If I added up the amount of time I spent fooling with my eyes for a good 15 years, I’d probably gain a solid few months back. But then I had LASIK 10 years ago next month, and my travel life completely changed for the better.
So when the American Refractive Surgery Council came to us and asked me to share my story about my own vision correction procedure, I jumped on it; after all, I’m constantly coaching friends and hand-holding fellow bloggers through their own LASIK journeys, so it seemed about time to share mine.
This post is sponsored by the American Refractive Surgery Council (ARSC). All LASIK-related procedures and costs incurred were my own.
I was just nine years old when my optometrist diagnosed me as near-sighted. I was given glasses with pink frames but never wore them because what fourth-grader wants to be singled out as “that geek” in class? (That probably wasn’t the actual case, but that’s what my nine-year-old self unjustly thought.)
I managed to “lose” my glasses, so the following year, my mom allowed me to switch to soft contact lenses, which weren’t awful but still inconvenient at best, particularly as I was just in the fifth grade. They would get folded going in, or worse, tear; I’d blink and they’d fall out. Sometimes, it would take me 15 minutes to get both of them in place properly, by which point my eyes were inflamed and irritated. From the time I could walk, I played every sport imaginable on a competitive level, so I’d be in South Carolina on the softball field when a torpedo of dust would cloud my vision and get stuck to my lens or at a basketball tournament in Atlanta when a post would come down on a rebound and elbow me in the eye, knocking out my contact. For an active kid, neither contacts or glasses were an ideal option.
I was in middle school when my doctor put me on a medical trial: corrective hard lenses that reshaped my cornea and were described to me as “braces for my eyes.” The premise was that, eventually, I’d be able to just wear them at night and then go all day without them. This was a temporary solution, but not a long-term fix, so it’s no surprise that two decades later, this type of care has long been overshadowed by laser vision correction. There would be nights I wouldn’t sleep great, and I’d wake up with subpar vision. A time or two I even scratched my cornea, meaning I had to go a few days without wearing the corrective lenses, and I was basically back to blind.
All that to say, from ages nine into my 20s, my life revolved around how my eyes decided to behave on that given day. It was mildly inconvenient as a teen, but then became downright unbearable when I started traveling for a living.
My mom had always encouraged me to pursue LASIK—after all, the success rate is astounding—and I started seriously considering it after graduating college. My roommate underwent it during our senior year, and I saw how easy and painless it was. I wanted to wake up with perfect vision, too—assuming I was a candidate, that is. But then I went to live abroad for a year, a year plagued with an eyelid infection that meant I couldn’t wear any kind of contacts, period, and the idea got pushed further back on the calendar. When I returned, I started seeing my optometrist every few weeks to make sure my vision wasn’t regressing. She made me forgo the hard lenses for six months to make sure my vision was truly stable before she could determine I was a candidate. She gave me the preliminary go-ahead, but ultimately my ophthalmologist in Nashville would have to make that call.
So at 24, I made an appointment to have LASIK.
In those months leading up to it, contact lenses were prohibited, so I reverted to wearing glasses for the first time since I was a kid, and while I didn’t hate it, it was definitely a pain when I was partaking in some of my favorite activities like running or diving; I basically had to do both semi-blind. I had never been so ready to go into a procedure in my life.
I was pumped, but also mildly terrified. I read all the information about LASIK I could find in preparation. I’d never actually had surgery; in fact, I hadn’t so much as spent a night in the hospital (still haven’t at 34). I flew back to Tennessee for the week to see our family ophthalmologist has done tens of thousands of LASIK procedures in Nashville, and I wanted to go to someone with whom I was comfortable. After seeing him for pre-op, my nerves abated some; this was no big deal, he told me, and the surgery wouldn’t take more than 20 minutes.
Twenty minutes to give me the gift of unassisted, perfect vision for the first time in my adult life? I couldn’t even fathom that.
I arrived at my pre-op hoping and praying that I would, indeed, be a candidate for LASIK/PRK. You see, many factors play a part: age (24), strength of prescription (-2.5), pupil size (massive), dry eye condition (check), strength of cornea (good). The pupil size was the main concern, as mine are 10mm, no matter how dark or light the environment. If you don’t know how big that is in eye terms, let me just tell you that’s likely three times your pupils’ size, and it causes me a lot of distress (halos, glare, people always thinking I’m on drugs, etc.). Luckily, there was a type of LASIK for me: one that accounts for this, custom-treating each spot of the eye, so after a two-hour consult, in which I likely met with five different professionals, I was cleared to go. My surgery would be the following morning.
On the day of my procedure, my mom accompanied me to the surgeon’s office. Nirvana was playing in the background, I was given a red stuffed bear to squeeze if I got nervous. It was nothing like the serious surgery environment I envisioned. My surgeon first numbed my eyes with drops, then laid me on the table and put the first speculum in my eye. While not painful, this was the only truly uncomfortable part of the procedure. You can’t blink, and suddenly you feel the overwhelming need to do so, like your entire fate hinges on your ability to blink at that given moment.
Then the procedure began and the lights went out.
Luckily, I had been forewarned that I would lose vision for 20 seconds. It still didn’t make it any less scary. But it promptly returned, just as I’d been assured, and the red light of the laser came on. I was to stare directly at it, trying not to flinch. There was a crackling sound, and it smelled of burnt hair. I could feel pressure on my eye, but still no pain. And then that was it. Dr. Shofner repeated the procedure on the other eye, which was far less daunting as I now knew what to expect, and less than 20 minutes after I entered the room, I walked back out, only with perfect vision.
It was so quick and easy. Why didn’t I do this sooner, I thought? More so, why doesn’t everyone do this?
There was zero pain throughout the whole process and very little recovery time (I was told to rest my eyes that afternoon to give my corneas time to heal and sleep in protective goggles for the coming week); I woke up the following morning as if nothing had ever happened and went surfing in Barbados just a few days later.
These days, my vision is still 20/15, a decade after I had the procedure. It’s hard to believe that my life once revolved around how my eyes were behaving that day, and now I don’t have to think twice about that.
In that decade, I’ve gone diving in more than 20 countries. I sailed around the world for four months, something that would have been a massive pain had I had to store four months’ worth of daily lenses and contact solution in the compact two bags I took with me for a circumnavigation. I’ve trekked in the jungle of rural India and the bush of South Africa, without worrying about the fact I was hundreds of miles from a pharmacy and wouldn’t need to buy emergency supplies to deal with my contacts.
Around the time of my surgery, I started running marathons; I’ve since scaled back to half-marathons, but I log a good hour on the trails several days a week and I never worry about pollen getting into my eyes and irritating my lens. In winter months, we like to ski. There’s no annoyance of trying to fit glasses under my goggles or wondering if my contacts might freeze in the extreme cold.
Heck, I love the beach more than anywhere else on the planet. Growing up vacationing on Florida’s Gulf Coast, I’d have to remove my contacts just to take a dip in the ocean for fear of a wave knocking out my lens; nowadays, I can dive in on a whim if the water looks inviting without so much as a second thought. The ways LASIK has benefited my travel life are countless.
That said, I never take for granted how I can wake up and see the clock beside my bed without fumbling to press lenses into my eyes. I travel with friends who are forever dealing with the nuisance of contacts—one of my frequent travel companions who came to visit this summer complained about a lingering eye condition that had her going to the emergency doctor more than a dozen times this year—and I’m grateful that’s no longer my norm.
I run, I dive, I sit in front of my computer for days on end, eyes glued to the screen, I sit on planes for 16-hour flights—and I never have to stomach the hassle of glasses or contacts. And I have no doubt that in the years since I underwent LASIK, it’s become even easier, if that’s possible, as the technology progresses. Have I convinced you yet? It is, in a sense, the best thing you could do for yourself.
Have you ever undergone any type of corrective surgery? If so, please share your story in the comments below!