What's It Like Actually Having Laser Eye Surgery?

By Bulent Yusuf on at

There are a million reasons why being short-sighted is annoying. Here’s one – try wearing glasses and putting a pencil behind your ear. It just falls clattering to the floor, doesn’t it?

Of course, this isn’t the reason why I had my corneas zapped. But doing any form of exercise with a pair of bottle tops on your face is irritating. Or entering a warm room after being caught in the rain. Or kissing someone, even if it’s just a peck on the cheek.

Individually, those events are a minor inconvenience. But all those little things pile up over time, one thing after another, until I realised that after twenty plus years of dedicated spectacling, I was ready to stop wearing glasses altogether.


The Operation

Whilst jokes about x-ray vision *might* feature heavily for the next few paragraphs, I should put on my serious hat and clarify a few things.

This is a description of a typical laser eye operation. It’s not a ringing endorsement of the procedure, not by any means, and the operation wasn’t paid-for by any parties other than myself.

The process I chose to undergo was LASIK, or laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, a type of refractive surgery for correcting myopia and astigmatism. The surgery took place in a high street clinic, and I was in and out within a matter of hours.

The process involves creating a corneal flap on the surface of the eye, folding it back to enable “remodelling” of the tissue beneath with a laser, and then moving the flap back in place.

My LASIK surgery was supplemented with a technology called Wavefront, originally used in high-powered telescopes, where the unique topography of my eyes were elaborately measured and mapped to further customise the correction.

It all sounds pretty harmless and straightforward, doesn’t it? Whilst the consulting opticians does their utmost to reassure me of the safety of the process and likelihood of a successful outcome, there's still a giant knot of fear in my stomach before commencing the operation.

And why wouldn’t I be scared? I’ve signed a waiver that means I’ve volunteered to undergo the surgery and have no legal recourse should things go wrong. On top of that, I’m laying back on a padded bench and there’s a giant laser cannon pointed at my face.

You’d be inwardly whimpering too, I’ll wager.

When the time comes, the surgeon puts anesthetic drops in my eyes, and then places an eyelid holder over one of them open so I can’t blink, whilst the other is covered up. I can see a red flashing light directly above me.

A suction ring is placed on my eye and suction is applied to the eyeball. I feel a bit of pressure and my vision goes black for 10-20 seconds. The flap is created using a precision laser, which is focused to a point within the cornea where thousands of microscopic bubbles are formed.

My vision returns, and the red light becomes visible again. The surgeon peels back the flap, and then activates the eye-tracking system and commences the treatment itself. Now I’m looking at a ring of white lights, and then the glare intensifies and things go black again. This is the point where the laser cannon starts making a loud clanking sound, and gives off a noxious smell of ozone.

Once the laser pulses are completed, the corneal flap is moved back into place and covered up, and the process is repeated on the other eye.


The Recovery

This was the strange bit. I could see. Without glasses. Things were hazy and I was sensitive to light, but I could definitely see. They checked the eyes, gave me a course of antibiotic eye drops to use for the next week, and then sent me home with a pair of goggles wrapped around my face.

Back at base camp, I went straight to bed. As the anesthetic wore off, there was a horrible gritty feeling in my eyes. It was maddening, made only slightly better by the generous application of eye drops. For the next twenty-four hours I tried to completely rest my eyes, which meant no reading, no internet, and no television. I went out of my mind with boredom.

The next day, things had marginally improved. I went back to the clinic for a check-up, but my vision hadn’t fully settled yet. A week later, I can go about my business without the aid of glasses, but there’s still residual blurring and halos around bright lights.

In fact, the recovery time is going to be a matter of weeks and months, where my eyes are gradually healing from the trauma I willingly inflicted on them. This is proving to be something of a downer. On the plus-side, my bloodshot visage is perfectly timed for parties this Halloween.

But then, when all is said and done, I’m glad I went through with it. People like to park all kinds of random objects behind their ears - bubblegum, cigarettes, flowers. But until I had laser eye surgery, I never had the option. And then, this morning, something miraculous occurred. I put a pencil behind my ear.

It happened pretty casually, and without much thought. I leaned back in my chair, and in the process of wrapping my hands behind my head, I paused to lodge a little stick of wood in the nook of my right ear. It felt amazing.

Being able to look out the window and admire the scenery didn’t hurt either.

Image Credit: Warner Home Video