HEALTH CARE: Eyes Wide Open – A play-by-play of LASIK surgery

Some people look great in glasses, but I’m not one of them. Because of extreme nearsightedness, my glasses needed to be thick, even with the latest advances in “thin” lenses. For years, Tina at Dr. Ian Dunscombe’s office gave me expert advice on selecting frames, but I still felt as if I was lost behind my glasses. I’d worn contact lenses off and on for 30 years, but they had become too uncomfortable as I got older.

Despite increasingly stronger lens prescriptions, I could never see clearly. I squinted all the time and frequently had to ask family members to read road signs or clocks just a short distance away. After a while, I decided to do something about it.

I had read articles about laser vision correction, but spending that kind of money on myself seemed crazy. But having been deemed crazy my entire adult life, I decided to take the plunge and see if I was even eligible for the surgery.

I wish I could say I did lots of research on doctors, but I chose Dr. Robert Butryn at Northern Vision Eye Care because he was running a “special” that week: a free screening, and hundreds of dollars off the procedure. I made the appointment, hoping he’d feel sorry for me and give me the surgery for free once he saw how bad my vision was. He’s a nice guy, but apparently he’s seen worse cases than mine.

It took about an hour to complete the full exam, but considering that the technician was actually mapping my eyeballs, I was amazed it didn’t take longer. To perform the pachymetry, topography, and exam, I was seated in front of a series of machines in a darkened room. Afterward, I watched a video about the surgery, which included a true/false test at the end. I was led into a regular eye exam room, and shortly after, Dr. Butryn walked in.

He must hear this all the time, but Dr. Butryn looks like the actor, Ben Stiller. I’m a big Stiller fan, so I took this as a good sign. The scariest part of my visit was the regular eye exam–the one where the doctor says, “Which is better, number one or number two? Number three or number four?” I kept thinking, “He’s going to do laser surgery based on my answers? What if I’m wrong? What if number three is really better than number four. Am I going to blow the whole thing?”

I didn’t schedule surgery that day, or even that month. In fact, I put the whole thing out of my mind until after the new year. I had no time to be nervous about the actual procedure, because on the day I called to schedule the surgery, I was told that they were running another special, but that I’d have to do it in the next two hours. I called my son to see if he could give me a ride, and I was on my way within an hour of making the appointment. I was told to come to surgery without any makeup on, which made me feel sorry for Dr. Butryn and his staff.

Once in the office, I was given a series of drops that numbed my eyeballs and was asked to wear a paper shower cap. The assistant offered a tranquilizer, but I was feeling relaxed enough. After being led to a darkened room just down the hall, I was seated in a souped-up version of a dentist’s chair with a big machine attached to the side of it. The technician asked if I wanted to hold onto a teddy bear, but I said that unless the teddy bear was six feet tall, gorgeous, and had a nice beard, I wasn’t interested.

Dr. Butryn taped my eyelids open, then put a metal ring over my left eye. He told me everything he was doing either before or during each step in the surgery. He told me he was slicing my cornea, which I would’ve rather not known. He told me to stare at a red dot in the machine, then warned me that everything was going to go black for a second. I heard loud clicks as the laser was correcting my vision. The clicks sounded just like a gas furnace when it’s trying to ignite from its pilot light.

It took only a few minutes to do both eyes. It wasn’t scary at all, and Dr. Butryn and his staff were relaxed and confident throughout the procedure.

I could see a little after the surgery, but it was as if someone had put Vaseline over my eyeballs. They make you wear these goofy-looking goggles after the surgery and at bedtime. The goggles are comfortable, though, and help keep your hands and other objects from getting near your recently-sliced corneas.

I was given prescriptions for two kinds of eyedrops and some painkillers, just in case. The eyedrops were mandatory, but I never needed the painkillers. My sons drove me home, then spent the next hour sitting by me, getting my eyedrops, fetching a blanket and water, and just being near me. I didn’t think the surgery was stressful, but once I got in the car I felt disoriented.

Once home, I felt a little frantic, and was very glad that my boys are such good caretakers. Even if you get a ride home from the procedure, I don’t recommend that you’re alone following surgery.

I slept well that night, but woke up reaching for the eyedrops. My eyes felt scorched, and I was afraid to look at myself in the mirror. But, despite that, I could see. I could see my alarm clock, and the books on the shelves across the room, and the curtains framing the patio door. It was sunny, and I was smiling.

That day I drove wearing my first non-prescription sunglasses, and couldn’t believe how great I could see. It took a few weeks before I could read well, as my distance vision was better than up-close vision. My check-ups were good, and within a few months, Dr. Butryn tested my vision at 20/20.

Ironically, I have never once reached for my glasses in the night or morning. It’s ironic because I used to sleep with my glasses cupped in one hand or tucked under me; I was so afraid of being without them in case of an emergency. Only once in these past four months have I caught myself reaching to adjust non-existent glasses.

Curiously, I feel younger and lighter without my glasses. Sometimes I’m awed by the miracle of the surgery, other times I don’t remember ever wearing glasses. I smile more, and hardly ever catch myself squinting. My vision is a little blurry if I’m overtired or have been staring at the computer too long, but otherwise, I see perfectly. I haven’t been able to say that since second grade.

Mary Dillon owns Cherryland Cut Stone and Marble Co. in Traverse City and contributes monthly to The Business News.