And here comes the final part of my laser eye treatment story.
During the last month or so, we have discussed my decision making process behind going through the procedure as well as the procedure itself, including the pesky 72h recovery window. Here comes the right time to discuss the results.
I do not think I ever mentioned why the 72h window is so crucial and serves as a great cut-off point to the whole recovery process with the PRK method. As I mentioned before, during the procedure my doctor scraped off the top layer of my cornea. Made it vanish. Completely. And on average it takes a person up to 72h to regrow it.
That is a true miracle of nature, I am telling you. To go from not having a part of your body to having it again in three days. I found it so funny listening to Harry Potter audiobooks as it happened and having Harry complain about how much growing his bones hurts after drinking SkeleGro. I felt your pain, mate.
That is the main perceivable difference between PRK and methods such as LASIK. My eye fully restored itself to its pretreatment state within 72h. It hurt and it took a considerable amount of time for me to go back to normal life – way longer than 72h – but my eyes were as good as new. They looked as good as new as well, since they went two or three shades lighter in the process (now that is some magic!),
With methods like LASIK there is very little pain involved and sitting in a dark room doesn’t really happen – as far as I know, for most people it is a walk-in walk-out kind of deal. But their cornea takes up to two years to heal up. That wasn’t something I was ready to live with, the idea that at any point in time a part of my eye could just flap off. Some people are brave. I am not.
After my first 72h I was still on antibiotics being dropped into my eyes 5 times a day, pills for my eye infection twice a day and hydrating eye drops at least 5 times a day (more like 20 a day, realistically). I was advised to stay home and not go back to work for two weeks. I was also warned that washing my face was a no-no for at least 7 days and contact with electronics should not exceed 4h a day until I felt a significant improvement.
The recovery – first months
Slowly I tried to rejoin family life.
I got the green light for hanging around my cat (my favourite quote from the entire laser eye treatment – when I asked my doctor if I can be in the same room as the little fluff, he told me that right now my cat can even sit on my face as far as he is concerned, laughing) so moving around the house became easier. I still prefered my cave infinitely, as light hurt my eyes a lot and walking around with sunglasses is not the best. But I could walk around, even though I was physically exhausted after it all, and I started even taking my meals at the actual table and not the bed. Crazy, right?
Now that my eyes were well enough to keep them opened, I had developed the amazing ability to navigate in darkness. I was a full on bat-person. Any source of light was my enemy, yet somehow – even though I am the clumsiest person alive – I didn’t keep bumping into things or dropping things on the ground. It almost felt like a superpower.
After a few days I went out for a walk, which was not a very good idea given April in Poland is not very warm. It was, however, Easter and what is Easter without a nice walk? It felt so strange being out again. In my head I lived an entire life in that small room upstairs.
And then I actually started feeling better. I started slowly opening my curtains, bit by bit, I stopped listening to Harry Potter (I hate The Half Blood Prince anyway), I even went out to see some people I knew. When my week and a half check-up time came, I went to the doctors all by myself. I felt like I was a functioning human being again, even though I couldn’t use my laptop or move around the house without sunglasses for long periods of time.
I remember the first thing I actually watched on the TV, even though I took long breaks in between. The very first one was a Polish version of 1 million pound drop. Me and my dad always watch all of these crazy quiz shows and joke about being the best trivia team around. You see, I know all of the crazy stuff, including lots of useless statistics, as my overactive brain retains lots of pointless information. My dad knows things that are actually important. It works.
The second thing was Miss Marple. My mum is a real crime story addict. Personally I cannot stand most of the crime stories, sorry, I know they are very popular. One of the very few I actually enjoy are the works of Agatha Christie. It was fun. I could actually see things on the screen from far away.
There were bad days there too. With PRK it takes a really long while to establish good vision; and I was no exception. There were days when I was short-sighted again. There were days when I was longsighted, oh my, what a weird and unfamiliar feeling that was! And the weirdest of all – there were days when my right eye was long-sighted and my left eye was short-sighted…
Two weeks passed before I even noticed and I was back in the UK. Even though my eyes were very tired and didn’t enjoy the light at all, I was under the impression I could just go back to work and carry on living.
Yet again I was very very wrong.
There was nothing… technically wrong with my eyes. They were just very tired and insanely dry. Which meant that a desk-bound job should be the last thing I was doing.
I happened to work with some great people at the time who understood my need for living in a cave though. Quickly we came up with a system of me coming to the office 8-12 and then carrying on working from home from 12 onwards. It still meant I had to look at a screen in the afternoons, but I could do so in the comfort of my own darkroom and taking as many breaks as I needed. The office lights were actually worse than screens. My screens were on 0% brightness all the time until last month anyway.
It meant however that after work I could not use any screens at all. If I wanted to schedule a blog post, for instance, I had to be very fast and efficient on a Saturday, as weekends were eye rest-days and in general I aimed not to be near electronics on these days. I fell behind on keeping up with my friends in Poland, TV shows, books (reading was very tiring to my eyes! even on paper), games, blogs, everything. I used to go to bed at 7 as by then I was a physical zombie. It wasn’t a good time for me.
My boyfriend and I took to a habit of playing Bananagrams each night. I am still undefeated (sorry, bun).
I was getting better slowly. A first big hit was to stop taking drops of antibiotics – these were actually very straining to my eyes. But it wasn’t till maybe July when I started to feel fully functional. And it wasn’t till October that I stopped dropping my eyes other than before bed (which I feel like I will do from now on till the end of days).
A big question must be going through your head – all this pain, and inconvenience, and sacrifice, was it all worth it?
I can say it again – yes.
Triple yes for good luck.
Or maybe even YES.
Yes, it was worth every single bad thing. The good things just cannot compare.
If you have never worn glasses, it may be hard to imagine what it feels like to actually see things sharply for the first time. I still remember the first day I felt really good about my new eyes. Out of my dad’s window one can see a little forest (forest is a big word… there may be 100 trees there, probably less) and a field, and behind the field far on the horizon there is a new development of family houses being built. I was sitting on a chair and looking at it, and feeling as if I was seeing it for the first time in my life. The buildings were so far away yet I could see them sharply, just as they were, and it felt like a miracle.
I am a physicist. I understand how laser eye treatment works. And yet I feel like it worked by pure magic.
The sensation is just so otherworldly. I can only imagine how great it feels for people with severe vision problems, like the girl who waited for her treatment with me. It must only compare with feeling like someone has gifted you a new life.
I felt as if someone gifted me a new me.
My eyes are by no means peachy right now. I see very well, that is a plus, but there are some issues I feel I will be going through for a while.
I lucked out of the halo effect (although I had probably around a 90% chance of getting it), and I lucked out of the dry eye syndrome. My eyes are dry though. Just not that significantly dry. I had to drop them before sleep, otherwise opening them in the morning is a VERY painful experience (imagine someone ripped your eyes opened… yup). If I spend too much time in front of a bright screen, they do get very tired – comparable to wearing contact lenses for too long or not sleeping at night. And I still cannot take direct sunlight – my eyes just refuse to open on a bright day outdoors – so it may take a while till I can enjoy being outside without wearing sunglasses.
To me that is a very small price to pay. I knew I wouldn’t be perfect in a month or even a year. Other people I know that went through laser eye treatment warned me that it may take two, three years for my eyes to fully recover. I am fine with that.
I just wanted to see. Nothing more and nothing less. And I am very happy with myself for withstanding everything I had to go through to get there.
I am yet to go to see a 3D movie. I’ll let you know how it is.
The lessons learnt
If you are considering going through laser eye treatment, here are some useful pieces of information for you:
Price. Prices of treatments vary depending on country, location within that country and type of treatment itself. However, you need to remember that what you are paying for the procedure is not all you are going to spend on your eyes. Usually check-up visits are covered in the treatment price, but medication is not. You will be dropping your eyes a lot. Preservative-free drops and antibiotics are pricey. Take this under consideration.
Good doctor. I don’t have many tips for finding a good practice other than one – if your doctor doesn’t seem to care about your general health and seems like he will let you go through the procedure without making sure the risk of complication is minimized, run. My doctor was great, but I am afraid he may only accept you if you speak Polish. Who knows, to be honest, lots of Polish doctors speak English and German, so… (looking at you, Spain, watch and learn).
Medical history. Whether you are healthy or less than ideal – make sure you have all of your medical history prepared. You will have to check yourself up for few things, as laser eye treatment is considered surgery (at least in Polish law, who knows what it is worldwide!). There are a few reasons why you may not be eligible for a treatment. If your eyesight is still getting worse, you need to wait till it is stable for at least 3 years. If you suffer from a chronic condition, you may be allowed to go through the procedure anyway as long as you are well cared for and your results are as good as I was, but you may also be declined. Skin conditions or any around eye conditions are usually a no-no.
Type of treatment. I can only speak for PRK, as that is what I went with. It worked for me. Was it the best option given the circumstances? I think so. But everyone is different. Maybe you don’t want to go through 72h of pain. Maybe there is no need. Ask. Research. Make sure you are ready to 100% stand behind what you choose. There is no way back.
Preparation. Follow all of the instructions given by your doctor to the letter. You are not allowed to drink tea? Don’t drink tea. Do not increase unnecessary risks. These guidelines may sound silly to you but the consequences could be grave. Remember that 1:5000000 chance of going legally blind? The biggest part of that probability comes from people either lying about their health condition or not following doctor’s orders.
Get your cave ready. A few things you definitely need to have are company (you will go mad without it), a dark room with curtains securely closed, a comfortable bed, a pile of audiobooks (you will go even more mad) and some pjs that are easy to put on without going over your head. My eye mask was nice to have when it came to sleeping as it kept the little shields on my eyes in place. Oh, I also had my childhood teddy bear with me in the bed. Don’t ask.
Light. Light will be your enemy. Get a good pair of sunglasses or two. Ones from actual opticians. Trust me, you will need them.
Animals. Please do not kick your pets out of the house just because you want to have some shiny new eyes. Stay away from them, preferably in a locked room they cannot access, for the first few days. After that just be careful and move on.
Hair. If you have long hair, make sure you tie it securely. A french braid is a good way to go as you can lie flat on it and it can hold for days if done properly. No kidding. You will not be in the mood to re-do your hair every few hours. You will also be asked not to wash your hair for at least a week, and after that to wash your hair while bent backwards for a while. You may need assistance with that.
Skincare. Call me vain but after the initial pain was gone, my number one concern was the state of my skin. My eyes were constantly covered in some mucus I was not able to wash off properly. I still remember the first time I was allowed to… wash my eyelashes. I never knew I would need to wash my eyelashes, but after the 72h of not touching or cleaning them, they were a glued together madness. Washing my face also wasn’t easy. Because no water could enter my eyes (you are in general asked to be very careful about it while washing yourself and definitely not swim for a few months), all I had was cotton pads. My face turned into a hell of dry skin and spots everywhere. After a while I was allowed to use face cream, but it took a long while for me to go back to normal.
Pain. If you go with PRK, it will hurt A LOT. I mean A LOT. And I am not saying that to scare you guys, I didn’t die or go mad from pain, but you need to know. I didn’t know and I wasn’t prepared.
Weird side effects. For a considerable amount of time my eyes were going through some sort of pseudo-PTSD like condition. People laugh when I say that, but it is true. I would wake up at night with imaginary pains, same as the ones I actually felt, and it would take me a good minute to realize they were not real. You may get your own type of crazy. It will be worth it.
Support. During my first days of recovery, I received so many visits, cards, letters, gifts, phone calls and everything that it almost felt like my birthday. I don’t know how I would go through all of that pain without it. If you are not as fortunate, I’m happy to hold your virtual hand, just let me know. If you are that fortunate – appreciate your friends and family, they don’t have to do any of that, they chose to do it because they care about you.
Recovery. It may take weeks if not months for you to be a highly functional individual. Don’t be crazy like me and look for a new job with your eyes only half working. Give yourself time to rest. Do not schedule life changing events for a few months after the surgery.
Results. Depending on the type of laser eye treatment, your results may be slower or quicker. Remember to be patient. They will come eventually. And if not, most clinics offer a free of charge correction (although the thought of going through all of that again makes me slightly sick).
Side effects. Very common side effects of the treatment include halo effect and dry eye syndrome, but there are many, many others. Chances are you will get none of them. But you could get all of them. Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into – there will be no one else to blame for this decision.
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 2.