My PRK Eye Surgery Journey
If you wear glasses, you have probably considered laser eye surgery at one point or another. But it’s scary to think about lasers coming into your eye and not knowing what to expect, so I decided to write up a very detailed blog post to account for my experience. I read a lot of blogs + reddit posts to prepare myself for surgery and every experience is different, but I hope this helps you make a decision if this journey is for you! I chose to get PRK, which has 3-6 month full recovery process (which is when your vision is 100% clear. You’ll be able to see about 3 days after!) , so I’ll continue to update this post with week by week updates!
I’ve worn glasses for half my life, and my vision was stable for 4 years before I got PRK. You can qualify for eye surgery at 18, but most say you should wait until your prescription doesn’t change for 3 years before you attempt it in case there’s a regression in vision post surgery. According to my doctor, women are usually good to go at 23, and men at 25. This was my vision: Right Eye: -5.75 with a -1.50 astigmatism; Left eye: -4.50 with a -2.25 astigmatism. I hated wearing contacts, and they always gave me irritation. I didn’t have dry eyes/halos and according to the doctor had pretty normal, healthy eyes (besides the bad vision).
Why eye surgery?
It’s the little things really – I would put a face mask on and then have to put my glasses over it and deal with the goo in order to do anything else besides face masking. I would look enviously at my friends who arrive to brunch on a sunny day with their sunglasses on their head while I shuffle my prescription sunglasses into my case and switch it out for my regular glasses. It’s when I would do a child’s pose in yoga and always have to keep my head slightly lifted to avoid my glasses being squished to my face. Then of course, there’s just the fact that I’ve had glasses for half my life and wanted the freedom for my eyeballs to breathe the fresh air. At the end of the day, it’s usually considered a cosmetic surgery, so really many of my reasons are superficial and convenience based, and I’m okay with that.
What’s the difference between PRK and LASIK / SMILE?
I’m not a doctor, so definitely research the differences and ask your optometrist for details. At a high level, in LASIK, a thin flap is created on the cornea, and you can see clearly the next day. SMILE is pretty similar to LASIK, and it’s the newest version of this type of eye surgery, but it’s minimally invasive with no flap. In PRK, the thin outer layer of the cornea is removed before reshaping the underlying corneal tissue. Recovery usually takes 3 days where you can’t really use your eyes and then it takes a few weeks for your vision to stabilize. Obviously LASIK and SMILE sound like the easiest surgery, so why didn’t I do those? My vision and astigmatism was too high for LASIK/SMILE, so the only way to free my eyes from glasses was to rip those bad boy (or girl) corneas out.
Where did you get it done/How much did it cost?
I got it done at the Manhattan LASIK Center. Two of my friends got this procedure done here, so I felt like I was in good hands. I had my surgery done by Dr. Mark Buchsbaum, and I really liked how he explained the procedure and answered my questions. The Manhattan LASIK Center clearly knows what they’re doing, and during the free initial consultation, they were patient with my questions and knowledgeable about the procedure. My surgery cost around $4.7k because of the severity of my vision, but they also have Groupons and Yelp discounts for those with a lower prescription number. I’m not sponsored by them, but they do have a referral program, so if you get your free consultation and surgery done by them, it’d be great if you use me, Crystal Pang, as your referral!
During my free initial consultation, I was asked to fill out the typical forms about my eyes/health. Then, I got my eyes checked in two machines (similar to the ones you use at the eye doctor). My eyes were then dilated, which takes about 40 minutes, so during the dilation process, the technician sat in with me and asked me if I had any questions. Once my eyes were dilated, I was seen by the doctor who looked at the back of my eye and the eye’s general health. This is when he told me what eye surgery I was qualified for. He then showed me the machine we would be using during surgery, so I could see how it looked with no surprises. After another round of questions, I was brought to the financial office to talk about the costs of surgery. After getting the numbers and finalizing on a price, I was able to opt for a financing plan or pay up front during the day of surgery. I put a $100 deposit down and scheduled my surgery for next week (if you wear contacts, you need ~2 weeks of not wearing contacts before you can schedule your surgery).
Day of Surgery:
Expect to be at the office for ~4 hours during your day of the surgery (the actual surgery is only like 15 minutes though). Eat beforehand, go to the gym (since you won’t be able to go for a few days after), take a shower, and have someone ready to pick you up/an Lyft ready for when you are done. When I first arrived, I got my eyes checked again in the same machines as my consultation and then an additional scanner to get an accurate measure of my eye. I paid my bill, got half a valium to relax, and then waited in the waiting room for my turn. The doctor took me to the examination room to look at my charts one more time, explain what was about to happen, the after-care required, and then use the Phoropter (the machine that is in front of your eyes when you’re looking at the eye chart) to show me what my vision will look like after full recovery (it was real clear).
Then, I was taken to the room where the surgery happens. I was told to lie down in the machine, was given a teddy bear to hold, a blanket to keep warm, and a cushion under my knees to be comfortable. Then the doctor and technician began to operate. Dr. Buchsbaum explained everything as he did it. They blocked one of my eyes, taped the lids up to keep the other eye open, and then began putting in eye numbing drops. He put in a few more different drops and then explained the laser was going to make a loud buzzing sound and there may be a burning smell, but it’s not my eyes that are burning, so to not be alarmed. He said I didn’t have to worry if my gaze shifted because the computer tracks my eye movement. The laser is invisible, so I just heard the crackling buzzing sound and looked at a green + red light above me and waited as the machine did its thing. He then put a transparent bandage contact lens in my eye to keep everything protected. Then the doctor prepped the other eye, and everything happened again. After about fifteen minutes, he said we were done!
They gave me some granny looking sunglasses and told me to keep my eyes closed for as long as possible and to expect a lot of tearing. They gave me a little take home kit, and then I went home!
Let me clarify: It does not hurt. You can see the whole time. There are a lot of eye drops. The laser is invisible, so you don’t see anything shooting into your eye. Your eye is tracked by a computer, so you don’t have to worry about moving it around. It does not hurt.
-Try to take 4 days off from work if possible
-Have prepared food at home for 3 days
-Load up a good audio book or podcast
-Have your friends visit you/call you to pass the time (you’ll have low energy though)
-Make sure laundry/sheets are done because you’ll be in bed a lot
-Try to have someone take care of your pet if you have one because it’s hard to care for yourself and an animal
-Put the different eye drops in distinct places so you know which is which and you don’t accidentally grab the wrong one
My boyfriend went to pick up my after-care drugs at the pharmacy while I laid in bed in the dark because bright lights seemed extra bright. I had to follow a strict eye dropping procedure for the next week:
-Two different antibiotic drops every 2 hours, 6 times a day for the next 5 days
-One comfort eye drop (it has a little bit of a numbing agent + tears) every hour 10x a day for the next 3 days
-Tear Drops whenever I needed, ~10x a day
-Pain meds for 4 days if needed, every 4-5 hours
In addition, I had to wear a clear plastic shield mask when I slept for the next four days to protect rubbing or touching my eye in my sleep.
There were also some obvious rules:
-No makeup for a week
-Don’t rub your eye
-Don’t get hit in the eye (sports, also obvious)
-Don’t get water or sweat in your eyes (shower with your eyes closed)
Okay, now after all this logistical information, here’s the interesting stuff. How did I feel?
First night, I teared non stop, and it was hard to sleep because I was drowning in my own tears. I didn’t open my eyes that first night at all to be extra cautious. There wasn’t any pain though.
I couldn’t open my eyes for more than 1 minute during Days 2-3. It was just so uncomfortable and everything was too bright, my eyes were dry, and my vision was blurry. I stayed in bed and was horizontal all day, bored. What do you do when you can’t use your eyes? SLEEP. I ended up accidentally napping a lot of the day away just because I was already in bed. I was able to do little things for myself though - I could heat up food (order food or meal prep before hand), “watched” a movie I already saw with only the sound so I could visualize the images (I was bored, okay), start my audio books/podcasts (I was listening to the last Harry Potter book!), and take a shower. When you have dried eyedrop/tear junk on your face, taking a shower is a holy feeling…just don’t get water in your eyes! I wore sunglasses indoors 24/7, and these aren’t cute Raybans, but rather, thick back sunglasses that protect your eyes from any harm. The only good thing about this time was that I didn’t have any pain though, so I didn’t take any of the pain meds.
I could finally look at a screen! I missed you, phone! However, text far away and the words on the screen were pretty blurry, and I had to really enlarge the font on both my computer and phone. “Oh this looks like my parent’s screen…” my friends say. It did take me longer to send screenshots to my friends because the text took up so much space, but it’s worth it to not have to squint. The bright light from the screen didn’t hurt, but my eyes definitely felt dry. So I was the the queen of eye dropping.
Today is also the day I had a follow-up appointment to get the contact bandage out, and bless the eye doctor because the contact bandage was giving my eye a lot of irritation. It turns out the bandage had absorbed a lot of the eye drops and was basically floating around in my eye. Once the contact was removed, my eyes felt free, kind of like how you feel after a long day in heels. I was prescribed special drops that I needed to use twice a day (morning and night) to help continue getting my vision to be 20/20 and was was told to come back in two weeks. The doctor said everyday my vision will be better, so it’s going to be an ongoing journey!
My eyes were still pretty red + swollen/puffy from the healing, and my friends liked to point out that I hdd a lot of eye bags that were basically designer (haha) and that I looked high. It was only temporary though, and this was the first day I was actually able to have a good nights sleep without discomfort in my eyes.
It’s really weird to wake up and be able to see. Is this how regular people feel? It’s also surprising to see myself in the mirror, and I always have to pause and be like “is that me?” It’s been amazing taking a shower, being able to shave my legs and actually see without my glasses fogging off! I also got a haircut since my side bangs kept getting in my eyes (my glasses used to be a shelf for my hair)!
It was great not having to carry around all those eye drops like before and only have to use the special healing drops twice a day. I carried the tear drops with me just in case I have discomfort, but found myself using it a lot less especially by the middle of Week 2.
I tried to change the font back on my devices to the regular size, but then I missed the large size, so I settled for a medium display size while my eyes continued to heal. My vision is better some hours than others, and it’s particularly hard to see my screen at night, but it feels like there hasn’t been any major vision/clarity changes. I’m able to use my phone and computer like before surgery (a lot), but I just have to put the screen near my face sometimes.
I only have to wear sunglasses outside, so I feel fancy and posh. Mostly by this point, I feel like the healing in my eyes is happening in the background without major impact to my day-to-day life. I do hope my vision gets clearer soon though because it’s annoying to not have 100% clarity like I did with glasses.
Vision is much clearer, and my follow up appointment determine that my vision is 25/20, so making progress! I still have to put in drops twice a day, but my vision is stabilizing. I’ve been having phantom glasses syndrome where I would go to adjust my glasses on my face and find that they are not there. Sometimes I even think I feel them behind my ears. Weird, but life goes on. I actually went to LA this week, so adding tear drops was very important for the plane ride. Wearing sunglasses in the sunny city also was a game changer! I was free to take on and off my sunglasses and not have to worry about carrying my extra glasses case. I also really felt the California vibes.
I’m on vacation in Japan, and again the eye hydration was important on my 12 hour journey. Most importantly, I went to DisneySea and rode a rollercoaster without my glasses and was able to see everything. You know what I’m talking about right, glasses friends? When you have glasses you have to take them off on roller coasters so all the pretty designs on the interactive coaster are just loud sounds and bright lights. Being able to see when riding amusement park rides is one of life’s treats that I didn’t know I wanted. I’m excited to try VR one day where the glasses won’t be squished against my face! Vision is pretty clear at this point, and it only gets blurry when my eyes dry out. Pro tip: avoid sitting under or next to fans, heaters, or AC to keep the eyeballs juiced up.
No major changes in vision, but now I just use tears once in the morning and once at night. I don’t have dry eye (or if I do, I don’t feel it because my eyes are just used to low standards of moisture lol). I also don’t get night halos.
I started buying fun sunglasses just because I can, and my friends finally don’t think I look crazy weird without my glasses. There is one thing worth calling out though…Now that spring has sprung, and the weather is beautiful, whenever I step out of the train station and look out into the tall buildings, everything feels so crispy and HD. The experience is most similar to when there’s a NYC-based movie and the camera pans over Manhattan, and everything glistens and is shiny. That’s how I feel with my new vision.
I don’t think I’m at 20/20 yet, and the doctor says it will take upwards to 6 months because of how severe my vision was before, but my everyday life isn’t impacted by this. I can see the street signs a block away! All in all - life is good!
This blog post will be updated as my eyes continue to heal. Stay tuned and ask me any questions below!. Last updated April 2019