January 23, 2017

PRK Laser Eye Surgery Experience and Recovery Timeline (1 Month Update)

Sorry I have been so MIA from the blog this month! As I mentioned in this post, I recently got laser eye surgery and it has been very difficult for me to handle being on the computer after work while I'm still recovering.

That being said, this is a post I've been planning and working on for a while. Since I'm the type of person who researches everything to death, I read every blog post on the subject I could find and I wanted to add my own to the mix since honestly, there weren't nearly as many blog posts on PRK laser eye surgery experiences and recovery timelines as I would have liked. Although each individual's experience varies, I hope mine will help if you're considering PRK yourself or are simply interested in reading about what I went through.

BACKGROUND

Prior to getting laser eye surgery, I was seriously blind (-7.00 in both eyes). I got glasses for the first time when I was 10 years old and started wearing contacts when I was 14 years old. I wore them almost exclusively for over a decade. However, around 6 years ago I developed some issues with my eyes related to excessive contact lens wear (at this time I was still in law school and would stay up late into the night studying which meant my eyes never got the chance to breathe). After numerous optometrist and opthamologist visits, I was diagnosed with a condition called Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC).

Sounds scary, right? Essentially, I had developed an "allergy" to contacts which had created bumps on the insides of my eye lids; even worse, these bumps would never go away. GPC can usually be managed by switching to daily disposable contact lenses and wearing glasses more often which I did. However, it took me a long time to feel comfortable wearing glasses and with my insanely high prescription, I felt like I was wearing coke bottles all the time even with the highest index lenses (which happen to be insanely expensive too). Plus, I really just didn't feel like "myself" anymore (I know it sounds dramatic to describe wearing glasses in this way but at the time it really did seem like the worst thing ever).

a rare photo of me in glasses from last year's Chicago trip; despite having to wear them on the daily,
I would often removethem for photos (although I do have some blog evidence here, here, and here)

In 2011, I decided to look into laser eye surgery. I went to a few consultations but was told I was not a candidate due to dry eyes (yes, if you can believe it, I had developed yet another unfortunate eye-related condition likely due to excessive contact lens wear). Eventually I became unable to tolerate my daily disposable contacts altogether except for special occasions/weekends and resigned myself to my fate as a glasses wearer forever... that is, until I received some good news from my optometrist last September. She told me that my eyes didn't seem nearly as dry as they had been before and that maybe I could look into laser eye surgery again. For the past 5 years, I had been on a pretty strict Omega-3 fish oil and preservative-free eye drop regimen, plus I rarely wore contacts anymore, so my eyes were in way better shape.

Since I had already been through the consultation process before, I knew that if I was going to go through with laser eye surgery this time around, there was only one place I wanted to go and one person I wanted to do it. Dr. David Lin at Pacific Laser Eye Centre is regarded as the best in the business and Pacific Laser Eye Centre also has the latest laser technology (co-developed by Dr. Lin himself!) Not only that, but I also trusted him. Back in 2011, after I had actually been approved and booked in for surgery somewhere else, he advised against it, telling me "if you were my daughter, I wouldn't let you do this." Can you imagine if I had actually gone through with the surgery at that other place? Not to mention I was slated to get LASIK (I'll get into the difference between LASIK and PRK shortly). Yikes. Pacific Laser Eye Centre is more expensive than other centres and they don't do sales but when you're dealing with your vision I really don't think it's worth it to cheap out and try to save money.

I booked in a consultation with Dr. Lin for October and pre-booked my surgery for the end of December since I knew I could get extended time off work during the Christmas holidays for recovery. Pacific Laser Eye Centre is so popular that surgeries must be booked 2-3 months in advance so I'm glad I had the foresight to do this. When I went in for my consultation, not only did Dr. Lin remember me, but he also told me I was a candidate for PRK and that I was good to go ahead with the surgery. Yay!

After doing lots of research and talking to various friends who had gotten laser eye surgery, I had decided that even if I had the option of PRK or LASIK, I wanted to do PRK. With LASIK, the laser cuts a flap on your eye whereas with PRK, there is no flap and the laser reshapes the cornea directly (I'm not going to get into the science of it all because there is lots of other literature that I would suggest you read if you're trying to decide between the two). With PRK, you are looking at a much longer recovery time but you don't have to worry about complications like the flap potentially becoming dislodged. PRK is also recommended for higher prescriptions like mine.

SURGERY

Day 1: The day of the surgery, I woke up with a lot of anxiety. Although I was ready and excited to finally get PRK after so long. it's still nerve-wracking to know that lasers are going to be burning off parts of your eyeball!

Upon arrival at Pacific Laser Eye Centre, I signed the various waiver forms, paid for my surgery, and was given some pills as prep (Tylenol, Gravol, and Ativan). I was then led into another room where I was fitted with a hairnet, numbing drops were put in my eyes, and I listened to a recording about what was about to happen. A few minutes later, Dr. Lin came in to check on my eyes and told me they were calibrating the laser and would be ready for me shortly.

Once inside the operation room, I was asked to lie down on the operating table and then wheeled over to the laser. One of my eyes was covered up and a holder placed in the other to keep it open. Dr. Lin was poking at my eye at this point with some tools but I couldn't feel anything due to the numbing drops. I was then asked to focus on the flashing green light. It was such a surreal moment knowing that a laser was reshaping my cornea and I was watching it yet couldn't feel a thing. After less than 40 seconds, it was onto the next eye. It's crazy that such a short and painless surgery can yield the results it does. Dr. Lin inserted punctal plugs into my tear ducts to assist with my dry eye and this was the only "painful" part of the surgery. I should also note that there is a slight burning smell from the laser which some people find unsettling. Dr. Lin had me swallow right before the laser started so I wasn't breathing in when it was at work.

Bandage contact lenses were placed in my eyes and I was ushered out of the operating room to go over instructions for aftercare. At this point my vision was blurry but I still could see way better than without glasses (not difficult since I was so blind before). However, it was more comfortable to keep my eyes closed anyway and I was given a pair of giant dark glasses to wear for light sensitivity. I went home and mostly slept.

post-PRK, there is a strict 2 month eye drop regimen that must be followed

RECOVERY

Unlike LASIK, which usually results in great vision after only a few days, PRK recovery can take as much as 6 months to get your best vision (possibly even longer). I knew this going in and although it has been discouraging at times wondering when the blurriness would go away, I am staying positive throughout the whole process especially knowing how high of a prescription had to be corrected. Prior to surgery, I had also gotten to a point where I was okay simply being less blind and that result has certainly been achieved.

The first week post-PRK is definitely the worst although I would say it was more uncomfortable than actually painful. I spent most of my days lying in bed napping or listening to podcasts since I couldn't really see.

Day 2: I was surprised that I was able to do some stuff around the house (low-impact cleaning and tidying) although my eyesight got blurrier as the day went on.

Day 3: This was by far the most uncomfortable day. With the epitheleal cells now regrowing towards the centre of my eye, I found myself tearing up non-stop. It kind of felt like you're cutting onions... for a whole day.

Day 4: The tearing was gone but I woke up with hazy sight which continued the whole day.

Day 5: My vision was better than the previous two days but at this point I was ready for the bandage contact lenses to come out. I could feel them in my eyes and it was seriously annoying me.

Day 6: I headed back to Pacific Laser Eye Centre to have my bandage contact lenses removed. Dr. Lin (who was working on Christmas Eve) advised that my eyes were healing up well and that everything was "routine". He also told me that I could technically see well enough to drive. You guys, if this is what legal driving vision is, I'm surprised there aren't more vision-related car accidents. There is no way I would trust myself to drive at this point!

Day 7: This was Christmas Day and my first venture out into the world for various family festivities. I had the best vision yet, though still blurry, but my eyes felt like something was in them all day. This feeling went away on Day 8.

After the first week, changes in vision become a lot more slight so it's hard to record day by day. I had taken 3 weeks off of work and Weeks 2 and 3 were spent with varying degrees of blurry eyesight. It's hard to explain but basically I could see well enough to live/function without glasses but the crispness and clarity still wasn't there. Some days were better than others but otherwise, there really isn't much to report from this time period. I could finally see well enough to drive both in the daytime and at night, and started getting back into my regular life (socializing, working out, etc.)

Week 4: I headed back to work with some trepidation since this would be my first time trying to work on a computer all day. I was prepared for it to be difficult and it certainly has been. I had to increase the text to the largest size and take frequent screen breaks. One thing I continue to struggle with is that things are blurry both close and far. As you can imagine, this has made reading a bit difficult.

Week 5: I had my 1 month checkup with my optometrist last week. I am seeing 20/20 in my right eye and 20/25 in my left eye. My right eye no longer requires any prescription at all (miracle!) while my left eye currently is picking +0.50 (this is super minor and wouldn't require glasses). My optometrist advised me that the +0.50 will probably get better and even if it stays I won't even notice it once my eyes are fully healed. The reason things are still blurry, especially with the computer, is because my cornea is still smoothing out and I have a reduced tear film, but everything will get better over the next few months. I was getting a little worried so it was a relief to find out that my healing is on track -- slow as it may be.

Another thing to note: some people report issues with night vision or halos which I haven't had a problem with so far. I have been following my eye drop schedule and am looking forward to stopping the steroid drops mid-February as I've heard there is also a noticeable change once you're off them. Anyway, I feel like this may be a winner for longest post on my blog but I hope it's been informative. I will be sure to post updates on my recovery over the year!

4 comments:

  1. that is amazing! so glad you finally sorted out this issue! wishing you a speedy recovery!
    Pam xo/ Pam Scalfi♥

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  2. Your article echos my experience with Dr. Lin as well when I had it done a few weeks ago! He even called me personally 2 weeks after with a medication adjustment! Amazing! Only thing I'd say is that I was able to get the surgical appointment within a month, and the first date I wanted was available as an out-of-province patient. I'm at day 18, and no blur whatsoever. My headaches are gone, and the clarity of my distance vision seems to be improving by the day!

    Did a *lot* of research before stumbling upon Dr. Lin and Pacific. So glad I did. His academic work and the "SmartSurfACE" procedure was the real deal-maker compared to the other Vancouver outfits!

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    Replies
    1. That's awesome you were able to get your requested surgery date... I wonder if it's different because you were travelling from out of province? When I went to my October consultation I heard them tell someone they were booking surgeries for January/February.

      So glad to hear your recovery's going well too! I'm at 7 weeks out and so far super pleased with the results. Dr. Lin really is the best!

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    2. Yeah a friend of mine from Toronto, upon receiving my research on Dr. Lin and SmartSurfACE, decided to book as well. She received an appointment within a month as well and had the procedure 10 days ago. So out of town patients definitely are treated well.

      Recovery wise, I thought I'd be out of action for a month and cleared my schedule accordingly. In actual fact, I lost the ability to use a computer fully and properly (I'm a Computer Engineer) for a grand total of 3 days. The discomfort was so minor that I didn't even take any of the prescription painkillers given. I actually went shopping and out for dinner with friends the day of the surgery! (contrast this with all the horror stories you can read online or watch on YouTube of lengthy PRK recoveries!) Dr. Lin totally wasn't kidding in his claim that the procedure "is stressless refractive surgery"!

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