My PRK Experience: Part 1
I had PRK vision surgery three weeks ago, and I think it’s safe to say it was a success! Throughout the process, I read LOTS of information and personal accounts about the surgery, and I believe that good preparation was key to my correct expectations and overall great experience. I’ve also gotten a lot of questions from people who are considering it for themselves. So here’s the story of how I was once (legally) blind, but now I see!
I started wearing glasses in first grade. I probably needed them earlier, but it wasn’t obvious until I couldn’t see the chalkboard. When I was fourteen, my parents finally allowed me to get contacts – at great cost to them, since at the time, the only lenses that worked with my severe astigmatism cost $100 each. No matter how careful I was, the contacts tore and needed to be replaced often. I didn’t have access to mainstream, disposable contacts until well into my 20s.
My vision life as I knew it ended in November 2013, when I got keratitis in my left eye. The experience resulted in a stack of medical bills and a permanent prohibition on full-time contacts wear. I was in glasses for four solid months, which was torture after 20 years out of them. Once healed, I figured out a compromise of wearing my glasses until lunchtime on weekdays. I got used to it, but was frustrated by how much longer it took to get ready “blind” on weekday mornings. With less contact support, my eyes also started deteriorating a little faster (I was -7.5 with a 180 axis, if that means anything to you). I also lived in constant fear of getting another eye infection and being banned from contacts entirely. LASIK or anything like it had always sounded impossible for me. I was horrified by the idea of being conscious while someone held my eye open and did stuff to it. But one blurry morning about six months ago, I thought, This is my reality for the rest of my life. This will never change, and my eyes will only continue to get worse. Maybe I’m finally annoyed enough to do something about it.
At my eye checkup in March, I asked my doctor about vision correction surgery. He immediately said I was a good candidate and recommended PRK, not LASIK. Both procedures are common and involve a laser. Here’s my quick and dirty explanation of the differences (squeamish alert):
LASIK: A flap is cut in the eye and folded back over once the laser has done its corrective work. Pros: cheaper procedure; immediate vision stability; minimal recovery time. Cons: permanently altered night vision (halos) for many; risk of corneal damage with subsequent concussions or other head injuries.
PRK: The top (epithelial) layers of the eye are essentially scraped off by a surgeon before the laser portion of the surgery. Those layers then regenerate over a few days/weeks/months, eventually resulting in a whole and functioning eye. Pros: fully intact eyes with no long-term risks or night halos; preferred surgery of most ophthalmologists, athletes, and the military; regrowing your eyeballs makes you feel like Wolverine. Cons: longer, more painful healing and recovery; vision can take up to six months to fully stabilize.
Since I’d done some research, I wasn’t surprised that my doctor thought PRK was the better choice for me. I accepted his referral to Eye Specialty Group in East Memphis and went for a consult two weeks later. A friend who’d had LASIK years ago advised me the appointment would be quick and easy. Well, I was there for four hours, saw at least as many doctors and nurses, and was given a dilation drop that effectively blinded me until the following morning. On the plus side, the staff didn’t miss a thing. My only (amused) complaint was having to sign surgery paperwork I couldn’t read for myself after the dilation drop took effect. (“I’m a contract administrator,” I told the counselor. “I’m not comfortable with this.”) I knew I’d need a week or so off from work after the surgery, and I also didn’t want to do it around any big trips or other events. So I scheduled a date three months out – the first really open space in my calendar – and the wait began.
Around the beginning of June, I started doing whatever I could to prep for a good PRK experience. Many people say vitamin C and fish oil have an especially positive effect on recovery. I’ve been on a serious daily regimen – multivitamins, fish oil, probiotics, other supplements – for years, but I added vitamin C gummies to the routine. Following instructions, I got rid of my contacts three weeks prior to surgery and started a series of eye drops the week of, as well as Gabapentin, which is some sort of nerve blocker. The Gabapentin caused what my boyfriend calls “buffering,” where it took me about ten extra seconds to process things. (I continued to take it until a few days after the surgery, and while I know it helped with pain, I felt much clearer and more alert once I was off of it.)
On Thursday, June 23, my mom took me to the surgery center in Collierville. We checked in around 1 PM, and a nurse took me back for a final set of tests and measurements. I was starting to get nervous, but she was so kind and reassuring. As a person who constantly mixes up numbers, I’d been anxious about all my measurements going into the laser correctly, and it did me good to see how thorough the staff was. After I waited for a few more minutes with my mom, another nurse brought me into a lounge-y prep area. She gave me a Xanax, then covered my hair, put a bunch of drops in my eyes, cleaned the area around my eyes, and left me to chill out briefly. I felt a little skeptical that a Xanax would be strong enough for this procedure (I’d never taken it before), but I was mellower by the time she returned to take me into the operating room.
PRK is a very quick procedure – only about ten minutes. I lay down in a flat chair (like a dentist’s chair but more comfortable) and received another slew of numbing eye drops. A nurse handed me a small stuffed animal to hold onto, which I was unashamed to take. The doctor explained the basic steps of the surgery, asked if I was ready, then swiveled me under a light, applied the horror-movie thing that holds your eye open, and started methodically scraping my eye. This was the scariest part, but all I felt was pressure. I was never in pain or even very uncomfortable during the surgery. It was just very trippy watching this scraping happen and my vision get blurrier. There was no getting away from it. Then it was time for the laser. They warned me that it makes a lot of noise and you can kind of smell your eye burning, and that’s true, but I wasn’t even disturbed by that after the scraping. My only concern was whether I was looking at the laser adequately, since at that point everything was a giant blur and I felt like I had zero control over my eye. Hope I’m looking at the laser!! I’m doing my best!!
After 60 seconds of laser, the doctor rinsed my eye with cool water (which actually felt good, not headache-inducing as many have reported) and put on a clear “bandage contact.” Immediately, my vision was clear. I was elated, or as elated as you can be on Xanax. The doctor asked if I was ready to do the other eye, and I responded so enthusiastically I think he was a little taken aback. I officially had at least one working eye and I had survived, so the second one was a piece of cake. The nurses helped me sit up slowly (as I exclaimed that I could see them), then took me to a recovery room and went to fetch my mom. While we waited for the immediate post-op, my mom said I had really surprised her by being the first one in our family brave enough to do this, and I declared myself to be a “secret badass.” (I stand by that statement.)
The doctor and nurses came back in, checked me over, and gave us instructions. They were surprised that I wasn’t in more pain, with the numbing drops wearing off, but I only felt some irritation – nothing I hadn’t expected. On the way to my parents’ (where I would be staying for a few days), I rested in the car while my mom ran into McAlister’s to get me a tea and then into CVS for more moisturizing eye drops (which I had forgotten at home). I was pleasantly surprised by how okay I felt. I could see, and so far, so good!
Stay tuned for Part 2: The Recovery and Concluding Thoughts!
About Brenda W.Christian. Memphian. Reader. Writer. True blue Tiger fan. Lover of shoes, the ocean, adventure, and McAlister's iced tea. View all posts by Brenda W. →
Posted in changes, health, milestone