Communism is Good… for Your Eyes

Our Sabbatical would have been much more complicated if I was still blind as a bat. Fortunately, the marvels of today’s medicine liberated me from prescription eye glasses, and allowed my son to climb my head any time of the day!

Recently, a friend of mine asked to share my opinion on the subject of LASIK surgery. He was the one who convinced me to do it, now he’s persuading yet another friend to follow path. Instead of responding directly, I though I would share my experiences in this blog, hoping that it might be of help and interest also to other people. I had my surgery done couple of years ago. That’s recent enough to remember most of it’s details and far enough to be able to judge it’s outcome. Since everyone’s situation is different, I think it’s worth explaining my particular case.

I wasn’t Always Blind as a Bat.

In fact, for the first twenty years of my life I enjoyed a very good eyesight. Actually so excellent,  I frequently hit the bulls eye at our school’s shooting range. Yes, you read it right. Our high school, just as about any other in Poland under the communist regime, had a shooting range and all students were trained to handle a sports rifle. For no particular reason, of course…

Growing up in the 80’s, I didn’t have many opportunities to screw up my vision. Neither had my friends. With just one or two public TV channels,  transmitting mostly yet another communist party congress or some agricultural training materials, we didn’t have many incentives to stay in front of the tube. Reading was a decent alternative, but since the books available in bookstores and libraries were carefully selected by the almighty censors, there were only so many exciting titles worth reading by flashlight under bed covers. Therefore, for lack of better alternatives…

We Played Outside.

There weren’t that many cars around, so we turned almost every parking lot into football (soccer) fields. At the time, most residential areas had carpet beaters (not sure if that’s the right word for “trzepak”), which made excellent goals. Since playgrounds were rare, they also doubled as jungle gyms and regular hang-out spots for the youth in our neighborhood. Since all the media were equally not trustworthy, our parents weren’t that scared of the world and let us play outside all days long. Completely unsupervised. Or at least so we thought… Playing ball, riding bikes and running around, the streets were full of kids and always busy. Even though the steel plants in our city were polluting at intense rate, we still got plenty of vitamin “D”, growing up reasonably healthy and ignorantly happy.

Then Came the Changes.

In the mid 80’s, the first TV gaming systems started popping-up. Remember the two lines on each side of the screen and a dot traveling across? The “tennis” games didn’t really take off, but some of our more fortunate friends, with relatives in West Germany got their first ZX Spectrum and Atari 800XL computers. Bootleggers stared making fortunes, the streets deserted, Russian “color” (predominantly red) TVs found their purpose and we were all staring at their bleak displays for hours.

My first computer was a Commodore C16, with a whooping 16kb RAM and a very limited supply of games. It’s ROM based operating system had a build in interpreter of of the powerful programming language called… Basic.

This is When I Became a Geek.

Since I heaven’t had too many games, I spent hours developing simple code to draw circles or other figures on the tiny screen of a  Russian black and white TV set. Within a year or so, the C16 got replaced with a C64 and the small black&white TV got replaced with a small color TV. Then came another upgrade, then another. By the end of the 80’s I was the happiest owner of an Amiga computer attached to… a small color TV set.

It wasn’t until mid 90’s that I got my first proper monitor. And even that was a small, 14 inch CRT. At that time, I also started noticing that my eyesight is becoming weaker and weaker. At some point I had to admit that…

I Became a Road Hazard.

Not seeing clearly, I started to have difficulties. It didn’t matter in most daily life situations, but being young and reckless I liked to drive rather dynamically. Not seeing clearly the road in front of me started to be scary. Especially for my passengers. In 1998 it was time to finally admit that my “geekiness” ruined my vision. It was time to…

Put on the Eye Glasses

My shortsightedness has been confirmed with a -1.5 dioptres prescription. Suddenly, with a pair of thin rim glasses my emanated IQ increased by some 20%, but my life quality decreased by significantly more.

It took a lot of time, until I learned how to handle such delicate instruments. The glasses were always scratched and dirty, the rims crooked, the case misplaced, etc… Frankly, I’m not sure, I ever got used to them. The aesthetics weren’t really the biggest problem. Not being a sports freak, but averagely active young person nonetheless, I mostly suffered from…

Significantly Limited Range of Activities

Wearing corrective eye glasses, it’s difficult to play sports, swim or even run. In the winters, I remember walking into bars or on a hot summer day leaving air conditioned building  and completely loosing vision for few minutes, waiting for the glasses to de-fog. Many times I felt asleep with my glasses on, only to wake up to a knocked out eyepiece and mangled up rims. I could only ride my motorcycle in a full face helmet or using special, prescription goggles. Not to mention that…

Eyeglasses Costed a Fortune

Until I found the websites that sell decent quality Designer Eyeware for Less!, I used to spend several hundred dollars every year. My eyesight was worsening, so I needed upgrades. I mishandled my glasses, so I needed repairs. I kept loosing those damn things and I needed replacements. As much as the eye glasses were uncomfortable…

I Never Got to Use Corrective Lenses

Somehow, the idea of putting foreign objects into my eyes, didn’t feel very appealing. Plus, the cost of prescription lenses also seemed prohibitive. Yes, I’m cheap- just ask my wife…

Finally, few years ago, I heard about LASIK, commonly known as laser eye surgery. It is a procedure that aims to reshape corneas to sharpen vision. I won’t go over the details of the surgery, for I’m really not qualified to do so. Let me just say that it took me few years before I decided to get my eyes resharpened. As most people, I was mostly concerned with the…

Risks of LASIK eye surgery

Not that I heard about many problems, but the sole idea of aiming a laser beam at one of  your most precious organs and burning a hole in it, wasn’t that attractive. Only after I spoke to a few friends of mine, who had the procedure done, I started contemplating it for real. It was November 2009 and instead of eating fat turkey celebrating Thanksgiving, we took off for couple of weeks in Jamaica. I spent the time educating myself about the risks and benefits of LASIK surgery and upon return to the US, I finally contacted the suggested eye clinic in Rochester. I won’t mention it’s name, as I believe there is already enough ads on this blog. If you’re interested, please contact me, and I’ll send the contact info.

Laser Eye Surgery Financing

The initial examination took place early in December 2009. If it wasn’t for the doctor’s  busy schedule, I think, I would have been done within 4 or 6 weeks. It’s the time needed to prepare eyes using all kinds of eye drops for the LASIK surgery. Instead, I had to wait until later part of January of 2010. That gave me bit of time to work out the finances.

Even though the prices of LASIK eye surgeries dropped significantly in the last 10 years, I think they are still quite expensive. Especially when you see what’s involved. I decided to do the surgery in the US, but some of my colleagues at work took trips to Canada where the same procedure was just half the price. I know, you can also do it in south of the border, but many people won’t even consider to travel to Mexico. Even if that exact same LASIK procedure is considerably cheaper there.

In the US, the insurance won’t cover the eye surgery. Most doctor’s offices will however offer some kind of financing. Couple that with your medical FSA and you can work a pretty sweet deal for you. If you schedule the LASIK procedure at the beginning of the year, your FSA give you a de-facto 12 month, interest free financing.

Oh, an one more thing. If you plan on parting your ways with your current employer, do it in January and you will get a free LASIK surgery! How to do it? Declare appropriate FSA contributions the previous year, use FSA to pay for the surgery and quit your job right after the laser eye procedure. Most employers will have to cover the difference… Obviously that’s one of the things they don’t wont you to know. Not to mention, that it’s only suitable for people with more relaxed moral values…

The LASIK procedure

The laser eye surgery is actually a very short one. In my case it only took 45 minutes, of which 30 were waiting and preparation (i.e. tons of eye drops and Valium to keep you steady). Each eye takes about 5 minutes of gluing, adjusting and reinforcing and only about 10 seconds of actual eye surgery. It may sound a bit scary, and it feels a bit weird, but in fact there is nothing to worry about. If the tests are positive and you’re a suitable candidate for LASIK surgery, a very detailed computer model of your eyes will be developed through a series of examinations. That program will guide the laser beam to open the flap in your outer cornea and reshape it’s inner surface according to the model, then to close it back. I’m over simplifying and not being very exact here, but if you’re interested in the details, you can always investigate the subject for yourself.

In my case, it took longer to drive to and back from the clinic, then the LASIK laser eye procedure itself. Obviously I couldn’t drive back myself, so be sure to have a drive at hand to take you home. I got a pair of nice goggles to wear for the next 24 hours and a nice t-shirt with a teasing “Guess what I’m not wearing?” in front and the clinics logo on the back. Pretty damn steep for the $2,600 I paid…

I spent the next few hours in bed, stuffed with yet another dose of Valium. Obviously I didn’t complain – good night (or even afternoon) sleep is always welcome. The next morning I was back to work, except… no glasses!

Feedback After the Laser Eye Surgery

My vision improved almost immediately. Already leaving the clinic, I knew the procedure was successful. Even though blurry and foggy at first, I could already see objects that were off limits before. Within the first 12 hours after surgery, my vision was completely restored. The only side effect, which continued for several weeks was an extreme dryness of my eyes, forcing me to apply eye drops every couple of hours during the day. After few weeks even that went away and I could enjoy a perfect 20/15 vision ever since.

The Official Patient's Sourcebook on LASIK SurgeryIn fact, I wish, I educated myself and decided on the procedure much earlier. The results are amazing. My eye sight has not deteriorated after the surgery. What’s most important though, I can now enjoy all the activities that were previously either off limits or too complicated to perform with eye glasses.

I hope this personal account of a healed patient will be of value to anyone who considers a LASIK surgery. The results are definitely worth the effort. Obviously this post does not cover even a small fraction of the information required by anyone who’s serious about taking this step. Recently, I stumbled upon a book titled The Official Patient’s Sourcebook on LASIK Surgery, which promises the following:

This book has been created for patients who have decided to make education and research an integral part of the treatment process. Although it also gives information useful to doctors, caregivers and other health professionals, it tells patients where and how to look for information covering virtually all topics related to lasik surgery (also Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis; LASIK eye surgery), from the essentials to the most advanced areas of research. The title of this book includes the word official. This reflects the fact that the sourcebook draws from public, academic, government, and peer-reviewed research. Selected readings from various agencies are reproduced to give you some of the latest official information available to date on lasik surgery. Given patients’ increasing sophistication in using the Internet, abundant references to reliable Internet-based resources are provided throughout this sourcebook. Where possible, guidance is provided on how to obtain free-of-charge, primary research results as well as more detailed information via the Internet. E-book and electronic versions of this sourcebook are fully interactive with each of the Internet sites mentioned (clicking on a hyperlink automatically opens your browser to the site indicated). Hard-copy users of this sourcebook can type cited Web addresses directly into their browsers to obtain access to the corresponding sites. In addition to extensive references accessible via the Internet, chapters include glossaries of technical or uncommon terms.

Even though it might seem a little off topic, without my eyes being fixed, the whole Sabbatical road trip would be much less enjoyable and life more complicated. By the way, here’s a link to a blog post about the LASIK eye surgery I wrote the day after the procedure. It’s a fresh, first hand relation,  but it’s only in Polish… Sorry!

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