It’s been two weeks since I shared my original post on laser eye treatment. Please forgive me for leaving you with such a cliff hanger. I simply couldn’t resist.
So far we discussed the reasons I chose to undergo the treatment and the process that led me to the surgery room on the 10th of April 2017.
Let the real fun begin.
As I said previously, I was very chilled about the whole process until the day my mum made me panic. I don’t really blame her, not directly, as I did all of this to myself – but she was the one who prompted it. She kept asking me over and over again not to go along with the laser eye treatment as I may go blind because of it… So I decided to fact-check her.
Soon after I discovered that there is an approximate chance of me going legally blind of 1:5000000. A chance that noone has had the misfortune to take yet, so it is all up for grabs. I also discovered, as an aside, that being blind and being legally blind are two different things. The more you learn!
I read a great many tales of failure. People who were left with double vision for the rest of their lives. People who merely reverted back to the vision they had before. Halo effects everywhere, and being young and wide-pupiled I was a guaranteed halo (thin cornea, wide pupils… what is wrong with me). People in chronic pain. People who needed to have their treatments redone. I opened a veritable Pandora’s box filled with pure misery, and it almost drained me to bits.
I couldn’t sleep. I kept crying. You can view the progression of my madness through my post history, suddenly filled with pieces on fear and perseverance. But one thing remained certain – I was not ready to quit. No matter how horribly stressed I was, no matter how sleep deprived, I was determined to go for it.
The laser eye surgery eventually did come around, with a set of medical tests and other rules I had to agree to in order to even get within close proximity of the laser.
Some of these were no brainers, such as avoiding facial skincare for 48h beforehand or getting my liver tested, while some were a little stranger, like the fact I was not allowed to drink tea or coffee for a few days beforehand. If you do decide to go along with the treatment, you will get your own list of do and don’ts – none of which are particularly strenuous to your lifestyle.
I arrived at the clinic with my dad, again, as you are expected to be accompanied by an adult for the first three days after the procedure. They will ask you if you have anyone with you and, I assume, refuse to go through with the laser eye treatment if you are all by yourself. Trust me, they are doing it for your own good. Don’t fight it.
I was welcomed by a giant pile of paperwork to sign. This was the first time I was made aware of all the legal disclosures I had to go through. By then I was cognisant of all the consequences but seeing them in writing was weirdly… concerning. Luckily I was already in full-on stubborn mode. You cannot convince me something is a bad idea if I am being stubborn about it. No way. I will do it no matter what some silly paperwork says.
After waiving my right to complain I was moved on to a very nice waiting room. Here I put on all of the protective clothing and prepared for the procedure. The first thing I was immediately grateful for was convincing my Mum to do my hair in a very, very tight French braid. There was no way the medical cap would have held all of my hair in elsewise.
Every now and then a nurse would pop by to put some anesthetic in my eyes. I have never been good at dropping my eyes. Even after all these months of dropping them multiple times a day, I am still at best mediocre. She was not impressed with my flinching, but it had to be done.
By then I had re-established my cool. I like panicking over things as much as any other person, don’t get me wrong; but I reached a state of complete lack of control and had to let go. I was in a clinic. My eyes were numb. Behind the door there was a doctor waiting for me. There was not much left for me to do really.
There were two people waiting with me in the waiting room for their treatment. A guy getting a nice and easy walk-in walk-out modern laser and a girl who was going through the same procedure as me, other than that she also needed her whole cornea remodelled as 80% of her vision was currently obstructed. Guess who was the one scared to bits. We didn’t laugh at the time, but even now the vision of that dude sitting there white as a ghost and fear emanating from every pore, despite his treatment being significantly simpler and less painful than ours, while we two girls were calm as can be does make me chuckle a bit.
The guy went in first and returned in perhaps 5 minutes tops. He looked like he could see, which was reassuring. He also looked like he had just seen a ghost, which was much worse.
My treatment started a few moments later.
I decided to go for the good old PRK method, or at least a variation on the topic. I am sure the Internet will do a better job of explaining what the differences between PRK laser eye treatment and the more popular LASIK is. I mean, I may have a degree in Physics but it doesn’t mean I speak medical lingo. Yet.
For me the choice between these two was a no-brainer. The thought of firstly, my cornea being super thin and not enough of a buffer for the laser, and then, secondly, of my cornea flapping around for years until it finally heals was scarier for me than a few days of pain. But I acknowledge that everyone should make their own decision on this topic, and consulting a medical professional is by far the best way to go about it.
The whole procedure started with me laying down under the machine with a laser in it. My head was securely ‘attached’ to the bed below me so that I could not wiggle it around. Possibly because I look like the single least reliable person in the world, the doctor was still holding my head still the whole time the laser was on. No wiggle room. I assure you.
Then the scary things happened. They are going to sound scary and freaky because they are scary and freaky. There is no other way around it. The first thing my doctor did was to put in metal holders to keep my eyes open at all times. No blinking room, again, although the worst of all was the feeling that I was still somehow blinking, since my lid muscles kept contracting over and over again. Just like in A Clockwork Orange, let me tell you that I would rate it 0/10 would not recommend.
PRK meant that the top layer of my cornea had to be scratched off… and I mean literally scratched off. The moment I saw my doctor wielding a little brush while approaching my eye, I was ready to run. Do you remember how I told you I was paranoid about things touching my eyes? WELL. Having them scraped with a brush while I am tied down and almost breathless did not help that. It actually made everything much much worse.
And then the laser happened.
I did everything in my power to look at the correct light at the correct time, the temptation to look sideways was strangely present, as if my brain wanted to punish me for going through with this crazy idea. But the light lasted only a few seconds before it was done with the first eye, and fortunately I could still see. I remember quite well how relieved I was that even if one of my eyes died in the process, at least the other one was now alright. That was what was going through my head – I could see. I had no clue if I saw better or worse, but the world didn’t go suddenly black.
All that remained was to put some protective contact lenses in both of my eyes – and I was over.
The whole process took 5, maybe 10 minutes before I was back in the waiting room, ready to recover. They make you sit there for an hour or so, making sure you do not have any violent reactions. It was actually quite nice, at least before my companions started disappearing for their own treatments. I was asked to keep my eyes closed but from time to time I just had to open them and check.
And just like magic – I could see the writing on the door without my glasses.
The recovery – first 72h
As I was leaving my clinic post laser eye treatment, I felt no pain.
I got so cocky about it, it is unbelievable. I kept joking about the whole thing being full of fear mongering. Yeah, maybe it did feel like something was stuck in my eyes, but that was not so bad.
That was, of course, when the anesthetics were still at work. Someone was scraping my eye and I didn’t feel a thing. How did I expect to feel any pain through it?
By the time we started to approach my parents’ house we had to stop at a pharmacy to get me some decent painkillers as I felt like something may be starting to kicking. Back then I was convinced that that was the worst it would get. I was so so wrong.
By the time we got to my parents’ house, I couldn’t walk from the pain. I also couldn’t open any of my eyes, as every attempt felt like pouring lava into them.
That was nothing though. After an hour or so my eyes wouldn’t open at all. I had to drop them every hour and a half and was not allowed to touch them, yet they would not open without assistance AT ALL. The only way of going around it was for me to pull my cheek down while my dad pulled my brow up – which would create a tiny slit for the antibiotic to get through.
I am seriously surprised brushing someone’s eye is not in the standard torture repertoire.
All I remember clearly from my first 48 hours after the surgery is a never ending stream of pain. It came in different forms – sometimes it felt like a hundred little needles stuck in my eyes, sometimes it felt lava-like, hot and burning, sometimes it was more like someone punching my in the face over and over again, but one thing was certain: it wasn’t going anywhere.
There were a few logistical issues too. My plan was to lay down in my dad’s room, the only place in the house my cat cannot enter (my cat is a massive massive shedder… I love him, but fur in the eyes was not an option) and just cover my eyes with a sleeping mask. But my eyes were having none of it. We had to cover all the windows and build me a very cozy cave in around 5 minutes of me almost screaming with pain.
I still don’t know how light could hurt my closed eyes, but it very much did.
I was in dire need of a distraction – and for once I was prepared. Before my laser eye treatment I bought all of the Polish Harry Potter audiobooks. I had a feeling I would not be able to focus on anything more… engaging, and I needed something cheerful, you know? Harry Potter was a no-brainer. It turned out to be a good indicator of how long my first few stages of recovery lasted – by the time I felt well enough to hang about the rest of the house, that includes a solid 10 hours of sleep a day, of course, doctor visits and taking a break from Piotr Fronczewski’s wonderful voice, I had finished listening to The Order of Phoenix.
Both of my parents dislike Harry Potter and I don’t blame them for it. I am not sure I would be able to stomach it if I read it for the first time not as a seven year old. I fully expected them to just leave me alone to listen. However, the combination of pain and me in general being a little rebel meant that I couldn’t be trusted. Well, maybe I wouldn’t touch my eyes – although I say that now, back then I very much wanted them to just be GONE – but I could easily overdose painkillers. Painkillers weren’t doing even nearly enough. I needed someone to supervise me at all times. Back to the nursery, everyone.
The first night was truly a bizarre experience. To avoid accidentally touching my eyes, I was asked to place shield-like, plastic sheets on my eyes and attach them with thick tape. There was only a little slit I could see though, not that I would see anything anyway. By then my eyes were still not at all used to the pain, all covered in a mucus of some sort (you can only wipe around them with a pad soaked in water – nothing more in terms of cleaning!) and I had no desire to look at artificial lights all around me. But still, it felt odd to know that I could open my eyes at any time (can is a relative terms here) and there would be nothing there for me to see.
I was ready to go to bed. But even though I absolutely detest sleeping on my back, and I kept waking up because of it, my sleep was actually really good. It felt amazing to get a break from all that pain, even if I had to get up few times at night to call my parents for some painkillers. It was refreshing, you know?
Day two was slightly better. The pain was no longer always there – it seemed as if my eyes were taking turns as to which one hurt at any time. My right eye was leading the pain statistic by far though, it seemed to have suffered most throughout the procedure. I was still bed bound and unable to do as much as dial my boyfriend or change a Harry Potter CD. I needed full assistance to do even these simple tasks.
But there was one thing that kept me going – I could see. I could see pretty damn well. Even though both of my eyes still struggled to open, I kept forcing them to do so every time I was in the bathroom, going as far as taking my sunglasses off to see myself in the mirror against my better judgement. I could see! I could see SHARPLY. That was just… I don’t even know how to express it. I guess that is how a miracle feel.
And then day 3 happened. Most of the pain was gone; there was some residual feeling of something being stuck in both of my eyes, but it wasn’t at all comparable to what I had been through. However, there was a little catch that made my day 3 the worst of my first 72h after laser eye treatment.
I could not see.
I mean… I could, but the world was blurry. Very blurry. Significantly blurrier than before the treatment. Even from up close I used to be short-sighted. I was as blind as a fully grown rhino. Rhinos are not famous for their eyesight. If anything, their poor eyesight is what makes them so dangerous to humans.
All I could think about that day was how badly my eyes had suddenly got. I was convinced something had gone wrong, even though before my treatment I had read countless stories of this happening post-surgery and then being fine in the end. We called my doctor so many times he probably still hates me. There was nothing to be done. I had to wait my 72h to see him again, as he couldn’t take my protective lenses off until then.
Day 3 took an eternity to turn into day 4, considerably un-painful (minus my left eye being weirdly sore), but still very blurry. On day 4 I spent all morning counting the minutes down till I could get some medical opinions. It didn’t help. My panic didn’t help. I was so angry with myself for letting this happen to me. For letting my arrogant yeah-whateverism bring me to my end.
I can be very dramatic, given the opportunity.
My doctor found my panic very very funny. He took my protective contact lenses off… and suddenly the world was sharp-ish again. All the mucus from my eyes was gathering on them, obstructing my vision – which turned out to be 90% of my problem.
A further 5% of my problem came from the fact that my eye had to get accustomed to the new cornea. It can take anything up to 10 months with PRK, but significant stabilization should be achieved within 10 days to 10 weeks. I was okay with slightly blurry until then. I was just relieved the world was not going to be an endless fog for the rest of my life.
As for the last 5%… My left eye developed a slight viral infection. My doctor informed me that if not for my nerve endings being burnt by the laser, the pain would be excruciating… Which made me really reflect on how painful it would be to have your eyes regrow its outer layer without those nerves burnt. But a dose of proper medication solved this issue fairly quickly and a week later, my left eye was as healthy and as free from any physical symptoms of the treatment as the right one.
My recovery, however, was far from done.
If you are considering going through laser eye treatment yourself, do not hesistate to ask me any questions you may have in the comments below or via email/social media! Other parts of this series may be helpful too: part 1, part 3.