Curious Jordy

Curious Jordy Goes To Get PRK Laser Eye Surgery

Big news in Curious Jordy land, folks!

Your humble correspondent has just gone in for PRK Laser Eye Surgery so that you, my esteemed readers, get a chance to know what this procedure is all about.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ll admit, the main reason I went in to get PRK was to get my eyes fixed because I’m sick and tired of dealing with contacts and glasses all the time. But rest assured, the joy of sharing the experience with my legions of blog fans was not far behind on my list of motivators.

First, the facts…

What/Where/How/When

I went in for a type of laser eye surgery known as PRK (more on the difference between that and Lasik below). My eye doctor (Dr. Ratinoff, in Palo Alto) referred me to Dr. Furlong of Furlong Vision Correction based in San Jose.

I was near-sighted with a prescription of -3.5 and -4 in left and right eye, respectively.

Dr. Furlong came highly recommended – according to the latest U.S. News rankings, he is “miles ahead” of his competition. To be precise, Furlong is reportedly exactly 1/8 of a mile ahead of his competition. (Get it? Furlong… 220 yards… 1/8 of a mile. Ha! And if you think that joke was painful, try getting laser eye surgery! Haha!)

In all seriousness, though, I chose Dr. Furlong for my surgery because 1) he was recommended by my eye doctor, 2) his operation seemed well-run and professional, and 3) he seemed personable and I felt that I could trust him on a gut level.  I made this gut level assessment in the few minutes we chatted pre-surgery. In the initial interview, I mentioned that I was considering other doctors and asked him there were any other surgeons he would recommend. If he had gotten defensive or angry, he would have lost credibility in my eyes (no pun intended, this time). But he graciously suggested another doctor at Stanford Hospital. +5 points for Dr. Furlong.

The surgery took place 5 days ago, on December 18. 18 is a lucky number in the Jewish tradition, so I thought I might as well schedule surgery for that day. (Yes, for those who are wondering, I am Jewish. Half-Jewish, technically. What, you couldn’t tell by my nose?)

Laser eye surgery isn’t cheap. At Dr. Furlong’s the cost for my PRK procedure was $5200, although I was able to get it reduced to $4600 because I got some kind of VSP plan deal through my optometrist. That’s definitely a chunk of change upfront. But if I think about paying hundreds of dollars every year or two for glasses and contacts, it makes a bit more financial sense.

PRK versus LASIK

There are two main kinds of laser eye surgery these days: PRK and LASIK. PRK stands for “Photo Refractive Keratectomy” and LASIK stands for “Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis.” I have no idea what those terms mean, either.

The basic difference as I understand it is that in LASIK, the surgeon will make a small incision in the cornea, creating a “corneal flap”, this flap will be pulled away and then the laser will go to town on the corneal tissue underneath. Whereas in PRK, no corneal flap is made – instead, the surgeon just scrapes away some cells from the top of the cornea and then the laser blasts away. LASIK heals faster than PRK and was my preferred option. The only catch is that because LASIK involves messing with the cornea, you need to have corneas that are thick enough such that there will still be enough left after surgery. Apparently my cornea thickness did not measure up, so I was strongly encouraged/forced to go the PRK route. More info here.

What it feels like to get PRK laser eye surgery

My friend Liz graciously volunteered to drive me to surgery and back. (Thanks, Liz!) She’s in med school, and her only condition for schlepping me down to San Jose and back was that she wanted to see the surgery. I checked with Dr. Furlong’s office and sure enough, they have a waiting room where friends and family can watch the surgery take place. They even have a big screen TV showing my eyeball in hi-def the whole time. Freaky!

On the day of surgery, I showed up, filled out the various forms signing my life away, and was offered to take a mild sedative, which I promptly accepted. Being offered a mind-altering substance in the name of science was just too good an opportunity for Curious Jordy to pass up. Then, I slowly munched on the chocolate which they had offered and waited. And waited. After waiting around for what felt like an hour (and actually probably was an hour), it was my turn to go under the excimer laser knife.

I walked in to the surgery room, waved to Liz, saw Dr. Furlong and two or three assistants, and then laid down on the surgery chair/bed chair. While Dr. Furlong was still friendly, I sensed a very brisk and clinical atmosphere in the room, like him and his assistants were working together as a highly practiced team. There was a hint of warmth when he addressed me and gave me instructions or information (“Now I’m putting in some eye drops”) but overall the attitude was all professional, all the time. Which actually suited me just fine. I’m all for the human touch and for joking around, but if you’re about to zap my eyes with frikkin laser beams, I can do with a little cold professionalism.

My memory as to the exact order of events is a little hazy, but basically what happened is the doctors put in a little device to force my eyes open. Then they subjected me to some kind of psychedelic light show, whose purpose was either to induce an acid flashback or to take some measurements. Then, they gave me a bunch of eye drops of various kinds. The main one being numbing drops, which were important because the next step involved the surgeon literally scraping off the top bits of my eyeball with a glorified spatula. This sounds like it would be a rather horrifying experience, but I actually didn’t feel a thing. I remember seeing him make brushing or scraping motions on my eye, but that’s it. At the time, I didn’t actually realize that’s what was happening, and that’s probably a good thing.

After scraping off the top of my eyeball, it was time for the main event. FRIKKIN LASER BEAMS, PEOPLE! I was pretty excited for this part of the surgery, to be honest. And it didn’t disappoint. I was instructed to keep my gaze focused on the red dot above me at all times. I’m not sure what would happen if I looked away, but I had a vision of my eyeball erupting in a giant laser fireball. So I did my best to stay focused.

Then the laser started doing its thing, and it felt like my eyeball was being pummeled by very tiny little punches or gusts of wind. Pockmarks. The doctor counted up “10… 20 seconds… 30 seconds…” As he counted, I noticed that I was getting less and less able to focus on the red dot above me. I’m not sure what was actually going on with that, but I had the impression that this was due to my eye being reshaped – my point of focus was literally changing in front of my eyes.

Then, the surgery for that eye was over. But, i wasn’t off the hook yet. They then had to wash out my eye with some kind of liquid, maybe just distilled water. The first pass was quite cold, and I could feel my body instinctively try to brace itself as this cold water splashed into my eye. Of course I couldn’t not close my eyelids because the clamp was still in place. Then, they put in some MORE water, and the second time it was even colder. It was cold enough to be a mild shock to my system. I took a couple deep breaths, which seemed to help. Apparently this cold water shock technique is useful for reducing swelling.

Afer that, they covered up the eye with an eye patch and tt was time to rinse and repeat the whole routine for my other eye.

10 minutes later, start to finish, I was done! They took off the bandages and I opened my eyes. I could see! Not perfectly, but already far better than I was able to see before without glasses. I walked out of the surgery room, excited to have survived the scariest part.

After surgery

An assistant gave me a goodie bag with eye drops and instructions. Basically, you get some antibiotic eye drops, some to reduce inflammation, and some all-important lubricating drops. The lubricating drops are critical because apparently the eye’s tear ducts are not working properly while the eye heals, so you need to keep a steady flow of lubrication coming in or the healing won’t happen as well.

It has now been 5 days since the surgery, and my eyes have been getting better slowly. My vision is still far from perfect, and it fluctuates. At times I see quite well, typically right after I put in some lubricating drops, but most of the time my distance vision is not so great still.  Apparently this is normal for PRK surgery – it can take several weeks for vision to mostly stabilize, and up to two or three months for it to settle down completely.

The most frustrating part has been my inability to focus on a book or a computer screen until today. I’ve been reduced to sleeping, meditating, listening to audiobooks, and gossiping with friends. It’s been great, but I’m really looking forward to getting back in the swing of things.

I’m happy that today I’ve been able to use a computer again for the first time, although it is still somewhat difficult and my eyes are a little tired from this blog post.  On that note, it’s time for me to put in some more of those lubricating eye drops. Stay tuned for a follow-up post when my eyes are rocking again