My PRK Experience: Part 2
In the three months between my consult and my surgery, I read every PRK blog post I could find. Most stories were positive; a few were angry and regretful. These perspectives helped me go into PRK with correct expectations. I knew there was no way to predict my outcome, even a best-case scenario would involve some pain and frustration, and it could be months before my vision was consistently clear. Also, due to the severity of my astigmatism, there was a slight chance the surgery wouldn’t work and I’d need a re-do in six months (this was covered in my package). I believe knowing exactly what I was getting into made my experience easier, since all physical challenges are a mental game to some degree.
I stayed with my parents for the first few days following PRK. They were willing to take care of me, and I didn’t think being alone immediately was a good idea. After my surgery (which was in the early afternoon on a Thursday), I slept for a couple of hours as recommended, then stayed up until a normal bedtime. My light sensitivity was off the charts – I had to wear sunglasses in the house and could still see perfectly without turning any lights on – but other than that, I felt fine! I didn’t feel pain, just some irritation. (I’ll come back to this later.)
On Friday morning, my mom took me to my post-op appointment. My vision was 20/25 in one eye and 20/30 in the other, after less than 24 hours! After that, I relaxed around the house and took a long afternoon nap. My vision seemed pretty clear, and my eyes only felt tired. I was even able to go to dinner with friends (wearing a hat and sunglasses). On the way back to their house, I told my parents how pleasantly surprised I was, and how lucky I felt. I knew the third day was the worst for a lot of people, but everything was going so well, I thought I might be home free. Spoiler alert: Not so much!
When I woke up on Saturday, I could tell this wouldn’t be another easy day. My eyes felt really bad, and drops didn’t help. After a few hours lying on the couch in increasing pain, I decided it might help to get out and distract myself. So, against her better judgment, my mom agreed to take me to the Bath & Body Works annual sale. It was a venture straight out of Allie Brosh. Within two minutes of entering B&BW, it became nearly impossible to focus my eyes on anything. I felt my way around the sale displays, grasping at lotions and body washes. To get to the register, I had to stumble through the visual minefield in the middle of the store – bright spotlights pointed at very shiny candle lids. Somehow I paid for my stuff, but bumped into a few other shoppers trying to find my mother. She quickly checked out and led me out into the mall… where I noticed that New York & Company was having an 80% off sale. Moments earlier I’d been wondering how I was going to get to the car, but now I was like “Wait! Let me see if I can regroup.” But I was already on a downward spiral. After a few minutes’ pause, I couldn’t even get my eyes open to put drops in them for relief. By the time we got back to the house, my mom had to physically lead me to bed. The pain was a solid 8/10 – it felt like needles stabbing my eyes. The knowledge that it was just my nerves reconnecting and my eye tissue regrowing did not help AT ALL.
Missing my own bed and my cat, I still wanted to go home as originally planned for that day. My mom reminded me that I had some hydrocodone, but I didn’t want to be so out of it that I couldn’t leave. (I also stubbornly did not want to let the pain beat me.) So, after a nap, my boyfriend came to take me home. I powered through the dinner my parents had cooked, but once Matt put me in the car, I was pretty incoherent. The moment I was settled at home, I took the hydrocodone and went to bed, where I slept blissfully for twelve hours. When I woke up Sunday morning, the pain was gone, never to return! I had a pain hangover all day, though, and my vision was terrible. My doctor had explained that the vision fluctuations happen because brand-new eye tissue is “bumpy.” It felt like I’d regrown my whole eyes in one day, so at least the loss of my vision progress made sense.
I planned for a week off from work, and needed it. I couldn’t drive or do much, so I mostly relaxed at home, doing small chores and “watching” a lot of Friends, since I can enjoy it without seeing every minute. On Wednesday, almost a week after the surgery, my mom took me to another follow-up. The doctor removed my bandage contacts and cleared me to drive. As I’d expected from my research, my vision took another hit once the contacts came out. They’re not corrective, but they protect the new tissue, and the eye gets used to them. Even so, I was relieved to be free of them.
I worked half a day from home on Thursday and Friday, my face inches from the computer screen. By noon on both days, my eyes were exhausted and I was very ready to hang it up. Thankfully, Fourth of July weekend would give me some extra time to heal and rest, and it proved to be the turning point. On Saturday night, July 2, Matt and I went out with some of his friends. I realized on the way to dinner that my vision was so good, and my eyes felt so normal, I hadn’t thought about them in several hours. On the Fourth, for the first time, I was able to read a magazine without strain. Happy Independence Day to me!
Since that weekend, my vision has been stable and good. At my one-month follow-up on July 20, I was confirmed 20/20 and discharged from my surgeon. My vision won’t be officially “set” for about six months, but I have no complaints about what I’ve got!
Notes and Observations
♦ Most people who’ve had PRK say the post-surgery irritation feels like sand or dust in your eye. That’s a fair take, but I’d describe it as like a contact lens went in badly, or had something on it. None of the write-ups I read mentioned the psychological toll this takes when all your life, that feeling has meant danger to your eye (keratitis feels similar). It took me a few days to understand why I had a constant sense of low-grade panic. Even then, I didn’t get over the alarm until the bandage contacts came out and I could be sure that any weird feeling in my eye was not caused by a harmful foreign object. If you’re considering PRK and have a history of difficult eyes like I do, be aware.
♦ My new vision is crisper than it ever was with glasses or contacts. My astigmatism was so bad, I figure I never had a contact lens that sat exactly like it was supposed to. Colors are also more vivid. I thought I must be imagining that, but I talked to a friend who had PRK 20 years ago, and she had the same experience. I think it has something to do with the new shape of the eye refracting light differently?
♦ My eyes are definitely shaped differently now. When I pat my eyelids, I can tell they’re less bulgy. My eyes never fully closed before PRK, and I’ve been sleeping in a sleep mask for three years to prevent problems. But as far as I can tell, my eyes close all the way now! I’m still using the sleep mask most of the time as a precaution, but can probably quit it eventually. Also: over the years, I’ve amassed a collection of high-end, guaranteed-no-pinch eyelash curlers. Every one of them pinched me… but now they don’t! Between that and no more tight sleep mask flattening them, I’m on my way to killer eyelashes. Vain, but exciting.
♦ I haven’t had the severe eye dryness many patients experience. I use preservative-free moisturizing drops several times a day, but don’t always feel like I need them. However, I’m sensitive to the cold, dry air in my office building. It hit me like a brick wall on my first day back at work and is still bothering me. I feel fine everywhere else. I’m happy with my choice to get PRK in summer – the heat and humidity probably helped, even with the extra bright light to deal with those first few days.
♦ My halos have been limited to a slight glow around bright lights, sort of a smudge if I’m looking directly at the light. It’s barely noticeable and should go away over time. Honestly, I think I had a halo-like issue before, because this seems like an improvement.
♦ Don’t underestimate the impact of overall health on your PRK experience. I decided to have the surgery now partly because I’m in a healthy and strong moment of my life. I think that contributed to my positive outcome. I also cannot recommend vitamins and supplements strongly enough: minimum, a daily multivitamin, fish oil, and vitamin C. I took extra vitamin C gummies every day for a month on the advice of a friend who had cataract surgery. It speeds healing. I’m also a big believer in probiotics – I take refrigerated capsules, but if yogurt or kefir or whatever is preferable to you, knock yourself out.
I’m only a month out from PRK, so nothing is set in stone yet. I’m also aware that I’ll probably still need reading glasses as my eyes age. But as of now, getting PRK is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s truly miraculous that after a lifetime of half-blindness, I can lay under a laser for two minutes and get up with functioning eyeballs. I was prepared for a worst-case scenario, but got a best-case instead, and I feel incredibly thankful and lucky. Yay for sight!
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. →
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