By Long Shot contributor Tim Simko
From the age of 5, I always had trouble with my vision. When I had my glasses on, I could see everything clear as day. However, when I took them off it was a different story. I could see shapes and stumble around the house a little, but I couldn’t read much. Seeing objects from a distance was near impossible. I remember when I was 12, I heard about a procedure that could correct my vision. It sounded like something that was too good to be true. I wondered if one day I’d be lucky enough to get this procedure.
Fast forward 11 years later, I’m 23 and still hoping to one day get this procedure. Over the past year, I’ve scheduled multiple consultations and canceled them at the last minute.
“I don’t know if I can ever afford this,” I would tell myself.
There were always so many seeds of doubt. I can’t even get a contact lens in my eyes, I can barely do eyedrops. I’ve never had a lot of money, and the money I do have in my savings I’ve had to work for many years to acquire. Would it be right to throw this all away? Would I be able to justify spending the same amount on this procedure that I could spend on a used car? I had to take time to think about it.
In January, I took the first step in changing my life. I started a weight loss program and slowly started to shed pounds. As the weeks went on, I grew happier with what I saw in the mirror. But there was one thing that still bothered me…my glasses.
My glasses have always hindered my ability to do things. During the winter they would fog up nonstop, when I would wrestle against my brother (something that just about everybody with a brother does) they would fall off of my face and I’d have to frequently pause to throw them aside. It even became a pain to find a decent pair of clip on lenses to fit over my glasses, and even those never fit right.
I was very open with my family over the years about wanting to get this procedure, and being on my own with some money saved and a good credit score I was wondering if it was the right time to pull the trigger on something that could truly change my life. My brother’s best friend’s sister’s boyfriend (I know, that’s a mouthful) had just gotten the surgery and loved it. I had always been wary of LASIK simply because the results are a mixed bag. But at the same time, there always seemed to be a rhyme or a reason to why some LASIK operations were better than others. Some people got the procedure when it was still relatively new, others were almost twice my age, and some didn’t properly follow the aftercare procedures. Seeing someone who was my age and in a situation like mine getting this procedure was the nail in the coffin. I finally made the call and scheduled the consultation.
BETHESDA, Md. (May 1, 2007) – Capt. Joseph Pasternak, an ophthalmology surgeon at National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, lines up the laser on Marine Corps Lt. Col. Lawrence Ryder’s eye before beginning LASIK IntraLase surgery. The actual procedure can take only seconds, while most of the patient’s time is spent preparing for the procedure. The new IntraLase procedure only takes days for service member’s to recover, versus months like the old PRK procedure. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brien Aho
I was excited about scheduling the appointment and I promised myself that I wouldn’t cancel this time. I made sure not to tell anyone outside of my immediate family about this procedure. I was scared. If my corneas were not thick enough, I couldn’t get it done. If my vision was too bad, I couldn’t get it done. There were so many unknown variables and I didn’t want to get my own hopes up only to have them crushed.
In April, I finally made it to a LASIK appointment that I scheduled. From the moment I walked into the door, I felt like I was at home. The staff was understanding of my fears, they were considerate, and they treated me like an adult. They told me the realities, and the risks. They told me financially what type of burden I would have and because of my credit score it became something I could afford. All that remained was the tests…
I went into multiple rooms, and went through multiple exams. I took every type of vision test imaginable and all that remained was a scan of my corneas. If they were thick, I’d qualify for the procedure. If they were not thick, my fear would be realized.
I anxiously sat in a chair as both of my eyes were being scanned. It felt like something out of a bad spy movie, as a beam of light circled around my eyeballs. After a few minutes, the staff told me the news that would define my future…
I qualified for the surgery.
Words couldn’t describe how happy I was. Something that held me back for so long would become a thing of the past. Over the next few weeks, I prepared by buying medications, making arrangements to take a short three-day weekend off of work, and staying at my parents house until I was recovered. Each day seemed shorter than the one before as I felt my time coming closer and closer.
Finally the day came, and I was completely nervous. I don’t remember the last time I felt so much anxiety about something. After filling out a mountain of paperwork, I was called back and sat in a small room. They asked me if I wanted a Valium to help me relax and I immediately took the pill. I put a surgery cap over my head and similar material over my shoes. As I waited for the Valium to kick in, the doctor walked in and introduced himself to me.
“You ready Tim,” he asked me.
I slowly nodded my head.
“Let’s do it,” he said as he led me to the surgery room.
I want to preface this part by saying that while I am not going to try to get too disgusting with this post, I will be describing what surgery was like from my end. If this is something that makes you uncomfortable, this may be the time to click off of this post.
I was told to lay on my back and lift my knees up and over what looked like a small pillow.
“Just like pilates class Tim,” the doctor joked with me.
I appreciated the jokes but I was still a bit nervous. The doctor put numbing drops into my eyes and the procedure was ready to start. They asked me to raise my eyebrows and they put what looked like masking tape over them to hold them in place. They proceeded to do the same with my lower eyelid and my eyes were wide open.
“This is really happening,” I thought to myself.
A laser device came over my head and I started to feel scared. They asked me to look up toward a green light. I made sure to stare right at it at all times. That’s when one of the scariest experiences of my life came.
“You’re going to have some blurry vision for a few seconds but it is normal Tim,” the doctor said.
My vision started to blur as he said it and then a few seconds later everything went black…
My eye was wide open, but I couldn’t see a thing. I was momentarily blind. I don’t know if anything ever scared me as much as that. They repeated the same process with my left eye and then gave me a minute to breathe after it was over. Despite the fear, I was amazed at how fast it all happened. I didn’t time it, but if I did I’d bet it was no more than 10 minutes.
“Come with me Tim,” the doctor said.
He took me into an exam room and turned on an exam chart. He asked me to read the chart. In that moment, the blurriness in my eyes went away and I read the entire chart top to bottom. The doctor looked at me and my jaw dropped.
“Oh my God,” I mouthed to him as he smiled. The surgery was a complete success, in less than 10 minutes my entire life had changed.
I went from four eyes to sore eyes. The aftercare has been a bit of a chore but for the enhanced quality of life I’ve experienced since then, it is something I am willing to put up with. A procedure I’ve been so scared of getting has changed so much already. I don’t remember the last time I’ve felt so excited.
As I drive places now, I read things out loud just because I can. I feel like a child that just learned how to read and is showing it off. I don’t squint whatsoever, I can go from watching TV to looking at my phone in a millisecond with no adjustment. I can wear brand new Oakley sunglasses instead of a cheap pair of clip-ons that never fit my glasses. So many little things that the average person takes for granted, I am experiencing for the first time and enjoying every second of it.
There are some set backs. I have to use multiple medicated eye drops for the next month, I have to wear sunglasses outdoors every day for the foreseeable future, I have to wear goofy looking goggles when I go to bed so I don’t rub my eyes in my sleep, and I’ll be paying on this 10 minute surgery for the next two years. But all in all, this was worth every single penny.
In the words of Johnny Nash: “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way.”