Me, Myself and Eye: My PRK Journey Diary and Tips

Disclosure: This post about PRK is in partnership with EyeCare 20/20. I received free laser surgery in exchange for honest coverage of my experience. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.

If there is one thing that never crossed my mind when I was heading in for my LASIK consultation,  it was the fact that I may not be a candidate for regular LASIK. Full of excitement at the thought of never being dependent on my glasses or contacts again, my biggest question was how soon I would be able to schedule my procedure!

And then I heard the muttering of the dreaded words no one considering LASIK wants to hear, “After reviewing your tests, I do not feel you are a candidate for LASIK.”

BOOM! (I felt those words deep down in the pit of my stomach like a sucker punch)

OUCH!

I did not see that one coming! I hadn’t considered the fact that I may not be a candidate, and I stared in disbelief as my surgeon explained that he was not comfortable performing LASIK on me due to the extreme irregularities of my astigmatisms.

“I am not a good candidate for LASIK – Now what?!”

My disappointment swallowed me as I thought to myself, “Does this mean that I will be stuck wearing contacts or glasses for the rest of my life?”

My heart literally sank and I am sure the look of disappointment on my face said more than any words I could have muttered.

Dr. Silverman shot me a “cheer up buttercup” glance.

Ahhh. Could this mean there is an alternative option?

He immediately explained to me that although I was not a candidate for LASIK, I could be a candidate for PRK (photorefractive keratectomy).  PRK was actually the first laser eye surgery.  It differs from LASIK in that although both LASIK and PRK use a laser to reshape the cornea, the major difference is that LASIK creates a flap in the cornea, whereas PRK removes the cornea’s entire outer layer.  Because of the need for the epithelial cell layer to naturally regenerate, PRK has a longer recovery (from several weeks to several months), often involving more pain or discomfort due to the regeneration and recovering of the surface cells.  When it comes to vision results, PRK and LASIK results are nearly identical, with most patients seeing between 20/20 and 20/40 after surgery.

The thing my surgeon stressed most about PRK was the LONGER RECOVERY TIME! I remember asking numerous times if he could explain what that means.  He could only assure me that PRK, unlike LASIK, is a process, and healing times can vary from person to person.  Healing can take anywhere from several weeks to several months.  Unlike with LASIK, with PRK patients will not be able to see perfectly the next day.  Achieving optimum vision post PRK takes time.  He assured me that the majority of people are able to drive within a few weeks but that too can vary depending on how quickly (or slowly) the eyes continue to heal. This was probably the thing that worried me the most.  As a busy mom who drives a car full of kids to and from activities almost every day and who works almost exclusively on a computer, I hesitated to make the commitment due to the fact that I had no idea how long I would be unable to drive or work. He encouraged me to go home and take some time to think about my new option.  This was going to be a much longer process.  It was time to decide if I was willing and able to make the commitment. Either way, I had no doubt that there was no one I trusted more than Dr. Silverman to perform my surgery if I did indeed decide to go ahead with the procedure.

So I went home and did what most people considering PRK do – I  hopped on my computer and starting reading everything I possibly could.  And I almost changed my mind! (Psst – Don’t let everything you read scare you!!!)

Yet something in me still wasn’t quite ready to give up hope. I reached out to friends and located several people that I personally knew that had PRK.  I talked to them about their experiences and I listened to their advice.  The consensus was that the surgery and recovery was a bit longer than expected but each one agreed they would certainly do it all over again – simply for the long term results they are enjoying today.  And with that I had a complete change of heart and booked my surgery!

Surgery

The day of surgery my nerves set in.  Thankfully Dr. Silverman’s staff was calming and talked me through the process.  I was given a Valium and numbing eye drops.  The Valium made me feel as if I had drank a glass of wine -calm and relaxed but awake and alert.  Before starting the process, the doctor had me look at the clock and calendar in the room without my glasses and asked me the time and date, both which were a complete blur.  I literally laughed out loud at both questions, “The last time I could see either without glasses was when I was 10-years-old!”

I must say – the most amazing thing about laser eye surgery was how quick and painless the procedure was! Unbelievably, each eye only took a few minutes to complete!

Laying on my back, I was told to keep my eye focused on the laser.  The surgery began with the surgeon clamping my eyelids open.  I could barely feel anything as my eyes were numb and I thought it would be more uncomfortable, but surprisingly it was not.  Next there were a series of cold sprays of solutions that cleaned and cleared the eye.  This happened off and on several times during the procedure.  Some of the colder solutions were a bit uncomfortable but the feeling was quick and over within seconds.  When it came time to remove the epithelial layer, the doctor used a brush like buffering tool to gently scrape away the layer.  In a matter of seconds it was complete and additional solution was applied.  The laser correction began (during this time the laser did create an odd scent which I can only describe as burning hair that lasted literally for a few seconds) and once complete the surgeon swiped away additional debris before once again cleaning the eyes with more solution.  When finished he applied the bandage contact lens and removed the eye clamp.  Next it was time to repeat the process on the other eye.  I was both amazed and amused by the whole process!

Post surgery, Dr. Silverman asked me the same question he asked when I first came in that morning.  He asked me to turn around and look at the clock and calendar and tell him the time and date. Seeing that clearly for the first time since I was a child filled me with emotion.

Here is a peek at my reaction:

I cannot begin to describe the feeling of being able to see the entire room clearly without depending on anything other than my very own eyes.  Nothing short of amazing!

At my follow up visit the day after surgery my eyes were already reading 20/40 – How wonderful is that?

And how awesome is my absolutely incredible laser eye surgeon, Dr. Cary Silverman? He is as sweet and kind as he is brilliant and talented!

Days 1-3

The days that followed surgery were a series of ups and downs.

Hibernate in a Dark, Bear Cave-Like Room

Sleep, Eye Drops, Meds, Eat, Sleep, Repeat

That was my first 3 days in a nutshell. 

Days 2 and 3 were pretty rough.  I spent the majority of those days in my dark bedroom.  Even the smallest bit of light was overwhelming.  I remember the first day walking down to my kitchen to get myself a cup of tea and I almost fell to the floor from the sunlight pouring in through the kitchen window.  To call it unbearable is an understatement.  My husband had to scramble to find a blanket to cover the window so I could comfortably use my kitchen while my eyes were healing. Sunglasses were a must around any and all light, and I found that the need for those sunglasses continued well into week 8 – even indoors! I now wear my sunglasses whenever heading outdoors and will continue to do so at all times! As far as pain – I expected the worst, but I was lucky – I had NONE! The most I dealt with were small bouts of tearing that felt like mild burning as if I was cutting onions.  The feeling would intermittently come and go. But I honestly never had pain! I found that keeping my eyes closed as much as possible and getting plenty of rest on those first 3 days as well as keeping up with my eye drops and pain medications helped to keep me both comfortable and pain free!

Day 4

On day 4 I returned to Dr. Silverman’s office where again my eyes were reading 20/40 and amazingly not only was I told that my epithelial layer had already healed, but he was able to remove my bandage contact lenses and that he would not need to see me again for another week!  He was extremely impressed with my progress.  Although the light sensitivity was increasing at this point, I, too, was super excited about how well I was seeing so shortly after surgery!

Doctor did stress to me that things would surely get worse before they would get better! (Ugh – I knew things were feeling too good to be true!)

The Next Few Weeks

I spent the majority of the first week at home resting and relaxing.  My new routine included frequently using rewetting drops to keep my eyes moistened and taking Vitamin C tablets twice a day to promote good eye health and healing. Although after the first 4 days I was able to do most of my routine activities around the house such as cooking and laundry, etc., adjusting to my new eyes was a long and sometimes frustrating process.  I was hoping by week two I would be able to drive but I found that as a passenger in the car my eyes had difficulty focusing due to a combination of the sunlight and glare during the day and the brightness of the headlights at night and the movement from the car. And even when outside walking the light was overpowering and I needed to not only wear sunglasses but also a hat – and sometimes even a hood too! I felt as if there were days my eyes felt as if they were playing tricks on me.  I would wake up and they would be feeling good.  I would start out my day as usual only to find my eyes steadily decrease or worsen and blur, tear or become fuzzy as the day would go on. I also found that I needed more rest than usual.  I assume this was all part of the healing process, but it wasn’t something I had expected to experience weeks into my recovery (although the doctor did warn me from the start that the healing of the eyes is a long tedious process and that I needed to be patient).  It took me a full 7-8 weeks before I was fully comfortable to drive. This, along with the inability to use my computer for more than short periods of time due to light sensitivity, was by far my toughest part of the recovery period. Throughout the recovery I found the light sensitivity to be the most frustrating.  There is something bizarre about walking into your child’s winter concert at school at night and not being able to watch it without wearing your sunglasses or heading out to a fancy dinner to celebrate your Mom’s retirement but sitting at the table with your sunglasses on while all of the people at the tables around you proceed to stare and wonder why.  And boy is that light sensitivity uncomfortable!  Trying to stare at a computer screen when your eyes are light sensitive is a little like trying to look into the sun at its peak mid day. (Yep – it’s like one of those “Don’t try this at home” kind of deals!)  It was not easy but in the long haul thankfully with a little help from my husband, parents and friends (whom I cannot thank enough) I was able to make it work. And despite the bumps in the road, I was still over the moon about my new clearer vision and constantly reminding myself that the recovery period was necessary and temporary in order for the long term benefits to shine through!

2 Months Later

And now here I am a little over 2 months post op and my eyes continue to feel better and clearer every day. At each post op visit my eyes have continued to improve and at my most recent I was told my vision is now almost 20/20 in both eyes (I am still straining a little with the left eye but it is getting there).  I should mention I do need reading glasses now for reading.  It’s one of the lowest over the counter prescriptions they sell and (at 44) I am totally OK with the fact that I only need them for reading.  Dr. Silverman mentioned that as my vision continues to improve the need for the reading glasses may also decrease, so I am holding out hope for that as well.  I am back to driving and working on my computer and my light sensitivity has dramatically decreased.  All in all, despite the set backs and longer than anticipated recovery period, I must agree – this is by far one of the absolute best decisions I could have ever made.  Laser eye surgery is absolutely life changing and I could not be happier with my new vision. My world has never looked more beautiful! I still cannot believe that I get to wake up everyday and enjoy my life free of glasses and contacts!

Since I am hoping my journey is helpful to others out there considering PRK, I decided to put together a list of tips that I thought may be helpful from my own experience:

 

  • Before selecting your surgeon, be sure to do plenty of research. Check that the surgeon you are considering is board certified and experienced. Bring a list of questions and be sure you are comfortable and trust him or her. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Your eyes are precious and deserve the best care possible.
  • If your surgeon’s office is a distance from your home (EyeCare 20/20 , is approximately 2 hours away from my home), it may be worth considering booking a hotel room the night of surgery. The day after PRK, you must return to the surgeon’s office for a check up and it is nice to be able to go right to the hotel after the procedure to rest and get a good night sleep.  In the morning you then do not need to awake extra early to take a long drive back to the office to see the doctor.
  • Be prepared by taking your prescriptions to the pharmacy several days prior to your surgery to be filled.  You do not want any surprises such as the pharmacy not having your medication in stock or your insurance not covering the costs of the prescription.  Always give yourself a few extra days to iron out any discrepanices in case they arise.  And be sure to write a reminder note to bring your medicine with you the day of surgery.
  • For at least three full days following the surgery, you will pretty much want to be in a room with complete darkness.  Your eyes will be extra sensitive to light and you will spend much of the next few days sleeping. Be prepared by covering windows in the rooms you will be staying with darkening curtains, blankets or towels (you may want to consider doing this in rooms you frequent downstairs as well) BEFORE your surgery.
  • Invest in a good pair of polarized sunglasses.  You will need them at all times both inside and outside whenever you are near light to protect your eyes and you will continue to wear these long after your eyes have completely healed.
  • Stock up on books on tape and download an amazing music playlist.  You will not be able to watch TV, read your smart phone or use your computer during the beginning of your recovery.
  • Recruit a friend, family member or partner with you the day of surgery and the first few days post op.  It’s comforting to not only have help with things that may be a little more difficult than usual while you are not feeling your best, but you will also need someone to drive you around for the next few days and weeks, take you to your appointments and just keep your spirits up!
  • Keep up with your pain medicine and eye drops as directed by the doctor.  If you stay on top of the pain medicine, you are less likely to have pain!
  • Prepare for necessary time off from work and be aware that everyone’s healing time is different. Prepare by having back up drivers for yourself and/or children if needed for work or school if it takes longer than needed to get back to your regular driving routine.  Also be prepared for your eyes to tire easily in the first few weeks post op.
  • Keep a journal of your progress and make notes for your follow up visits with the surgeon.  Additionally use this journal to channel your thoughts and remind yourself that this journey is a process and that the end result is worth the set backs.

I hope my  journey is able to help others out there considering or getting ready for PRK!  Feel free to leave me a comment with any questions you may have.  I would be happy to answer them as best I can! I know that the experiences and advice of friends who had already been through the PRK experience really helped me before my surgery.  I hope I, too, can be a help to others ready to take the journey.

Follow the links below to read through my whole journey!

Me, Myself and Eye: Setting My Sight on a Clearer, Brighter 2018 With Laser Eye Surgery – The First Step

Me, Myself and Eye: Setting My Sight on a Clearer, Brighter 2018 With Laser Eye Surgery – LASIK vs PRK



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