Wednesday, January 19, 2011

the long-awaited LASIK post, of course. (Part 1)

it was in the midst of some serious document-writing blockage and a rush of feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of incredible content on the web that i realized i ought to harness all this nervous energy and finally tell you about my LASIK surgery. (i'm not shouting about it, by the way. LASIK is actually an acronym. for laser-assisted-something-something-something. i forget. but anyway.)

if you want the short version of the story, just know this: it went well! i'm still getting used to be able to see the bedroom ceiling at night, but altogether i think it was a worthwhile experience. so if you're on the fence, get saving your pennies, and just go through with it already. you won't regret it. probably.

long version? good. i was hoping you'd ask! like i said, i'm still getting used to the idea of being able to see. my vision isn't 100% perfect, but i've been told that my vision will probably fluctuate a lot for the next 4-6 weeks and then finally settle down. it's a little frustrating to not always be able to read the chalkboard at school (for lack of a better illustration), but i've been cleared to drive! which reminds me, i ought to try to make it to the DMV one of these days. (did you know, after you have LASIK, you have to have that vision correction thing removed from your driver's license?? crazy, i know.)

so here's the story, in as linear a fashion as i can muster. if you're curious about all the pre-op visits and requirements and goings on, you can write me individually. but it's all really not very exciting, so i'll skip that here.

instead, i'll start about a week before the surgery or so. one of the reasons i chose the LASIK center i did was because it was quiet, the staff seemed kind and personable, and their pre-op process was thorough. part of that pre-op process was a meeting with the surgeon, in which he was to explain everything that goes on on the day of surgery—all the sounds, sensations, smells (yes, smells)—so that there are no surprises. the aim is to get everyone's questions answered and to educate you enough on the process to ease much of the nervousness most people deal with going into the procedure.

i don't think there's ever been a single person before who came out of that meeting with a higher level of anxiety than what they went in with. leave it to me to pull that off.

so i spent the next few days fanning my flushed face, taking deep breaths and trying to convince myself that if i didn't calm down, i would likely pass out on the day of surgery, they wouldn't be able to complete the procedure, and i'd be blind for the rest of my life.

i decided to work on the morning of the day of my surgery, which wasn't a big deal as it wasn't scheduled until about 2 in the afternoon. it was actually kind of nice; you could say i had a bit of anxiety going into surgery, so working that day gave me a bit of a distraction from my obviously impending panic.

i hyperventilated all the way to the surgery center, which is luckily only about 10 minutes from my house. this wasn't helped by the fact that the office has this strange entry system that requires that you take an elevator to the second floor just to get to the reception desk. (if you know anything about my intense hatred of elevators, you would understand this did not improve my anxiety level.)

having finally made it to the desk, i signed in, and was so nervous that i missed initialing most of the blanks on my consent form, and the poor technician had to keep pointing them out to me. then i went to the bathroom again, just in case. then i hyperventilated in the waiting room until Hubs gave me his iPod so i could play Angry Birds. (Angry Birds never fails me.) before i could beat level 20, the technician came to get me, and led me down a hall to what seemed to be the staging area.

the staging area was a strange, tiny room with three plush leather recliners lined up diagonally, with hospital curtains in-between. a seemingly crabby, grandma-esque nurse sat me down and ran me through all the steps leading up to surgery. (i'm not sure why she seemed so crabby, it turned out she was actually very nice and nurturing, and was very reassuring when i wobbled out of surgery.) she gave me about a million eye drops of differing varieties, 5 mg of Valium, a long list of post-op instructions i was pretty confident i would not remember after surgery, and then told me to sit and read a magazine while they bought in another girl to prep and my Valium kicked in.

i don't know much about surgery, but Valium did not seem to be much more than a placebo. and considering my extreme suspicion of it going in, i don't think it helped me much at all. all i remember of realizing its effects was wildly fluctuating between emotional responses: one moment i'd be twitching and wiggling in my recliner, the next i'd be strangely calm, but still thinking obsessive, nervous thoughts.

the stack of magazines on the end table next to me held a Large Print edition of a magazine, which featured a cover piece titled something like "Doctors Confess Their Fatal Mistakes." it was super comforting, as you can imagine.

soon, an annoyed technician came and gave me more numbing eye drops and whisked me into surgery. i don't know why, but all my reactions seemed slow, and it was almost like i didn't have any depth perception. i can't tell if that was the effects of the drugs they gave me beforehand or my own neuroses catching up with me, but i do know that it made for an awfully awkward stumble into the surgery room.

the surgery room has two large machines, with a reclining, sort-of dentist-style chair in-between. they had previously explained that the first laser cuts the flap from your cornea, and the second does the correction work.

they got me wrangled onto the chair, put a kind of space-age foam pillow around my head to keep it in place, gave me an adorable teddy bear to hold on to for dear life, and swiveled me under the first machine. this was the part i had heard was uncomfortable. and it was: while your eye balls are numb, and you can't feel the laser doing its work, they have to use a strange sort-of suction cup on your eyeball to keep it in place. it's strange and uncomfortable to have vacuum pressure on your eyeball, but not painful. i was told, however, that i would lose my vision in the eye that was under the suction thing once they turned the suction on. i could still see the lights on the ceiling out the corner of my eye, and in a clumsy panic, told the doctor that. he assured me that it was okay, i might still be able to see a little around the edges. i didn't believe him, of course, but what choice did i have once they had my eyeball in a suction thing?

turns out the laser is seriously not a big deal. i was told i would be able to see the flap, and was worried that thinking about my eyeball flap would give me the willies and i would certainly pass out. but the flap-making portion of the surgery was actually pretty quick, the machine was silent, and i couldn't actually see what was going on.

to my relief, once they swiveled me out from under the first machine, they announced, "well, that was the hard part. the rest is easy." i was stunned. i think i gasped out something like "wow, really?! well that wasn't SO bad..." they put a bunch of drops in my eyes and swiveled me in place under the second machine.

this part was weird, i admit. the flap-making laser doesn't actually cut the flap free at first, it merely perforates the flap enough that the doctor can peel it back later. (i know, gross, i can't believe i'm writing this. *shudder*) it was at this point i think the Valium must have kicked in, because i didn't flinch at all while the doctor came at me with dental-looking metal tools and wiggled my eyeball around until he peeled back the flap. i think at the time i realized i should be really wigging out, but was so interested by what was going on, that i sort of forgot to freak out.

the next part was fun! they told me to stare at the blinking red light while they ran the second laser and it made machine-gun-like noises as it did the correction work on my eye. they had warned us at the meeting a week earlier that we might smell something similar to burning hair or plastic. "it might smell like you're on fire," the doctor explained. "you're not on fire, don't worry." it's because the laser literally vaporizes your extra eye tissue in order to reshape the cornea. so, in my strange Valium haze, while they worked the second laser, my thoughts frittered between frantic thoughts like, "FOCUS. FOCUS ON THE RED BLINKY THING. DON'T MOVE. DON'T MOVE." and, in a dreamy, slow voice in my head, "THEY'RE VAPORIZING ME! COOOOOOL...." it's true, this part of the surgery is completely painless. i could feel that the laser was working though; i could feel it in my teeth, like a cold, faintly buzzing feeling. i felt like i must be a cartoon x-ray of myself, it was awesome.

they told us that, depending on how severe your prescription was going in, they would need to do about 30 to 60 seconds of work on each eye. my right eye required 58 seconds of work. my left, 59.

to be continued...

1 comment:

Dork Reporter said...

This just FREAKED ME OUT. I'm ok with medical procedures, surgeries, autopsies, etc, but eye-related things make my spine crawl. When my eyes goes out and if I can ever have this done, I'm going to need you for support. EW.