09 Oct My PRK Experience
**Update: I made this into a video and read it aloud, if you want to hear the jokes from an actual human voice. The essay remains below!**
I recently got PRK surgery done on my left eye (yup, just the left). While prepping for it, I read approximately one million “My PRK Experience” blog posts, and I wanted to write my own for a couple reasons:
- I haven’t read any blog posts about getting just one eye done.
- I thought it would be funny.
- This seems better than me telling people I had laser eye surgery done, and them going, “like Lasik?” And me going, “haha yeah I got Laser Eyes,” and them being confused, and me being like:
I hate glasses, I hate the way I look in them, I hate the way they press against the bridge of my nose, I hate how disgustingly dirty they get without me even noticing, I hate how many germs probably just hang out on them, having a goddamn party an inch away from my eyeballs.
This is why I typically wore contacts. Well, contact. Only one of my eyes needs a corrective lens. I diligently wore monthly contacts in my left eye for years. And I was careful with them, because I’ve read those freaky articles about flesh-eating amoebas devouring people’s corneas because they left their contacts in too long, and I have anxiety issues. I never slept in them, I kept them clean, and you know what? They were still a massive pain in the ass.
The tipping point: three times in two weeks, my contact fell out of my eye because my eye was so dry. Do you know how much monthly contacts cost? A six-pack of monthly contacts is, like, sixty bucks. So I literally cried out thirty hard-earned dollars. I was crying money. Enough was enough.
This was what compelled me to get expensive, excruciatingly painful elective surgery.
ii. The Consultation
I went in for a Lasik consultation during my lunch break from work. This was a terrible idea as the consultation takes two hours. You should probably plan around this so you don’t return to your workplace an hour late, half-blind, with suspiciously massive pupils. Which is what I did. Oops.
They do a standard vision test. You read some letters, you look at that one picture of a house in a field. They also shine some red and green lasers in your eye, which is kind of like a fun EDM dance break but with no music.
They also put drops in your eyes that dilate your pupils, and numbing drops so they can poke around a bit. I have naturally huge pupils so have never had to use dilating drops during an eye exam before this, and boy oh boy does your vision get wonky. Having your eyes numbed also feels wack. It’s like, suddenly, you have Drunk Vision.
Again: you should really plan around this. When I went back to work afterwards, I looked like I’d just gone on a massive bender. I kept repeating “I was getting my vision tested,” to all my colleagues, just to make sure they all knew I wasn’t high on cocaine or anything.
Once the tests were concluded, I was told I was not a good candidate for Lasik because my corneas are too soft. My corneas are lil soft boys who like to write poetry and paint. No Lasik for me. My hopes to never wear my stupid glasses or contacts again were almost dashed. Luckily, there was another option: PRK.
I had honestly never heard of PRK before this, but given that I know exactly fuck all about eyes, I believed the nice eye doctor man when he told me no Lasik. Here is an actually helpful explanation of the differences between Lasik and PRK. Here is my very unscientific understanding: PRK is what you get when they tell you you can’t get Lasik. It consists of:
- Shaving some of your eyeball off
- Shooting it with lasers to reshape the surface of your eye
- Healing (aka Excruciating Pain Time)
- Congratulations: you can SEE!!!
It’s a god damn miracle. The beauty of modern medicine. I was warned that it hurts like a bitch, and that I would need five days of recovery time, but that I was pretty much the ideal candidate since I only needed it done in one eye.
The guy doing my consult was refreshingly straight-up about all this. There was a long weekend coming up that I could take advantage of so I’d only need to book one day off of work, and I was like… Well… As a wise prophet named Drake once said: you only YOLO one time.
I walked out of the Lasik office with a quote ($1640, oof), a tentative surgery date booking, and a plan to throw myself down a Google research hole, after which I would decide if I wanted to cancel. I proceeded to read approximately 17.38 “My PRK Experience” posts (here’s a good one), and committed to eventually writing my own, much less helpful, version.
Here it is.
iii. The Surgery
The day of the surgery, I was completely calm, believe it or not. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and I genuinely wasn’t the least bit nervous.
Things that give me panic attacks: getting left on read.
Things that I am totally chill about: shaving off part of my cornea with a laser.
They offer you Ativan at the clinic if you’re feeling stressed, but I didn’t need it. I was trying not to think too hard about it. One really helpful thing I noted from reading all those blog posts was that this is the kind of thing people psych themselves out of doing for decades. Yes, you have to do your research, and learn enough about the surgery that you feel prepared to do it, but don’t think so hard about it that you scare yourself out of it.
Or do. I’m not the boss of you.
Some other helpful preparatory facts I’d gleaned from my research:
- my cornea was getting shaved down by a laser.
- It will really fucking hurt (although most people said Day 1 wasn’t so bad, but Day 3 was the worst).
- I absolutely cannot wear makeup and if there’s any trace of it they will send me home.
- I need to be comfortably dressed but not in anything freshly laundered because the static might mess with the lasers (? horrifying)
- The cornea is made up of the same material as hair, so when the procedure is being done, I will smell burnt hair.
I think if I hadn’t known this stuff in advance, I would have absolutely lost my gourd.
Okay, so, the actual surgery: they usher you into a dimly-lit room (supes romantic), where they give you covers for your shoes and hair, and, if you’re doing PRK instead of Lasik, a pre-emptive Tylenol. You sit there for a while as you wait your turn. This is both comforting (because, hey, all these other people are getting in and out today and none of them went blind), and terrifying (because oh my god I am in an assembly line of people paying thousands of dollars for the use of their own sight, late-stage capitalism is a gongshow). I am also not, personally, very good at sitting still and patiently waiting for things. So having time to just sit there and think meant I finally got anxious.
Eventually, it’s my turn. I’m brought into the operating room, where everyone is Very Nice and Calming. They ask me if I have any last minute questions. I don’t, cause I’m just like, ayy lmao, let’s get this over with. They hand me two stress balls– which are shaped like eyeballs. This is very on-brand but does not make me feel calm. Tell me what is calming about these motherfuckers, I’ll wait:
So, okay, they put numbing drops in your eyes, and crank those puppies open with prongs. This made me feel like we were going full Ludovico Technique, but I also didn’t want to find out what would happen to my eyelids if I blinked while I was being zapped with lasers.
The actual surgery commences. Your entire field of vision is clouded by red and green lasers– EDM dance show part II. It smells like burnt hair. This is the most anxious I got during the entire process. I mean, I’m lying down on an operating table, surrounded by a bunch of people I do not know, my eyes are being held open by metal prongs, I can’t see anything other than lasers, and I am white-knuckling two sponge eye balls with the grip strength of industrial Velcro. It’s, like, very chill.
All day, I’d been calm, because I was Not Thinking About It. Now, I am Thinking About It. Have I made a terrible decision? Have I really thought enough about this? My vision shifts as the lasers do, it is perfect for a split second, then bleary, confused. Have I considered the consequences of my actions enough? They are literally burning part of my cornea off with a laser, and dusting off the debris with a contraption that’s basically an eyeball-safe toothbrush. I can’t go back now. But what if it doesn’t work? What if I die? Oh my god my final tweet would be so embarrassing. Good lord that burnt hair smell is horrible.
Then, within minutes, the surgery is over. And I’m like. Oh. That actually wasn’t so bad, and I am overly dramatic.
There’s no immediate shift in my vision when I first sit up from the table and am handed a cup of water and a pill.
“This is Dilaudid, it’s a painkiller,” the nurse tells me.
Dilaudid, for those not in the know, is Hydrocodone, aka a Big Boy Opioid, a “be careful with that shit,” type of drug. I’m not in pain yet, but I take it, dutifully. It serves me well when I am escorted back to the dimly-lit waiting room to sit down for fifteen minutes, so that both my left eye and my entire central nervous system can calm down. They gave me some truly chic black sunglasses to wear. You need Extra Strength™ ones because regular sunglasses won’t protect you enough from the sun’s UV rays post-PRK. They they plopped me into a comfy chair with a blanket. The painkiller kicked in pretty fast.
Picture this: me, wearing black wraparound sunglasses (à la Cyclops), stoned off my ass on Hydrocodone, bustin out the Lasik MD office fresh off a surgery like, yo, holy shit, I’m bout to be able to see.
They send me on my merry way with all the shit listed on the second page of this PDF. A couple different kinds of painkillers, some different drops– Zymar and Systane to be used four times a day, Dilute Alcaine and Tetracaine to be used “as a last resort, because it slows healing.” Tight.
On surgery day, I was, at first, just experiencing the mild discomfort you would expect when one of your eyes has been shaved down with a laser. You know when people say they’re bawling their eyes out? Since I only needed my left eye dealt with, I was just bawling my one, singular eye out. I tried to stay ahead of the pain, take a couple Tylenol. But I was fine. At bed time, leaving my protective sunglasses on to protect my eye in case I moved around in my sleep, I took:
- 2 Tylenol
- 1 Dilaudid
- 1 Zopiclone (which is a sleeping pill that I take, it doesn’t get perscribed for everyone who gets PRK. Just want to illustrate that I was heavily drugged)
And I woke up. Every. Single. Hour. Even through the fog of the painkillers and sleep medication, the pain I was in was so excruciating that I would rouse, feel it, and sob out into my empty house like a little baby. My fragile, exposed cornea became wood to my eyelid’s sandpaper. Each blink felt like a little more of a shred. I was moaning in pain each time I got out of bed and stumbled to the washroom, where the light felt like sharp knives as soon as I took my sunglasses off. I had to pry my eye open to be able to douse it in eye drops. It was swollen completely shut, bright red, and crusty with dried tears.
I’ve always thought I had a high pain tolerance. A lifetime of clumsiness has strengthened me. I’ve endured several migraines that made me puke. I have a giant skull tattooed on my ribcage, okay? I’m tough! But this made me question myself. And all the blog posts I’d read about PRK said Day 1 wasn’t so bad, but the pain on Day 3 was the worst. So I was wondering: will I be in even more pain later than I am now? Will I perish? But mostly, I was wondering: am I a fucking pussy?
I pulled up to my 24-hour post-operative followup appointment looking absolutely fresh, well-rested, and generally regular. The woman doing the followup straight up had to stifle a laugh when I took my protective glasses off.
When she examined the surface of my eye with a light, she looked confused. I tried not to panic.
“Is something wrong?” I squeaked.
“No, no,” she said, shining the light at a different angle. “Huh.”
“You’ve healed really well. I’ve just never seen someone who healed this much in 24 hours. Did you use the numbing drops?”
“Numbing drops?” I ask. I was given so many drops I could hardly remember which was which.
“These ones,” she says, grabbing Tetracaine from her desk.
I shake my head. “I was told those were a last resort? That they slow healing?”
She looked absolutely baffled. “Well, that’s why you healed so fast. Here, use some now.”
She put them in my eyes, and holy shit, the relief.
Suddenly I am strangely proud of myself. I’m not a pussy. In fact, I’m kind of a badass, because I accidentally endured the full pain of my surgery recovery without any numbing drops. This also means I’m kind of an idiot, but, whatever.
The next few days of my recovery were fine. It did not get any worse than that first night. Yes, my eye hurt. Yes, it continued to feel like sandpaper. But I just got some medical tape, taped that bitch up, and continued living my life.
Admittedly, without proper sight, the life I was living was incredibly boring. I could use my one good eye, but making it do all the work meant straining it and giving myself a fat headache. I also couldn’t go out and do anything, because I was super light-sensitive, and, like, I had tape over my eye. I looked insane.
So I spent five days in my house bored as hell, mildly stoned off painkillers, moving from my couch to my bed, my bed to my couch, listening to podcasts, sleeping 10+ hours a day.
Shit was lit.
v. Recovery, Continued
After five days of hanging on my couch, I was feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, ready to return to work. You’re not allowed to go back to work that early if you work with a lot of dust (e.g. in construction), which kind of freaked me out, but I have a desk job, so I was good to go. I was putting eye drops in my eyes every fifteen minutes or so, just to be safe.
Pre-surgery, the distance I had the most trouble seeing was about 1-2 feet away from my face, but anything closer or further I could deal with fine. Post-surgery, this was the distance that took the longest time to adjust. It was very discouraging going back to work and not being able to read anything on my computer screen without squinting. Everything looked a little… wet? Somehow? Slightly blurred, like a wet page of text. But sometimes, I’d blink and for a second I’d be able to see so dang sharp, which gave me hope.
It took about two weeks for this effect to subside, by which time my doctor had explained that it was totally normal, and it happened because I was looking through the dry part of my eye. WILD.
It’s now been six weeks since the surgery. I realize I’m writing this up a little hastily and that my vision is going to stabilize more over the next couple of months, but I’m just so EXCITED! I can SEE!
Every time I go to bed, I have the nagging feeling that I’ve forgotten something. Sloan, my brain says, you need to take your contact out before you sleep. But guess what? I don’t need to take my contact out. I don’t need one anymore. Take that, brain.
I truly can’t explain how delightful this is. I already don’t understand how I put up with contacts and glasses for so long. I am also proud of myself for making a brash decision that actually helped me, for once in my life.
So, yes, I was in supreme physical anguish for 12 hours. But that seems like a fair price to pay for several decades of perfect vision. My eye is also pretty dry now (although it was dry when I wore contacts, anyway, and the dryness is likely to go away over the next couple months). My vision still hasn’t 100% stabilized. I have to wear sunglasses every time I go outside for 6 months after the surgery to protect my eye from UV rays, which makes me look like a dork.
Is all of this worth it? HELL FUCKIN YEAH.