Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The EpiLASIK experience

I had EpiLASIK surgery done to my eyes couple of months back. This post is a recollection of events and moments leading upto, during and post surgery written in the form of a timeline. Hope some of this info is useful if you're considering laser surgery and wondering what it's like.

T - 9 years: Frank C, my calculus class buddy at high school, suggested (almost pleaded) to get my eyes checked after I asked him one too many times what Mrs Webster wrote on the board. I became four-eyed the same evening. OPSM; oval shaped glasses; looking oh-so-fresh; plus, $450 damage to Amma's purse.

T - 8 years: Squash game with my good friend, Kumanan. Thwacck! Squash ball from a full-blooded forehand screamed into my right eye. I roamed around with a black eye for a week and a bit. The plastic lens dislodged on impact and hit my right eyelid. The lens probably did more than damage than the squash ball. Playing squash with prescription glasses is a nuisance.

T - 5 years: 1st year of professional work. I went on numerous substation/site visits that meant wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) all day. Wearing safety glasses over prescription glasses is the next worst thing to pain in the ass.

T - 2 years:  Eye check up time. The ophthalmologist confirmed my eye power has stabilized, however, she recommended I should wait for another year before going for LASIK.

T - 4 days: Had the pre-operative eye check up at Madras. It included numerous tests to check the nuts and bolts of the eye.

The most uncomfortable test was the testing of tear ducts. The ophthalmologist poked a tiny needle-like thing in the corner of the eye and she left it hanging there for a minute. If it isn't there already, I recommend this test to Lord Yama to be included in the list of punishments in Garuda Puranam.

The doctor said my corneas were normal - though slightly on the thinner side of normal. We decided to go for Epi-LASIK.

T - 0: The day of the surgery.

It felt as if I was appearing for an Electromagnetics exam. A subject I loathed. On the way to the hospital, we somehow happened to tune in to Mr Suki Sivam on the radio, he was firing on both barrels about fate and death. Sivam is a great orator and infuses a lot of energy, but fate and death wasn't the topic I wanted to listen that morning. So, not the best-est of starts, but good thing was we reached the hospital on time despite driving at centipede's pace.

I had a quick peek at the surgery order and I found myself slotted in at No. 4 - just like the Big Man. Ah. God :)

After 1 hour wait, the Pre-op technician took me in. He cleaned the area around my eyes and applied numbing drops. He checked my details, confirmed the type of procedure I was gonna have and asked if I had any questions or concerns before I go in. I had none. It was only few minutes to 10AM, just about time for Tamil Nadu Electricity Board to flick the switch off for the suburb. And, just like that, the lights flickered and the generators/UPS kicked in.  

"Adada. Nalla sagunam sir. Na ready."

"Haha. Worry panrathuku onnu illa. Maydam irukaanga. Instructionsa stricta follow pannuga. Okay'nglaa?"

I was under the laser. They started with my right eye. Eyelashes were taped. Eyelids were held apart by a suction thing. The surgeon checked my details again. There were 4 people around me and one on the far side of the room presumably before a computer. All set to go.

There was lot of pressure exerted on the eye by the gadgets. It was bearable. I did not feel pain at any stage. The surgeon was a gem. Before each manoeuvre, she explained what is being done, what I should do (or shouldn't do), and what I may feel/expect.

I did have an anxious moment. When the keratome (blade) was set to move across the cornea to remove the epithelium, the surgeon alerted me there would be a brief loss of vision and it was important I keep looking at the green light straight above. As the blade went across my eye, it was as if a dark grey curtain slid across.

I lost vision.

It was slightly unnerving to be honest. And, when you lose something, whatever it is, you look for it. That's what I did.

Surgeon:  Oh my...you're moving your eyes everywhere Sriram! Look at the green light!
Me:  Um...I can't see.
Surgeon:  Yea I know. Just look straight.
Me:  I cant see which way straight is.
Surgeon:  Huh! okay. Just don't move your eyeballs. Can you do that?
Me:  Yea.

Clearly, some people screw up no matter how much you prep them.

Now that the epithelium was taken out, it was time for Laser. The doc repeated that I should focus on the red light and not look anywhere else. The vision came back...slowly. Now that I could *see* where the blimming red light was, things became a lot easier :P

So, blinking red light, slight burning smell, five seconds for each eye and it was all done. A "bandage" contact lens was placed on the both eyes to help the epithelium regenerate.

T + 25 minutes: I saw the difference straightaway. I could read the sign on the other end of the operation theatre. The surgeon checked my eye. She said the procedure went as expected. I was given a LASIK kit that had eye drops and instructions to follow for the next 3 weeks. I was also given dark glasses to wear. It was a horrible piece of eyewear. It did a decent job covering the eyes on all sides but was uncomfortable to wear and kinda made me look like Moo Ka's younger brother.

T + 1 day: I couldn't open my eyes for the rest of the day. It felt heavy and drowsy. One of blogs I read in my LASIK research said the feeling is akin to the burning/drowsy sensation you feel when you peel onions. Spot on. Just multiply that feeling by 10 times. There was no pain or itchiness - although my eyes looked horribly bloodshot. I was told to stay indoors for rest of the week, apply eye drops every 2 hours and strictly keep away from dust and bright light.

T + 2 days: The drowsiness was still there but not as bad as the first day. I still couldn't keep my eyes open for any longer than 10 seconds. Went to the hospital for check up. Everything is okay. Come back after 3 days, they said.

As per prescription, my eyes were flooded with eye drops every 2 hours. Everytime I (or Amma) instilled eye drops, there was a bitter, metallic taste at the back of my mouth. It was yuck! The first few times it happened, I was concerned and the idiot voice in me wailed, aiyayooo kannu karaiyidhuraaa. But, as always, wise Google came to the rescue. Apparently some of the eye drops flow through the tear ducts, which is connected to the nasal passage, which in turn drains into the throat. So nothing is wrong, all is well. I am used to the bitter taste now :P

T + 5 days: Got the bandage lens removed. No more drowsiness. Eyes were very sensitive to sunlight and I had my sunglasses (Oakley, not Moo Ka's) on all the time. I could watch TV and work on the computer comfortably (with sunglasses on) for half an hour or so, then had to rest a bit. I slept a lot in the first week.

Doctors say EpiLASIK patients should be fit to go back to work after the second day post procedure. I am not sure about that. Maybe its me, but I feel one needs to rest atleast for a week before you can really work your eyes. Some of my friends who've had LASIK (not EpiLASIK) say their eyes were normal and fit for work the next day. I think they have magic eyes.

T + 2 weeks: Eyes felt almost normal BUT I was experiencing ghosting/double vision. My vision was a perfect 20/20. The doctor said it is normal to experience double vision in the first 6-8 weeks, and it should go away as the eye cures itself. I felt like our old Solidaire TV. It was robust, stood the test of time, and always showed the spirits of characters it displayed.

T + 3 weeks: Still experienced double vision. A week back, it was on both eyes. Now it was only on one eye and it alternated between eyes. Some improvement. It was weird and frustrating. And, three weeks of limited/restricted activity and staying mostly indoors was getting to me.

T + 5 weeks: First month check (i.e. 1 month after removing the bandage lens). The Ophthalmologist gave a clean chit of health. I told them again about double vision, and they gave the same answer as two weeks back. The double vision was there and the occurrences were coming down...slowly. I could feel the improvement. It takes time. Patience!

Now: There is improvement every week. Little by little, one step at a time, eye-am getting there.

Life, without prescription glasses or contact lens, is great! Super glad I had EpiLASIK done.