I Got LASIK! (and There Was A Complication…)


If you’ve been following me on social media, then you’re probably aware that I’ve been gearing up for LASIK over the past few weeks. I finally had the surgery yesterday, and, as you can probably guess since I’m typing this up, I can see! (Well, sort of. Enough.) There was a complication, but all seems to be going as well as I could’ve hoped for based on my terrible week. For anyone who’s curious, I thought I’d share my experience. I told the doctor to explain as little of the procedure to me as possible pre-sugery, so my recounting of it is very crude. (I just didn’t want to psych myself out as they did it, worrying, “Oh gosh! Now they’re slicing my eye open!”)

The Backstory

I’ve always wanted LASIK but have been utterly terrified of it. I can touch my own eyeballs, but I have no tolerance for medical personnel poking around my eyes. I literally opt to skip the glaucoma test every year at the eye doctor, the one where they force air in your eyes — let’s just not waste each other’s time because it ain’t happening, doc.

In the past few years, I’ve gotten lazy and instead of seeing a real eye doctor when it’s been time to update my contact lens prescription, I’ve just been seeing the Target doctor — which is convenient but has its downsides. One of the main drawbacks is that the actual doctor I see each year changes, and so I have to explain my history every year. The short of my story is that I have astigmatism, but I hate astigmatism contacts; they’re uncomfortable for me. I prefer to not have 20/20 vision and be comfortable wearing regular contacts over having perfect vision with annoying lenses. This year, in November, I explained this for the one millionth time to a new doctor, but this particular one insisted that I try astigmatism lenses before he reissued the technically-incorrect non-astigmatism prescription I’ve been using for years. I agreed, but immediately regretted my decision.

Within one day of wearing the new lenses, my eyes were miserable — red, achy, irritated, sensitive to light, scratchy. I returned to the doctor to get my old prescription, but he took one look at my eyes and declared that I had an eye allergy, which could only be cleared up with steroids and wearing my glasses for two weeks. I was furious. The doctor insisted that the allergy didn’t have anything to do with the new contacts, to which I responded, “So, after TWENTY YEARS (literally) of wearing contacts with no issue, and ONE DAY wearing new contacts and having irritated eyes, you think this doesn’t have to do with the new contacts??” Yeah right.

**Eventually my LASIK doctor would explain that I had GPC (giant papillary conjunctivitis), which a lot of long-term contact lens wearers get. I kinda’ imagine it like TSS for your eyes. Although the new lenses themselves didn’t cause an allergic reaction, their different shape did inflame an already-building irritation.**

At the end of the two weeks, the Target doctor declared my eyes good to go and issued my old prescription. I filled it immediately, but something was different. Even though I was wearing the old contacts, which I’ve been wearing since I was 12, they hurt my eyes. I experienced the same pain and irritation that I had with the previous ones. After much research and eventually talking to the LASIK doctor, it was determined that my GPC was permanent; every time I put in contacts, I would experience an inflammation…for the rest of my life. NOOOOOO!

After two decades, most of my life, wearing contacts, reverting back to glasses was awful. Have you ever had to work out in glasses? RUN in glasses? Take your kids swimming in glasses? Wear glasses to a fancy event? It was not my cup of tea, and so somewhere about a month in I decided it was time to face my LASIK fear.

I chose a doctor who came highly recommended by a research-obsessed friend who had used him for her surgery a few years ago. I didn’t consider anyone else, and he would prove to be the wise choice later on. I’m thankful for God’s obvious direction in that decision, now that everything is over. (You’ll see why a bit down.)

I booked a consultation with Dr. Hamilton, which was one of the most interesting doctor visits I’ve ever had. They did all sorts of tests, but the most fascinating part of the appointment was mapping my eyes. When talking with the doctor, he essentially told me that I have extremely rarely shaped eyes. I’ve got an excessively steep astigmatism vertically (Y-axis), but a very flat X-axis. No wonder traditional astigmatism contacts always bothered me!

To sum it all up, I was a cadidate for LASIK, although the doctor had some concerns. I felt confident after talking at length with him that LASIK was the correct course (versus PRK) and happy with my choice in doctor.

Unfortunately Dr. Hamilton is awesome — which means he’s busy. SO busy that I waited a month for my surgery day. It was torturous, and I counted down the days to when I would be glasses-free.

And then all of a sudden it was time!

The Surgery

All month I was nervous, and the morning before my 1 o’clock surgery was the height of it. “Anxious” is much too weak of a word for what I was feeling; I literally had to constantly self-talk my fight-or-flight-ing brain into going through with the procedure. When we arrived for check-in, the nurse asked if I wanted a Valium, to which I pretty much said, “Hell yes! And do you have anything for nausea?” (They didn’t.) I don’t take a lot of medicine, so I assumed the Valium would make me loopy quickly, but unfortunately I discovered that I’m impervious to it. It literally did NOTHING for me, which was even more unnerving. (Story of my life!)

The first step was getting numbing drops in my eyes and having the doctor mark my eyeballs. Literally. Like with a Sharpie. I guess your eyes flatten a bit when you lay down, so marking them while you’re upright helps the doctor during surgery. It didn’t hurt, and two decades of sticking contacts into my eyeballs made tolerating the ocular artistry easy, although someone who gets grossed out at the thought of being touched in the eye might’ve freaked out.

And then it was on to surgery!

The room looked like some bizarre open-faced MRI to me. There was a bench to lay down on and then a variety of machinery in a semi-circle around the headrest. Ryan got to watch from outside (the room had a ton of glass windows), and snapped pictures and a video — which I have yet to gain the courage to watch.

I laid down, and once everyone was set, they placed what seemed to be a plastic cylinder in my right eye. I looked up at a green light, and then the machine lowered down to my face, and there was a TON of pressure. It felt like someone was suctioning my eyeball out of my head, and my sinuses and brain ached from pressure. Almost immediately my vision went black (sort of); I could see tons of red and green bits of light all fractionated around in the blackness. The doctor mentioned that most people thought the blackness was the worst part, but for me it was almost relieving. I liked not having to worry about keeping my eye still and in one place…and that I couldn’t see what they were doing.

I’m not going to lie. Every step of the surgery felt like it lasted an hour. I’m sure each section took mere minutes, but it was the longest “mere minutes” of my life.

In an instant the blackness was replaced by a very blurry view; light returned and I could kinda’ see what everyone was up to. Then we repeated the same cylinder-suction-blackness for the left eye.

Next, starting with the already-in-place left eye, the nurses taped back my eyelashes and inserted the jaws of life for my eyelids (or something like that). The doctor kept joking about how tiny my eyes were — the eyelid holder almost didn’t fit! Yikes! This part of the procedure was the worst for me because you can see everything they’re doing, which freaked me out. I later told the doctor that I’m pretty sure all the people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens were simply recounting their own LASIK surgeries: I was not allowed to move; my eyes were permanently open; I could see four white lights in a circular shape above me; there was a green light in the center and then a fractionated red light above it; I could see hands and tools and hear murmurings above me; there was eye probing and all sorts of unpleasantries. The absolute worst part of the whole second half was that I could smell them cauterizing my eyeball flesh, and I felt like I was choking on it. Disgusting.

Then onto the right eye, which I immediately realized I could feel again. I quickly asked for more anesthetic (whew) before they began working on that eye. The same sort of uncomfortable, alien-eqsue work was performed, and we were done! I could see(ish) immediately, but everything was incredibly blurry. Basically I had enough vision to be confident that I wasn’t accidentally blinded during the surgery, which was a relief.

I have to note that I was so tense during the whole surgery that it was awful: my hands were clasped over my stomach, my fingers white from gripping one another so tightly; my feet were digging into the bench almost lifting my hips up; my shoulders and head were pressed into the headrest so intensely that I had soreness for hours. I was wearing layers like instructed, but immediately wished I had stripped down to my tank top pre-procedure because the stress was making me sweat. When everything was done and I stood up, I felt relief and all the adrenaline leave my system, which was a good thing initially…and then bad.

On the way out of the center, I got intensely light-headed and nauseated. I thought I was going to vomit in the parking lot. I had envisioned sleeping on the way home, but instead it turned into the most uncomfortable, longest 30-minute car ride of my life. My condition was worse when I got onto solid land again, and I even had to crawl up the stairs because I was afraid of vomiting or passing out. I was too independent to accept Ryan’s offers to help me to bed, so my dear husband instead opted to video my walk of shame, thankyouverymuch. (I’ll just have to remind him that payback’s a bitch next time he’s in bad sorts, haha.) I crawled into E.V.’s bed, the darkest room in the house, and tried to sleep while Ryan ran out to get my prescriptions, the dogs from the vet and the girls from his mother’s house.

Those first six or seven hours were awful, really just the worst. I regretted everything while I suffered. My head and sinuses ached from the first half of the procedure still. My eyes burned like dickens, so much so that I literally couldn’t even open them. It felt as if someone had thrown acid in my face. I was insanely sensitive to light, needing to wear my sunglasses even in a room with all blinds drawn and blackout curtains closed. I had Netflix playing on my phone at first, but once an episode ended, I was unable to see in order to press play on the next one, so instead I tried to sleep in between the constant rewetting/antibiotic/anti-inflammatory drops. I was in and out of slumber for a few hours, but every time I awoke no progress had been made. It wasn’t until almost 8 p.m. that night (seven hours after the surgery) when the burning calmed down enough to be bearable.

And then I went to bed. In Emma Vance’s room. With her next to me. And I slept decently, waking every so often to the hope that I’d wake up with no pain and 20/20 vision in the morning.

But that didn’t happen.

The Next Day

When I awoke, I could see(ish). The pain was gone, although my eyes felt a bit gunky and irritated, as if I had old, dirty contacts in. I kept saying to Ryan that sure, I could see, but it was foggy. We went in for my day-after check up with the doctor, sunglasses on and plagued with watery vision. As soon as I told the doctor what I was experiencing, he took one look at my eyes through the microscope and began to explain what had happened.

“You have a dystrophy that was undetectable until we were in surgery. (Huh?) Essentially, you have a genetic characteristic to your eye where the eye skin doesn’t stick to itself like a normal patient’s would.”

Basically, when the doctor was ‘reassembling’ my eye , where most patient’s eye skin would stick together like two wet pieces of paper, mine were like two dry pieces. It wasn’t a completely new problem for him to encounter in one of his patients, so he just worked gently and adeptly to put my eye back together well. When the surgery was over, he looked at my eye one last time through the microscope and smoothed it down in one rough spot. I suppose he didn’t mention the complication until the his morning because it wouldn’t have made much of a difference yesterday; it would’ve just been one more thing to worry about.

As the doctor began to explain the indications of this condition I realized that I had experienced a lot of it over the years, namely randomly waking up in the middle of the night, opening my eyes and feeling as if they had been scratched out of nowhere (I assumed it was residual makeup in my eye). Also, when I told my mom what was going on, she mentioned, “Oh, yeah. The same thing happened to your dad when he had his eye surgery.” Geez. that would’ve been nice to know, haha!

I had the doctor take a picture of my eye (with his iPhone–amazing technology, right??) so that I could understand what my issue was. As you can see if you scroll down, there’s a white haze or smudge right in the center of my eye (and on the other as well) where the eye skin hasn’t adhered correctly yet. It will — it will just take a few days longer than the normal LASIK patient. The biggest concern is that the unadhered eye skin could get ripped off (most likely by my eyelid while I’m sleeping), so I’ve got a few changes to my eye drop protocol, including adding an eye gel overnight to help prevent that from happening. The end result is that even with the fogginess, my eyes read 20/20 (R) and 20/25 (L) this morning, and over the next few days it should only get better as the smudge heals. If my eye skin does rip off, then it’ll mean that I’ll be wearing contact lenses as bandages for a few days (#ironic) and will have to wait even longer for my perfect vision.

Although I experienced some complications (which I should’ve predicted based on my terrible week so far, haha!), I’m still happy I did LASIK. And I’m forever thankful that I had an awesome doctor. All along the way, I had people inquire as to where I was going for my procedure, and a lot of people were appalled that I had chosen a real doctor (i.e. more expensive) over a LASIK center. After all the oddities he discovered in my eyes, and after the unforeseen complication that a LASIK center wouldn’t have been adept at dealing with, I know he was worth every penny and the extra drive time. If you’re in the Atlanta area and looking for a LASIK doctor, Dr. Hamilton is your guy. You can tell him Talie sent ya’. ;)

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(See that white wavy line in the center of my pupil? That’s what is making my vision fuzzy.)eyeball

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