The Skinny on Lasik, Part 2
Part 1 is here
Once I'd decided to pull the trigger on Lasik, I had to figure out the following: how to pay for it, and when to do it.
Paying for it: Lasik is usually not covered by insurance, and it's not cheap. This is where figuring out all your options is the best idea--whether it's maxing out your FSA for the next year (a route I ultimately took) and paying for the rest out of pocket, financing, etc. My doctor required a small deposit about a month before my surgery date.
Timing: Before the surgery, you have a pre-op appointment, which is basically like a very thorough eye exam. They discuss any vision or eye health issues you've had before (for example, I had a skin issue of my eyelids about ten years ago, didn't affect my vision but did require me to use eye drops and such). They dilate your pupils. They test your vision about 100 times at different degrees of correction. Before this appointment, you can't wear contacts for 1-2 weeks. This was actually the hardest part of scheduling--I wear contacts all day errry day, and couldn't fathom two weeks of driving, working out, just living, wearing my glasses. Ugh.
Also--the timing of the surgery is important. I'd recommend not having any big events or travel in the first few days to a few weeks after your surgery, just because you won't know how you'll feel.
Now, on to what you actually care about--the procedure itself.
I got to the office at 1:45 on a Thursday. The patient coordinator, who I'd worked with the entire time and knew fairly well by then, greeted me and another woman who was getting Lasik right after me. The laser center waiting room reminded me of (stick with me here) Mad About You, when Paul and Jamie are looking for an OBGYN to deliver their baby, and they go to a really fancy one. The waiting room had FIJI water, fresh-baked cookies, chips, candy, soft chairs, HGTV playing on a flatscreen. It was swanky and very comforting.
I was given a Valium and two Tylenol. I've taken Valium before, and it made me really sleepy, but this just more calmed me down (and so subtle-ly, I didn't notice). My friend M arrived to be my escort home, and she and I chatted. They gave me a shower cap to put on and put a nametag on top that had my name and LASIK written on it (appreciate the double-checking that they were doing the right surgery, haha).
I was then taken back to another exam room and given numbing drops in my eyes. They put four drops in each eye, and by the last drops, I couldn't really feel them anymore (the drops, not my eyes).
I feel like five minutes later, I was walked into the laser room, which kind of reminded me of a dentist's office mixed with an x-ray room. Similar chair to the dentist (kind of) but lots of machinery. There I met the laser tech who proffered a box of items to hold during the surgery (stuffed animals, a football, etc.). Just gives patients something to grip in case they get nervous. I picked a raccoon. Then she asked me my name, birthdate, and what procedure I was getting to ensure everything was correct on the machines. She told me the basics of what would happen--I would lie on the chair/bed and it would swivel between two machines. I would be under each machine for two minutes per eye. So 8 minutes total. Crazy. I didn't really want to know what would be happening under the different machines, but she gave me a rundown (that I don't remember). She then had my lie down and made sure my head was positioned correctly (and they don't do anything to hold your head in place--what if you sneeze?!).
Two things the tech told me--that I have to keep my eyelids and eyes relaxed but open. She said she would be watching me and say "big eyes" if she saw my eyes doing something they shouldn't (she never had to say this). Second, under the first machine, your vision will slowly fade to black in each eye, and stay that way for about 20-25 seconds. IT WILL COME BACK. It's your eye reacting to pressure. I knew from reading other people's experiences that this happened, but still comforting to hear them acknowledge that it could be scary, but was normal.
She put some last drops in my eyes, which I didn't feel, and then the doctor came in. Slight point of pride, my doctor also did Michelle Obama's Lasik, so I was feeling good about his skills. We made small talk and then the procedure started. My bed was swiveled under one machine, the doctor put a mechanism over my eye that keeps my eyelids open (it felt like a heavy pair of binoculars resting against your eye). I really likes this mechanism because my eyelids felt like they were closing, so I felt in control, but they were just fluttering against this mechanism.
I don't remember a lot about the first machine, other than some pressure. My vision did fade to black in my left eye, but not in my right eye. If you've ever fainted, it's a similar visual experience (I used to faint pretty regularly). It was a surreal experience when my left eye was still faded to black, and they started working on my right eye, I was thinking "wait, now I won't be able to see at all and my eyes are open!"
After they finished under the first machine (cutting the flap), they moved me under the other machine, which reshapes the cornea. You stare at a flashing green light (obviously, your vision has come back by then), and they counted down from 6. The only weird thing about this part is that there's a burning smell. People have said "you can smell your corneas burning!" Um, I would disagree with this. It's more of a mechanical burning smell, like if a motor gets overheated (this happened to my blender last weekend). So not at all like burning flesh, gross.
This whole time, my doctor was telling me how great I was doing, how well the surgery was going. After both eyes finished under the second machine, the doctor replaced my flap (which is also a surreal experience, you can SEE that things are moving right over your eye, but can't feel anything. It's very out-of-body), they put some more drops in my eye and let me lie there for about 30 seconds. Then my doctor helped me up, they made sure I wasn't light-headed (remember, fainter here), and then walked me out to a slit lamp (sorry, vision industry speak) to see how my eyes looked. My doctor warned me that the next few hours would be the most pain and discomfort I would feel during my whole recovery, and instructed me to keep something between my hands and my eyes for two days, and sleep a lot.
M and I donated my glasses and she began to lead me outside and home for my recovery, which I'll cover next time! (Didn't think this would be a three-part series, but I guess it is!)