Kim Nelson: My LASIK Experience



I had my eyeballs lasered open this past Friday. Hope you had a good weekend too.

Ever since third grade, I’ve been cursed with terrible vision. I can remember my first visit to the eye doctor and being excited about hearing the news that I needed glasses, in that silly way that kids want things like braces or crutches (inevitably, when they do end up needing them, they quickly realize how much they suck). I picked out the best (worst) pink-tinted acrylic frames. The novelty of wearing glasses quickly wore off as I learned how they fogged up, slipped from sweat, and made you look like a total nerd. I started to wonder why I had wanted anything so Urkel-y in the first place. Unfortunately, my then-weak prescription would only get grow worse over the years, making the glasses not just necessary for reading the blackboard but for all day, every day.

In high school, I made the switch to contact lenses. I sat in front of a mirror for what felt like an hour, teaching myself how to insert slippery little pieces of hydrophilic plastic into each eye, and then how to pluck them out and store them in a little white case. The contacts made sports easier, though it added minutes to my morning routine. As I became an avid camper/kayaker in my 20’s and 30’s, I also realized that wearing contacts when sleeping in a tent with no access to clean running water is the absolute worst.

After decades of dealing with contact lenses and starting every single day with an increasingly blurry first look at my bedroom, I decided that it was time for me to get LASIK. My prescription had grown so high that when I revealed it to people, they’d recoil in horrified sympathy as if I had just revealed that I was deathly allergic to fun. I saved money, did my research, talked to my regular eye doctor, and took the first step of the plunge by scheduling a consultation at an eye institute specializing in laser eye surgery. After a thorough examination, they deemed me a fitting candidate for LASIK, and a date was selected. The full realization hit me: my eyeballs were going to be lasered open and ‘fixed.’

I’m not squeamish in any situation where I can close my eyes and pretend to be somewhere else. At the dentist, I can simply shut my peepers and pretend I’m lying out on a beach, avoiding the glimpse of bloody steel instruments diving into my mouth. With laser eye surgery, you’re fully awake and everything is coming RIGHT AT YOUR OPEN EYEBALL AND YOU CAN’T LOOK AWAY, like if Matthew McConnaughey was sitting behind you forcing you to watch the creepy VHS tape from True Detective and then following that up by jamming his tobacco-stained fingers into your eye sockets.

Before LASIK, you are required to wear glasses and forego contacts for the 1-2 weeks leading into surgery. Having avoided glasses since early high school, I realized that I actually kinda liked how I looked in my simple, smart black frames. “Adorkable” is totally in these days, from what I hear. But then I wore them through a hot yoga class since I couldn’t even recognize my own reflection in a studio mirror, and after the fifteenth time they slipped off my head during a downward dog I knew that LASIK was the right decision for me.

The week of my appointment, I was a nervous wreck. I had initialed and signed off on a consent form that listed multiple ways in which I could be possibly blinded or irreversibly damaged. Though I knew that the chances of that were incredibly slim and the surgeon uses the forms for their own protection in a litigious society, all I could picture where horrifying Final Destination-type scenarios where my eyes ended up disintegrated in my eye sockets by a machine gone rogue. I sat in the waiting room before my surgery, my hands shaking visibly.

“Don’t worry, we give you a Valium beforehand,” the kindly older man at the reception desk told me.

“Thanks, I’m gonna need it,” I said.

“Even if you weren’t having a surgery today, nothing like a Valium to start off the weekend,” he replied. I liked this guy a lot.

I was brought back into the exam rooms for a final checkup and then some mapping, measuring,  and photography of my corneas and pupils. They gave me the magic Valium and sent me back into the waiting room for a while, giving it time to start working. And boy, is that the shit. I felt so great that I started texting loved ones about how awesome Valium is. That time period post-Valium pre-surgery is definitely the sweet spot.

And then, it was Time. I was called back to the first surgery room, where I laid on a reclined chair to receive very crucial numbing drops. The surgeon and assistant talked me calmly through each step of the process, which involved fixing a hose over my eyeball, creating suction to keep it in place, and then using a laser to create the perforation where the flap in my cornea would go. At least, I’m pretty sure that was what was happening because I was pretty high. The process wasn’t painful at all, though high on the awkward scale. I never imagined that I’d find myself in a situation where a guy in a white lab coat was placing a hose over my eyeball and then ordering “Suction.”

After that initial procedure, my already blurry natural vision had a dreamy look like peering through a Vaseline-smeared lens. I was brought into the main operating room where I laid on a second reclining chair, waiting for the laser machine to warm up while one assistant excitedly told her co-worker about her friend/new roommate who had just taken her 60” TV back from her ex-boyfriend and how they were going to get Netflix now. The machine reached prime eyeball-lasering mode, so the juicy gossip ended and the surgeon returned to the room. The numbing drops started flowing again, and the doctor’s voice walked me through the steps in his serene voice that made peeling your cornea back sound about as mellow as a book club meeting discussing Eat Pray Love while drinking a Barefoot chardonnay. With my operated-upon eye held open in a Clockwork Orange-like contraption, my only direction was to focus on a pinpoint of light and keep my second eye open so my face didn’t tense up. I didn’t feel a thing. I watched the doctor take a mini-spatula, swipe my cornea up, and my vision blurred. The laser did its work. He swiped and squeegeed my cornea back into place. I could see.

The whole thing took less than 10 minutes. After the nurse raised my chair back into a seated position, she smiled at me. I could see her. I could tell she was a human woman with shoulder length hair and brown eyes, something that only 15 minutes ago I never could have seen in that distance without glasses on my face. My vision was still slightly blurred but better than it had been in over a decade. I devolved into a David-at-the-dentist-like babble where all I could really say was “This is weird. Holy shit. This is weird.”

I went home, slept through the rest of the early evening and night, and woke up the next day. I was wearing my protective eye shields (required for the first week), and my vision was even sharper. I could read the clock on the bedside table without bringing my face to within 12 inches of it. I could see my dog at the side of the bed, the clear furrow between her eyes which said let’s go pee.

I went back to the doctor for the routine next-day follow-up, where they tested my vision in that  oh-so-familiar mirror, where I read line after line of letters. I was at 20/20 vision. The lingering blurriness continued to clear up. My eyes had “bruises” from the suction machine, a common side effect, giving me the look of having gone three rounds in the ring, but bloody-looking eyeballs were a small price to pay for having my sight back. All of the other common side effects–lingering pain, the feeling of sand in your eye, blurriness–disappeared within the day. I am so grateful that my experience with LASIK went so well and that my results have been so ideal. I am grateful that when I wake up in the morning, I can see the world without fumbling for my glasses or slipping contacts into my eyes. I am grateful that my anxiety and paranoia over all of the possible risks didn’t cause me to chicken out, and that my “gamble” had paid off.

My advice to anyone considering corrective eye surgery would be to do your homework: read your research, find the right doctor, know the risks as well as the reward. Put yourself in safe hands, and almost certainly you will experience the life changer of being able to see clearly again. I can’t wait until I’m fully healed up and ready to go out camping.


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