Two months ago, I had PRK surgery. PRK stands for photorefractive keratectomy and is a form or laser eye surgery, similar to LASIK (the standard surgery). Whereas LASIK involves cutting a flap into the cornea, PRK involves removing the outer layer of epithelial cells to access the cornea. It takes several days to see clearly following LASIK, but PRK can take weeks or months to settle down.
I had the surgery done in George, South Africa, where my family lives. I went on holiday for three weeks in August, and I had the surgery on the 12th. I thought i was going to have LASIK surgery, as that is what each of my parents had years ago, but the surgeon decided to perform PRK. His reasoning was that PRK was less risky, which he preferred if I was only going to be in the country for two weeks following the procedure.
My eyes were pretty bad, and I needed glasses to do anything. I think my prescription was -5.75 on the right, -5.50 on the left. My surgeon informed me that I also had mild astigmatism, which he said contributed about 10% to my poor eyesight. He said he could improve my vision by 95-100%. He also said my eyes would be mostly settled by six weeks, and that I shouldn’t panic before then.
The procedure itself was quick, the lead up taking longer. I was required to arrive about 2 hours before the surgery, during which I was asked to don a white robe and slippers (over my clothes and socks), as well as a very flattering hair net. I was given some kind of pill to help with my nerves, and different eye drops were administered periodically leading up to the main event to anaesthetise my eyes. I was eventually walked into a white, freezing operating room and asked to lay down under a hulking machine.
They placed little contraptions to keep my eyelids open wide and washed my eyes with a terribly cold solution that gave me a constant sensation of brain freeze. One eye was worked on at a time while the other one was patched, and I had to stare at a very blurry red dot (somehow judging where the centre was) while a separate green dot flickered next to it. I couldn’t feel the green laser, but I could smell it, like the smell of mosquitos on an electric tennis racket. We used to have several of these when we lived in Shanghai, and I could instantly recognise that odour. I struggled to focus on the red dot when the green was so much clearer.
It was over quickly, and I was walked back to the waiting area filled with luxurious white reclining chairs. I couldn’t see much, and I felt pretty tired, but at least I wasn’t in pain. My mom came to pick me up with sunglasses at the ready, and she drove me back to my family’s house. I was instructed to stay in a dark room with my eyes closed for the next three days, which is just what I did. I was also instructed to use three different kinds of eye drops every several hours (including through the night), and I was given special eye drops for when the pain started, which I could use in conjunction with painkillers. I didn’t expect to need them.
That night, I was in so much pain. My eyes were uncomfortable. My head pounded, and I couldn’t do anything but rock in my bed. My mom came up to check on me, and we tried the special eye drops. My head was the worst though, and luckily my mom had a stash of migraine medication. I’d never had a migraine before, and I hope I never have another. The pills eventually knocked me out, and I drifted off exhausted, wearing plastic covers taped to my face to protect my eyes. I woke up uncomfortable, but the pain had subsided.
My first couple weeks involved listening to a number of podcasts and an audiobook. I also went downstairs to lie by the TV, mostly just to listen and get out of the bedroom. I couldn’t see much still when I went for my final checkup, 10 days after my surgery. My surgeon had gone away to a conference, but his colleague was equally lovely and reassuring. He told me not to worry, and that my eyes would be fine in another month’s time.
The journey back to the UK was tricky. I couldn’t quite make out the signs in the airport, and I had to walk right up to boards to read them. My eyes burned on the plane, and I couldn’t sleep very well. I had to constantly use the lubricating eye drops. I eventually made it off the plane and muddled my way through baggage collection to wait for my boyfriend to pick me up at 7am from Heathrow. We drove back to Oxford, where I went straight up to bed to nap.
I had to go back to work the next day, and it was pretty tough. I couldn’t see the screen that clearly, and I turned the resolution down and the font size up, leaning in to read everything. I got terrible tension headaches, but I powered through. After a few weeks, I was able to slowly change the font size to something more normal. At two months, I don’t need to lean in as much, but people still comment on the resolution. I’ve become so used to it I barely notice.
But it’s been more than six weeks, and I don’t have perfect vision. I have double vision in my right eye, and my left eye struggles a bit to focus on things right by my face, while also not clearly seeing distant objects. I can definitely do a lot more without glasses than before, but I can’t drive. My boyfriend is still driving me to my office 33 miles away, then making his way to his office 40 miles from mine. I’m at work for about 11 hours every day, and I sometimes have to wait outside because the key-holders all go home.
Two weeks ago, I went for an eye test at Specsavers, just to get checkup. A rude optometrist said I had to buy glasses…oh, and by the way, you’ll have to pay for the special lenses, as our standard lenses are out of stock. (I left without buying anything, and I won’t be buying any glasses from that branch, even if I do probably need them.) She was able to find a lens that corrected the double vision in my right, but she just could not find anything that made any improvements to the left eye’s vision. I could have bought glasses then so I could at least drive, but I didn’t trust her. I was also concerned that my eyes could still change in the weeks and months to come, and I didn’t want to buy glasses that would only need to be replaced a month later. It is becoming more tempting though.
While on the subject of driving, I should also warn anyone considering laser eye surgery that I do see larger starbursts around lights at night than I did before. I also find it hard to look towards car head/tail lights, as I tend to get headaches on the drive home if I look ahead at them. I really do hope this dies down though, as I do need to start driving myself sooner rather than later. At the moment, my boyfriend is spending almost four hours a day driving because of me, and the early to leave, late to get home routine means we get little time for anything else in the evenings.
At two months, I’m slowly starting to accept the fact that my eyes probably aren’t going to get better than they are now. It is upsetting if I think too hard about it, and I have to remind myself that at least I can now go swimming, put on makeup, etc without glasses. But I didn’t want to wear glasses at all, especially ones that don’t even work on the one eye. I didn’t want to have the double vision in the right, like everything in the distance has an echo.
I’m writing this for anyone looking for someone’s account of PRK surgery, as I couldn’t find much when I went looking for reassurance. I suppose I haven’t been very reassuring, but I’ve tried to be truthful.
Update 24th November, 2013
I am a lot happier with my results now. I saw Professor Jan Venter (Optical Express), who actually taught my surgeon back in South Africa, and he was very reassuring. Due to the previous degree of short-sightedness, he told me that what I am experiencing is some regression, which I had a 20% chance of experiencing. It is not sinister, and my corneas are thick enough that I could possibly have further correction next year if i chose to.
I also now have glasses, which I use for driving and if I need to see detail at a distance (e.g. in meetings). I didn’t know glasses in the UK would be so expensive, but at least I didn’t have to splurge on thinner lenses; the standard Boots lenses were just fine! My eyesight is now -1.00 on the right, -0.25 on the left. I can continue to function at home, outside and at work generally without glasses.