Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Seeing Things Clearly

About three years ago, I heard an add on the radio for a free LASIK consultation. I had some friends who had LASIK, and the idea intrigued me. I went ahead and called the number and thus began my research into LASIK eye surgery. I spent a lot of time and energy researching, and thought this would be a good place to share what I have learned. I'm very happy with my decision, but knowing what I was getting into helped make things a lot easier.

What is LASIK eye surgery? 


Every human being has a unique eye. There isn't a one-size-fits all shape of eye, but shape does affect our vision. LASIK surgery uses special lasers to cut away part of your eye to make it the optimum shape. First they cut a flap and fold it back, then they cut part of the eye to fix the shape, then they fold the flap back in place and it self heals. I know it sounds intense, but you can't feel a thing and the whole surgery takes less than a minute!


Who can have LASIK?


There are some factors that make a person a good candidate for LASIK. The cornea has to be sufficiently thick since the laser will be cutting part of it away. LASIK does a great job fixing near sightedness (you can see up close well, but far away is fuzzy) and when I got LASIK they were also able to work with astigmatism (your eye is shaped more like a football than a round ball) and far sightedness, but not extreme cases.

The surgery will not help lazy eye, cataracts and other problems, however, there are some pretty neat surgeries out there for other problems. It isn't recommended for people whose eyes are unstable (if your prescription has changed within the past 5 years or you are pregnant, this may not be for you). After about the age of 40, eyes naturally change for better or worse. My vision probably would have naturally changed and removed my need for glasses, but I didn't feel like waiting 15 years for that!

My corneas were extra thick and I was able to see things close up without glasses, as long as those things weren't any further away than my hand. I also had a slight astigmatism. This made me a perfect candidate for LASIK! In fact, after LASIK, I could see clearer than I had before with contacts!

Do Research


I was impressed with the first place I went to (enough so that I'm linking to them, they are worth checking out), but decided to compare it to some other places before making a decision. It didn't take long to discover that most places that offer LASIK will give you a free consultation. If I was going to be making a decision that cost a lot of money and would affect my vision for the rest of my life, it was worth taking some time to make sure I knew what I was getting into. I ended up investigating three different places and they all had great stuff to offer, in the end I went to the place I liked best. This meant I went to a lot of consultations and had my eyes dilated frequently, but it was worth it in the end.



There are a few different producers of lasers. Obviously, you want to get the best treatment possible with the best equipment. But just because they have a different name, doesn't mean the lasers are always very different. These are produced so fast, that the "old" model may still be less than a year old! Obviously, you should avoid places with really old, outdated equipment, but most places of any repute shouldn't have that problem.

Many places advertise "bladeless" LASIK, intralase, or iLASIK as a big selling point. This is referring to using a laser to create the flap on your eye rather than a blade (the can-opener). Using a blade was rather outdated when I got LASIK. A laser is the standard way to create the flap now, so it isn't really that big of a selling point. If you find a place that wants to use a can opener on your eye, I recommend somewhere else.



This is often the biggest downside to LASIK. It isn't cheap. Especially when you realize that you are spending thousands of dollars for a surgery that will only take 20 minutes from the time you walk in to when you walk out.

But on the other hand, this is your vision we are talking about. You want to be able to see clearly, and have your vision fixed for the rest of your life? I've seen calculators that will tell you how much you would spend on glasses or contacts over the years and they make LASIK look cheaper in the long run. Glasses and contacts would have been a less expensive route for me, even long term, but there are other reasons I felt this was worth it.

It is important to note that many places offer payment plans (I decided to take advantage of this to build up credit with a no interest payment plan). The place I decided to go also accepted my dad's insurance (it paid 15%). Some places give discounts for teachers, employees of certain businesses or people with a special code. This is also a good way to use a flex spending account.

Contacts can be damaging to the eye over a long period of time, besides being irritating. I rarely had sand or grit get stuck under my contacts, but it was unpleasant when it did happen. I found that when I took out my contacts, my eyes would get really dry and irritated. I discovered this was because my eyes were "gasping for air" when they weren't covered. I had contacts that I would take out once a month or so because I always had a hard time getting them in, but I was a bit concerned about what this would mean in the long run.

One of my thoughts of why this was worth it was emergency preparedness. I could only see a few feet clearly without glasses or contacts. I couldn't drive and wouldn't be able to care for my family very well if I couldn't see. What if there was a fire and my contacts melted and my glasses were lost? How would I get my family to safety? I know it is an unlikely scenario, but I have always had pretty good health. I didn't want my bad vision to potentially keep me from doing what I needed to be able to do in an emergency or otherwise.

So, in considering cost, decide whether this is really worth it to you or not. I made this decision when I was single. I figured it would be easier to justify it when I could get that many more years of good vision and I didn't have to worry about fitting it into a family budget.



In the end, get LASIK in the place that you feel the most comfortable. There are lots of excellent doctors out there with great equipment, so often the extra features are what makes a difference. I was really impressed with the friendliness of consultants and staff in two of the places I went, the other was a bigger business and it felt more like cattle being pushed through an assembly line. I appreciated it when doctors or staff would remember my name when they saw me, even if it was because they had pulled it up on a screen moments before. A week or so after my surgery, I got a personal note from the doctor to thank me for trusting her with my vision and to let her know if there were any problems.

Some places have fancy massage chairs to sit in while you wait for the surgery, many offer snacks while you were there and my favorite was a fancy coffee/hot chocolate maker. I didn't care if it was the middle of summer, I had to get the hot chocolate because it was so neat! Some places also video your surgery so you can have a copy to post on youtube or keep in your home video collection.


Questions to Ask


Asking questions during your free consultations will help you be informed as well as making you look smart! Many things might seem overwhelming if they are thrown on you last minute, but are easy to handle if you know what to expect. Here are some things I would recommend asking about:
  • When they show you the map of your eye, ask for clarification on any terms or things that are unclear.
  • Can you show me exactly what the surgery will do? (most offices have a model to demonstrate on)
  • What kind of payment plans do you offer?
  • Do you have any discounts available?
  • What is included in the cost of LASIK? Are there extra charges for:
    • touch ups
    • post operative appointments
    • prescription eye drops (they gave me free samples)
    • any other hidden charges
  • If touch ups are needed, what are the stipulations (I have free touch ups if I get a yearly check up)
  • If I need a touch up, would I need to come back to this facility or could I go to another?
  • Do I need to do anything to prepare my eyes for surgery? (like not wearing contacts for a while)
  • What should I expect during surgery? What will I see?
  • What should I expect during my recovery?
  • Do I need a ride to get to and from my operation?
  • What kind of technology do you use? How does this compare to ______?
  • What do I need to do to take care of my eyes after the surgery?
  • What are potential side effects of LASIK and how long will it last?
  • Will this vision change be permanent?
  • Are there any referral programs? (They gave me coupons to give to friends and I can get money if someone I refer gets their LASIK at LasikPlus, so if you go there, feel free to mention my name!)


Why I Chose the Place I Did


There are lots of fantastic places to get LASIK, and I chose the place I liked best. Here are some of the reasons I liked LasikPlus the best.
  • With my dad's insurance covering a portion of the cost, this was the least expensive option I looked at
  • The staff were really friendly and nice. I was kind of sad when I was done with post op appointments because I wouldn't have an excuse to go back.
  • They have an awesome hot chocolate maker
  • They have locations all over the country. If I need a touch up later in life and I've moved out of state, I don't have to travel back to Utah for my free touch up.

Surgery Day

Doing research and learning about LASIK was a lot more complicated than getting the surgery. I guess a lot of people get surgery the same day they go in, but I don't like to make impulse decisions involving thousands of dollars and my health. Besides, I had stuff planned for the summer and needed to plan around it.

I had already watched videos on youtube and talked to friends so I knew what to expect. My cousin drove me to the office and enjoyed some hot chocolate while I got ready. I signed papers saying I knew what I was getting into and was told what to do for post op care. Then I went to chat with the doctor.

Dr. Thompson walked me through what would be happening. She told me what I would see, hear, and smell every step of the way. I could have had a complimentary pill to help me relax, but last time I had such a pill I was a small child and apparently it made me super hyper for hours. Besides, trying to swallow a pill freaked me out more than having a laser shoot my eye. I know, I'm weird that way.

My eyes were numbed so I couldn't see anything, and they were held in place so I couldn't move them. My vision without glasses had been bad, but my vision with a flap opened up on my eye was far more blurry. I trusted my doctor to guide me to the next laser and it wasn't a problem. I blurrily saw a blinking light and it smelled faintly of burning. Then they put the flap back and I could see better than I had since second grade!

While this is a surgery you walk in and out of, it is still surgery. I wanted to give my eyes a chance to rest, so I didn't plan much for the next day or so. I could see a lot better than before, but I knew my eyes would still take a day or two to settle and the full results wouldn't be seen for a month or so. I had some headphones with some books on tape and listened to a whole book after my surgery.



The surgery itself was easy and painless. The recovery wasn't painful or hard, it just took attention. I hated putting contacts in my eyes, so the long list of eye drops was far from convenient.

On the first day, I had about three different types of drops to put in as long as I was awake or using my eyes. One was suppose to go in every four hours, another every hour and the artificial tears were every 20 minutes. To make it more exciting, there should be a bit of space between the drops, so sometimes I would be putting in drops every five minutes for 20 minutes (and with my skills, this gave little time for break in between since most of it would spill all over my face). I also had a fancy eye patch I got to wear to prevent me from rubbing my eyes.

My answer to this intensive regimen? Get a book on tape and keep my eyes closed as much as possible all day! Sometimes I would wear sunglasses instead of the eye patch. I still couldn't rub my eyes, and I didn't have to deal with stickiness from the tape that held the patch in place.

Luckily, it doesn't take long for the eye drop schedule to settle down significantly. I was also grateful I didn't need to fill the prescription for the eye drops and the office gave me some samples for free. I got good enough at putting in eye drops that I didn't feel a need to be in front of a mirror, and I didn't feel self conscious that it looked like I was crying once an hour or so when I put a little bit of artificial tear in my eye and a lot on my face.

My cousins I was staying with the day or two after my surgery have a great view from their back porch.  It was really trippy looking out over the valley the night after my surgery. I could see clearly, but the halo and glare was pretty crazy. This was a temporary thing, and I had anticipated it so it didn't worry me, but it was still really trippy.

Where I'm At Now


It has been over two years since my surgery and it was worth it. After my eyes had fully healed, my vision was better than it had been with contacts or glasses (because they were able to fix the astigmatism). My vision is a little less than perfect now, and I mostly blame that on my cute little Critter. Apparently pregnancy is hard on the eyes as well as the rest of the body. I still don't need correction, and I love not relying on glasses or contacts. My eyes were dry for a while after surgery, but now they are dry less than before the surgery (I found out watery eyes is a common sign of dry eyes).

I'm glad that I live in an age where such technological marvels are possible. The surgery took less than twenty minutes, and the eye drops and recovery were annoying but a few months of regular eye drops is worth the price for a life time of good eye health. I'm glad I did it and for any one considering it, I recommend looking into it. There are lots of free consultations, so whats stopping you from finding out?

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