Zap! Perfect vision. That’s what I’d thought would happen. Instead, I’m biding my time for 11 weeks since my laser eye surgery.
I had PRK done on me. I can see and all, but it’s not perfect. My left eye is doing alright at about 20/20 and I’m pretty happy about that. My right eye, however, is being a real bitch, and taking its sweet time to heal.
The first 24-48 hours after my PRK procedure weren’t that rough at all. I could see 20/20 from both eyes. Mainly because very little of my ablated cornea had grown back in yet.
Day three sucked eggs. I couldn’t keep my eyelids open, so I stayed in bed much of the day, listening to a symphony of pounding as the roofers went to town replacing our shingles. Funny, since this was the day my eye doc said I’d be ready to return to work. Har!
What is PRK? And why choose PRK over Lasik?
PRK is similar to Lasik. With Lasik, a flap is made on the surface of your eye, pulled back, and the laser does its magic. You generally have your corrected vision fully within 24-48 hours. PRK is different. The surface of the eye is ablated (scraped away, in medical terms), then the laser zaps the eye, then you get a big clear contact lens bandage applied. In anywhere from a month to six months, you get your perfect vision.
So why in the world would anyone want to subject themselves to such a long recovery, and a semi-grueling 3-5 days of post-operative suffering? There are a couple of things I learned in my research comparing PRK (ablate and suffer) with Lasik (flap and done!):
- PRK does not create a flap. The flap created with Lasik can come loose if knocked by an elbow of a small child or MMA fighter. Or a twig recoiled by the inconsiderate hiker in front of you. Sadly, with Lasik that flap never fully heals. So you need to be mindful of that if you’re an active sort, or like me, paranoid.
- PRK does not cause dry eyes to nearly the same degree as Lasik. I have mild dry eyes in winter time. No need to make that problem worse.
- PRK is the procedure of choice by the U.S. Air Force. Top Gun. Tom Cruise. You know the outfit. Wait – whoops, that’s the Navy. Still, when pilots are opting to go with PRK for the two reasons above, plus anecdotal evidence of less long-term need for further correction vs. Lasik, I will sign up for THAT.
Course, the downsides of PRK vs. Lasik are the crappy first few days of post-op recovery (it’s really just uncomfortable, not painful at all) and having to wait up to six months (in some cases) for the eyes to stabilize. Compare it to a cross-country train ride for PRK, while Lasik is a non-stop flight. Well, all-aboard the long-haul PRK express pour moi!
Opportunity cost of laser eye surgery
The upfront cost of PRK in my case was almost $4,000. Gulp.
That includes the procedure and the bevy of prescription eye drops you need to use for three months after the event. I paid with my new Starwood Preferred AMEX. Those 35,000 airline bonus miles take away some of the sting. I then reimbursed myself with the good ol’ HSA. All said and done, that $4,000 really came out to more like $2,330 (reduced 33% for HSA as it’s pre-tax, and $350 for the cash value of the miles).
The question is, does that $2,330 help me avoid paying for new glasses every four years or so? In the past I’d sometimes just swap out lenses if the frames weren’t too out of fashion. Let’s make the argument that every five years I have to fork over about $700 for new eyeglasses and sunglasses (after taking into account HSA savings).
PRK one-time true cost: $2,330
Ongoing: Readers and Cheap Sunglasses every 5 years: $200 ($40 per year) – not using HSA for these nominal costs.
Rx Transition Lenses and Rx Sunglasses every 5 years: $700 – factoring in HSA “discount”
Plus, let’s not forget Rx Contact Lenses (disposable) for misc. armchair athletics: $300 – Reduced by HSA as well
In summary, I could fork over a big chunk now and only have to worry about nominal eyewear costs going forward, or, continue to have to reload on corrective eyewear roughly every five years. Here’s what I give up in 20 year index fund investing at 7% inflation adjusted returns, by investing instead in corrected vision:
PRK plus ongoing eyewear: $10,771
Continue with full Rx eyewear: $12,643
I chose a 20 year cut-off since I might need lens replacement by then, if cataracts strike. It’s a win-win situation at that point, since you get perfect vision with those new lenses implanted. Or, maybe I’ll luck out and never have to worry about it. I do like being in the sun though…
Why I chose laser eye surgery
PRK appears to be a smart long-term investment, but only by a marginal amount. Bear in mind, I didn’t go through with this procedure to save money. In fact, if the opportunity cost were flipped, I’d still go through with it.
Why? I hate glasses. Just not a big fan. Fumbling between regular glasses and sunglasses is pain in the butt. Keeping lenses clean is a pain in the butt. Biking in cold, winter weather when you want a muffler over your face? Can’t do it – fogs up your glasses.
Shall I keep going? Okay. Driving. Ever go on a long road trip and find that the bridge of your nose is sore? Yeah. Wearing gottdam glasses too long. Want to go for a quick run and actually see well, without wearing dorky glasses? Check.
Maybe the reason I enjoyed Solo so much was it was the first time I’d been to the movies in forever, without having plastic between me and the screen. There have been a few times I’ve forgotten glasses at a restaurant or even had them broken in a polka mosh-pit (long story). You get the idea. Glasses suck. And to think I had a pair of fake glasses in high school to look cool. Sigh…
Every month I go back to the eye doc to see how things are shaping up. The left eye continues to be the winner in the race, giving me 20/20 distance clarity. The right eye has improved from month 1 where I had a correction of -2.0, to month 2, where I’d improved to -1.0. Basically, things get doubled/blurry after about 10 feet of distance.
There’s a concept called “monovision” that I’m experiencing at this stage. I can read up close just fine, thanks to my still myopic right eye, and I can take in distances pretty well too, thanks to a strong left eye. Some folks opt to correct just one eye so they can avoid readers, while still maintaining distance vision. This assumes you can put off the inevitability of presbyopia in that nearsighted eye.
And that brings us to a downside of corrective laser eye surgery in general, PRK or Lasik, doesn’t matter: You’ll need to start wearing those lovely readers a bit sooner.
That’s right. Bring on those readers! Wahhhhh!!! My eye doc says in general, you might need readers a good 5-10 years sooner than you otherwise would have, because you’ve basically made your eyes so strongly far-sight biased. This is actually the main reason I held off on getting corrective eye surgery back in my late 30s.
So now we’ll see how long it’ll be before I have to pick up those cheap reader specs at Walgreens just to read a book. I’m hoping to squeeze another four or five years out of these eyeballs before that’s needed.
Thinking about getting laser eye surgery?
Just be sure to find a good eye doc. I had the “luxury” of knowing my shop quite well, thanks a couple of decades dealing with occasional bouts of iritis. Do your research. Most corrective surgery outfits offer free consultations, and only bill you for the procedure itself.
Make sure you have decent Rx coverage, because certain newer drops like Lotemax ain’t cheap. Fortunately my eye doc kept me loaded up with coupons which lowered my out-of-pocket to $60 a bottle. Want to know how many little bottles of eye drops you go through, over three months? At least 5. So yeah, the procedure was about $3,700 and drops alone were $300. Again, HSA dollars help a LOT.
Keep in mind too that the procedure itself is pretty quick and pain-free. It took no more than 2 or 3 minutes per eye. Most of that time was ablating the surface to prepare for the laser. Everything is numbed up really well. Then the laser itself is a mere 2-3 seconds. Granted, if your vision is -5 to -10, the laser could take up to 10 seconds! Still, all you’re looking at is a blurry green halo, all the while.
I was pretty amazed with how well I could see coming out of the “operating” room. From that point until about day 6 or 7, the main discomfort was the sensation of having a grain of sand or eyelash stuck in my eye. The grueling part is the latter half of day 2 and all of day 3, when your eyelids don’t want to stay open. You still find good windows of time to get a walk in and so on, but you just pass the time by napping.
Most of the accounts I’ve read online are similar to my experience. Recovery varies a LOT, person to person. My wife had PRK done last fall with -10 correction. And yet it only took about 8 weeks for her to reach 20/15 in both eyes. I’m nowhere near that speed.
I’ve read a few accounts where it took up to six months, or even longer, to reach 20/15. And sometimes, it’s not so gradual. You just wake up and boom! – someone hit a switch and your eye is instantly “there.” I’m hoping to experience that soon, since my right eye is still kinda stuck at 20/30.
So what do you think? Have you had corrective laser eye surgery? Or, are you considering having it done?