My PRK Surgery (Laser Vision Correction)

The Decision

I had been thinking about getting my eyes corrected for a few years after doing the calculations and realizing that the investment would pay off in about 10-15 years (meaning the cost of the surgery would be less than the cost of my contacts, contact solution, and glasses) and hearing only rave reviews from co-workers who had it done.  My vision stabilized a few years ago at about 20/50 (my contact prescription was about -5 in each eye), and in the fall of 2011, I went to the LasikPlus center in Alexandria and got a free consultation.  I was impressed by the thorough examination and the surgeon’s credentials, but ended up not getting it done because we were in the process of buying a condo (goodbye life savings, hello mortgage!).

But on our trip to Asia last year, I had a lot of trouble with my right contact, and ended up feeling tired and in pain for part of the trip, even after I switched to wearing glasses during the day.  My eye healed quickly when we got back, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I started seriously thinking about the surgery.  While I didn’t usually have much trouble with my contacts, I did need to replace my right contact frequently because of protein build-up (in only one eye?!), and my toric contacts were not cheap!

The Consultation

So in the fall of 2013, I decided to bite the bullet and I went back to LasikPlus for another consultation, after staying out of my contacts for a few days.  They ran scans of my eyes using various machines, and measured my eyeball pressure and tear capacity after numbing my eyes with drops.  After about an hour and a half of tests, they gave me the quote for the surgery, and explained that I would likely need PRK (photo-refractive keratectomy) instead of LASIK due to weakness in my corneas.  I won’t go in-depth into the differences between the two (here is a good reference for that), but basically PRK lasers the surface of the eye and needs a longer recovery time, while LASIK creates a corneal flap and does the lasering underneath, so your vision is instantly corrected and you don’t feel much discomfort.  Because of the shorter recovery time and minimal discomfort, I had been hoping to get LASIK, but understood that there were risks with my eyes and PRK would be the better choice for me.  I scheduled my surgery around a three day weekend in January, and went home and allocated money into our flex spending accounts for 2014.

Prior to the Surgery

Two weeks prior to the surgery, I stopped wearing my contacts as instructed, so that my eye would be in its natural shape on the day of the surgery.  It was a pain wearing my glasses, especially when trying to run, but I reminded myself that it would be the last time I’d ever need to wear glasses (aside from reading glasses later on in life).  I also filled the prescriptions for steroid and antibiotic eye drops that the center had given to me.

The Surgery (January 17)

I went into work as usual on Friday to get some work done, and Mike picked me up around 3 PM to take me to the center.   Once I checked in, the staff ran the same tests as before to map my eyes and confirm that I would be getting PRK.  Mike had to leave to run some errands, but reassured me that he would be back by 5, which is when we assumed the surgery would occur.  But not long after the tests, they called me back to meet the surgeon, Dr. Willis! He explained the risks of getting the surgery done, and I started to feel nervous knowing that I was just minutes from going under the laser.  I texted Mike and he said that he would hurry back to be there for me.

After asking me if I had any questions, Dr. Willis led me into the laser room next door, and had me lie down on the table.  A nurse came and put numbing drops in my eyes, and the staff hurried to get the laser ready and my head in position.  Dr. Willis put an eyelid holder on my eye (just a clamp to keep the lid open), and first scrubbed the surface of my eye (I think??) with something, then turned on the laser and had me focus on the light for 20 seconds.  Afterwards, he rinsed the eye with cold water and placed a contact lens on top as a bandage to stay in place for the next few days.  He then repeated the procedure with my other eye.  The entire surgery took less than 5 minutes and I felt no discomfort, thanks to the numbing drops!

After I sat up, I could see immediately, but Dr. Willis warned me that my eyesight would get worse over the next couple of days as my eye healed.  He also warned that I would feel some discomfort, and wrote me prescriptions for sleep medication and Percocet.  My eyes were very light sensitive, so I put on my sunglasses before heading back out to the waiting room to meet Mike.  We headed back home, where Mike drew the blinds and turned off all the lights – yes, I felt like a vampire. I ate some dinner and rested my eyes for a few hours until bedtime.  My eyes were starting to feel uncomfortable, so I took some Ambien before sleeping and did my first set of eye drops (anti-biotic and steroid).

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Initial Recovery Period (3 days)

The next four days (Sat-Tue), my eyesight fluctuated a lot, and my eyes continued to be very light sensitive.  I was unable to watch TV until Tuesday because my eyes couldn’t handle staring at a light source.  I used the prescription eye drops as directed (4x a day), and followed the directions to avoid exercise and getting water into my eyes – showering was a challenge! I couldn’t do much around the house because I couldn’t keep my eyes open very long and my eyesight was quite blurry, but I managed to bake some muffins and cook a pot of corn chowder on Saturday while half blind.

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I used a lot of eye drops over the first couple of days – whenever my eyes felt gritty, painful or dry.  Good thing they sent me home with a ton of eye drops.  I also took vitamin C every day as directed to prevent my corneal tissue from scarring.

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But all in all, those first couple days weren’t so bad.  My eyes didn’t hurt or tear very much (I didn’t end up needing the Percocet); they just felt uncomfortably dry at times and my eyesight was blurry.  The surgeon had warned me not to rub my eyes, but I never felt like I wanted to.  I mostly stayed in bed and listened to audiobooks while hanging out with the cats.  I also wore sunglasses indoors and out as directed, so I felt like someone famous when we went food shopping.

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Post-Recovery (Next 3 Days)

On Tuesday morning, I went back to the center to get the protective contact lenses taken out.  My eyesight had improved to 20/40, and I was able to use the computer at 200% magnification.  My light sensitivity had also reduced quite a bit so I was able to watch the first few episodes of the new season of Downton Abbey J I was glad that the government had shut down that day (due to snow), because it would have been tough for me to spend all day at a computer.  I was instructed to start using an over-the-counter eye ointment in the evenings before bed, stop using the anti-biotic drops by the end of the week and to taper down the steroid drops from 4x a day to no drops over the next four weeks.

When I woke up on Wednesday, my eyesight had drastically improved and I could see myself in the mirror clearly! I was able to work a full day at my desk, although I occasionally put my sunglasses on to stare at the screen, and my eyes definitely felt tired by about 3 PM.  I even went to class that night and was able to read the small font in the textbook.  My eyes didn’t feel as dry, and I used the eye drops about eight times that day.

On Thursday, I “cheated” on the no-exercise rule and went to yoga – I rationalized that this was okay since I didn’t get any sweat into my eyes.  I was starting to go crazy after a week of no exercise! Friday afternoon was one week after my surgery, so I was allowed to exercise, go in the pool, and wash my face including my eyes.  After work, I did all three :) I went for a pool run and took a long, hot shower afterwards.

Two Weeks Later (January 31)

Last Friday, I went in for a two week check-up and found out that my eyesight was 20/20! I was told that my eyesight would continue to fluctuate over the next couple of weeks as my eyes healed, and that my vision could continue to improve.

Three Weeks Later (February 7)

My vision has continued to improve and sharpen, and my eyes feel no drier than they normally do in the winter (except when I first wake up).  I have no problems driving during the day or at night – I’m lucky not to have any issues with poor night vision or halos, which can be side-effects of the surgery.  I’m using the steroid eye drops only once a day, and still use regular eye drops about 4 times a day to keep them lubricated.  I think in a few months, I won’t need eye drops at all.

It feels amazing to be able to see first thing in the morning, and I love not having to fuss around with contacts anymore.  The first two weeks after the surgery, I got panicky at night because I thought I forgot to take out my contacts, but nope, those are my eyes now!

I’m very glad that I got the surgery and would definitely recommend it for others, with the caveat that there are potential negative side-effects that you should research and ask your surgeon about (chronic dry eyes, hazing, poor night vision, and others).

Whew! That was an epic re-cap.  I hope someone finds it helpful! Back to posts about running next week, I promise :)

From Around the Web:

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Fighting the Winter Blues (Peace Love and Oats)

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18 thoughts on “My PRK Surgery (Laser Vision Correction)

  1. wickedhealthywashingtonian33

    Ah it’s so awesome that you took the plunge and got this surgery! It’s something I want to do some day so I really appreciate reading your story.

  2. Hi Dawn! Thanks for the recap. It’s something that I’m thinking about as it would make doing triathlons so much easier – I hate running in glasses, but don’t see well enough to run without glasses/contacts. I’m nervous about the potential side effects, but there don’t seem to be as many negative stories in the media about laser surgery that has gone wrong, so maybe I should start saving!

    1. Dawn H.

      Oo, that makes sense. Can you not wear your contacts during triathlons? I would say that the technology and general experience of surgeons have both gotten better; Mike’s uncle got the surgery 20 years ago and had some negative side-effects (he can’t drive at night because of the glare and halos). I made sure to research surgeons in the area: how good the patient satisfaction levels were, how many surgeries they performed each year, and what lasers they were using.

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  5. Anya Ratanawan

    Hey Dawn- thanks so much for writing this thorough recap of your PRK surgery. I’ve thought about corrective surgery for a long time and finally took the plunge to get a free consultation. I found out I had to do PRK and was disappointed once I learned about the pain and longer recovery time and now am going back/forth on whether or not to do it. Out of 20 friends all but 1 has done PRK and all of them love the fact that they don’t have to deal with contacts and can see when they wake up. I know all the advantages but when it comes to surgery and eye its just overall – scary. Thanks again.

    1. Dawn H.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Anya! I also felt unhappy about having to do PRK, but honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I expected. It wasn’t painful as much as it was uncomfortable for a couple of days, and sure enough as soon as the bandage contacts came out I felt so much better. I love not having to deal with the contacts late at night or in the morning. No more days where my eyes don’t feel like cooperating because they’re dry or tired! Good luck with your decision :)

  6. Diana

    Hi! I know it’s been a year but I came across your blog and it made me feel better about my decision to go through the surgery so thanks. Were your eyes blurry the first 3-4 days of recovery? And did it just got clear after the contacts were taken out? Was one eye more blurry than the other? Sorry for all the questions. Thanks in advance!

    1. Dawn H.

      Hi Diana! My vision was definitely blurry the first couple of days, and sometimes it would get better, only to get worse. For example, my vision was immediately improved after the surgery, and my surgeon warned that it would get worse before it got better (it did). About four days after the surgery, my vision finally started to improve and continue to improve (right around when the protective contacts got taken out). I don’t remember one eye being more blurry than the other, but my eyes were so sensitive those first couple of days that I mostly kept them shut!

      Did you just get PRK?

  7. Diana

    I did. I got it done Thursday (feb. 5) so I am post op day 3. Typing and reading this is very hard and probably should just be resting my eyes but I am getting a little nervous or maybe just impatient so I thought I’d reach out to someone who had a good experience. My right eye seems a little worse than my left but dont know if its the contacts. Vision still definitely blurry though. Im hoping to get the same excellent result as you. Thanks for taking the time to reply :)

    1. Dawn H.

      Ah, definitely rest your eyes!! Just relax and trust they’ll be fine – listen to an audiobook or TV show or something, but try to rest your eyes.. I tended to see improvements as soon as I woke up. My vision, as of my last checkup a few months ago, was 20/15 (better than 20/20).

  8. Jenna

    I really appreciate your post! I’m going to get PRK on Thursday (found out yesterday I cannot have LASIK as they thought) so I have been a little weary about the longer recovery time. I am actually going to Dr. Willis in his Richmond location so I am really glad to hear that you had a great experience! I hope to have a similar experience as you did with a quick recovery!

  9. Eden

    This post makes me less nervous for my upcoming surgery on Thursday. Thank you! I’m just curious though, what was your eye prescription #s pre surgery? I heard that healing can be better with a lower prescription.

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