My PRK Story: An Introduction

Hello!  Welcome to my PRK Recovery Story!  If you are reading this, you are probably contemplating refractive eye surgery, or maybe have already gotten it and are curious about others’ experiences.  When I was first presented with PRK as my best option for corrective eye surgery, I immediately scoured the internet for any scrap of information I could find (seriously, I was hitting the 20somethingth page of Google results).  Reading others’ experiences with PRK surgery helped me decide to take the plunge, and be prepared for the recovery process.  Since others’ stories helped me so greatly, I wanted to pay it forward and add my own.  I’ve added a list of some of these other great stories to the bottom of this post.

Why get corrective eye surgery?  Aren’t lasers scary??

I have been wearing glasses since 1st grade, and contacts since 4th grade.  Growing up, I was very active in sports.  Have you ever worn sports goggles?  They are NOT comfortable.  Since my parents made me wear gas permeable lenses as a kid, thinking they would slow down my eye regression, I could not wear the contacts in sports.  I refused to wear the goggles after awhile, so I used to run around the soccer field half blind.  I also did gymnastics for awhile, and believe me, you do not want to get chalk in your eyes with contacts.

About 6 years ago, I switched to toric soft contacts.  The toric lenses were way more comfortable than the gas perms, but also very expensive.  Same with my glasses, unless I want to have coke bottle lenses.  I always wanted Lasik.  To me, there would be nothing freer than not having to wear glasses and contacts.  So here I am, in my late twenties with good vision insurance.  I decided it was time to at least investigate.

Why PRK?

My vision insurance provides for a free Lasik consultation with LasikPlus.  I knew I wanted the surgery, so I figured why not at least get a consultation – it was free after all.  I felt like I had a pretty good grip on what Lasik entailed, but I had no idea about PRK.

When I went for my consultation, the doctor did a took scans of my eye in two different machines, tested for dryness, cornea pressure, and vision.  They had me watch a short video about Lasik and PRK, though, to be honest, I really only listened to the Lasik portion which told me what I had already learned online.  While I was waiting to talk to the doctor, I heard the person ahead of told that he wasn’t a candidate.  I felt a little comforted that they did turn people away.

When it was my time to talk to the doctor, she told me that two of my four scans were, “a little funny.”  Ok….what does that mean?  She said that it wasn’t limiting, but that she would conservatively recommend PRK instead of Lasik.  My prescription was -3.25 (sph), -3.00 (cyl) in my right eye, and -5.25 (sph), -1.25 (cyl) in my left.  The doctors, and later the surgeon, explained that the combination of my astigmatism and large pupil size (8.2 mm vs. the 6 mm average) meant that Lasik could cause my cornea to weaken over time and leave me worse off than I started.

She explained that they do not create a flap in PRK surgery, and said that there is a longer recovery time.  She also explained some of the benefits of PRK over Lasik.  For example, no flap means no risk of complications with the flap itself.  I still play soccer recreationally, so the idea that getting hit in the face with a soccer ball could cause the flap to break was a realistic fear.

Being the stubborn and somewhat single-minded person I can be, I scheduled the surgery for the following week.  As soon as I returned home, I set out online to find every scrap of information out there.  If I was going to do this, I was going to do everything possible to have a speedy recovery.  My job requires me to stare at a computer 99% of the time, so the idea of needing weeks to recover just wasn’t going to do it.

Recovery Time

I was told that the PRK recovery time is about 5 days to get back to normal life, but that it can take 3 to 5 months for vision to fully stabilize.  The surgeon said that, given my pupil size, it is likely that the nighttime halo/glare effect may never completely go away.  Wherever it was at 5 months is likely to be where it stays, unless I opt for additional “enhancements” later on.

Based on the different accounts I have read, recovery time seems to vary greatly.  Some say that they could not work or drive for a week or more after the surgery, while others were doing this much sooner.  Age, prescription, and pre existing eye issues probably play a role in recovery time.  I’m not a doctor, but that just seems logical.

Costs

If you have spent even a minute googling Lasik or PRK, you probably came across at least one ad claiming to offer it for as low as $250 per eye.  Frankly, I am not sure who that price would actually apply to, or whether you really want to trust something as important as your eyes to a deal like that.  In 2015, the national average price of PRK surgery was $2,081 per eye.

My cost was $3541.64, plus about $55 for the prescription drops.  Let’s break that down.  The standard price at my LasikPlus center is listed as $2,149 per eye ($4,298 for those of us who aren’t good at math).  That includes, according to my receipt one year of unlimited postop examinations and enhancements under the LasikPlus Advantage Plan.  I received a 15% discount from my vision insurance, saving $322.15 per eye.  I also received a “Center Level” discount of $91.33 per eye ($182.66 total).  Additionally, they provided me with 4 boxes of Blink Preservative Free Drops ($60) and one bottle of Blink ($11).  This brings us the $3541, and a total savings of $827 ($322 x2 + 182).  They did not charge me sales tax.

A Word on No Interest Financing:  Sounds awesome.  In fact, as long as you pay it back, it’s not a bad way to build up some positive credit.  BUT, only take it if you are 100% sure you can pay it back within the 12 month period.  My LasikPlus center offered it through a CareCredit card – basically a credit card dedicated to health spending.  I applied for like like a credit card at my LasikPlus center and was approved for $6000.  A week later, I received the card in the mail.  It turns out I didn’t need the physical card the day of surgery because LasikPlus must have some sort of affiliation that they had the information already.  My point is this: tread carefully.  No interest financing for 12 months sounds great, but the penalty for not paying it off in that period is harsh.  In my case, I will be charged a 26% interest rate, starting on the day of purchase.  So 12 months of 26%.  Let that sink in.

Be smart.  Take a honest look at your finances before you take that plunge and have a plan to pay it off before you show up for surgery.  If you have a Health FSA, elect to put as much as you can in at the end of the year if you think you want this surgery next year.  I didn’t do this, and I also wasn’t patient enough to wait until next year, so I know I’m missing out on some tax-free money.  Just be smart.  I’ve found that this aspect is not discussed much in the blogs I’ve found, and it deserves at least a couple of paragraphs.

Full disclosure:

I am writing this 6 days after surgery.  I made handwritten notes for the first four days, which I will type up and post individually, and then will continue on from today  until there is nothing interesting to report.

Pre-Op Tips:

Before my surgery, I tried to find any tips I could to speed up recovery time.  I can’t vouch for any medical reason why these might help, but they don’t sound like they hurt.

  • Vitamin C – I began taking 500mg of Vitamin C about 6 days before my surgery.  On the day of, someone who worked at the center mentioned taking 1000 mg, so I upped it right after.  At my first follow up visit, the doctor told me to start taking 500 mg twice per day, so there must be something to it.
  • Fish oil – Fish oil arguably helps with eye health and healing.
  • Ice Packs– The surgeon told me after my procedure that using an ice pack can help with the pain.  I did not find it personally all that helpful, and the weight of the ice pack laying on my eye was somewhat uncomfortable.
  • Refrigerated Preservative Free Drops – I was given four boxes of preservative free eye drops on the day of my surgery, and several people at LasikPlus said that using them right out of the fridge would feel extra soothing – I agree with this, but it’s probably a personal preference.
  • Black out curtains – After the surgery, you’re going to want to sit in a dark room for a few days, and black out curtains can help with light sensitivity and allow you to sleep better.  I already had them and found them pretty
  • Audiobooks/Podcasts – Take a second and think about the last leisure activity you did sitting in a dark room and not using your eyes.  And let me know what it was, because seriously, there’s really not much you can do.  I never realized how much time I spent looking at a computer, phone, tv, or book until I had this surgery.  It gets boring REALLY fast.  Arm up ahead of time.
  • Ice cream: Because ice cream makes everything better.

Other PRK experiences:

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