January 21, 2014 In life

PRK Recovery Story

My Laser Eye Surgery

Laser eye surgery was a possibility that first crossed my mind a few years ago. Since I was a teenager, I’ve worn glasses for reading books or any kind of screen (computers or at the movies.) I had one really bad eye (my right eye, which also had astigmatism) and one good eye, my left. My left eye carried my vision and explains why I was able to go without glasses for so much of my life! I was able to read without glasses just fine – but as of a few years ago, I started to get headaches after prolonged reading. At twenty, I started wearing glasses “full-time.” I bought a fun pair I loved and got used to the daily routine of “wake up, put glasses on” and “get into bed, take glasses off.” I liked my glasses. I liked wearing glasses. But a few situations were still a pain – running/working out, bright sunny days and rain. Because of my astigmatism, I was never able to be fitted for contact lenses. My optician tried a few times over the years but with no luck. I hated running with glasses. So I didn’t. My vision was “good enough” to see safely, no question, but I couldn’t see distance. Even a short run would give me a headache for an hour post-workout. At the gym, I’d sweat. Glasses would fall down my nose. On bright sunny days, I had to switch my regular glasses for prescription sunglasses. Two pairs. One glasses case. Always switching. On rainy days, every time I left my car to run errands, raindrops all over my lenses. Inside, out came the cleaning cloth to wipe them down. (If you live in Vancouver… you’ll get it.)

Three good reasons to not wear glasses and… contacts weren’t an option. Laser eye surgery was an option. When I started dating Randy I had in the back of my mind “if we get married… I don’t want glasses on my wedding day.” As we approached engagement and then when we got engaged, I knew laser eye surgery was something I needed to get serious about. It was the final “push” and reason I endured what I endured… haha! Looking back even to last week’s surgery (super gross if you think too hard about it!) and recovery (brutal!) if I had been “able” to wear contacts, I would have put surgery off. In an odd way, thankful contacts were never an option and it was “laser eye surgery now or glasses on my wedding day.” I loved my glasses. I really, really did. They gave my face “personality” and I think purely from a looks/fashion side of things, I will genuinely miss them. But I didn’t want glasses on my wedding day. And well, for the three other reasons I listed above. So! The decision was made. One of my friends and bridesmaids, Kelsey, had PRK laser eye surgery at London Eye Centre about a year ago. I remember visiting her during her recovery (sunglasses on, dark room) and that she was pleased with the result.

I booked a consultation in January at London Eye Centre and the process was started. When my Mom and I went in, we were really pleased with how friendly and informative all of the staff were. They took pictures of my eyes, did a full eye exam and talked over what success I could expect from the surgery as well as possible risks (percentage of re-treatment, etc.) They also suggested PRK surgery for me over LASIK. (This is a good website to read more about the differences.) We looked at my calendar that day and booked surgery for Friday, January 17th. London Eye Centre recommends 5 days off of work – and January 17th was 2 days after the last appointment on my calendar I couldn’t change. So there it was – we had a date! January 17th.

Leading up to the surgery, I read a lot online about PRK recovery. Many people have blogged their day by day recovery journals about when the pain was, what it felt like, a full in-depth description about surgery. I like to be prepared as possible. I also like to read “worst case scenario” sometimes to know what I’m in for. (Note: I did NOT watch the youtube videos of the surgery though. I still haven’t. I don’t want to. That would gross me right out and I would recommend not doing that pre-surgery. Hahah.) From what I read online, it seemed everybody’s recovery story is different. Same procedure, different recovery. Every body is different – but having some frame of reference helped me relax.

Friday morning, my mom drove me to New West to London Eye Centre for my surgery appointment. I had tried to stay relaxed all morning not psych myself out. Mom and I took the dogs for a walk and went to Starbucks for a half hour with our laptops. I answered my last emails for the week and tried to distract myself. I knew that I knew I wanted this surgery, I just had to get through it. When we arrived at the clinic, they took more photos of my eyes again and lead me into a waiting room. While I waited for the surgeon to arrive to double check my current prescription, I nervously crossed and uncrossed my legs. What a weird feeling. Surreal, looking back. All I remember is focusing on my engagement ring thinking, “Look at that amazing diamond. I love my ring,” and swinging it around and around my finger. Five minutes later, I met my surgeon and he had me read the eye chart once more to confirm. He explained what was going to happen in the other room shortly and asked if I had any questions.

We went into a room next door and I was laid down on a chair. He put a couple different kinds of numbing drops in my eyes – they felt thick and goopy but I could still see no problem. I was resting there for 5-10 minutes while “he went to go program the laser.” (Nice.) The surgeon came back in and said “We’re ready for you now.” In the operating room, they had me lay down under a big white machine (“the lasers”) and they put a shield over one of my eyes. The other eye was fitted with a little metal contraption to keep my eyes open. (Goes on your eyelids, I know, so gross.) Once the eye was held open, there was a cleaning solution put on my eye (you can’t feel a thing, very frozen but you CAN see it coming towards) and then I saw a “Q-tip” kind of thing brushing the solution off after about ten seconds. Something else happened touching my eye but no feeling, only seeing. The surgeon told me what he was doing every step of the way. My body was very tense (hard not to be) but zero pain! Next was the laser. They warn you that you’ll hear a noise (a clicking from the machine) and you will smell burning (your eye burning, I knowww, gross blog!) but it’s normal, don’t worry. You’re instructed to look at the red light. It takes about 15 seconds and then that’s it. The scary part is over. They wash your eye with a cold solution and then put a clear contact lens (no prescription) over your eye. They transfer the shield and then do the same thing on the other eye! The whole process took maybe 5 minutes in the operating room and then they say “You’re done!”

Just like that, I jumped off the table and walked into the pre/post-surgery room. Next, the nurse came and explains all of my medication (artificial tears, pain drops, two kinds of antibacterial/anti-inflammatory drops and prescriptions for Tylenol 3’s and sleeping pills) and I was handed a pair of sunglasses. I was told to go home and rest! Mom was waiting in the waiting room for me and I smiled as I came out “It’s done! I’m not in pain!” She was relieved. I kept my eyes closed the whole time she drove home, although I didn’t feel too light sensitive. (That surprised me, some people say they were immediately shocked with how bright the world was but things felt pretty normal at that point.) At home, I put on my eye mask and laid on the couch while mom fixed me lunch. Shortly after, Randy came over for the first time to see me and took this beautiful picture. ;) As you can see, happy, happy, in no pain. Hah. Little did I knowwww.

For the rest of the afternoon, I became increasingly light sensitive but life wasn’t too bad. I was committed to not using my eyes – as strain can make the healing process worse. I transferred up to my bed where I had all blinds shut, lights off and listened to an audiobook. Within a few hours of my surgery, my friends Jen and Katie surprised me with a “get well” basket! It was so nice – although I couldn’t see it, they explained everything to me. The card made me laugh. “Sorry for your loss” it said. (Of vision, obviously.) There was a happy face balloon, some chocolate, my favourite kind of green tea, glowsticks (“to see which loved one is coming towards you in the dark, perhaps you could use red for Randy as it’s the colour of passion”), a leopard eye mask (came in soooo handy, the best gift), star shaped sunglasses and a 90’s karaoke CD (“just because you’re blind doesn’t mean you can’t sing and dance!”) It meant a lot. After a half hour of chatting and laughing in the dark, the girls left and I fell asleep until dinnertime. Our family ate dinner in the dark that night and I wore sunglasses, even with every light off in the room. Light hurt. But there was no real pain to speak of – just discomfort. I could see through my sunglasses in the dark – nothing seemed to change pre or post-surgery. Wasn’t clearer and wasn’t blurry. But I wasn’t supposed to use my eyes. In the evening, I “listened” to old Gilmore Girls episodes on DVD (I pretty much have them memorized so I could picture the scenes!) and ended up falling asleep again.

I took a sleeping pill that night, just to make sure I got some rest. I managed to sleep six hours and woke up feeling okay but crazy light-sensitive. For the next 48 hours I would not be able to tolerate ANY light. ANY. Even a candle with sunglasses was too much. The light of a TV screen in a dark room when I was wearing an eye mask and facing the OTHER WAY was too much. Randy and his mom came that morning to drive me to my “day after” check-up. He literally lead me by the hand to the car and lead me into the clinic. My eyes would NOT open, could NOT open, in that light. Any light. Inside, the doctor quickly shone a light in my eyes to check movement (wowwww, that hurt, took me like 10 tries to even open them for a millisecond) and then it was home to rest.

Saturday afternoon was brutal. Shortly after our appointment (so, say at the 24 hour mark?) I had intense pain. No light, dark room, eye mask on, pain drops (5 per hour max, they completely numb your eye) and still had pain. Tylenol 3, still had pain. I tried to go to bed, sleep makes everything better -but I was in so much pain I couldn’t sleep. My mom was out (and Randy wasn’t with me that afternoon) and I laid in my bed for almost four hours. Awake. Couldn’t listen to any audiobooks, couldn’t do anything but think “eventually this pain has to end.” When Randy came over to check on me, I almost cried I was so happy to have a hand to hold. It was not a good afternoon. With a second dose of Tylenol 3 and ice packs on my eyes, I started to be able to talk more. I got through some food for dinner but the crazy pain started again. Mom called the pharmacist and found out I could take extra-strength Advil on top of Tylenol 3 and she rushed out to pick some up for me. The two painkillers together with an ice pack (and duh, dark room, no lights, eye mask) helped me to be able to communicate more and breathe through the pain a little easier. Going to bed that night I was worried what the evening would hold and Mom offered to sleep with me. It was the best. If there’s anything I learned through my three days of blindness/pain/discomfort: people are a comfort. Just their presence sometimes. It helps so much. I was up every two hours that night. Mom slept closest to my eye drops to hand me what I needed (4 different kinds, remember?) and was there to lead me by my shoulders to the bathroom. Sunday morning came and she stayed home from church to be my nurse again. (Every morning she made me breakfast! Tea! Got all my naturopath supplements and pills in the right amounts! Gave me snacks! Made me lunch/dinner!) The pain had subsided and I didn’t have to take any Tylenol 3’s anymore. Sunday was just “extra-strength Advil” day and was more ice packs and laying around. I spent the afternoon laying in my parent’s bed listening to Gilmore Girls and trying to sleep. When Randy came over, he joined me and with my eye mask on, I was feeling good enough to talk about wedding music – and he played songs for me to listen to and we made some ceremony decisions. ;) Later, he watched a movie on the TV and I laid there and listened to it beside him. Sunday night was a continuation of “a weekend in the dark” for my house. (Seriously, everybody lived lights off, only candles, every blind closed – all weekend.) I was exhausted by eight o’ clock and Randy and I went up to my bed. I laid there, still blind, ice pack still on alternating eyes while he browsed instagram and read out different updates. By nine o’ clock, he left and I was out. Immediately. I was up six hours later for drops and to go to the bathroom and although it was dark outside still, things seemed to feel better? By the time it was Monday morning, it was a world of difference. I could hardly believe it.

I was able to eat my breakfast with sunglasses (blinds closed, lights off) in the family room. It was daylight outside! Coming through the blinds in small amounts! And I wasn’t dying! I wasn’t wearing an eye mask! Within a couple hours I could even take my sunglasses OFF. 12 hours before, I needed a mask in front of one small tea light candle. Now, I didn’t even need sunglasses. It was insane. That afternoon we went for my 3 day check-up and they switched out my contact lenses. (The ones that were put in on the day of surgery.) I have a new pair in now that will be taken out for good tomorrow afternoon – on my day 5 checkup! I’m still not allowed to drive or anything and the world is definitely not clear but I’m pumped to not be overly light sensitive anymore and in zero pain. Monday I had fun listening/actually watching Gilmore Girls and working on a few wedding crafts – but by the evening my eyes were super sensitive again and exhausted. Today (Tuesday) was similar and as I type right now – the font is size 20 and still quite blurry. My eyes shift in and out of semi-clear and blurry, but overall I have yet to see my vision any better than “pre surgery, without glasses.” With PRK, it’s a slower recovery and I’m estimated to reach my full vision potential within a month’s time. For day 4, it seems that I’m progressing crazy well! Many people are still in the dark or without even functional vision, so I’m thankful for what I have. It will be interesting to see the progress from here on out. I’m still putting in lots of eye drops, wearing sunglasses, have dry eyes and need to watch eye strain. But we are getting there!

I’m really glad I got PRK laser eye surgery. It was a weird experience. I’m glad we chose London Eye Centre – only positive things to say about them! I’m glad I won’t have glasses on my wedding day. I’m glad I’ll be able to go for jogs and see! I’m glad I won’t have to clean my glasses off when I walk in the rain – I can just embrace the raindrops on my face. I’m also glad I got to shower today after 96 hours, even if I couldn’t get any water whatsoever on my face. The little things.

I am also really thankful for my mom. And her selfless care. And how she helped me through every step of this process. Moms are the best. I’m also very thankful for Randy, my future husband. How he cared for me over this weekend was incredible. So much patience, love, care, willingness to serve. He lead me blindly around my house. He laid with me in bed in the middle of the afternoon holding my hand. He got me fresh water. He patiently put toothpaste on my toothbrush and guided my hand to where the tap was so I could brush my teeth. He found my chap-stick as it moved all over the house and brought it to where I was. He dropped artificial tears on a Q-tip for me and watched me clean the dried, crusty eye-drop junk off of my eyelashes and out of the corner of my eyes. He bought me coconut milk ice-cream. I’m so confident of my choice in him. I know I am marrying the very best. (In less than 10 weeks, now. Holy cowwww.)

  • Ashlyn

    So glad you’re recovering! I have astigamatism and was curious about this… though I must say I may be less so now! :) It must be wonderful not wearing glasses!!

  • I’m glad you got over the worst, Jamie, and if you’re happy now, well, things will only get better! You will enjoy not having to take off your glasses before bed and not having to put them on in the mornings! For me it was contacts, and I love that I have one less ‘routine’ thing to do in my day now that I got my eyes fixed. Randy sounds like a perfect, thoughtful fiancé. :)

  • Wow Jamie – that is quite the ordeal you went through. I’m so sorry that I wasn’t there to hold your hand for those terrible hours you were alone and in pain! I wish I’d known how bad it was going to be. I’m glad you are doing much better now and I know that it will be worth all the pain when you can see great without glasses.

  • ahh!! what an ordeal!! my favourite part of this though, that you’re confident in your choice of him (best feeling ever, isn’t it?).

    happy that you could share this; I’ve missed your writing :) speedy recovery girl, thinkin about you!

  • Wishing you a full recovery (and vision) soon! That will be awesome. I need to get my eyes fixed too. I have glasses and contacts, but contacts are never entirely comfortable for me in one eye because I have an astigmatism too. I was happy to at least be able to wear contacts for my wedding to see far away too. I’m glad to hear it at least wasn’t painful during the process of metal things opening your eyes ha. Burning smell too? Oh gosh ha! Reading about your recovery reminds me of my wisdom teeth extraction and getting dry socket 3 weeks before my wedding last fall. BRUTAL. I was taking the huge advils with T3 and still had pain and then my stomach got sick from the advils… miserable miserable time! Like you, I did realize how awesome the man I was about to marry was though.. he had taken the day off to take me in for surgery and even change my mouth gauze, so nasty ha. Wishing you happy planning! Can’t wait to see photos of you as bride, Jamie!

  • Resi

    Thank you so much for sharing your – partly painful! Outch! – PRK story. So how is your vision these days and how do you feel? I have glasses and astigmatism and have been thinking about having surgery some day… so this was a great read!

    Though I must admit I was kind of hoping to see you as a beautiful bride with glasses… you rarely ever see brides with glasses and I always think it would be nice to see any at all! Is it really that hard with the reflection in the glasses in the middle of the face?! I know how hard it is to get a good portrait of people with glasses (me included!) but I wondered maybe camera pros like you and the photographer you’re hiring (soooo curious!) would deal with that?! Any opinions on that?

    Hope you’re enjoying vision without glasses! Yay! And also, I can’t wait to hear about your wedding day!

  • Kim

    Hello! Congrats on your PRK. I had that done in February in one eye, and LASIK in the other and I TOTALLY feel you on that pain. I was able to get pain drops, but the teeny-weeniest amount, and I was still whimpering. Once that 2nd day passed, it was amazing to wake up the next day pain free – incredible. Do you have issues in the mornings? Sometimes I will wake up and have to be careful about opening my eyes – I get a bit of pain if I open them too fast. Apparently it’s my cornea sticking to my eyelid, and it can rip if I’m not careful. I’m hoping it goes away soon!

  • how is your vision now? i’m only two weeks post op, but i’m already so happy with my decision. my vision was -8 and -8.5. my pain didn’t seem nearly as intense as yours though. but that might have been because i religiously took pain pills every couple of hours and basically slept through the first three days. :)