Thursday, February 21, 2013

Getting Personal: Lasik Eye Procedure

This blog is actually about a procedure that I had done about 7 years ago.  I am often asked about it so I figured I should do a blog post on what I remember.  After all, sharing information is the whole reason I started this blog!

I started noticing vision problems around my freshman year in high school.  It took a few eye doctors and a good year of school before anyone realized that my vision was poor enough to warrant wearing glasses.  I actually failed an algebra class because I couldn't see the board.  While the teacher was telling us how to work problems I was busy trying to copy notes off a friend sitting next to me (since I couldn't see the board myself).  I'm actually pretty good at algebra problems but my failing grade and requirement to repeat the class was a little disheartening.  Okay - back to my vision! By the time I completed high school I was"blind" without my contacts (I choose contacts over glasses right from the start).  I have so many memories of all the trouble I had when swimming, camping, staying up late, being around smoke...  I swear to this day that I will never beat my daughter in a staring contest due to my eyes fear (yes - the fear that my eyes have) of becoming too dry!!  A few years back my contacts started bothering me more.  It was partly due to the chlorine in our new pool that I was exposed to more than I had ever been in the past.  Then, my first child came along.  The need to see at all times of the night became more important and my glasses (only worn at night) just weren't cutting it for me.  It was time to make a change!

I had been exposed to the idea of lasik surgery a few times.  But, it was always while at a "discount" eye doctor (the only one I could afford since I did not have vision insurance) and they wanted me to go to their main office in Chicago (3 hours away) for the procedure.  I did not want to have such a huge procedure (we are talking about my eyesight and the potential of things going wrong was not acceptable) done by a discount place and so far from home.  Finally, one day I realized that there was a place in my home town (it sounds so small but I actually live near a big city) that offered lasik.  Plus, they advertised an 18 month payment plan with no interest which made it a possibility for my budget.  So I decided to check it out.

I had a Custom Lasik procedure done at Grand Rapids Ophthalmology.  I had no idea what doctor I should go with.  So, when I was asked if I had a doctor in mind, I asked the person on the phone which doctor they would pick to work on their eyes.  I was assigned to Scott Weber, MD.  I was satisfied with the number of years he had been doing this procedure and when I googled him nothing bad came up.  Plus, when I met with him his hands didn't seem shaky ;-)  FYI - he is still working at the same place and has 7 more years in practice since my procedure (for those of you who are interested in using the same person).

First of all, I was not pregnant!  It was perfect timing for me to have the procedure done since I already gave birth my first child (which is not a requirement) and I wasn't ready to start on the next.  My point is that this procedure cannot be done if you are pregnant!

I scheduled an initial appointment to find out more about the procedure and to see if I was a candidate.  Keep that in mind - just because you want it done and you can afford it doesn't mean you can do it!  There are some things about your eyes that they have to test.  I was a candidate and had my surgery done pretty soon after my testing.  However, a friend of mine was tested 3 years ago and found out she was a candidate.  But she decided to hold off on the procedure...  When she went back 3 years later her eyes had changed and she is no longer able to have the procedure done.... EVER.  Of course she has the option of getting a second opinion but it involves eyes and a laser so I'm not sure how many opinions you'd want to get before you felt it was really safe to do.  I'm not an eye doctor but, in this case, it had something to do with the thickness of some layers on the eyes.  Those layers do change over time.

I don't remember everything they did to test my eyes but I do remember that they were numbed and they put things on my eyes.  Keep in mind that I have a very weak stomach!!  I could not feel pain but I did feel pressure as the tools were touching my eyes.   I could see it and they were telling me what they were doing.  Plus, each eye would blur as they applied pressure to it.  I had to do some deep breathing to try not to think about it.  After all - they were touching my eye!  They also enlarged my pupils so sunglasses were needed for a while after my appointment.

The place that I decided to have my procedure through has many locations which made it very convenient for me to get to whether at work or at home (my doctor offered office hours at the locations close to both).  The actual procedures (at least at that time) were always done only at the East Beltline location.

The procedure:  I was awake for the entire procedure but my eyes were numbed and I did not feel anything except for occasionally pressure.  My eyes lids were held back with a tool so they didn't get in the way.  The surgeon does have to cut and peel back a layer of your eye so the laser can do it's job.  Then they fold the layer back over when the laser is done.  That layer/flap is one of the things you have to be very careful with for a while!  Actually, it's probably the most important thing!  I did have a driver to get me home that day.  Everything was very blurry and my eyes were very sensitive to light.  I slept all day since my eyes were blurry anyway.  BUT - the day following the procedure....  I drove myself to my follow-up appointment with no glasses or contacts needed!!!  Yes - the results were that quick!

Suggestion:  Do not watch "Final Destination 5" ( I think it was the 5th movie)!!  The procedure done on that is very much like what I remember being done to me.  However, it of course does not end well for the patient in the movie and that thought is the last thing you need in your head while you are in an already nervous situation!

After the procedure I had a few follow-up appointments to make sure the eye flaps were healing well and that my eyesight had improved.  The appointments started the day after the procedure and lasted for 1 year.  They were frequent at first but then less often as the year went on.  The appointments were quick but important.

Some times the procedure doesn't work or doesn't last.   There is the option to have the procedure re-done (if your eyes are still in good enough shape).  My doctor gave a one year "guarantee" that if it didn't work he would include the re-do in my initial fee.

Some other things that I have heard from people that have had the procedure done:  Some people had one eye done at a time.  I'm not sure why but I'm sure your doctor would discuss that if you were a candidate for it.   I have also heard of people having different procedures done on each eye (nearsighted versus farsighted).  I'm curious to know how that would turn out.

A side note about my procedure:  the custom lasik I had done was supposed to help with light glare at night.  Even with corrective lenses, I was completely blinded by car/street lights while driving at night - especially on rainy nights.   They told me this option was new (at the time) but I agreed to pay the extra in hope that it would help.  I really have no idea if it helped...  Lights still make it hard for me to see at night.

I have to admit that I didn't feel the need to do any further follow-up appointments.  I'm still seeing well so I figured there was no need.  However, I have been curious if my eye sight is still 20/20.  This past summer I had an issue with an eye that required me to go to a specialist (same office that did my eye surgery).  I was happy to find out that, after 7 years, my eye site is still perfect!!!

Everyone that I "interviewed" about their procedure (prior to going through it myself) said it was the best thing they had ever done and that they wished they had done it sooner.  Well, for anyone asking me - it was one of the best things I ever did for myself and I wish I would have done it sooner!!!  It has improved my quality of life and was well worth the investment!!!

Update (1/5/2014):  I found my paperwork!!!  I did have a custom procedure done.  It was supposed to be one step more toward helping my night vision.  I'm actually not sure if that portion helped.  I still have a hard time seeing at night while driving.  My procedure came to $3800 (after the $500 discount they were offering).  They did offer a financial service program that gave me 18 months with no interest.  I took advantage of that and had a monthly payment of $210.  My surgery was on 8/17/2006.  Obviously some things have probably changed since then.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mapping Our Travels

Many of you know that my dad was a well traveled man.  That is who I thank for exposing me to other areas of the "world".  He is also the person to blame for my vacation obsession!  ;-)

My dad started out his travel adventures on a bike - yes a bike as in bicycle!  He peddled his way all over the United States!  The best way he visually captured his adventures was with a cork board map of the USA.  He used tacks and yarn to outline his travels.  However, what isn't obvious by looking at the map is the number of times that he made each trip.  I can't even remember how many times he bicycled his way from his home in Marquette, Michigan to visit his mom in the Florida Keys!  He even rode his bike to California to visit me when I lived there in 1st grade!

My dad's map of his bicycle travels!

My kids and I are always looking at a little map on our wall so we can talk about the places we have visited.  I figured it was time to take it to the next level by creating a map similar to my dads.  The cities we have visited are indicated with tacks.  Of course, the strings on my map are the road trips we took via car - my dads love to bicycle around the country is one thing I did not inherit ;-)

My families vacation map (map poster attached to a cork board).
Only includes the vacations my kids have been on - not the ones we took before them or for work.

Red thread to outline our road trips.
Some trips have been done more than once.

We flew to some areas but then used our rental car to travel.
It's fun to look at the map and day dream about past vacations and future adventures!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Muir Woods National Monument, California Redwoods

Okay, we picked up our rental car and said goodbye to the great city of San Francisco.  It has been a goal of mine to get my family to a redwood forest.  Unfortunately it never works out....  Since we were going to be in Northern California for the first half of this trip I figured it was now or possibly never....  Unfortunately, the great redwoods that I was familiar with from past vacations was too far north to justify the drive.  Luckily, a family member reminded me of a smaller forest just 11 miles north of San Francisco!!!  First, let me tell you that you can hop on a shuttle in San Francisco to get to this forest.  You do not need to have a car!

Here's our experience:

Muir Woods National Monument

Parking:  I didn't take a picture of the parking lot but it is small and once it is full you have no other options.  It is recommended that you plan your visit for earlier in the day.  We got there first thing in the morning but by the time we left cars were circling waiting for an opening.  

This picture was a little shaded but I was glad I took in on the way in.
The people I saw trying to snap a shot of this later had sun issues to deal with.

Visitors Center.   There is a small park fee to get in.  There is also a small shop in the center.
It's a National Park so if you have the park "passport" you can have it stamped here.

Once in the park there is a bigger store, nice restrooms, and food service.

The path is really nice and I believe wheelchair friendly.
There are many trails you can take but the smaller/main trail that we took was perfect for our kiddos.

Lots of unique trees!

Look at how big!!
The trees we saw are not as big as the ones further north (Redwood National Park) but they were
perfect for the rest of my family who have never experienced red woods.

I love the bridges they built!!!!
I love the bridges they built!!!!

I just loved how the sun was shinning through the trees!

Should you go further north, the Redwood National Forest has some great sites like the largest tree and trees you can drive-thru!

San Francisco, California

There are so many wonderful things to see and do in San Francisco!!  I already blogged about my visit to Alcatraz Island but there's so much more!  In this blog post I will attempt to give you a taste of San Francisco.

In the past we usually stayed near the Union Square area.  It's close to shopping and it's at one end of the cable car route.  It's also decent walking distance to Chinatown.  But the rooms are generally really small!  One year we barely had enough room to open the door to our room because the bed was so close to it.  And another year we could see the people in the room next to us taking a shower!  The rooms are small due to the older buildings but the price is still high!  Well, at least they were small for the hotels we stayed in.  The super pricey hotels maybe have larger rooms but they weren't in my budget.  

This year we decided to stay near Fisherman's Wharf (the other side of the cable car route).  The rooms were still pricey but much larger.  It was also a nice experience to stay in another area.  It's, in my opinion, much more family friendly.

Boudin is right on the main strip.  You can eat, shop, tour,
or, for free, you can watch through a window on the main strip.
The main baker is even equipped with a headset to answer questions that
by-passers have.  Notice the cute sourdough turtles she is making?

Sourdough lobster!

We didn't tour because we didn't notice the option until we were out of time.

I had passed this many times in past trips but never stopped.
It was a mission for me to visit Ghirardelli this time.
The carmel filled chocolate squares are my favorite!!!

My son is snacking on a limited edition flavor they gave us a sample of at the store.
There are so many flavors they offer that I could never find at home!

We checked out the ice cream shop.
I read a review that it was overpriced and wasn't worth it.
Since it's San Francisco and a famous place - I wasn't shocked by the price.
It's the price you pay for the experience....
I think this sundae was priced at $8.  My only problem was it was too sweet.  

I purchased a few of the specialty candies that I can't get in my home town.
To my surprise, I also had to buy a bag to carry it in (I think this one was 25 cents...).
Okay - it's only a quarter but it still threw me off that I had to buy a bag...

Of course we had to eat at the Rainforest Cafe!
It's located right on the main strip of Fisherman's Wharf.
I love the locations that have the bench with location sign!
We also visited the Hard Rock Cafe but I forgot to take a good picture
(there was a huge event outside the door when we were there).

There are a ton of street entertainers!

You can get great sketches done for really cheap.  I think it was $2.75 ($3.75 if you wanted it in color).
That is much cheaper than the $25 we spend at our local cartoonist!!!

The sea lions at Pier 39!  They are so entertaining and free to watch.
Although, there is usually a crowd so finding a good spot to see them isn't easy.
Oh - and they are kind of smelly!

A higher view of a section of the Wharf.

We were so happy to discover In-N-Out right by our hotel!!

Free to view all of the things on the pier.  Small charge if you want to tour any of the ships.

Along the maritime pier there are many of these.
They show you different types of knots and provide rope for you to practice with.

One of the ships you can tour for a fee.
We did not know about this pier so we didn't have any tours of the ships in our schedule.

Beach side view of the ship.  Also, there are so many piers -
it was nice to see a good clean place to play in the sand and swim
(it was a little too cold for my kiddos to swim).

The normal view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Fog is common so take advantage of the few times you can see the bridge.
For our last full day in Alcatraz we decided to finally purchase tickets to ride the cable cars and public transportation.  This would help us get around to a few other areas of the city.  There are many options to buy.  Since we were only going to use it for one day we bought a pass to hop on and off for the entire day.  Why use public transportation?  Parking in the city is very limited and can be expensive.  Especially when you start adding up the charge to park at the hotels!  And, it's a busy city that I would rather not drive in.  We opted to not rent a car until we were on our way out of San Francisco (headed to the second part of our vacation).

In past trips to San Francisco we purchased 3 day tickets.
Usually there was some "time" left to use them when we were done.
We gave those to the homeless people to re-sell the remaining time.
This trip I didn't see the homeless doing this.  I think it was a law that is now enforced... 

The first priority was the cable cars!!  One end of the route was near our hotel so that worked out great!    We took the cable car from Fisherman's Wharf to the other end - Union Square.  There are two routes that the cable cars take.  You can tell which go with each route by the street names on the car.  One route stops at the top of Lombard Street (mentioned later in this blog).  It's the cable car in the picture which I think is the Powell & Hyde St car.  

From there we decided to walk to Chinatown.  There was a lot to see on the way!

Main entrance to Chinatown.

There's a lot of culture!

And a lot of fun statues (for sale) to have your picture taken by.
Chinatown is full of stores where you can find great deals on items.  Of course, it never fails that you think you found a great deal only to walk another block and find the same item for less.  There are a lot of very authentic restaurants.  I have never tried them due to my fussiness and fear of strange food.

My son - he wanted to buy more things (there's a lot of stuff to buy)
so he sat down and held out his bag for more money.
The homeless people were rubbing off on him ;-)
Of course we let him know that is not why the homeless needed money.
The hills in San Francisco are huge!!!  Unfortunately we found ourselves in a position where we had to walk a ways to get back to public transportation (or more importantly the cable cars).  Since we also wanted to see Lombard Street, we decided to continue walking.  The cable car stops at the top of the curvy street so we just walked with a plan to hop on the car (headed toward Fisherman's Wharf) after checking out Lombard.

Lombard Street (the famous curvy section).
It runs only one way and cars are usually lined up to drive down it.

There were a lot of stairs to get to the top of Lombard!
Okay, long story short, the cable cars are busy and the opportunity to fit a family of 4 on the car in mid route is near impossible.  Since it was all down hill to our hotel we decided to just finish the walk back.

Next we decided to hop on the city bus and head to the Palace of Fine Arts.

How fun to be able to stand while the bus was moving!

I have always LOVED this place when I would watch "The Rock".  You know - the movie about Alcatraz in the scene where Sean Connery goes to meet his daughter.  I thought the location in that movie was amazing but all the times I have been to San Francisco I had no idea what it was - or that I could visit it for free!!!!  You do have to pay to go inside the actual museum (we did not do) but exploring this section is free to roam - it's absolutely amazing and peaceful!!!

Having fun while taking a picture of some details.

Once through the palace we were really close to the Crissy Field.  So we headed that way to check it out.  

Look - you can actually see the bridge!
And there is plenty of parking which isn't common in most areas of the city.

Another place to play in the sand (and swim).  What a great view!

A little hard to see but there is a strip that can be used to get a wheelchair out a ways into the beach.

There are a lot of other cool places in this area.  I saw that they have The Walt Disney Family Museum!  How cool is that???  It's more on the factual/history side than my kiddos would have liked so we didn't visit there.  But, I would love to another day!  He was an amazing man that I find interesting to learn more about.  But, it's not about the rides and "real-life characters" that my kiddos enjoy.

During this trip we did not go to a lot of the areas we have been to before.  But they are surely areas that deserve a mention!  

The Haight/Ashbury district.  Fun place for the more relaxed "hippies".  There is an Amoeba records (that my husband likes to visit).  I also have great memories of eating at "Real Food Cafe" with my dad!    This area is also very close to Golden Gate Park which has so many great things to offer.  I still need to explore the park more but that will have to be another vacation.  I highly recommend taking a drive (car or bus) through the park.  During one drive through the park we were able to see the live buffalo that live there.

We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel in Fisherman's Wharf.  It was then that I relaxed there is so much more to the city than I have seen!  We passed the baseball field and at the time they were in the finals to possibly go to the World Series.  I know very little about sports but it was clear during our visit that people were really excited about the upcoming game.  We also passed a huge Farmers market that was a few piers down from our hotel (not close enough for walking).  I'll have to make a full weeks vacation out of San Francisco some day - if I could afford to stay there for a full week....

Tip:  the taxi driver told us something interesting that most tourist get confused about.  Apparently all the odd numbered piers are on one side (the Wharf side where we were) and the even number are on the complete other side.  Nice to know since many of the big activities are at piers.  

Note:  on each side of the Golden Gate bridge there is a place to stop and take pictures.  Pay attention to the direction of the sun.  We passed the stop on the way out of San Francisco but stopped on the other side of the bridge (the side we were familiar with).  Unfortunately it was hard to get a good picture without sun glare (the sun was shining directly into the camera.  The opposite side might of had the sun shining in my kids eyes (as I took pictures) but I think I could have found some shade due to the trees that were there.

My son claims that it is impossible to look at the camera and smile at the same time ;-)

Have you been to San Francisco?  I would love to hear your experiences!

Here is the link to my post about a movie tour we took in 2014.