Saturday, March 19, 2011

My PRK Surgery & Recovery Experience

The week before my PRK (laser eye surgery) procedure I felt very unprepared. I didn't know what the recovery was going to look like, all I had been told was I would feel a grainy feeling in my eyes and I needed to stay out of the sun as much as possible for 3 months. I had no idea what my vision would be like during those three months, how soon after surgery I would be able to drive/take a shower/return to the gym, etc. So I got online and started trying to find some answers. What I found were lots of people who had chronicled their PRK recovery on their blog, some in one big post and others with daily/weekly/monthly posts. These blogs helped put me at ease and feel better prepared for what I would undergo. My intention in writing this is to provide just one more account to hang out on the interwebs and maybe help a nervous and unprepared PRK candidate to feel a little less nervous. If you don't care about my surgery, feel free to stop reading and wait for the next post about Brazil. I promise this will be the only one of this nature.

I had my PRK surgery done in Natal, Brazil, so my experience might be very different than the experience of someone having the surgery in the US. I chose to have it in Brazil because my health insurance covered the cost. My doctor recommended PRK over Lasik because of the thickness (or thinness, actually) of my corneas. My doctor in the US confirmed that Lasik would not even be possible because my corneas are so thin.

My Brazilian doctor does all of his surgeries one eye at a time with a week in between. He did my left eye first, the one with 6.5 near-sightedness. My only preparation for surgery was to take my contacts out and use Vigamox eye drops 3x per day 3 days ahead of surgery. The morning of the surgery they wrapped a hospital gown over my clothes, had me pull my hair back in a cap and put booties over my feet. The nurse put several antiseptic eye drops in both eyes and had me wait about 10 minutes. Once in the "operating room" the doctor checked something in my vision (the machine where the little farmhouse or car comes in an out of focus...does anyone know what that one does?) then had me lay down on the chair.

In most of the accounts I've read online, the doctor talked the patient through every step of the procedure. Although my doctor talked to me the whole time, he didn't tell me much of what he was doing, just what I should expect to feel. I think I actually preferred that because had he talked me through every step I probably would have passed out. :) He told me at the beginning that I would feel no pain and he was right...except for one part. They covered my right eye and taped my eyelids open on my left eye. Then they clamped open my eye and that was the most discomfort I felt the entire time...but I'm sure I prefer that over feeling the laser penetrating my cornea! Some people think it must be weird to not be able to blink, but by that point the eye drops have already numbed the eyeball enough that you can't tell if you need to blink or not! He then spread all kinds of goo all over my eyeball and would tell me that my vision was going to start to blur. They turned the lights out and he pulled the machine over my face and I saw two colored spots. One was small and green, the other was red and looked like a fingerprint. He told me to focus on the "red dot" and I guess that's when the surgery started.

The ONLY thing that I REALLY wish I had been prepared for was the smell. No one told me that I would smell the laser burning my eyeball, and given that I already have a weak stomach when it comes to medical procedures being done on me, that really caught me off guard. Apparently I lost focus several times of the red dot, and looking back I think it's because every time I smelled the laser I got a little woozy. He had to stop the procedure several times because I stopped focusing on the dot...woops! He stopped and started about four times, and I'd say the procedure in itself lasted about 4 minutes. At the end he said "Ok, now we'll correct the astigmatism," and *zap* it was over. As soon as he turned the light on I saw everything perfectly. He put a protective contact in and sent me on my way with instructions to begin the 3 eye drops and antibiotic he had prescribed and apply a cold compress 3x a day. I've had bad vision since I was a child, so walking out of the operating room seeing clearly out of my left eye was a trip!

The surgery on my right eye was a week later and went much more smoothly. I did much better and only lost focus of the light once, making the surgery last about 30 seconds. :) The only real difference I noticed was that after the first surgery I felt NO pain. I actually thought it was weird how comfortable I was. I felt the grainy feeling several times, but I did not feel pain. After the second surgery I felt much more pain and my eye was red for the rest of the afternoon. After both surgeries I made a point to take it easy, stay in bed as much as possible the first few days and keep the windows closed and lights dimmed at night. My doctor told me that it is imperative after PRK to not let your eyes come in contact with the sun, because sunlight will impair the scarring of your corneas, which lasts 3 months. He said any time I go outside I need to wear sunglasses, which has not been a problem. I was able to drive during the day about a week after the first surgery, and I drove at night a week after the second surgery, although I was probably being extra cautious and could have driven sooner. I have been diligent about using the eye drops every day and I guess it paid off...when I went to get the contact removed 6 days after the second surgery he marveled at how "beautifully" my eyes are scarring. He said I can go back to the gym 2 weeks after the first surgery.

In terms of my vision, it is not perfect by any means, but my doctor had prepared me for that. He said as long as I am healing it can fluctuate, and will definitely fluctuate as long as I am using the Florate drops (30 days after surgery.) I am 2 weeks and a day out from my first surgery and 1 week and day out from my second, and I'd say my vision is about 80%. I can see well up close and decently far away, but by the end of the day most things are a little blurry. I am sitting about 7 feet from my TV right now and I can read most of what is coming across the CNN screen. Given that pre-surgery (without contacts/glasses) I wouldn't have been able to determine that there were even words on the screen, I'd say it's great progress! Typing this post I can read what I am writing but the edges of the letters are a little fuzzy. That fluctuates throughout the day, though, and is affected by light-sensitivity and how hard I've worked my eyes that day. I also noticed that lots of air conditioning (a factor that would make more of a difference here than in the US) makes my vision blurrier. Pulling the computer screen closer to my face makes no difference, which tells me that it's not a matter of near-sightedness but just my eyes healing.

I will have a 30-day appt with the doctor to check my vision, then a 60 day and 90-day. I am praying for 100% but can be happy with 95%. :) The very fact that I can see anything that is beyond 6 inches of my face is already a miracle, and I am so thankful that God gave me the opportunity to have this surgery and that he gave someone the idea to invent it. I think I lied in that first paragraph, I will probably post an update at the end of my recovery here in about 3 months just to report how my vision has improved.

If anyone is reading this for the same reasons I read these accounts online, good luck to you in your surgery and recovery process, and remember that that putrid burning smell is over as soon as he turns the laser off, so be SURE to stay focused on the green dot and you'll be done in about 30 seconds. :)

Disclaimer: If any of my details regarding near-sightedness or corneas or how the laser works are inaccurate, that's ok. I don't have to understand exactly how it worked to be happy with the result. Unless the error is so glaring that it MUST be addressed, feel free to comment with your own experience or any questions you might have.


the Jewell family said...

I thought your disclaimer was going to say, "All I know is that I was blind and now I can see."

This is great. Congratulations on your new eyeballs.

I have an appointment Wednesday to get some glasses. I still remember an eye doctor telling me that everyone needs them after forty, and here I am.


researching lasik said...

How have your eyes been doing? Well I hope! Update us with some new information!