) is that standard LASIK pricing was based on how bad my eyes were. Mine aren’t too bad, but it was still $899/eye. That didn’t include the cost of insurance in case my eyes deteriorated over time, which was going to add another $200/eye. I’m not a big fan of insurance in general, but this was expensive enough that for a lifetime guarantee, it seemed rather foolish to not do it.
The custom LASIK was a flat price of about $2,000/eye and that included the lifetime insurance. I was told that the custom LASIK uses some kind of 3D mapping of the eye to guide the laser, which makes it 25 times mired precise than traditional LASIK. Twenty-five times more precise? I didn’t look into all of the details of this particular procedure, but I’d heard of it before. Honestly, this decision was a no brainer to me, since I already budgeted in my head up to $5,000 for the procedure.
During the post-evaluation meeting, which was on a Thursday morning, they said they had an opening for the procedure on either that Saturday (a mere two days away) or in another two weeks on Friday. In addition, if I had the procedure done in March, it would be 25% off, dropping the price from $4,000 to $3,000. That was in the ballpark of what I considered to be reasonable. Not too much, and not too little. Like Goldilocks, it was just right.
I gave it some thought on the drive home, talked with my wife about it and decided to register for the procedure on Saturday. A simple deposit of $100 paid over the phone via credit card reserved my slot and I was ready to get sliced and diced.
Well, the next two days were awful. I didn’t sleep well at all. I don’t know whether I was nervous or stressed out from the work things I had on my plate, or what. But I didn’t get a decent night of sleep for two nights before the surgery.
We convinced my wife’s mother to watch the kids while my wife took me in for surgery on Saturday morning. Her mother completely freaked out when she heard I was getting surgery for my eyes, instantly worrying about how safe it was, had I done any research at all, etc. For those of you who are unmarried, having a mother-in-law is like having a second mother. That’s something nobody ever tells you, so make sure you take the time to meet your future second mother before you pop the question. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
And just for fun, I posted an obscure Facebook update indicating that I was headed in for surgery and to “wish me luck”. My mother calls around 10am Saturday morning to find out what’s going on. She’s not terribly thrilled that one of my hobbies is messing with people just to see what their response is, but I digress. I still think her rationale for having more children was that “the next one can’t possibly be any worse than this one”, not that she’d ever admit it.
Back to the story at hand, my appointment was at 11:45am, but I sat around for another 45 minutes. The surgeon requested that the ophthalmologist take another look at one of my eyes, take a few more measurements to double check some numbers and prep me for surgery.
It’s apparently standard procedure that they insert some plugs into your tear ducts prior to surgery in order to help prevent the various eye drops from being siphoned away too quickly. The ones they used on me were collagen and designed to dissolve after about 48 hours. The ophthalmologist explained what she was doing before she put them in and assured me that it wouldn’t hurt at all and I wouldn’t even feel them or know they were there.
Liar. Well, I suppose she half lied. It didn’t hurt, but even with the topical anesthetic, I could definitely feel the plugs. It was a very slight pressure that I would feel in my eyelids for the next 24 hours or so.
The surgeon looked at my eyes personally for a few minutes and said everything looked good, asking if I had any final questions.
Me: “Ummm… I was sort of expecting to get some sort of sedative to help me relax and they haven’t given it to me yet. Do you do that?”
Surgeon: “No, no, no. I don’t generally do that because it’s hard to predict how it’s going to affect a patient and if they’re too out of it, they can’t follow directions which can create complications. So I just don’t do that anymore unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
I considered pleading with him that it would be absolutely necessary, but given his demeanor and the fact that he’d done more than 40,000 eye surgeries over the past 10-15 years(a fact I learned later), I didn’t think it would help. I knew the procedure would only be about 15 minutes in total so I figured I could suck it up. Looking back on it, I wish I had pleaded my case a bit more but again, I don’t think it would have helped.
We got started a couple minutes after that and the best way for me to describe the process in a single word is that it was disconcerting. I had watched a video on YouTube several years ago to see how LASIK was done. I had also known enough about it to know what they generally did. Sometimes it’s better to not know the details, to be perfectly honest. If you’re squeamish at all or unsure of whether you want it done, don’t watch the video or read the next paragraph.
The video I watched showed them placing some sort of metal plate over the eyeball. It was curved sort of in the shape of the eye, but had a hole in the middle and had a flat piece near the top. This was intended to keep the blade level as the surgeon took the top layers of the eye off so the laser could do its’ work. I think they put the same sort of thing on my eye, but it’s hard to see exactly what they’re doing when it’s being done to you.
Everyone I’ve ever talked to about having the surgery done has always been terrified of blinking and not being able to keep their eyes open. For me, they used surgical tape to tape one eye open and they taped the other eye shut during the procedure. I found that a bit odd, but I assume it was to help keep my face from twitching too much. It seemed to help.
As I said earlier, the procedure itself was disconcerting and not knowing exactly what is going on is a really big part of it. I was awake without a sedative and after the YouTube video, I had a good idea of what was being done, but not exactly. At one point, they put this device over my eye and said I was going to feel some pressure.
Lies, lies lies.
I felt like my eyeball was being sucked out of my head! It hurt a bit inside my eye socket. Basically behind the eye itself but the front of my eye didn’t feel any pain. It was a really strange sensation and very difficult to describe.
And of course he says “Look straight at the light” while this is going on. What he didn’t tell me was that everything would go dark, making me completely blind. I panicked and said something to the effect of “I can’t see anything!” to which he replies in a matter of fact tone that it’s normal. Thanks for the heads up buddy. Fortunately, when it happened on the other eye, I was expecting it so my heart didn’t thump itself out of my chest and onto the floor the next time.
When we got to the part where they were ready to use the laser, I was instructed to look at the orange light. Now let me talk about that for a little bit because if you intend to get eye surgery, there’s something you need to know. Through the entire process, there’s this orange light that is intended to help give you something to focus on. This presumably helps keep your eye looking in the same direction at all times. Let me clue you in on a little secret. It doesn’t. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
The problem is that this light isn’t a pinpoint of light. It’s really close to your eye and thus, really fuzzy, out of focus, and it looks flipping huge. It seemed like the size of a golf ball at about arms length so it’s not exactly a “pinpoint”. Also, as you try to focus on it, it seems to move. I know my head wasn’t moving, so maybe my eye was twitching. Regardless, judging where the center of it is located so you can stare at it is pretty difficult. Staring at the edges definitely causes it to move.
All of this leads the surgeon to say “Don’t move” repeatedly and at an increasingly urgent tone as the nurses count down from a number that is based on how long the laser needs to fire into your eye. Others I spoke with in the post-op meeting said theirs was as high as 30. Mine was like ten trillion. Ok, it was 13 but it seemed like forever to hold really, really still or you’ll go blind.
And him saying “Don’t move” repeatedly freaks you out even more because you can smell the laser burning your eye tissue. I’m serious about that. You really can smell the laser burning your tissues. Deep in your brain, you know that if you move too much, it will probably screw up your eyesight.
Disconcerting? Oh yea. Where’s a sedative when you need it?
In the end, the whole process for both eyes only lasted about 15 minutes. Immediately afterwards, everything was fuzzy which I was told is normal. They taped these clear plastic, Spiderman eye shaped shields over my eyes and I sat in the waiting room with my eyes closed for the next two hours. It probably should only have been 30-45 minutes, but they were really busy and never got back to me. No joke there.
Part of the reason I chose this place was that this was basically their entire business. The other place I called seemed like they threw LASIK onto the menu just to get a few more customers. That’s like going to the farmers market to pick up some eggs, milk and a flat screen TV. It’s just not right. Instead, I felt more like we were cattle and that is sort of what I had been looking for. They knew what they were doing and ran a fairly lean ship because they did this all day long. Apparently, I ran into one of the drawbacks to this volume based model.
After two hours that should have only been 30 minutes, I got aggravated and sick of waiting. I asked my wife to flag someone down and ask WTF. They checked my eyes very shortly after that, scheduled me for a 7am post-op the next day and sent me home.
Arrival Time: 11:45am
Surgery Started: 1:15pm
Surgery Ended: 1:30pm
Discharge time: 4pm
Below are a couple of photos I took the day after surgery. Notice the really dark red splotches in my eyes around the outer edges. This wasn’t something I expected to happen, nor was it something they warned me would happen. But I wasn’t worried about it, since it’s hard to cut into any part of your body without it bleeding a little bit.
Tomorrow, I’ll post more about what happened right after the procedure and some complications I ran into.