peter, i can see your house from here

1/26/10

A few months back, Consumer Reports Health released a survey that said 55% of people who had LASIK – the corrective eye-laser surgery – are still wearing glasses or contacts some of the time. 22% of patients still had the annoying side-effects (halos, starburst around lights) six months afterwards. The first statistic amazes me, the second does not.

I was one of the first LASIK patients in America. A girl I was seeing in 1998 worked for one of the head opthamologists at the University of Southern California’s Doheny Eye Institute, and he was beginning his LASIK practice, with the lasers that had just been approved by the FDA. Lots of people had already undergone an older, less-reliable treatment called RK (radial keratotomy), but my doctor was anxious to get the word out about the new technique. He asked his assistant to find a good patient who could be a success story, and she brought me to the office.

He offered to do my eyes for free, and in return, I agreed to be interviewed by the newspaper, and have before/after pictures taken. At this point, there’s one thing you should already understand – if there’s a bizarre side-effect, I’m your guy. When I got my wisdom teeth out, they made us watch a video about how there’s a .01% chance of the surgery hitting your jaw nerve and paralyzing half your face. Cut to me, writing this right now, with barely any feeling on the left side of my chin (which, admittedly, makes shaving easier).

But my terrible eyesight was one of my Four Major Fights With God (the others being acne, depression, and lethargy) and when you see a chance like this to get the upper hand, you bloody well take it. I signed the forms without even looking, strapped myself into the chair, and like Queen Victoria, lay back and thought of England.

After the surgery, I definitely saw better – my previous vision had been -7 and -7.5 with severe astigmatism, which is a short step away from being totally non-functional – but after two weeks, I went back in for another corrective round. You can’t open your eyes for the first hour or so after the event, so I didn’t do so until I got back home.

And that’s when the clouds parted, and the sun shone through. Somebody was watching a television two rooms away, and I could read the credits. I nearly started crying. From that day forward, I could read the spines of books through windows across the street. As of a couple of years ago, I’m still better than 20/20. Sometimes I walk outside and look to the horizon of the ocean and spot distant boats, just because I remember a time when I couldn’t have distinguished the sea from a parking lot.

Yes, I saw pretty noticeable halos around lights at night, especially while driving (caused by your pupil dilating past the treated area) and I did have annoyingly dry eyes for about a year or two (caused by the tiny laser scar keeping your tears from spreading uniformly) but those abated, and I can’t BEGIN to tell you how thankful and blessed I feel.

To go back to my original statement, I find it hard to believe 55% of people still use glasses or contacts after LASIK, unless they had a disreputable doctor – or didn’t go back for another correction, like I did. As for the halos and starbursts… man oh man it was worth it. No more losing glasses, no more walking into a party and having them steam up, no more contact lens solution, no more eye migraines, and no more random bursts of helplessness.

I have a statistics counter that shows how people end up on this site through Google searches – among plenty of other things, many of you are looking for Olympic volleyball goddess Misty May and her awesome ass, my wonderful stepsister Cyia, or our old friend Laurie Dhue… but lots of you got here looking for LASIK stories. Here’s mine in a nutshell: find a doctor with a ton of experience (thousands of eyeballs with virtually no infection rate), plan ahead for a possible 2nd surgery, and go for it. Then throw your glasses off the nearest bridge, and watch them hit the water in glorious detail.

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0 thoughts on “peter, i can see your house from here

  1. Anne

    Cool. My husband has wanted to get Lasik for a long time but is reluctant due to the horror stories. My eyesight is nowhere near as bad as yours, but I do find it a pain to have to get progressive lenses now, and to always have my glasses with me for driving, meetings, TV, movies, and just plain walking around. (I can’t use them at the computer, though!)
    As an editor, one of the most frequently misspelled words that I correct is ophthalmologist. (Sorry!)

    Reply
  2. Greg T.

    As a recent convert – I had my eyes done in October – I cannot agree more. I am amazed every single morning when I wake up and can read the alarm clock.
    Since Lasik (and PRK) treat myopia (nearsightedness,) hyperopia (farsightedness,) and astigmatism, I am guessing that the 55% who still use glasses mostly consist of people that have developed Presbyopia (farsightedness that usually occurs after the age of 40), which is not corrected by Laser eye surgery. I was told that, despite my current 20/20 vision, I might need reading glasses down the road. There is hope, though – we may have a version of Lasik to treat Presbyopia before too much longer. (http://www.allaboutvision.com/visionsurgery/presby-lasik.htm)
    Congrats on your success – I wish I had the balls (and $) to have done it back then!

    Reply
  3. Julie

    Ian, I agree with everything you just said. LASIK was the best thing I have ever done (-6.5 in both eyes, medium astigmatism). Went to one of the most reputable doctors in the Mid-Atlantic (Dr. Whitten). Not a single problem–no dry eyes, no halos, no starbursts. 3 years out still 20/20 in one eye and 20/15 in the other. Can’t beat that! I am curious, though, as to what will happen when I approach 45-50 when my eyes hit middle age.

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  4. Ruthy

    If I’m not mistaken, Lasik only affects the lens, not the iris, or other parts of the eye. Many parts have to work together to for you to see well, right? For instance, even with nearly perfect vision, I had to start wearing reading glasses in my 30’s, because the iris muscles becomes less able to contract enough for me to read the small stuff. Likewise, some friends of mine who have has Lasik.

    Reply
  5. Tanya

    Wow – this is a rather timely post for me! I just cancelled my PRK surgery. It was supposed to happen last week, in fact. Long story short, I’m not a candidate for LASIK, and the PRK was not exactly a slam dunk – even for the eye docs at dook. My eyes are -8 and -7.5, with wretched astigmatism, ugh. During my pre-op visit with my regular eye doc, he told me about a relatively new procedure (in the US at least) called ICL. Basically, they implant a contact lens – no lasers, no permanent damage, totally reversible, very little recovery time. So, I’ve ordered 6 more months of contacts and am in the process of finding out more. I’m also told that, because of all the complications cropping up from folks who’ve had LASIK, lots of docs are turning to this ICL deal. Here’s hoping it’s not astronomically expensive!!

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  6. littlerattyratratrat

    Given the millions of Lasik procedures performed in this country, even 1% rate of complications (much lower the actual rate) would give us tens of thousands of potential horror stories for the media to have fun with. And if they were your eyes that were botched, I’m sure you’d be plenty vocal with your complaints. But I’d like to see stats on complications when they limit the sample population to patients of reputable doctors.
    I’ve worn glasses since kindergarden (tried contacts but couldn’t afford to replace the ones I kept destroying) and would probably do the Lasik thing if not for my bad habit of amateur astronomy. No night vision artifacts, thanks!

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  7. Megan

    Hey, I had the same thing happen to the left side of my jaw after wisdom tooth removal! I’ve always held a grudge against that doctor.
    I’m tempted to get Lasik to make my sight less horrible, but it keeps getting pushed back in favor of other financial priorities.

    Reply
  8. Bill

    I’ll shill for a moment — that’s allowed, as an occasional commenter and a former DTH colleague, right?
    For those who arrive here via Google search (as Ian notes), go to http://www.geteyesmart.org to get some solid, reputable information about LASIK and whether you are an appropriate candidate. This site is put together by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, where I work. I don’t get a bigger bonus (ha!) if more people have laser eye surgery — just trying to raise awareness.
    LASIK is not a magic bullet for all, and the best physicians will make sure patients are educated and weigh the risks against the benefits.
    Ian — I’m glad it worked out for you, and 95% of LASIK patients share your sentiments (satisfied with the outcome).
    /stepping down from the soapbox
    Bill
    PS I work here, and I STILL spell “ophthalmology” wrong on occasion.

    Reply
  9. Lisa

    I had LASIK 6 years ago and it’s some of the BEST money I’ve ever spent (even including the insane loan interest rate).
    I was already sold on the idea because I hated wearing glasses & contacts are such a pain, not to mention the expense.
    Now that I’m a photographer, the value of having LASIK has only increased.
    Aloha from Maui,
    lisa

    Reply
  10. Beth

    I’d be curious to know how many people find your site by googling “why we hate duke”. That’s still one of my favorite articles, and that’s how I found your site.

    Reply
  11. Rebecca

    Okay – full disclosure first: My husband DOES get a bigger bonus if more people get LASIK – because he works for the company that makes the laser! In fact, the company was acquired by a huge company last year because their stock price plummeted when people stopped getting LASIK – and that was a bummer.
    That said, my husband had the procedure done, and loves it. Unfortunately, I can’t get it done because I developed dry eye and am now not a candidate. Which sucks because I can get it done at a huge discount.
    The good news is that they are constantly working to improve and make new products, so their may be new options for me in the future. And maybe even an answer for presbyopia someday!!!

    Reply
  12. carolyn

    LASIK changed my life. I was one of the first people to get it done, months before it was officially passed by the FDA in the spring of 1998 by Dr. Waring, who was responsible for submitting case studies to the FDA. I went from a -8/-8.5 with minor astigmatism to almost perfect the first round, the second correction a year later got me to 20/20 & 20/15. Once I turned 30, my vision clouded a little bit, I presume this is due to hormonal stuff coupled with living in front of a computer screen 10 -12 hours a day. Definately worth it.

    Reply
  13. Neva

    I’ve just started needing reading glasses and that alone is so annoying. I cannot imagine having the vision you did before LASIK. Glad you had a good result. Most people I know have but I have met a couple of people with bad outcomes.

    Reply
  14. Hamp

    LASIK was the best $5,000 I ever spent. Ian, my pre-LASIK vision was pretty much identical to yours – severe nearsightedness coupled with astigmatism. Had LASIK 5 years ago. Perfect vision 24 hours later that became even sharper in the coming months. I had no side effects other than dry eyes for about a year afterward that I took care of with Systane preservative-free drops twice a day. My eyesight is still spot-on. I still find it hard to believe that I see perfectly without glasses. I also sound like an infomercial so will stop now.

    Reply

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