I was a 23-year-old student in my penultimate year of university having my summer break. Since young, I’ve always loved sports and the outdoors and to me, glasses were a huge impairment whenever I played sports. It was the most ridiculous situation: me rock-climbing outdoors, sweat dripping down my temples, feeling frustrated that thin piece of plastic sliding down my nose bridge for the ten thousandth time.
And it was at that very moment that I shrugged and thought to myself, I should probably start considering Lasik. Enough is enough.
Contact lenses were an alternative, but they couldn’t last all day. After many hours, they would feel dry and stuck to my eyeballs. It was just super uncomfortable.
When I think back, it’s strange that the universe seemed to be pointing at my eventual decision to go under the laser – my friends were telling me stories of their Lasik experience, my own sister recently went for it and was all but swooning over the whole thing. I also had a newfound love for rock-climbing and volleyball and did outdoor sports a lot more regularly – all at the same time. To top it all off, I was due to go for my three-month overseas exchange program next semester. It was now or never. So here’s my experience and review of my TransPRK surgery.
“Biting the bullet – and doing my due diligence”
I’ll admit that even then, I procrastinated for a while. The thought shelling out thousands of dollars for Lasik surgery was not exactly welcoming.
But what I did do was take the first step: go for the Lasik evaluation to check if my eyes were suitable for it, and the rest as they say, is history.
But before that, I had to do a ton of research online to decide the what and where, and also to research for reviews.
I keep saying Lasik, but it’s not the procedure I opted for in the end. Lasik actually refers to a specific laser procedure that involves cutting and opening up a corneal flap before lasering the cornea tissue beneath. I didn’t like the idea of having a permanent corneal flap in my eye. What if it came out during sports, or in future, when I went bungy jumping?? That was definitely on my bucket list, amongst other things.
Anyway, I learnt that doctors supposedly estimate the risk of the flap coming out at only 3% and that nowadays they use a laser to cut the flap instead of a knife. Hence the term bladeless Lasik.
I don’t know about you, but cutting a flap in my eye – either with a knife or a laser – just doesn’t sit very well with me. Not to mention the risk of dry eyes that also comes with it. But Lasik has been sort of the gold standard for laser procedures for decades so my decision to turn to other procedures instead was slightly unorthodox.
I was left with two other options: TransPRK and ReLEx SMILE.
TransPRK is an entirely surface procedure without involving any cutting, meaning a laser would do all the heavy-lifting. Your outermost cornea skin cells would be ablated away by the laser and then sculpted by the very same laser. I learnt that only one particular laser technology is able to do this – and that is the Schwind Amaris excimer laser. It’s an advancement in laser technology that a laser is able to ablate away our outermost cornea cells. Previously, in surface procedures like epiLASIK, doctors use an ultrasonic device to shake off these cells, and in PRK, doctors use a blunt blade to scrape them off (the horrors!).
ReLEx SMILE is an entirely new surgical method in itself. A laser cuts out a lens-shaped piece internally, inside your cornea. The surgeon then cuts the side of your cornea to pull out that piece. After that piece of tissue is removed from your cornea, your top most cornea skin layer would then collapse down into the empty space and adhere to the new cut curvature. Sounds complicated, right? I was also super confused when I first heard how ReLEx SMILE was done.
To cut the long story short, I chose the former – TransPRK – mainly because I felt comforted that it was all done on the surface and did not come with any risk of flap complications or dry eyes. I didn’t like that ReLEx SMILE was so new and complicated (which more often than not just means that more things can go wrong). Anyway, the fact that my sister chose TransPRK definitely played a part in my decision too.
“The day I had my eyes lasered”
I can still vividly remember that day where I sat at Clearvision Eye Clinic and Lasik Centre, palms sweaty while I waited my turn. Of all the places I could be during my term break – out with friends, at a volleyball game or hell, going for a road trip overseas – I chose to be here instead. To correct my visual disability.
“Royston, you can come in now”, a gentle voice disrupted my thoughts as I lifted my gaze to see the optometrist gesturing to the operating room.
I went in, propped myself on a seat that declined to 180° so that I was completely in a lying down position. I stared up to see a huge machine that looked like a telescope staring back at me in the face. I heard the sound of its tiny gears turning as Dr. Ho made the calibrations. Then with a reassuring “look straight”, it began.
I saw a green light flash, as if someone pointed a laser in your eyes before you could react. And then, lots of water – or probably some sort of saline solution (?) – poured over my eye as if to cleanse it thoroughly. The machine moved on to the other eye. Again, blinking green light and then, water bath in that eye, too.
“That’s it, we’re done here,” Dr. Ho said and laughed heartedly as he looked at my blank face, still in a state of shock.
“Oh… that’s all?” I managed in disbelief.
I looked around the room in absolute, crystal clear vision – as if I had contacts on – and all that initial anxiety flooded out of me. I was just relieved everything went OK.
Soon after, my vision started to blur and both my eyes teared up profusely. I was told that it was because the anesthesia eye drops were losing its effect. My eyes were definitely feeling the aftermath of lasering them.
I was guided by the arm to a dimly lit room to rest on a leather couch. My eyes were shut, tears streaming down even as I titled my head back my head back in a futile attempt to stop the tears from flowing.
It was a really odd feeling: there was no pain, only discomfort. And flowing tears that I had no control off. Whenever I tried to open my eyes, the lights all seemed exceptionally glaring and I immediately shut them again.
It became a bit torturous after this continued on for quite a while and I just wanted to get home. Not that it was painful per se, but the prolonged discomfort was mentally getting to me. Everything was pretty much a blur – the only thing I remembered was the parting words the optometrist said to me, “Your eyes will be sensitive to light so it’s best to stay indoors to avoid the sun’s glares for the first couple of days. If you do go out in the sun, remember to put these on for the next 2 months.”
“The days right after”
All I can say is that I heeded that last piece of advice, for real. I drew all the curtains and hid in my dark room for the first couple of days. I would also wear the Cyclops-like sunglasses that was provided to me. My family called it the bat cave.
I myself felt like some kind of vampire. Not the kind from the movie Twilight, but the kind that burns from sunlight – or at least, my eyes did.
I didn’t even feel like using my phone. If you’re a social media addict, you should really try Lasik – it’ll definitely help with your social media detox. I started listening to audiobooks and eating my meals in my bat cave. At times, I would venture out to watch a bit of TV but I wouldn’t last more than 30 minutes before creeping back into the dark. It was just infinitely more comfortable for my eyes inside my bat cave.
On Day 5, things started to look better – literally. My vision felt like it cleared up, my eyes didn’t feel like they belonged to a vampire. Stepping outdoors into the sun with the protection of my Cyclops sunglasses, I felt reborn.
My vision became clearer and clearer as the days went by as my eyes adjusted to its newfound clarity. Looking out onto the roads, I could actually read the numbers on the car plates as they whizzed by and everything just seemed very high-definition. It felt amazing.
“The good days ahead”
It was until I travelled to Taiwan for my exchange the next month that I felt the full force of change in my life the procedure has given me. I rented a scooter over there in Taiwan and it became my main mode of transport everywhere – from biking to class, hanging out at a friend’s place till late, partying till late, visiting all of Taiwan’s famous night markets, etc etc.
I did all of these without a single moment of dry eyes. Which was really miraculous to me. As I saw my friends removing their contacts with discomfort late into the night and switching to glasses, it struck me that I didn’t have to do that ever again. I had the full freedom to do whatever I wanted, whenever.
So, would I recommend it? Hell, yes. But bear in mind there’s downtime (in a bat cave, no less) and be prepared to put on shades wherever you go for the next two months at least. That said, these are just tiny nuances that can’t be compared to the subsequent sweet freedom and convenience that follows.