The worst pain I’ve ever experienced was a stinging, stabbing sensation in both eyes. It hurt to open or close them. The pain left me rocking back and forth in the fetal position, crying into tissues for several hours.
“I feel like there are needles are stabbing me in the eye,” I complained over the phone to my boyfriend.
“You would feel way worse if that were true,” he said.
I wasn’t so sure. I put drops into my eyes every fifteen minutes, more frequently when I couldn’t stand it, and held cool cloths over them. This wasn’t the only eye infection I’ve had, but it was by far the worst. This was back when I was prone to eye infections, getting one every winter four years in a row. Each time I blamed the combination of the dry winter weather and bacteria harboring contacts, but if my optometrist agreed with my theories, he didn't say so.
Come to think of it, I had a lot of eye drama before I got LASIK surgery. Before the infections, it was smudged glasses flying off my face during middle school volleyball when I forgot my rubber glass-guard. Or it was my contacts filling with chlorinated pool water and slipping into the outer regions of my eyelid. There were the fogged glasses after coming in from the cold and the days I walked around one-eyed like a pirate because I lost one contact somehow throughout the day. It’s funny how LASIK surgery made all these things go away so easily.
I decided on LASIK surgery one year ago, shortly before my wedding. I had given up on contacts and mostly gotten used to my thick-rimmed glasses. But the thought of wearing glasses on my wedding day was too much to handle. I had always hoped I would get LASIK sometime in the vague and distant future (when the procedure would be so advanced that it only took one second and didn’t hurt at all), but after talking to family members, coworkers, and friends on Facebook who had the surgery, there was no reason to wait. Even if vanity was my greatest motivator, I believed that this would positively impact the rest of my life. I would have the ability to see. I could stop visiting the optometrist so often. I pictured myself on the beach for our honeymoon, seeing the crashing waves and the sunset over the water with perfect clarity.
Several weeks later I was in the waiting room before my LASIK procedure with my mom by my side. Neither of us was able to relax enough to talk or read magazines. We tried not to watch the other surgeries happening, which were visible through the window into the operating room. I was scared, but since my mom was there, I tried to act confident for her sake. Finally, it was my turn in the operating room.
“I’m going to put numbing drops in your eye,” said the nurse.
“Put as many as you want,” I replied.
“So here’s how it’s going to go,” the doctor explained. “I’m going to lift the flap of your right eye then that eye will go dark. Next I will lift the flap of your left eye and ask you to look up at a red light. Then your left eye will go dark, and I’ll ask you to look at the red light with your right eye. Then I’ll close the flaps.”
The doctor pressed a ring around my eye to keep it open and the procedure began, machine like, first the right eye then the left. I could see the glint of scalpels and little tools until they came too close to see. The only thing that hurt was the ring pressing into my eyes to hold them open. I looked into the red light with each eye and reminded myself that the laser was programed to correct itself to my eye. Even if I moved my eye slightly, the laser would respond to my movements. I was perfectly safe. They closed up my eye flaps, and soon enough they were helping me down from the operating table. The whole thing took about ten minutes. I focused on my breathing the entire time.
“The numbing drops will wear off on your way home,” the doctor said in a calming voice. “So you are going to feel a burning sensation. Take a nap as soon as you get home and remember to take your drops.”
Even with sunglasses on, the sunlight on the ride home was unbearable. I put my jacket over my face to hide my brand-new eyes from the scorching light. As predicted, the burning sensation began soon after. It was all I could do to stumble blindly up to my bed, put on the doctor prescribed sleep goggles, and lay sleeplessly in pain.
“It was scary,” I said breathlessly to a concerned friend over the phone that night. “I don’t know if I could have done it if I knew how scary it would be.”
“You’re lucky it’s over,” my friend said and swallowed. She was considering the surgery herself.
The following week, I resumed my usual routine with better than 20/20 vision. I had to wear sunglasses when looking at computer screens and put drops in my eyes every two hours. My eyes felt tender and dry. I had dark red splotches in both eyes that would take weeks to heal. Several times that week, I wondered if I had made a terrible mistake.
“I used to have a normal life,” I lamented to anyone who would listen as I unwrapped the next pack of special preservative-free lubricating drops.
It wasn’t long before that week became nothing but a distant memory. My vision has remained perfect. I can see from the moment I wake up in the morning to the moment I go to sleep at night. I got to walk down the aisle, clearly seeing the faces of all my friends and family and, of course, my husband. I got my honeymoon fantasy watching the sunset over the ocean, and I’ve been living it ever since. My eyes are no longer a topic of daily concern. Sometimes I still feel like I’m missing something when I start to drive without glasses, and I have to remind myself that I can see fine without them. Sometimes I’m still overly protective of my face when a person or object comes near my non-existent glasses. And in a twist of irony, I’ve also had moments staring at my reflection in the mirror wishing I could put on my old thick-rimmed glasses to make me look thoughtful and intelligent. This occurs less and less as time passes.
That being said, it has only been one year. People always ask me about the risk of going blind as the result of LASIK. They say something like, “My eyesight is too important to risk.” While blindness is not within the realm of possible LASIK complications, there are other side effects that I worry I should have taken into account before jumping into the procedure. Lasik includes risks of over or under correction, halos, bright spots, double vision, chronic dry eye, and infection or flap complications. Some of these can develop a while after the surgery. Though I haven’t yet experienced any lasting adverse effects, I realize now that I exposed myself to them rather impulsively. I was determined and overly-trusting and had a selective attention span for only the good things. What if down the line I start to experience complications? What if it affects my ability to drive or function in my normal life? A tattoo can be a mistake made on impulse, not surgery. But perhaps I’m over-thinking it. A person has to stop questioning things and take a few chances, right?
One thing I did know when I got the surgery is that it would not fix my eyes forever. I could still get cataracts. I will likely still need reading glasses as I get older. I may be in the clear now, but the eye drama is never truly over. I’ll be back at the optometrist in time.