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.

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