06 July 2010

The Gift Of Sight: Part 02.

Second in a 3-part series on my LASIK experience. Today's post is about the procedure itself. If you're even slightly squeamish about anything having to do with eyes, don't read this entry :) To those brave souls, read Part 01 then continue.

There were actually two operating tables inside the Eye-Slicing Room. Dr. Ellis informed me that the first part of the procedure would entail the cutting of the corneal flaps on one table, followed by their reshaping on the other. I guess "table" isn't quite the right term; I likened them to dentists' chairs that recline all the way back, with your head secured in a padded cradle to prevent movement.

Or escape.

I sat on the side of the first chair, shifted onto it and lowered my head back into the cradle. A nurse immediately hovered over me and told me she'd be putting numbing drops into my eyes. It felt like she emptied the whole bottle into both eyes, which was absolutely fine with me as I wanted them to be as numb as possible during the procedure -- I was still pretty nervous and a little fidgety at this point. The thing was, I couldn't feel my eyes going numb so I didn't know if the drops were working. I wanted to ask how long it would take for the drops to do their work, but didn't have a chance. Dr. Ellis rolled into view above me.

"Okay, we're going to work on your right eye first," he said in that same calm voice. "We're covering up your left eye, and I'm going to put this speculum in your right one." For those who don't know, an eye speculum is used to keep your eye from blinking -- basically, to hold it open like that scene in A Clockwork Orange. (I'll let you Google those images yourself.) Before I knew it, he'd applied the speculum in my eye -- and I didn't feel a thing. I'd had a fear that I'd try to blink and panic when I couldn't, but I didn't even have the desire to blink, probably thanks to the drops.

yes, these go into your eyes

And no, the Valium had not kicked in at this point.

Still, I was encouraged. The speculum had been a major concern for me and it didn't turn out badly at all so I took another breath, somewhat relieved. I must have looked freaky as hell with my eye all wide and unblinking and sh*t. hahah!

"You're going to feel a bit of pressure in your eye here," Dr. Ellis continued, "We're going to pull up the cornea a little bit so we can create the flap." The vision in my right eye then went dark as the machine descended and attached to it. I'd known about losing sight from reading about the procedure, so no surprises.

However, what came next was actually the strangest and most uncomfortable part of the procedure for me. In order to correct my vision, a laser is used to cut a circular flap in the cornea, which is then essentially peeled back so that another laser can reshape its interior portion. I heard a low whining/buzzing noise and knew the cutting had started, but what I didn't expect to feel was the cutting itself. Thankfully, there was no pain at all, but I could feel the laser slicing an arc around my cornea! It felt like a slight but very precise pressure traveling in a small circle. It must have lasted less than a minute, but the sensation was disquieting to say the least. Needless to say I fidgeted a little and had trouble figuring out what to do with my hands.

The machine lifted off my eyeball and vision came back, but it was understandably very blurry and watery -- I'd just had a layer of my eye peeled away! Still, I experienced no pain whatsoever. Those drops are incredible. Dr. Ellis removed the speculum from my right eye and repeated the procedure on my left after liberally putting more drops in. I'd say this first part of the treatment took five or six minutes total.

After cutting my left corneal flap, they gently sat me upright and led me to the second chair nearby and put more drops in. I laid down in the chair and Dr. Ellis again covered my left eye and put the speculum in my right. "I know your vision is blurry, like you're underwater, but you're going to see some red lights. Concentrate on looking at the green one in the middle."

I can compare it to looking out of your windshield at a bunch of traffic lights on a very rainy and windy night without your wipers on. The green light is used to track eye movements (as it's impossible to keep it perfectly still throughout the entire procedure) and adjust the laser accordingly as it reshapes the cornea, going as far as to shut off if I looked anywhere but the green light. So to those of you who asked me if the laser would burn a hole in the side of my eye if I happened to foolishly look away, there's your answer. There were more low hums as I focused on staring at the blurry green light and the laser did its thing. This part was far less uncomfortable than the corneal slicing, and most of my anxiety had subsided at this point. My right eye was done in a minute or two. Dr. Ellis swung the laser up and away, then took some kind of tweezer and laid the flap back over my newly-shaped cornea. He then repeated the process with my left eye after more drops.

The entire procedure probably took about 10-12 minutes. After Dr. Ellis was finished replacing the flap on my right eye, he led me to one more machine to quickly check my corneas, which apparently were doing fine. My vision was still quite watery, but I could read things without glasses!! A nurse led me slowly out of the room, and I scheduled a follow-up appointment the next day. At the front desk, I was given some extremely stylish wrap-around shades to wear for the next few days to protect my new eyes from dust, wind and other irritants.

My mom drove us to the hotel where we'd stay the night, and as we were taking our bags and cooler to our room, the Valium finally hit. My knees buckled and I walked sideways into a wall! I later learned that the Valium is primarily administered to help you sleep after the procedure (essentially to keep your eyes closed to promote corneal healing), and not to relieve anxiety. The rest of the night was a complete fog. I slept deeply for the duration, groggily waking only to eat a Panda Express takeout dinner and at various other times to put in a three-part regimen of antibiotic, steroid and saline drops.

I'd been informed that I might experience some normal post-surgery pain -- after all, my eyes had been sliced open and parts burned away -- but all I really felt was a slight, annoying scratching sensation in my left eye that turned out to be part of the healing process. My vision in the follow-up appointment the next morning was tested at "a weak 20/20" for both eyes, which makes me really happy. I mean, I really can't ask for much more than perfect vision! There will be some minor fluctuation in sharpness over the next three months as my corneas heal completely and stabilize, but overall I am doing very well!

I'll wrap up my LASIK experience in Part 03.

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