Considering Lasik Surgery?

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If an anthropologist told me I clocked in 95 percent of my 25 years on earth fidgeting with my eyes, I'd believe them. Before my Lasik surgery in April I spent far too much time on treks to Duane Reade to buy industrial-sized bottles of Opti Free . Mornings were cut short searching for a tear in my contact lens like some crazed diamond dealer inspecting clarity, and nights were for cleaning my glasses, often with some unsuitable material ("Will this wool sweater do the trick?"), which only made them look as if they were coated in margarine. It all made for a charming persona, really, but I wanted to free up some life space to take up a hobby, or at the very least free up some cash to buy new mascaras.

More than anything else, though, I deeply longed for that kind of mythical, fuss free, oh-thanks-I-literally-just-put-moisturizer-on, kind of beauty. The kind of beauty that I associate with the French, who roll out of bed, spritz some Klorane on their roots, and seize the day and a cigarette, while I immediately seize my glasses so as not to run into an offending coffee table. My ideal beauty routine is one in which expressions like, "slap some rouge on your cheeks" and, "throw on some concealer" abound. The expression, "toss some contact lenses on your eyeballs" just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

While at the surface these gripes seem superficial, they conspired to make everyday living slightly more tedious. So after 15 years of severe myopia (I was significantly nearsighted, with a prescription of -7 in both eyes), I at last caved and went under the Lasik knife.

Cue Dr. Mandel, the best Lasik eye surgeon in New York. Dr. Mandel is known for being a pioneer of Intralase Lasik, which uses a laser to create a corneal flap instead of the more traditional blade method. The corneal flap (thinner than a strand of human hair) is then lifted and the cornea is reshaped using another laser (the VISX STAR S4 Excimer, for you laser enthusiasts) to correct nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. Altogether, the procedure takes around 3-5 minutes per eye, and the surgery itself clocks in at around 10 minutes.

Initially, I was terrified that Lasik would leave me completely blind, but it turns out that there has been no incidence of blindness from Lasik surgery in the US. And even further, the risk of going blind from Lasik surgery is on par with going blind from wearing contact lenses.

With this fear out of the way, the rest of the one and a half hour consultation with Dr. Mandel was spent analyzing the shape and thickness of my corneas to determine if I was a candidate for Lasik, PRK (a slightly different procedure used for candidates who have thin corneas or dry eyes), or neither procedure. I then had my pupils dilated for another retinal examination, and lo and behold, after all the testing, I qualified for Lasik.

I scheduled my surgery for two weeks after my consultation (during which time contact lenses cannot be worn and lubricating eye drops must be frequently applied), and then promptly dumped my remaining Opti Free down the drain.

On the day of the surgery, my corneas were once again analyzed to obtain the most up-to-date measurements. Shortly after a brief stint in the relaxation room knocking my knees together, I headed over to the laser suite. I lay down in my chair, clutching a teddy bear while taking in the enormous whirring blinking machines in the surgical suite.

Disinfectant and numbing drops were added to my eyelid, and I was then asked to focus on a bright light as a lid holder was attached to my eye to keep it open while the other was taped shut (one eye is operated on a time). Afterwards, a suction device descended on my eyeball (which in reality was the most uncomfortable part of the procedure) and the Intralase Laser then created a flap using ultrashort laser pulses. If you want to know the plain truth, this was the most terrifying part of the procedure, as I temporarily went blind while the flap was lifted. But soon after, the VISX STAR S4 Excimer sculpted my corneas to perfection and my corneal flaps were re-attached, good as new.

After walking out of the Laser suite, I peered into the nearby courtyard and marveled at the clarity of the image before me, even more pristine than my eyesight had been with contact lenses; pigeons had never looked so good. I was then given some octogenarian-looking sunglasses to wear outside, and was immediately whisked away in a cab to take a six-hour beauty nap, doctor’s orders.

My vision was slightly blurred for the first day, but rapidly improved over the course of a week. My eyes felt a bit sandpapery for the first week, and I saw halos around bright lights at nighttime, but both symptoms have since disappeared completely. The most life-changing aspects of having Lasik are also the most mundane to the life-long haver of perfect vision: waking up and being able to see clearly; taking a nonchalant nap without worrying about the dreaded blurred vision; falling asleep on an overnight plane without the pit-stop to the bathroom to remove my lenses; and having more time to play around with my eyeliner and mascara in the morning. In addition, my vision is 20/15, which means I now meet the vision qualifications to become an Air Force Pilot, if I ever wanted a career change.

—Caroline Solomon

Caroline Solomon is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Photos by Tom Newton.

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  • http://www.atdorsia.com/ Eliza

    Thank you for this--so curious about Lasik! I need more details about the terrifying procedure though haha--do you, like, SEE a giant blade or something looming toward your eye before the lazer cuts your cornea? Do things keep coming near your eyes? And do the things that hold your eyes open hurt? Do your eyes try to blink against them?

    As evidenced above, I want Lasik but am SOOOOOO scared of it haha.

    • Caroline

      No blade in sight! I remember a microscope-looking device just kind of hovering over my eyeball with a faint laser beam shooting out of it. And the suction rings that keep your eyes open don't hurt at all! They are slightly uncomfortable but because your eyes are anesthetized at this point it really won't bother you at all, and the lid is fixed to your eye in such a way that it is impossible to blink. Hope this helps!

  • Molly

    Oh god that sounds terrifying!! I would need a glass of wine first (rather a bottle).

  • Mina

    Thanks for this, Caroline! Are you at liberty to discuss the costs of the procedure? I am blind as a bat (-7 and -7.50), but have never really considered LASIK ...

  • Alexandra Puffer

    Applauding your courage! It's a difficult decision and glasses can be so cute- but I've never had to wear them and I can imagine the daily hastle as you've described to grow old very quickly. Excited for you & your new vision.

  • Sarah Wright

    I had LASIK two years ago and it has been one of the best decisions ever!

  • Catherine Théberge

    I am considering lasik sooo bad in the next two years!! I can't wear contacts anymore because my eyes cannot tolerate them (I wore them nostop for 6 years) Now 2 years later I am always worrying I'll drop my glasses, or broke them in a workout classe by slapping myself in the face (already happen..fail). It would be so much easier for sports and in the crazy canadian winter when I can see nothing because It is snowing to much!! And luckily in canada the government (federal and provincial) both repay 20% and 15% of the procedures!! I am waiting till I am 25 years old and I will take the plunge!

  • Andrea Kempfer de Vos

    Caroline, isn't it just amazing?? Getting LASIK was one of the best decisions of my life. Everyone says this, but really, it is life-changing. I, too, went to Dr. Mandel, and he is the best. Your details brought back memories... the relaxation room (nice touch on their part, btw), clutching the teddy bear, looking in the courtyard afterward. So worth it!

  • tera

    yes, my main concern is worse vision. I have a -10.5 and -8.0 prescription and am afraid contacts will not be made for me anymore if it gets worse! I have had them on my eyes everyday since I was 7 years old :( Poor me. How will Lasik work when you get older though- since then nearsighted /reading vision typically gets worse?

  • Cynthia

    Just a question, I've been considering Lasik for a while now but I was wondering if your doctor gave you any recommendations on the ideal age or any age restrictions on getting the procedure done?

  • Jan

    For those of us who are unable to/afraid to do Lasik, remember - we should be grateful we have soft contacts today. They used to be hard plastic, and before that, there were only glasses!

  • http://vanitypresse.com/ Amanda Raponi

    What about night vision? Any problems there?

  • Paulina Villalpando

    Most people I know have had positive experiences. Your doctor should let you know if you are a good candidate or not. It is very unlikely that it will go wrong if you were suitable in the first place.

  • Cinamaron

    Though the idea of clear vision 100% of the time is really appealing the actual Lasik process really freaks me out. I don't know if I could hold it together well enough to get it!

    I like my glasses though, I feel like they balance my face out.

  • Caroline

    Yes, I got the faintest smell of something burning, but the smell is actually from the chemical reaction occurring between the laser and the cornea. Was a little unpleasant, but would still do it all over agin.

  • Caroline

    It's between $1,000 and $3,000 depending on your Lasik doctor.

  • kurohana

    I had horrible vision was completely helpless without glasses and i got LASIK my advise to you is to spend the money on a GOOD doctor i spent $6600 on the doctor it was completely worth it. It was the Maloney Vision Institute in LA. dont go for deal or a cheap doctor these are your eyes put them in good hands

  • bella19

    Did you (or has anyone on this board who has had LASIK done) experience extremely red and bloodshot eyes for a couple of weeks after the procedure? A coworker had LASIK done and had bright red eyes for weeks afterward. His eyes did clear up eventually, but it has frightened me off of getting LASIK myself (maybe I'm too vain for it?). This article is making me reconsider, though, because your experience sounds like it went very smoothly!

    • Caroline

      Yes, I experienced bloodshot eyes for the first week and a half (which is caused by the pressure of the suction cups), but it was not bad at all and also not painful. I just wore sunglasses indoors and outdoors for awhile. Might have looked a little bizarre with my sunglasses on at restaurants, but in the grander scheme, totally not a big deal.

  • kurohana

    i had LASIK but i went to a good doctor to have it done. The doctor never promised me perfect vision forever, my eye sight will go from 20/20 to maybe the need for reading glasses as i get older. I had worse eyesight than you and ended up with 20.15 vision after it was all said and done i also had astigmatism in both eyes and they actually fixed that too. The laser doesnt hurt you dont feel a thing its not scary at all. i went to the maloney vision institute in LA and they were great

  • Aracelis

    My uncle was one of the first people to do LASIK with Dr. Mandel, 25+ years later his vision is still perfect. I'm debating getting it, scared mostly

  • http://ontheeleventh.wordpress.com/ Ess Tee

    Just a point of correction--LASIK hasn't only become popular in the last five years. I'm 34 now, and I know that I was considering it back when I was in college because there was so much in the news about it.

    Someone I know did end up getting it when we were in our early 20s. His brother did the surgery as well not long after.

  • Catherine Théberge

    This is exactly how it felt when I was putting my contacts back then...I always felt a little discomfort (like a grain of salt like you said) and when I got my eyes examined the doc told me that on a scale of 4 being the most allergic I was 3,5 -.-. Dammit. I also love to wear my glasses but I would like to be able to choose when I wanna wear them and they are indeed really annoying for sports and a lot of activities! I have tried to calculate how much it would cost and it is also something like 3000 to 3500$ I just finished my bacm in public communication but still going for a year in marketing and I am leaving with my parents so I am saving money for when I will leave at the end of the school year but when I will find a stable job I am so getting my eyes fixe!

  • Leetoki

    THANK YOU.

  • Cindy-Leigh Murphy

    I had Lasik surgery about 8 years ago, and My vision was -12.6 and -12.4 with astigmatism. I just wanted my vision to improve enough that I could wear thinner lenses; I never thought I would be able to wear contact lenses again because I had also developed near sighted from being over 40. For example, if I wore contacts I still couldn't see clearly at a distance, and I needed reading glasses to see close up or to read; if I wore glasses I could see a little better at a distance but I couldn't see close up because I needed reading glasses for that.
    I end to the best Lasik surgeon in Toronto and the next day I had 20/15 vision as well! I was lucky and my eyes just felt tired and scratchy for a day, and the first morning after the surgery everything looked like it had a layer of fog floating above it but it dissipated pretty quickly. It was a little odd wearing sunglasses to bed for a week or so to protect my eyes and to prevent me from scrunching my face in the pillow, but it was So Worth It!! For me the most amazing thing was to be able to see textures; I could see colour but it was always for of soft and fuzzy, when I looked out the window and could see the texture of a brick wall across the street I was absolutely shocked.
    As long as you go to a reputable surgeon there is nothing to fear; it will be one of the best things you will ever do for yourself. Just take my advice and if the surgeon tries to tell you what he or she is doing as the surgery is being performed, ask them to stop talking. My Dr. was talking lasers and cutting eye flaps as I heard the sound of a bug zapper (the laser), and smelled bar-b-que ( and realized the cooked meat was me), and finally told him there wasn't enough mystery in the world and that I didn't need a play by play. Other than that it was a dawdle, getting a bikini wax is more traumatic.

    • maashmaah

      Can I ask who did your procedure?

  • Duff

    I got it about 12 years ago, and in the past year my distance vision has started going to complete shit again, at an alarming rate. My optometrist just shrugs and says, "It only lasts for 10 years or so. They've known that for a long time." Well, glad they told me about that.

  • Erica Rae Deutsch

    this is probably a bit of an irrational fear buuuut...were you ever concerned that you would move your eyeball on accident as the laser is cutting the flap open?...then potentially laser the fuck out of your eyeball?....then go blind completely?!

    ...like i said, irrational, yet still strong enough to prevent me from even asking my dr about it. in all seriousness though, this is a great description, really takes away the scary ambiguity of what actually happens during the procedure for those of us with a bit of "medical anxiety"

    • Caroline

      I had the same question! But fear not. The laser is so precise and has iris registration and tracking technology built into it so if your eye moves even in the slightest it will relay that information to the laser.

      • Erica Rae Deutsch

        that is such a relief!

  • LJIS

    Hi- I am nearing 40 and my eye doc told me that if I get Lasik to correct my near-sightedness, I will immediately need reading glasses. Because my eyes are at that stage. If they correct the distance, I lose the close-up. So, that is a deterrent once you get older. The other option is to do myopia where you get one eye corrected for distance and leave one slightly less corrected to use for reading up close. But this sounds hectic. So, contacts most of the time, glasses on quiet evenings or cloudy days for me. GRRRRR.

  • LJIS

    Wanted to add this: I recently met w a girl who had Lasik and did not take her sunglasses off during our (indoor) meeting. I asked her what was up, and she said since she had Lasik, her eyes were very dry, and in her sleep sometimes her eyelids "got stuck" to something (cornea?) and tore, requiring her to put lubricating drops in for a few days until they healed. She told me this happens to her periodically. While most people have great results, things like this can happen...

  • Alxxx

    Ha, the Lasik dilemma. I was diagnosed with slight myopia (-3.25, but still incapacitating) when I was 8, and switched to almost full-time monthly contacts at 14. My teen self was relieved but over the years the pain of hiking to the optician, buying products and throwing away 2 weeks-old contacts because I had forgotten said products and couldn't store them for the night really started to annoy me. Enter daily contacts, Internet-ordered, office-delivered, and most of all ALWAYS CLEAN. However since these aren't cheap, and wearing contacts everyday isn't recommended, I've started alternating with glasses more frequently, on Sundays or "low days" at work. Considering the price of 20 years of daily contacts, getting Lasik would probably make financial sense. But even though I like myself better without glasses, I still feel that I'm a glasses-wearing person, like my dad and my brother. It's just part of who I am, and I feel I would somehow "betray" the little girl with ridiculous turquoise-and-purple glasses (yes) that I was. Has anyone had that feeling, especially those with severe myopia? Didn't it feel like you were losing a part of your identity?

  • Belle

    Completely terrified of lasers shooting in eyeballs just to possibly have worse vision! On top of all this, I have incredibly dry eyes - whoa is me! Hopefully I will be a bit more fearless in a few years time!
    PRK...hmm...how come no one talks about that?

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