I’ve been waiting to write this post until my vision became a little more stable and maybe I was a little less angry about the situation I’m in–but so many of you have asked about my eyes “How are they doing?!” that I thought I’d take this normal “Casual Friday” post and talk about how these last two weeks have been.
In a word, they’ve been difficult. Unexpected. Challenging. Hopeful. Emotional. Scary. Choose any of those. Even as I type this, my computer screen is zoomed in three times so I can make out the words I am putting on the screen. Not exactly an ideal situation for someone who blogs for a living.
For those of you who don’t know, Thursday, February 15, 2018 I went in for Lasik eye surgery. I had researched the surgery for about six months before making my first pre-op appointment at the end of last year to see if I was even a candidate. They did a series of tests that probably took 30 minutes and then later that week I got a call that I was an ideal candidate for Lasik. My vision was never horrible (both of my contacts were -1.75), but I worried the astigmatism in both eyes would rule Lasik out–nope! I set a date for my surgery in mid-February, having to have another, more in-depth pre-op appointment at the midway mark, two weeks before my scheduled surgery.
Two weeks before my surgery, I was no longer allowed to wear contacts–glasses only and this appointment was with, what they called, my surgery co-manager. A different doctor, closer to my home, that would double check to make sure everything was ideal with my eyes before surgery, and would also see me post op. This ended up being a very long appointment. I remember texting Chris cancelling plans we had because I was there close to 2 hours. In addition to a lot of the tests they did at my initial pre-op (done at the actual surgery center I was scheduled to have Lasik done), this doctor also dilated my pupils and did more in-depth…exploring? The truth is, I don’t know what they were checking for. They didn’t even tell me I was getting my eyes dilated that day. Which isn’t a huge deal–I just had to wear sunglasses for the next 24 hours. But he did answer all my questions. I had a lot of fears and concerns but he assured me Lasik was a breeze. That my surgeon was the best in the area and he had done over 12,000 Lasik procedures. I would be good as new, with perfect vision probably by the time the sun went down the day of.
One week before my surgery, I could no longer wear makeup and 24 hours before my surgery, I started a regimen of anti-biotic eye drops 4 times a day. There were also a lot of very specific, odd instructions. All of my clothes I wore the day of had to be freshly laundered because any sort of oils transferred from wearing them could interfere with the laser. I was to shower but not put on any deodorant. I wasn’t allowed to apply any lotion in the 24 hours prior to surgery either. And the instructions said if there was any trace of makeup found, I would be sent home. All of these things could interfere with the laser I was told. It was hard not to be nervous.
The morning of my surgery, I went in for my Lasik at 9 am. I signed a bunch of paperwork for it first thing and they said my surgery would be at 11, but they do one last round of tests beforehand. Chris looked at the clock and said he was going to go grocery shopping until it was time for my surgery (which he was invited to watch on a screen in a green room type setting). They, again, did a lot of the same tests they did in my previous two pre-ops. Look at the hot air balloon. Don’t blink. Don’t blink. Don’t blink. Okay, rest. I also did a few vision tests and then they made me watch a video about Lasik eye surgery outlining all the expectations and risks and I had to take a quiz on it–which brought me strangely back to high school. After the quiz, a third doctor came in, whom I had never met, and told me that they need to redo a test because one of the results “came back borderline.” I did the dot, blinky test again and went back into the lobby.
Within a few minutes, they called me back to the on-deck room. My surgery was up next. There was a sweet, older nurse there that handed me a surgery cap and booties. She gave me half a Valium and prescription Aleve while we waited for Chris. Soon the surgeon appeared and told me that my cornea was borderline too thin for Lasik and they were going to have to do something called PRK. “The recovery is a little longer, but the results are exactly the same” is all I was told. I texted Chris and told him they were switching the surgery. I had plans with my girlfriends that weekend at our cabin (a galentine getaway we had been planning for weeks) and I asked the nurse if I was still going to be able to make those and she said, “No, but you’ll probably be better by Monday.” I must have gotten a little bit visually upset because she gave me the other half of the Valium.
Chris showed up and they gave me the PRK consent paperwork to sign. (I need to pause here to say, I know now this is illegal. A patient cannot consent to surgery while they are drugged. Period.) To be honest, I don’t remember much else from that day. I remember the surgery smelled bad–like burnt flesh. I remember after the surgery, I could see enough to be ushered into a post-op room and then I remember my eyes shutting. The pain was so extreme. A nurse was teaching Chris how to administer eye drops by pulling my bottom lids open because my eyes couldn’t open.
There were 4 different eye drops. Numbing eye drops to be administered every hour for the first day only (no longer!), anti-biotic drops 4x a day for the first week, steroid drops (Predinisolone) 4x a day for a month and Refresh drops that I was told to put in as often as I needed, which was multiple times an hour for the first several days and I still drop them in my eyes around once an hour. The surgery has made my eyes incredibly dry. I was also sent home with Tramadol for pain and a prescription for Norco, too.
Like I said, I don’t remember much past the pre-op room that first day–that’s a side effect of Valium. But around 11pm at night, I was having trouble breathing. Every time I started nodding off, it’s like I would forget to breathe. I alerted Chris who called my doctor. The after hours nurse connected us to his personal line and he said it sounded like I was having an allergic reaction to the Tramadol and to give me Benedryl. Chris ran to the store to get some and I called my mom to try to stay awake so I wouldn’t stop breathing. I just remember it felt really difficult to breathe. Not like I was suffocating. But like every breath took an immense amount of concentration.
When Chris got home, I told him I was too afraid to take the Benadryl. I was afraid it was going to knock me out and then I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on breathing. Instead, I asked him to help me stay awake until the medication wore off. I don’t know how late we were awake (it’s really difficult to stay awake when your eyes can’t open anyway. Ha!), but I clearly survived the night.
Well, kind of. Remember, I was not allowed to take any numbing drops past the first day and apparently I was having an allergic reaction to my pain killers so everything to mask the pain from surgery gradually wore off. In the middle of the night, I woke up in the most intense pain I have ever been in. It felt like glass shards were in my eyes. Chris put some of the other drops in and I was able to go back to sleep, but by morning I was in bad shape. Coming from someone that never took anything more than Ibuprofen after having a baby, I thought for sure that would be sufficient for PRK. I lasted until noon before my back was arching and my toes were curled–in so much pain!!–I took another Tramadol. Which, when I think back, is crazy! But I couldn’t take the pain for one more minute. The pain melted away and miraculously, I had no trouble breathing.
I don’t know why for sure, but I have a theory (stemming from a steroid drops incident that occurred over the next few days) that the numbing drops are to blame for my difficulty breathing. They made their way from my eyes, through the pin holes in the corner (the lacrimal punctum) which is a gateway to your nose and down to your mouth and throat and eventually stomach. Everything was numb, and I think that was the cause of my breathing issues. The rest of the weekend was spent sleeping and trying to keep my eyes moist.
Tuesday (5 days post-op) I remember waking up and being able to see things I never saw before. I think I read the time on the stove and told Chris, “it’s fun to be able to see and read. I just want to go read things for fun.” I’m really cool. It didn’t last long. I’d go from being able to see pretty well to feeling almost blind within hours. I couldn’t drive because it seemed to come and go. In the morning things were clear, by night, I couldn’t make out any text on a screen.
Wednesday, 6 days post op, I took a turn for the worse. My lack of steady vision was giving me a headache and making me dizzy and the steroid drops were making me incredibly nauseated. This is when my anger at the entire situation started erupting. How could they pull this bait and switch on me!? How could they not prepare me for any of this!? Why did they tell me I was a perfect candidate for Lasik and then switch to a completely different surgery at the last minute?!
I still feel this way. I’m still upset. I’m still livid, actually. I feel tricked. I feel shocked that they could let someone undergo a surgery that they knew nothing about, with such an intense recovery time without any preparation or planning. They didn’t ask me what I did for a living or if I had any kids. I went in there for a one day recovery surgery and now they are telling me it could take up to 6 months to have the vision I thought I was getting that day. It’s disheartening.
I have since learned if I plug my tear ducts for 5 minutes, 4 x a day when I administer the steroid drops that I won’t get any of the nausea I was getting before. I have learned that my eye sight seems to be the best in the morning and tapers off by afternoon–so I try to at least answer my email first thing.
The eye guards seen above I wore day and night for the first 4 days and now just wear at night to make sure I don’t touch my eyes while sleeping while they heal. A lot of people tell me this will all be worth it. My doctor even told me that at my one week post-op where he removed my in-eye contact bandages. I told him that I was not prepared for this and that I felt tricked. He said, “The results will be the same soon.” I’ve since been back to see him for the Corneal Edema I’ve developed. My corneas have swelled up due to the trauma, making it even more difficult to see–we’re both glad it’s not glaucoma.
15 days, post surgery, I’m still hopeful it will all be worth it. But when someone asks me if I would recommend PRK surgery, I can’t answer that. Because in my mind, for the last 6 months I wasn’t getting PRK surgery. I was getting Lasik. And I know I didn’t get Lasik, I got PRK, but the experience has been tainted. If I knew I was getting PRK, and what that consisted of, I could have prepared. I maybe could have rejoiced a little more when I saw things clearly for a few hours. I wouldn’t have to spend the time I could see googling “is ____ normal after PRK surgery” because I would have already done my research. I wouldn’t be so unprepared. So angry. So lost. I would NEVER have done it when I did. At this point, I’m not sure I would have done it at all–but I’m not on the other side of it yet. Which makes you kind of wonder if that’s why they waited until I had popped half a Valium to spill that kind of news.