The gift of sight

Faraaz:

After a much needed recovery period I am back, with a little unstable, but almost perfect vision. For those who don’t know, on Saturday, July 21, 2012, I took the plunge and got LASEK corrective eye surgery. A “birthday gift” bestowed unto me by Aneesa, although I am not particularly sure which birthday she was referring to since i am half way between my last and next one… perhaps she meant both considering how much she did spend 😉

Just before the procedure I was hit with a sudden “Are you sure about this?” because even though I had booked the appointment a week before, I had not thought much about it until I lay on the operating table… already prepped and ready to go. That being said, I did collect my thoughts very quickly and got things done.

I have read many reviews about post operation recovery and found that most of them lacked one thing… a description of the procedure and what the “patient” actually went through, it is for this purpose that I will delve deep into the almost surreal experience of the LASEK procedure, and my first week of recovery, I hope that those interested may be able to take something away from this post in the form of reassurance, or information.

So as per my post on Journeying toward the Light, the road to 20/20 vision began on July 14, when I went for my pre-check up. This was followed by my appointment for the procedure on July 21.

I arrived at Gangnam St. May’s Eye Center an hour before my surgery as instructed. This allows for a few quick tests to ensure everything is normal, and to give the counselors time to explain the medication dosages and to address any concerns. I will include dosage instructions at the end of the post to assist anyone who may need it.

After the tests and consultations, I put my belongings in a locker they provided and was given some pain tablets to prepare me for the procedure. It was then a matter of signing some forms and a short wait before I was lead to the pre/post op waiting room. Being in Korea, I had to remove my shoes before entering this area and replaced them with what looked like cute panda slippers… yes I was amused. In the waiting room, my counselor Dana helped me put on my robe and hair cap, then I removed whatever belongings I still had on me and waited, still not thinking much about what I was about to do. A few moments into my wait, a “patient” walked in, he had just had his op and seemed quite fine. He sat next to me in one of the plush leather chairs, and just with his head against the head rest for a few minutes before his mom and granny came in to check up on him. They seemed to be chatting away as if nothing major had happened so that was very reassuring.

Soon after witnessing this, Dana came in to escort me to the operating room where I removed my panda slippers before entry. I was instructed to lay on the “bed” part of the machine facing up, and was then positioned under a halo of light… it was briefly at this point where I questioned my decision but then got myself focused on the surrealism of this experience. The notion of being abducted returned to my imagination, more appropriate now, lying on my back, staring up into bright lights with silhouettes hovering above me… this mental fantasy was perpetuated for the duration of the procedure and helped me almost enjoy it.

Once I was positioned, Doctor Hwee Jong Lee was very thorough in talking me through what he was going to do and what he needed from me, Dana was as thorough and efficient in translating these explanations where necessary. He began by placing numbing eye drops in my eye and asked me to close my eyes. He then explained that he would start with my right eye, while wiping it with what I can only imagine as sterilizing and numbing ointment. He then placed one of those thick plastic operating covers on my face, exposing only the area he was working with. At this point he asked me to open my eyes, and he used another contraption that seemed to be made from a type of masking tape to keep my lashes fixed. Then it was time for the weird eye clamp that is meant to keep you from blinking. Oddly enough it didn’t feel uncomfortable, probably due to the numbness. From this point on, Dana’s presence was most felt, and very welcome.

Through Dana’s voice, Doctor Lee explained what he was doing and gave words of encouragement and praise, easing me through the procedure. I had to look up at a green light in the center of another light which looked like a soft white halo, while Doctor Lee placed some drops and solutions on my eyes. I was then prepared for what I would consider the most uncomfortable part of the procedure, the removal of the epithelial layer. This is done with a tiny contraption that almost looks like an electric tooth brush, and even though you are told that you will feel pressure on your eye and it will not hurt, the actual process feels utterly weird. You can see this machine on your eye, and you feel the pressure, and with each movement of this machine, your eyesight quickly becomes a blur of light.

This process takes a few seconds but the first time you experience it feels much longer than it really is. After this was over, it looked as if the residue of the assault on my epithelium was “squeegee’d” off and I was prepared for the laser. I could still see the lights and was asked to focus on the green light, then told that the laser would make a noise and that I shouldn’t be startled and just continue focusing. This wasn’t hard at all since the laser is only active for a few seconds. At first you see the green light and hear the laser firing up, then you see this beam coming straight into your eye, blinking, moving, blinking again and before you know it, it’s over. At this point all you can see is the red point of where the laser was, this lasts a few seconds, but then the chilled fluid put in brings back your vision and once the epithelial layer and lens is placed in, you immediately notice your vision improve. After this, the small matter of removing the clamp and tape is attended to before preparing for the second eye where the exact process is replicated. I found the second eye to be a breeze having already had the experience on my right eye.

The actual surgery probably takes less time to complete than the time it takes to read this post.

With the Surgery done, I was moved out from under the machine to look at a congratulatory message fixed to the ceiling, proving that my eyesight had already been improved. I was then lead into the recovery room to rest for a few minutes, then gathered my things and had a final consult with the doctor who checked my eyes to confirm everything was fine. I was then able to leave, wearing dark sunglasses and a cap which I had purchased on my way to the center earlier that day.

Since I live far from Gangnam, (on my little slice of paradise) and I needed to be back the next morning for a checkup, I had decided to stay at a motel in Yeoksam, about a 15 minute walk from the eye center. Even though I had planned on taking a cab back, my vision was actually good enough to walk back to the motel. The only noticeable issue was a little bit of cloudiness to my vision, which is apparently expected.

That night I went to bed with my “eye shields” which was to prevent me from scratching at my eyes.

Sunday July 22nd was my first post-op check up. I was battling with a little light sensitivity and cloudiness but my vision was better than ever. At the checkup (which lasted all of 5 minutes), I had an eye test, which put my vision at about 90%, and a checkup with the doctor who confirmed that everything was well.

Recovery:

The next week was a mix of elation and pain. My sleeping patterns were thrown completely off normal with me sleeping only 3 to 4 hours at a time, waking up in pain and also probably to make sure I hadn’t interfered with my recovery.

I was told that I would feel a lot of pain for the first two days after recovery but since I considered myself to have a pretty high tolerance for pain, I didn’t really worry much about this warning… boy was I humbled. I would describe the pain as having hundreds of grains of sand in your eyes, while simultaneously getting poked in the eyes by a stray finger… continuously… for two days. The intensity of the pain is not unbearable… what makes this pain horrible is its unrelenting consistency. I was barely able to open my eyes and went about my business as best I could without the use of sight and with a lot of help from Aneesa. The pain tablets did nothing to reduce the pain, if anything, they served as a placebo to tell me when the pain should stop because sure enough, on day 3 of my recovery, the pain had almost magically disappeared and I was able to open my eyes and begin caring for myself. I had even managed to join Aneesa for dinner with her co-teacher and some of her adult students, this however was a little difficult for me and I suffered some discomfort toward the evening.

The morning of my next consult was met with an unexpected and unpleasant awakening. I awoke with a piercing pain in my right eye, sitting up, I felt my bandage contact lens shift but I made sure to calm myself and try and blink through it, when I felt like I had things under control, I enlisted Aneesa’s help in checking that my eye looked fine (without telling her what I felt so as not to alarm her).

I registered that my eyes had not been as clear as they were on my first post op visit, this was confirmed on my second visit but I was told that my eyes are still unstable and will fluctuate for the next month or so. My second visit was also to remove the clear bandage contact lens that was initially placed to help my epithelium re grow. The left eye was a cinch. The right eye had Doctor Sung Hwan Kim, who was filling in for Doctor Lee, puzzled for a moment. The moment he tried to remove the bandage from my right eye, he stopped and immediately set about checking my eye carefully, without raising any alarms. After about a minute, he told Dana and I that everything was fine and that the contact lens had fallen out. He asked whether I had noticed it so I shared my story of the morning. Doctor Kim assured me that all was well and that luckily it had fallen out on the day it was due to be removed or else there would have been a problem. After my checkup, I made the long journey back to the island and was able to return to work on Friday 27th.

Thus far I have noticed my eyesight improve and regress marginally but that being said, I am not wearing glasses and am able to see far better than I ever have. Colours seem brighter and the world just looks better. It is a wonderful feeling not having to look at the world through glass lenses, now I feel as if I am actually part of the show I have been watching from behind my frames.

This procedure is by no means a quick fix to vision problem. The operation is short, but the process of recovery and perfect vision may take up to 6 months to be fully realized. Recovery is at first painful and you will question your decision during the initial days, but from my experience, once the lens bandage is removed, I knew I made one of the best decisions I will probably make for a very long time.

 

If you have been for the operation or are planning to, read on….

 

Medication and instructions:

On the day of the procedure you are given a “goodie bag” with all your essentials. This bag comprises of the pain and vitamin C tablets you will need, the eye shields and masking tape, a cold eye pack to reduce puffiness and three bottles of eye drops.

  • The pain tablets are to be taken three times a day and will see you through three days. After which point you will generally be free of mind numbing pain.
  • The Vitamin C tablets will last 5 days, until your check up to remove the contact lens bandage
  • Eye Shields are to be worn every night until the bandage is removed; this is to prevent scratching your eyes because in some cases, dry eyes become itchy. Fortunately I did not have this problem.
  • The eye pack is quite handy and works brilliantly to soothe any burning and to reduce puffy eyes. It should however be used for no longer than 15 minutes at a time to limit the amount of pressure being exerted on the eye during recovery. Remember, the eye pack stays in a refrigerator to keep it cool.

Now for the eye drops: as mentioned you first receive 3 bottles. The bottle with the orange cap is the anti- biotic; this is the only bottle which you will continue using after you have the contact lens bandage removed. This bottle will have to be completed.

The small bottle with the yellow cap is the steroid drop that helps the eyes heal better. The larger bottle with the yellow cap is the tear solution which helps to keep the eyes moist. Both these drops will only be used for the first week until removal of the lens bandage. They will then be replaced by prescription eye drops which you buy at the pharmacy. The entire course, which is meant to last until your eyes are completely healed (about 6 months) cost a mere ₩27 000.

Dosage instructions:

For the first night, you will have to take all three drops 8 times, in two hour intervals, ensuring to keep a 15 minute period between each drop. This pretty much takes up most of your time, but it is necessary.

After the first consult the next day, the dosage of the tear drops remains the same, the anti- biotic and steroid change. They are now taken 6 times a day, every 3 hours.

Once the lens bandage is removed you will need to buy the new tear and steroid drops. The tear drop is in a bottle with a blue cap, the steroid has a white cap. Now your dosage is changed again. Both the anti- biotic and steroid must be taken 4 times a day, keeping in mind the 15 minute delay between each. The tear drops are to be taken 8 times a day, or whenever you experience dryness.

I hope that these instructions, even though long, complicated and extensive, may help anyone who needs to use these drops.

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17 thoughts on “The gift of sight

  1. Congrats! You are brave, I’m glad you could get it done. All the best for the rest of the recovery.
    And I want those slippers too! If you know where to get them, plz let me know….too cute!

    • Thanks. The procedure isn’t bad, and as long as you have an imagination, being awake during a surgery can be somewhat entertaining. Also, this surgery is very common in South Korea and there are many reputable doctors who do it on an almost daily basis. They also go out of their way to make you feel welcome and at ease so you quickly forget about any doubt of fear.

  2. Im so glad you blogged about this! I have severe nearsightedness (prescription being a -8.00 in one eye and -7.50 in the other), and while my husband and I are here in Korea I’m really wanting to get LASIK. I hadnt heard much from a patient’s perspective before, thank you so much for your insight! I’ll be going in for a consultation somewhere in Busan early next year.

  3. great post, Faraaz! I am a bit apprehensive about any procedure on my eyes…and this stems from the fact that last week a relative of mine went for a routine cataract rectification surgery and came out losing vision in that eye 😯 the doctor messed up the procedure.
    Your post has certainly alleviated a lot of that fear though.

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