For almost twenty years, I've been very nearsighted. My left eye was -12.5 diopters before the surgery and my right eye is -11. I have always been dependent on glasses or contacts, but lately I've become frustrated with both. With my glasses, even the thinnest lenses were still very thick and the area of perfect vision through the lenses was very small. The glasses gave me headaches, slipped down my nose, and scratched up easily. My contacts frequently dried out, blurred, or fell out. I got dust and dirt caught behind my contacts, and my eyes itched a lot. I preferred contacts anyway because they gave me perfect vision and good peripheral vision, while my glasses did not.
When I heard about the ICL procedure several years ago, it hadn't been FDA approved yet, but I liked the idea of putting the contacts inside my eyes. Then I could have good vision without the constant hassle and irritation.
FDA approval of the procedure occured last year. The ICL surgery is expensive (about $10K) and is almost never covered by insurance, so it is way out of the budget for most people and it certainly isn't something you can just get done on a whim. I talked to my eye doctor about it and he agreed to send me to a center in Houston (I live near Austin) to see if I was a good candidate. Scheduling the entire procedure was a bit difficult. The surgery requires lots of doctor appointments, like so:
- First visit - tests and more tests to make sure you are eligible
- Second visit - YAG iridotomy, which puts tiny holes in the iris. The contact lens (ICL) will block the normal flow of liquid in the eye, which could raise pressure in the eye and cause glaucoma. These holes in the iris provide an alternative route for liquid to ooze around, preventing pressure buildup. You must get an eye pressure check one hour after the YAG.
- Third visit - Surgery to put a lens in the first eye. Must be one week after the YAG iridotomy. A few hours after surgery you must go back for a pressure check.
- Fourth visit - A post-op check to make sure everything looks good. The day after the surgery.
- Fifth visit - A one-week post-op check to make sure the eye is healing up.
- Sixth visit - Surgery to put a lens in the second eye. Must be about two weeks after the first surgery. A few hours after surgery you must go back for a pressure check.
- Seventh visit - A post-op check to make sure everything looks good. The day after the surgery.
- Eighth visit - A one-week post-op check to make sure the eye is healing up.
- More visits - as needed or determined by the doctor
Some people may wonder what a YAG iridotomy feels like. Let me tell you, so far that has been the absolute worst part. First, the doctor puts drops in your eyes to contract your irises. This gave me a horrible migraine and I had to take several aspirin. Then they numb your eyes with more drops. Then you sit in front of this machine and they put a circular lens coated with gel into your eye, aim a laser through it, and pull the trigger to ZAP your iris. The zap is very unpleasant and the doctor has to carefully zap each iris about six times - two holes, three zaps per hole. It was surprising, a bit painful, and caused me to flinch each time the laser zapped. If you have ever had laser hair removal on your body, then I would say this was very similar, except inside your eye and without the burning hair smell. The leftover gel was truly a major hassle since you aren't allowed to rub it out of your stinging eyes. I had to dab at my eyes for hours and hours as the gel slowly made its way out. I was squinty and my eyes felt sandy and irritated for days afterwards.
The surgery a week later was a piece of cake, though I had to fast overnight so I was pretty hungry. I went to the surgery center, waited for several hours in an icy cold, totally packed waiting room, then got called in to a bed. They stabbed an IV in me, got me hooked up to some crazy machines, put a star in black marker over my left eye, poured drops in my eye, and made me lay there for a while. Because I was cold and hungry and a bit stressed out, I was shaking a lot. When they wheeled me into the operating room, the anesthesiologist started the drugs flowing to get me to stop shaking, and it really pretty much knocked me out instantly. I vaguely remember any of the operation, though I remember a nurse telling me I needed to wake up and put on my shoes because it was time to go home. I went back to the hotel and slept for several hours.
My eye felt just fine, though. After I woke up, and over the next couple days, my eye felt like normal, and I could even see out of it almost as well as if I had a contact in my eye (which I guess I did). It's been three days since the operation and my eye feels just fine. It's a bit blurry because the surgery causes temporary astigmatism and some swelling, but the doctor said that should go away in a few days. My vision is getting better every day. I have to put lots of drops in it throughout the day and I wear an eye shield in bed. I'm not allowed to bend over, pick up heavy things, go jogging, or do anything that might put pressure on my eye or jolt it. The worst part, though, was that I couldn't wash my hair or face for two days after the surgery! Bleah!
I'm wearing a contact in my right eye so I can function. The difference is noticeable, though. My right eye gets itchy and irritated by the end of the day, but my left eye is happy as a clam. On the other hand, my left eye's vision is somewhat blurry, so I am depending on my right eye to confirm what my left eye can only suspect. I am hoping that the difference between the two eyes will narrow somewhat as my left eye heals up and the astigmatism goes away.
In three weeks I will post Part II, which will be after the surgery on my right eye. We'll see how my left eye turned out and what I can expect from both eyes in the end. Will I still need glasses or contacts or have I finally been set free?
Edit 11/27/09: I've posted a three-year update about the ICL here: ICL Surgery Update: I have glasses