Corrective Eye Surgery: the Process, the Recovery and the Freedom Post-PRK

After waiting nearly four months in anticipation for PRK corrective eye surgery, my day had finally come. I showed up at LASIK MD with sunglasses, a ride home and a white shirt – I’ve been told to show no fear and sweat seeping through colour would have given me away for sure. Nervous? Petrified. I was about to willingly lie under a laser as it reshaped my cornea. What the hell was I thinking?

Before stepping into the operating room I had to go through a series of administrative formalities. First, the optometrist had to double check my prescription to make sure nothing had changed. Check. I was then handed a stack of papers and instructed to sign each one – I must have initialed at least 10 pages, all of which demanded that my husband act as witness. I’m not sure either of us fully understood what we were signing. We had our eyes on the prize, not the paperwork. Check.

We were then ushered into a small office where I was to be stripped of thousands of dollars. Ouch. But check. It was at this point that I asked the young lady in high black boots and a leather jacket seated behind the counter if she’d undergone LASIK or PRK. She shook her head and said that fortunately she didn’t need corrective surgery, emphasizing that she would never, however, opt for PRK. I thought she was joking until she proceeded to shudder in disgust at the thought of having to undergo such invasive surgery and endure such an elongated and painful recovery. Eyes wide open, I looked to my husband who was doing his best to cover up an grin spreading across his face. I mouthed the word “WOW” and proceeded to ask her if she could please stop talking. Just what I needed before prepping for surgery, a non-believer in the inner ranks. I’ve made a note to write a suggestive letter to LASIK MD regarding this particular staff member. Otherwise, and I can not emphasize this enough, the staff at LASIK MD was absolutely amazing. Each and every one took their time answering all of my questions and quelling any concerns I had. I found them to be nothing but friendly and honest about the process, the recovery, and what to expect post-op.

After having finished the financial transaction, I had a meeting with a counselor who walked me through my medication schedule. I was expecting some Tylenol 3s and a bottle of Visine and instead I got a list as long as my arm of post-op medications including antibiotic eye drops, non-emergency and emergency numbing drops (the emergency drops were much stronger and only to be used in case my protective contact lenses fell off during recovery), Refresh Tears, codeine, Topanol, and regular strength Tylenol. I took one look at the schedule, started counting the number of hours in the day and wondered how on earth I would ever fit all these medications into a 24 hour cycle.

Then I was prepped for surgery, given a relaxant and a pretty blue hair-net, and ushered into the operating room. To my surprise, my nerves were instantly calmed as I was introduced to the small team responsible for my procedure. The surgeon was extremely friendly and, after testing my eyes one last time, he handed me his card, saying that I’d want to rip it up in a few hours time but I should keep it in case I needed to get in touch. I was asked to lie down on the operating table and was given two stress balls to hold. In case you are unfamiliar with the corrective eye surgery, patients are always conscious throughout the procedure. The stress balls were a great idea. I really don’t know what I would have done with my hands if they hadn’t been clenching those balls for the next five minutes or so. After having my lay down, the surgeon placed numbing drops in both my eyes and then placed what seemed like a piece of plastic (akin to those we place under microscopes in biology class) between my upper and lower lid to keep my eye open throughout the procedure.

The surgeon then told me to stare at the flashing red light and used what seemed like a round toothbrush of sorts to scrape off the skin/tissue covering my cornea. This took less than a minute and was followed by a splash of cold water to rinse out the eye and prep for the laser. The laser lasted about 20 seconds on my right eye and 30 seconds on my left (one eye was done after the other – the thicker the prescription, the longer the laser takes to reshape the cornea). The most “painful” part of the surgery besides the realization that I’d passed the point of no return when allowing the surgeon to scrape off my eye tissue, was the smell of the laser. It smelt as if something was burning and I was just hoping that my eyeball hadn’t accidentally caught on fire.

After the laser had worked it’s magic, the surgeon placed a clear, protective contact lens over my eye. This contact was to stay on until the skin/tissue over my cornea had regrown and fully healed. Five minutes in the operating room and I was given a hand shake and told to wait outside. I walked into the waiting room and saw both my mom and my husband waiting for me, holding their breaths in anticipation. Hold the phone. I could SEE! Trying not to tear up, I waited about ten minutes before heading home. The clinic likes to get PRK patients out of their clinics as soon as possible. They say it’s “for your comfort” but I’m convinced it’s because they don’t want suffering patients flogging the waiting area. Good call.

So, off I went, eyes still numb under the anesthetic, taking in the world around me with my new and improved vision. As we walked out the door, I couldn’t contain myself anymore. Some advertisement in the entrance to the building caught my eye and tears starting streaming down my face. It wasn’t the content of the advert – it was the fact that I could read it. Clearly. I was floored. The reason behind these tears slowly changed however, two hours later, after the numbing drops had worn off. The next three days were… tough. Friday afternoon, my eyes started stinging with a vigor that can only be compared to someone running a piece of paper across the surface of your eyeball. This sensation lasted until Sunday morning and came in waves. Thankfully, I was not left to suffer alone. Two of the world’s best caregivers were by my side the entire time, waking me up to take my pills and eye drops, and guiding me through what was a pretty rough recovery. Moreover, I was one of the lucky few who were able to sleep through the night. Others (so I hear) suffer the full 72 hours, laying awake at night, their eyes on fire. I slept at least 6 hours each night which inevitably helped quicken the healing process. My bed was my home for 3 days, minus the odd hour or two when I meandered downstairs to mutter “Happy Easter” to relatives who had gathered at my parents house for the occasion. During those couple of hours, I sat with my sunglasses on, head down, speaking to no one and biting back the sting that made me want to climb back into bed so that I could sleep away the pain.

And it worked. Sunday afternoon, the pain subsided and I went off the painkillers. Of course, this is when the unbearable itching began but that I could handle. On Tuesday, I went for my follow-up appointment at LASIK MD and had my protective contact lenses removed. My lenses were removed by a Russian man with a heavy accent who said that while he could use anesthetic, he preferred not to. He then told me that he was going to remove my contacts with tweezers that had bug-like pincers attached at the end. All this would be tolerable if he hadn’t then said in a stern voice, “YOU CANNOT BLINK. IS VERY IMPORTANT”.  So, I struggled to keep my eyes open while he went digging around in my eyes. After holding my breath and praying that I didn’t blink, I was free of my protective lenses and told that I was healing according to plan. Unfortunately, the Russian warned me, without protective lenses to cover my cornea, I was at risk of having my upper lid stick to the newly formed skin/tissue during R.E.M. The only thing I could do to prevent this was to keep my eyes as lubricated as possible. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep a wink that night and spent most of the evening squirting fake tears into my eyes. As a result, my skin developed a nasty irritation and I had to switch to the “preservative free” drops instead. A small price to pay to avoid a situation that was said to be comparable to having had surgery all over again.

On the Wednesday after my surgery, my vision got blurry before it got better. I felt increasingly off balance and wanted to bring up my food every time I stepped foot into a moving vehicle. I was getting worried that something had gone wrong and maybe I wasn’t going to have the 20/20 vision I had hoped for. On Friday however, after 6 days of   painful recovery during which time I looked like I’d been punched in the face more than once, I decided to take my new set of eyes out for a test run. Five minutes into my run, I had to stop. It wasn’t to catch my breath, despite the fact that I’d been bed ridden for the past week. It was to wipe away the tears after realizing that for the first time in 8 years, I was running without glasses. This was my moment. The moment when I realized that I’d been given the gift of sight. I was beyond words (and breath, as it would have it).

Today, nearly a week and a half post-PRK, I’ve had my second follow-up appointment and been told that I have 20/15 vision – better than the average Joe and better than I ever could have imagined. I am driving without problems and thankfully, I’ve not experienced any of the sensitivity to light or halos common to PRK patients during the recovery process. The only resounding effect from the surgery is a sensitivity to bright light a midst dark environments – I actually watched The Hunger Games with sunglasses on in theater – but even that will fade.

I entered into this process skeptical, full of nerves and longing for freedom from glasses. Today, I am thrilled to say, I type without having to push up the frames as they slide down my nose and run outside without having to adjust my contacts along the way. PRK may have been painful (and costly) but in the end, perfect vision is worth the pain. Not only do I now see the world through a new set of eyes, but the world now sees me the way I see myself. I finally feel like I can move on to bigger things and I can’t wait to see, with perfect clarity, what the future has in store.

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8 thoughts on “Corrective Eye Surgery: the Process, the Recovery and the Freedom Post-PRK

  1. This was a gripping read, Arden! I’m so glad to hear you can see clearly now 🙂 I’m not quite ready to take the plunge myself, but I admire you for doing this! And writing about it. xo Rue.

  2. Thanks so much for posting this! I’m having PRK next week and have been freaking out a little bit. It’s nice to hear about someone else’s experience, and hear that you are glad you had it!

    • You’re so very welcome! You’ll be just fine – recovery will suck but then you’ll totally be able to see the world… with new eyes! Best of luck!!!

  3. How have your eyes been now that you’re a few months into recovery?

    • Fantastic! No eye drops, no discomfort – just the normal stuff – sore, tired eyes if I sit for too long in front of the computer, that kind of thing. I don’t regret my decision at all! I would recommend it to anyone contemplating freeing themselves from glasses! The process was painful, but it was worth it.

  4. Wendy

    Congrats on your success! I’m shocked at the recovery process. Yikes! What I’ve read was discomfort during recovery, but that’s a huge understatement.

    I’m considering PRK, as I’m not a candidate for Lasik because of my thin corneas, but my concern is I have naturally dry eyes. From your extensive research and own (or other peoples that you’ve heard of) experiences, will my dry eyes get worse? I’ve heard horror stories about dry eyes becoming unbearable after Lasik, but that was years and years ago. I imagine technology has improved for Lasik, but need to know about PRK. Thanks for any info you can provide to me!

    • Hey Wendy! Yes – the recovery from PRK was rough (that’s – an understatement) but I’d do it again, because it worked. The dry eyes are still an issue, to be completely honest. Unbearable? I wouldn’t say that, but the first little while can be hard. Definitely use eye drops before bed – every night. The worst was getting something in my eye – it was like sandpaper for the first year. And when they got really dry, during winter or if I was woken up suddenly by my daughter, I would have tears streaming down my face. So that was unbearable – but it’s not a daily occurrence. Is it worth it? Yes. Do you need to be strong and brace yourself for a shit ton of discomfort? Yes. I’m sorry, I wish that was more comforting but I want you to be prepared! Best of luck with whatever you choose!

  5. Thank you for posting your experience. I’m very happy that you were able to see after the whole process. I’m getting a correction eye surgery soon and I’m excited to see more clearly.

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