Here’s What Happens When You Get Laser Eye Surgery
Laser eye surgery is something I’d been wanting to do for years, but it scared the heck out of me.
Just thinking about a laser slicing into my eyeballs gave me the shivers. My fear arose partly from not knowing what to expect: I wondered what exactly happens when you get laser eye surgery? And what if something goes wrong?
Despite the fear that had been holding me back, the allure of being able to see without corrective lenses finally did me in last year.
I’d had a prescription to correct my nearsightedness since my early teens when I confessed to my parents that I couldn’t see the blackboard at the front of the classroom. By my late 20s, my eyesight had deteriorated to the point where I could only see about four inches in front of me without wearing corrective lenses. Beyond that, the world was blurry.
I had always felt uncomfortable wearing prescription glasses because I didn’t like having a frame around my vision. So, after decades of wearing contact lenses all day, every day, and only taking them out to sleep—seriously, don’t do this—my eyes had become bloodshot and very dry. I was beginning to develop what’s known as corneal neovascularization, where the blood vessels in my eyeballs overgrow because of the lack of oxygen to the cornea.
Making matters worse was the fact that my eyes were parched and irritated from spending so much time indoors during the COVID-19 lockdown.
I decided I was finally ready to seriously consider laser eye surgery.
LASIK consult and procedure day
After consulting with my optometrist about the procedure and its risks, she referred me to a laser eye clinic. There, I was put through a few simple eye tests to make sure I was a good candidate for bladeless LASIK, the standard laser eye procedure—and thankfully I was.
After one last consult with the clinic’s eye specialist, I was directed to a waiting room, where I nervously sat for about 20 minutes watching other patients go in and out of the surgery area before it was finally my turn.
As freaky as laser eye surgery seemed, in reality, it was not that bad.
When I walked into the operating room, the lights were dim and there was music playing—it was laid-back jazz—and I was directed to lay down on the operating table. The surgeon added numbing drops to my eyes and spoke in a soft voice as he asked me to take slow breaths in and out to help control my breathing and relax. Like any good, attentive doctor, he could sense that I was nervous—a common affliction among laser-eye patients.
The table I was laying on automatically moved to the first machine (it’s a two-step process) and the surgeon placed a device against the eye socket of my left eye to hold my eyelid open.
This is the part they warn you about because it pressurizes your eyes and your vision goes black. It’s scary when it first happens, but it only lasts for a brief period. Within about 20 seconds, the laser machine created a flap on my cornea—the transparent dome-shaped surface of the eye—in order to make the correction on the inner layer of the eye. My right eye was done in the same way.
When that uncomfortable contraption that held my eyes open was removed, I could see again.
The tension in my body slowly eased as the surgeon taped my eyelids open with some soft surgical tape, and the chair automatically moved to the second laser machine. He then used a small medical sponge that looked like a soft Q-Tip to fold over the hinged flap to expose the corneal tissue underneath. Though I couldn’t feel a thing, I could see the slow wiping motion of the sponge, like the windshield wipers on a car.
The second laser was used to make the correction. While that’s happening, you’re looking up at green and red lights and there are quiet little beeps and flashes of light while it’s doing its thing. This takes about a minute for each eye.
Finally, the surgeon uses another Q-tip-shaped sponge to manually fold the flaps back over. There’s something about the natural self-adhering magic of our eyeballs that holds the flaps in place as they heal over the next couple of days.
Immediately after surgery, my vision was just a little blurry and I felt like I had sand in my eyes. I was given aviator-style sunglasses to wear for the next week because my eyes were extra sensitive to light at this stage. And then I went home and took a long nap.
The recovery time
The recovery process was pretty simple. It consisted of resting my eyes as much as possible—which meant staying away from computer, phone, and TV screens—and applying antibiotic, steroid, and lubricating eye drops every couple of hours.
I also had several follow-up appointments with my optometrist as my vision slowly settled to where it’s supposed to be.
In those first few weeks, I had to be cautious not to rub my eyes and be extra careful when washing my face to avoid getting anything in my eyes—and of course, eye makeup was a no-go.
I have to admit that I got a little emotional when I woke up the next day and noticed my clear vision. After decades of blurry mornings, I felt like a medical miracle had given me my sight back, and I wish I had done it sooner (like, two decades sooner).
Though it is a fundamental change in my life that has completely eliminated my everyday lens-cleaning routine and all adverse symptoms of contact lens overwear, it quickly became the status quo and I often find myself taking it for granted.
Now, about six months post-op, the halos I see around street lights at night are finally disappearing—it’s the most common side effect while recovering from LASIK—and I still catch myself having moments of clarity that take my breath away.
It’s those moments when I look at the view from my window and can see the crisp outline of trees for miles, and when I can duck my head in the cold water of a lake without worrying about losing a lens, that makes LASIK so worth it to me.