Monday, April 23, 2007

Give me the laser pointer, I'll do it myself!!!

This post has nothing to do with beer or chemistry, and it's long. Sorry.

Last December, I did something I have wanted to do for years. I had laser eye surgery. Yup, I went under the knife and the "knife" and ended up pretty darned happy.

While lasik is nothing like getting your gall bladder removed, it is still a bit intimidating.

Here is how it all went down:

The surgery itself was "routine." Not for me, but for people that have done thousands. For me, it was a bit surreal and interesting.

I met the surgeon just before the procedure and he was optimistic that I could do the LASIK, but he was also prepared to do PRK which is a related procedure (though one that requires a much longer recovery time). My corneas are a bit thin, but I also found out, for what it's worth, that I have large pupils. Anyways, he looked at me and my chart and said, "OK. You can do it." This is the first time I had actually met the surgeon, and even at this point I could have been turned away.

I went into a pre-surgery room and put on a hat and booties. Then I took off my glasses for the last time. The "nurse" put numbing drops in my eyes and swabbed my eyelids with something. I waited about 20 minutes for the guy ahead of me to go. There were about 5 of us total that were being herded through.

Finally it was my turn. The upside down nametag on my left shoulder made sure the doctor knew who I was and that the machine had my data in it. I laid on a reclining bed and they rolled me under the laser. Now the fun didn't begin.

The first step in this procedure was cutting a small flap off of my cornea. This was the worst part of the whole thing. It was hard to tell exactly what was happening, but this is what I observed. My eyelids are taped open, then a speculum is inserted to hold the eyelids open. No more blinking. That's very uncomfortable. Then they placed a "suction cup" onto my eyeball and seemingly sucked my eyeball out. More discomfort.

Using what I can only imagine as a horizontal guillotine (holy crap, I just spelled guillotine correct on the first try) a blade moved across my eye, shaving a flap off of the top of the cornea. For a few seconds I was blind, I assume from the blade being in the way (the other eye was taped shut). Then when they finally took off the suction torture device, I was more comfortable again. The doctor kept squirting liquid onto my eye to keep it wet and clean it out. I couldn't feel it, but he also brushed my cornea with some type of wipe. That didn't hurt at all. Once the suction cup quite trying to suck my eyeball out of my head, I was fairly comfortable, albeit, very vulnerable.

There was a bit of a delay while they double checked all of the data in the computer. I don't know how it all works, but they had a map of my cornea showing the areas that had to go. I think the machine also plots it's own map in real time to determine what it is hitting and what still needs to be hit.

Once the data was all set, it was blast time. I stared at a blurry red dot directly above me. The laser is invisible or at least imperceptible. I held as still as I could looking straight at the red dot. Then the laser came on for about 30 seconds. click click click click click.... I could tell something was happening. Especially, from the smell. The smell is similar to burning hair. It is distinct and obvious.

I found out that through this whole process that my right eye has a bit of a twitch to it. Meaning, it doesn't stay still very well (the left eye is rock solid). This could be a problem, but the laser is able to follow a moving target, as long as the movements are slight (which they were). As the laser was clicking away, I noticed the red dot getting clearer and clearer. This was weird, but exciting. After the 30 seconds, the doctor put my flap back over my eye. Put a few drops of something in and taped that eye shut and moved to the next one.

That was when I learned that for most people, the left eye is much more sensitive. The suction and cutting was much, much more uncomfortable. It may be psychological since I now knew what to expect, but regardless, it was very unfun. The suctioning and cutting was almost unbearable. The same process was repeated.

When I was done, the doctor looked at my corneas and sent me to another room when an optomologist put plugs in my tear drains to keep my eyes as wet as possible (the biggest problem for most is dry eyes).

At this point I could tell my eyes were better. I could see, but everything was cloudy and a bit blurry. I went to the waiting room and hoped my wife would see me (because I couldn't see her). She did and we headed home. I kept my eyes closed for most of the 90 minute trip and slept a little.

It was during the trip home that the numbing drops wore off and the pain began. By the time we almost got home, I was really uncomfortable and very light sensitive. But when we got home, I could see my girls at the top of the stairs. Things were still blurry but much different. I still had trouble keeping my eyes open. So, I took a few drops (I had antibacterial eyedrops, a steroid for healing and tear replacers). I took those and went to bed. I had to wear eye shields for the next week while I slept. The biggest danger was dislodging the flap before it had a chance to reattach. I slept a bit (despite my 18 month old's constant whining about something) and got up in time for my childrens' bedtime at 8PM, 6 hours after the procedure. By then things were getting better. I still couldn't read the clock or my computer, but things were progressing. I stayed up until 10:30 PM so I could do another round of eye drops and follow Sadaam's fate (and the Gopher's which were both similar). Then went to bed. I got up at 6AM and was pleased at how much I can see.

Today, four months later, things still aren't perfect, but they are very close. The only issue I have now results from dryness. As long as I keep using eye drops, I can see pretty well. This should get better over the next few months.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. However, if you had asked me within 6 hours of the procedure, I would have said "no." Right after the procedure I was in some serious discomfort.

Bottom line, I went from contacts being -5.75 (not sure what the units are here) to 20/20.


Ψ*Ψ said...

Sigh. My spectroscopy prof sometimes offers his services as a LASIK surgeon. Of course, he's not a doctor, and he's never done it before, but he DOES have the lasers.

Liberal Arts Chemist said...

You know, you have got to wonder how the Russians got through the start-up phase of these procedures. (Yes, Ivan now hold still while I fire this surplus military laser at your eye). Or even what gave them the idea in the first place.

Aside from the dryness do you notice any problems with night vision or have you travelled to a mountain state? (I understand there is a chance of vision problems if one changes altitude quickly).

Thanks for the report.

Chemgeek said...

Night vision has not been a problem.

I have not traveled to a higher elevation yet. That will be interesting.

Jordan said...

Your report nearly made me ill -- so much for LASIK for me. I wear -9.00 glasses and am quite happy being blind, so I have no desire for eye surgery unless it is painless and perfect (i.e. won't need glasses afterward).

Anonymous said...

I've done LASIK too and it really changes your life. As long as it corrects your eyesight to 10/10 status, I'd recommend it to anyone. Just don't tell them exactly how it's going to be, because it can be quite disuasive... if someone had made such a vivid report to me prior to surgery, I'd have hesitated a lot mre!

Anyway, for the first time in 25 years I can see like a "normal" person. No eye dryness problems, either. Talk about technological progress!! :-)

Matt Jenks said...

Gall bladder surgery ain't nothing. Especially if your nurse is hot.

The peeling back of the top layer of cells off your eye is one of the things stopping me from doing this. However, when I go to see my best friend, homebrewer and optometrist all rolled into one (and my daughter's godfather!) over the summer, I'm going to ask him about doing it. And this is coming from a guy who doesn't even like the glaucoma test! (it's that anticipation of the upcoming blast of air...ugh!)

Chemgeek said...

Sadly, none of my nurses were hot. Not even remotely. I was very disappointed.

The peeling back of the top layer of cells is not such a big deal... except for the fact that you CANNOT look away. That was a bit freaky.