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My Journey with LASIK Eye Surgery: A 20-Year Retrospective
Over the past two months, two friends have talked to me about LASIK eye surgery. I had the surgery done in 1999, and so I’ve lived with its effects for over 20 years. When people ask me if I should get LASIK done, I say, “Yes, but you should know the warnings.” So, I wanted to write down what I usually say in case it helps anyone else.
Why opt for LASIK?
I grew up wearing glasses. I wasn’t the coolest kid, and having glasses was not cool. It didn’t help that I had no fashion sense, so I was wearing thick glasses when they were not in. Let’s put it this way - I was one of those kids who put a string on the glasses to keep them from falling off by choice.
In high school, I tried to switch to contacts but could not get them in. I have dry eyes and couldn’t stand putting my finger on my eye. My first contact appointment took 2 hours because it took 1.5 hours to put the contacts in. The last straw was when I was wearing the contacts during high school, and one popped out on my desk while I was sitting and looking at the chalkboard. I went back to glasses.
When I got to college, my uncle started telling everyone how he had gotten PRK eye surgery, how his vision was now better than 20/20, and that it was a fantastic experience and very easy to do. My parents started asking me about it, and I was still in “prove the haters wrong” mode after high school, so I decided to do it.
The LASIK procedure: woozy and smelly
I had surgery at Mann-Berkeley Eye Center in Houston, Texas. Back then, it claimed that it was the #1 LASIK center in the world and that it had the most experience. They placed a lot of ads in the Houston Chronicle.
After an initial consultation, they set a date, and I came in for an outpatient surgery.
It’s been 20 years, but I vividly remember two things:
- They drug you up, and I remember someone helping me from the waiting room to the machine.
- The machine moved across my eye, and there was a slight burning smell as the lasers did their thing.
I went home with eye shields on. They had holes so that I could see through them, and it felt amazing. I could see better, and things were sharp.
When I exited our car, I remember looking at a tree in our yard and seeing the bark on the trunk. Like really seeing it, with detail. And it was awesome.
After LASIK surgery: amazing clarity
I was allowed to take the shields off 24 hours later and had to put eye drops in for about a week. At that time, things felt super clear and sharp, and I was thrilled.
But a few weeks later, I remember things shifting a little, and my eyesight changed for the worse.
LASIK side effects: halos and imbalances
I wish I knew what halos were before the surgery to compare them to what I see today.
First, I started seeing fuzzy rings around lights. This was especially noticeable at night while driving.
Second, my right eye got a little worse than my left eye. Over time, my mind has adapted to the difference. But the best way to describe this is that I can close my right eye, and my left eye will read things okay. If I switch and close my left eye, I can read the same thing, but it’s a little more challenging and fuzzier. I notice a halo shadow around the letters, too.
Would you do LASIK again?
Yes. Even with the issues, it worked out well for me. I think I’m one of the good cases.
Wait, what’s a bad case of LASIK?
I have two siblings, and they had different experiences with LASIK eye surgery.
One sibling wears glasses again.
One sibling had their eyesight collapse after about ten years and decided to get the surgery again. Things seem to be pretty good now.
I already mentioned my uncle, who claims 20/15 vision after decades.
I have another friend who recently had the surgery and has worse eyesight. They’re dealing with difficulties working.
What should you consider before LASIK?
If you are considering LASIK eye surgery, here are three pivotal questions to pose to your healthcare provider:
Ask your eye doctor how the surgery works at their clinic.
You’ll want to dig into how many surgeries they’ve done, what types (PRK, LASIK and its variants, and so on), and who does them. There is probably some talk about how it’s automated, but you still want to ask who is there thinking about the procedure and working on your day.
When I had the surgery performed in 1999, they said they would use “templates” best matched to your eye to perform the correction. They were not mapping your eye and personalizing the incisions. I assume this is different now, but you should dig into this and learn what is customized and what that means for how things could go wrong.
Talk to your eye doctor about your current eye experience.
Dry eyes? Halos? Do you use drops? Are they itchy? Do you deal with allergies, and does that mean you may mess with your eyes a lot during the delicate period after surgery? Do you feel your eyesight differs in daylight, indoor lighting, and night? How do you feel when you drive?
Ask your doctor about LASIK risks and complications.
And listen. Don’t let the doctor blow by it with a simple stat. Ask them what they’ve personally seen go well and go poorly. How many folks end up with good vision after one year? Five years? Ten years? They have the data for this now!
And along with this, dig into how many folks have differences in vision in each eye. Remember, you’re doing two surgeries, not one!
Hopefully, this helps - If you found this page and want to share your experience, please contact me on Twitter @avirani, and I can share your thoughts here.