What It’s Like To Get Laser Eye Surgery: Is It Worth It?

August 28, 2019

The first time I considered getting laser eye surgery turned out to be the very last time I got glasses. The man at the eyewear store was filling out my prescription – who I’d assume has filled hundreds of prescriptions (at least) in his time – remarked “Wow, your eyesight is so bad. What are you going to do about it?”

What do you mean what am I going to do about it?! What can I do about it?

My grandmother used to give us this disgusting soup made from bird’s nest that was supposed to preemptively cure all of our ails. I belatedly discovered that it’s not actually a nest in the traditional sense with twigs but rather consisted of dried bird saliva and sold at $500 a box! Gross? Extremely. Effective? Oddly enough it actually made my astigmatism get better. Practical? Definitely not.

It was time to look into vision correction alternatives that preferably didn’t involve ingesting bird spit.

My vision was really bad (-7) but it was stable. I never wore my glasses outside of the house because being without my peripheral vision made me nervous. I dreamed of how convenient it would be to not have to put contacts on every morning and take them off every night. This kind of wishful thinking led me to consider laser eye surgery and eventually PRK. Sure, it was a big investment but I thought of all the money I’d save on contacts and glasses for the rest of my life.

What is PRK?

Short for Photorefractive Keratectomy, PRK is considered to be the first generation of laser eye surgery that treats nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism.

During the PRK procedure, the outer later of the cornea – the epithelium – is gently removed manually. Then the surgeon uses a cool excimer laser to reshape the cornea to correct your vision. It’s not as scary as it sounds, I swear!

There is a period of discomfort for PRK patients from one to three days and may take up to 6 months for these patients to reach their peak clarity.

lasik vs. prk

Here’s the thing – LASIK is the more attractive option in laser eye surgery because it is less uncomfortable and has a quicker recovery time. Patients report that they are seeing normally mere hours after the procedure.

Instead of removing a layer of the cornea, a small flap of corneal tissue is created and folded back for the surgeon to reshape the underlying corneal tissue with a laser.

PRK, however, is the safer procedure as it removes less corneal tissue. Plus it’s considered to be more effective in the longterm because it doesn’t leave a flap in your cornea that can potentially detach.

When Is PRK A Good Option?

PRK is a good option in laser eye surgery for patients with thin or irregular corneas, have higher amounts of nearsightedness, are predisposed to chronic dry eye and have jobs or lifestyles that cause them to take a lot of direct contact to the eyes (like boxers and fighters).

Initially after my own evaluation, I was scheduled for LASIK. However, last minute they found a marker that indicated I had the potential for a certain eye disease that could be initiated by the removal of too much corneal tissue. PRK was the safer route.


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How to start the laser eye surgery process

Make an appointment with your optometrist. Get the health of your eyes tested as usual – dilation and all. They require this information when you get evaluated for laser eye surgery anyways. You can ask your optometrist any initial questions you may have and for surgeon referrals.

Do your research. Scour the internet for eye clinics that have pristine reputations. Read reviews, ask your optometrist for a trusted surgeon with a lot of experience in laser eye surgery, get a second opinion, etc… Develop a list of questions for when you have your initial appointment.

Get your eyes evaluated. Schedule an appointment with at least 2 of the clinics you’re considering. It’s free and there’s no obligation. A comprehensive examination to determine what procedure would be best for you lasts about an hour to 90 minutes.

choosing a laser eye sugery clinic

Consider future enhancements. Do they offer a lifetime guarantee for enhancements when your vision degrades as you age? Is that plan dependant on anything? For example, to be eligible for a touch up later on you may be required to have mandatory annual eye exams at their clinics at a more expensive rate than your regular optometrist.

Payment Schedule. Going from mistaking your plant for your roommate without your glasses to 20/20 vision isn’t cheap. The final price varies but make sure you 1) Compare prices and 2) Ask about the financing plans the clinics offer. Is it flexible? Can you make regular payments over the course of a couple years?

Go with your gut. You may logically weigh all the pros and cons of a couple of clinics but sometimes it comes down to gut instinct. Did you feel safe? Did you feel like the staff genuinely cared about your well-being?

laser eye surgery Tips

👁️Remove your contacts. Check with the clinic for the minimum length of time contact lenses must be removed before the consultation as well as prior to the procedure.

🥪Prep food in advance. The last thing you’re going to want to do when you’re recovering is cook so pick up snacks and meal prep for a couple days.

🎧Download audio entertainment. For the first day or 2, you’re not allowed to read or look at screens. The following couple of days your eyes will be too light-sensitive and fatigued. Podcasts and audiobooks will prevent you from dying of boredom.

💊Fill prescription in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute to pick up your prescription for various drops from the pharmacy. Store them in the fridge because the cool drops will feel heavenly in your poor eyes.

🗓️Clear your schedule. You won’t be fit to do more than to hide under the covers for the next couple days. To limit time off work, try to schedule the procedure towards the weekend to maximize recovery time.

🚗Arrange for someone to pick you up. In a pinch, you could get home yourself but it’s definitely preferable to enlist a friend or family member to assist you.

📱Adjust phone settings. Increase the text size on your phone and lower the light to make it easier on your eyes. Activate Siri so you can arrange for voice commands to read text messages.

🚿Take a shower the morning of. You can’t risk getting water in your eyes for the first day or 2 so things are going to get gross.

laser eye surgery

The PRK Experience

I arrive at TLC Eye Clinic at 9am for the first appointment of the day. I am FREAKING out. So nervous. In a private lounge, a staff member thoroughly explains the PRK process and aftercare and patiently listens as I word vomit all my anxiety to her like she’s my therapist. Her response is to give me a much needed valium to calm me and eye drops to completely numb my eyes.

I lie down in a lounge seat under a massive laser machine that has been properly calibrated for the PRK laser eye surgery. While the surgeon preps, the technicians are reassuring and give me stress balls to squeeze and boy, do I. Even with the valium I feel like my heart is going to explode.

I feel a little pressure as an instrument is inserted in my eye sockets to prevent me from blinking but thanks to the anesthetic drops it doesn’t hurt. A mist emanates from the machine and the surgeon speaks soothingly to me as he swipes something across my eyes – protective surface layer (epithelium), which is too soft to hold the laser correction, is removed. Then I see a green light pulsing which is the laser reshaping the curvature of the eye. Something is being swiped across my eye again and I witness with disbelief as my vision coming into sharper focus. A contact bandage is inserted to protect my naked eye.

Now for the other eye — my anxiety spikes. It’s all so fast-paced that I feel overwhelmed and worry that I’m going to burst into tears. I hold back because I don’t think that will go over well when there’s something holding my eyes open. The steps are repeated and before I know it, I’m done and resting in a quiet area.

The entire procedure – from sitting under the laser machine to being ushered to the resting area – took all of 15 minutes.

Day 0 –

I leave the eye clinic and have to pick up last minute changed prescription drops from the pharmacy downstairs. Wait was 30 minutes. Really stressed about painkillers wearing off before I get home.

I hadn’t arranged for someone to help me get home since I originally thought I was going to get LASIK. I order an Uber but wonder how I’m supposed to see the license plate number. My eyes are so light-sensitive even with the blackout shades on.

Arrived home without running into traffic. Went to sleep immediately after using prescribed drops, taking a painkiller and taping weird protective lenses to my eyes.

Had preordered a large pizza to arrive at 6pm. Since I can’t watch TV, read, use the computer or pretty much do anything, I ate a slice and went back to sleep.

Day 1 –

I reluctantly leave home for the day-after appointment with my optometrist. Eyes are streaming; extremely sensitive. Can barely stand the light being shined in my eyes for the doctor to check. I am a monster. Cranky AF and a bit loopy and nauseous from painkillers.

Still not allowed to read, work on the computer or watch TV so I vacillate between listening to an audio book and being deathly bored when conscious. Solution: Don’t be conscious. Take more painkillers and go to sleep.

Day 2 –

Left eye feels like I’m wearing contacts that has dust stuck in it. Eyes keep watering.

I’m allowed to take a shower and am hoping it will make me feel better.  By time I finish, the sun is starting to set in my west-facing room so even with the blinds closed, my eyes flinch from light sensitivity. I put down blankets in my cave-like walk-in closet and lie down.

Without anything to distract me from the discomfort, I start to internally panic that this is just the new reality for my eyes. What did I willing do to my eyes! Will they forever be uncomfortable and blurry?!

Day 3 –

Left eye not uncomfortable anymore. Relief. But now my right eye feels like there’s a foot in it. I cling to the logic that if my left eye stopped hurting, so will my right one…eventually. It’s more intensely itchy than actually painful, like a scab healing over. I guess it is kind of like that since the corneal cells are regrowing.

So sick of eating pizza that is getting progressively stale so I attempt to chop vegetables for a healthy salad. I fumble around, half-blind. I later realize that I had cut myself while cooking but was too blind to notice.

Hoping I’d be well enough to attend a friend’s birthday dinner but I am decidedly NOT well enough. I’m still extremely sensitive to light of any kind. I had tried to start weaning myself off of the painkillers but can’t sleep because my eyes feel like they’re pressing against my eyelids, attempting to make a break from the sockets.

Day 4 –

It’s a day of firsts.

For the first time after laser eye surgery, I can pass windows with daylight pouring through without hissing like an anemic vampire.

I can open my eyes enough to comfortably watch some Netflix. Ahhh how I missed entertainment beyond my own thoughts.

I willingly venture beyond the confines of my apartment – with blackout sunglasses on – to get a comforting bowl of ramen. I don’t take any of the prescribed painkillers because they made me dizzy and nauseous when conscious. I’ll miss the glorious drowsiness but I opt for a milder aspirin.

Day 5 –

I don’t want to use anymore sick days so I go to work. As a designer, sight is pretty imperative. While my eyes aren’t in any discomfort anymore (hallelujah!) they are still blurry. Sitting reaaaalllyy close to the computer screen to see. I can only imagine how questionable my design decisions were at this point.

After work I have an appointment with my optometrist to get the contact bandages flushed out. They were really suctioned on so it takes a lot of artificial tears to get them out. Now there’s nothing between my eyes and the world!

Yellow dye eyedrops are put in my eyes so the optometrist can check how the wound is healing properly. My vision is technically perfect but still blurry to me.

Day 6 –

Attempt to cheer myself up by going up the street to Pai for a comforting meal of Thai green curry for my lunch break. My vision is fairly good but not 100% yet so it’s still a bit blurry. It makes me feel vulnerable so my fight or flight instinct is on high alert in public.

After being bed-bound for the last week, I’m excited to get back to the gym. I take it easy with light exercise, trying not to sweat too much lest it gets into my eyes.

Day 7 –

Accustomed to my nighttime routine for the last 20 years, I reflexively go to take out contacts that aren’t there. Boggles my mind!

I’m used to blurry vision being an indication that it’s time to go to bed so I’ve been having a hard time falling asleep. Lying in bed and being able to see things relatively clearly makes me think I’m either supposed to be awake or that I’m being “bad” and forgot to take my contacts out.

I grab my laptop to watch some Queer Eye on Netflix until I’m sleepy. It’s crazy that I don’t have to grope around for my glasses when I do this!

2 Weeks –

No residual discomfort whatsoever. I’ve returned to my regular activities and sleep schedule.

My only concern is that when I try to read the tiny label on my lipstick, my designer eye can tell that my left eye is slightly blurrier than my right. Logically I know that it takes longer for vision to stabilize after PRK but there’s a little kernel of doubt that won’t go away until it fully heals.

1 month –

I had gotten my lashes freshly done just before the procedure so they’d be clean and strong but after all the eyedrops and activity going on around my eyes, they’re looking rough. My vision is much improved and my eyes have finally healed enough to get a new set. Kind of scared because without contacts, there isn’t a protective barrier between lash glue and eyes.

All goes well and I feel like I’m finally moving forward. I’m back to normal but with a major upgrade to my vision.

2 months –

I go on my first trip abroad post-laser eye surgery to Portugal. What a revelation! I don’t have to waste precious space in my carry-on luggage on glasses or contact solution. I don’t worry about contacts falling out when I go swimming or being lost in an unfamiliar space with blurry vision. I don’t waste precious sleep putting and taking off contacts. Seems like such a small thing but made a huge difference to my travel experience.

laser eye surgery

It’s been 5 months since I got PRK and I couldn’t be happier! Getting laser eye surgery changed my life. I didn’t realize how often I thought about my eyes until I didn’t have to anymore. Finally after 20 years of needing vision correction, a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

Was it uncomfortable for a while? Sure, but it’s a faint memory now, overshadowed by the thrill of being liberated from poor vision! The only regret I have is not doing laser eye surgery sooner.

I know laser eye surgery sounds scary but you won’t regret taking charge and living life deliberately instead of in fear.

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