Updated: Feb 20, 2019
Laser eye surgery has been a goal of mine since Lasik surgery hit the mainstream when I was a teenager. My vision has been pretty stable since my early-20s (I'm 34 now), but I've never really had the money, or the desire to spend the money, until the past few years. My dad had Lasik more than 10 years ago and he is always saying it's the best thing he did and I should look into it. Also, I have a number of other friends and colleagues that had the surgery done and rave about it. The idea shooting lasers into your eyeballs, just to avoid wearing glasses and/or contacts, seems a little crazy. You can find horror stories on the internet, but I never met anyone in person who had any serious complications and most rave about it, so I decided the risks were low and I should just go ahead and do it. I'm not getting any younger, so another motivator was that I'll likely be in reading glasses at some point so it's better to do it soon and enjoy 10+ years of no glasses at all.
I'm a fairly busy person at work, so the thought of going to a bunch of ophthalmologists around New York City trying to find a good one sounded exhausting. So I did was any person of the 21st century would do and I spent hours on the internet researching doctors. I cross checked reviews on Yelp, Google Maps, ZocDoc, and others. The websites of the vision centers were sometimes helpful and I didn't feel comfortable with the ones that looked like they were chop shop trying to push as many surgeries as possible. I read unappealing reviews of places that did the consultation and then started pushing payment plans on you. Or they advertised a low price only to realize that all the required follow up visits cost a couple hundred a piece. I guess I was trying to find the happy medium of a doctor that did a lot of Lasik and PRK surgeries, but one that was also professional and had the patients interest in mind.
Dr Eric Mandel on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is who I settled on. He got almost entirely good reviews across all sites. While his prices looked a little higher, it was also a full package cost that included all follow up appointments. I made the appointment for some time in November 2018.
The consultation was mostly me looking into a lot of machines that were apparently spitting out data on the shape of my eye and the thickness of my cornea. They kept bragging about their technology and told me it was the best (I never did much research to see if any of that was true). They dilated my eyes and tortured me with a light. The whole thing actually took longer than I thought, maybe 1.5 hours. In the end I was told that my corneas were borderline too thin for Lasik and so I'd have to do PRK. I said, "Ok... What's that?". He explained that instead of cutting a flap, he would scrape away the epithelium layer on my eyeball and then a laser would correct my vision and the epithelium layer would then grow back. I'm certainly not the best person to explain the difference, but I found this short video pretty informative.
After they explained the costs to me, which was $5,100 for PRK in both eyes, I told them I would think about it and told them to call me the next day. After reading about people be pressured into it after a consultation, I told myself going in that I wasn't going to give an answer that day. Also, I didn't know much about PRK so I needed to do a lot of research.
My research started with YouTube videos of people sharing their experience. I found those to be very reassuring. Going in, I'll admit that my bias was to get the surgery so I wanted to find data points that would support my decision. In reading and watching peoples experiences, I noted that while everyone's experience seemed to be different, just about everyone ended up happy with their results. That was pretty much enough for me to commit to the surgery when they called the next day.
I used a Limited Purpose Flex spending account to pay for the procedure, which helped cover about $2,500 of the cost through pre-tax deductions from my paycheck. One cool thing about flex spending accounts is that the amount you commit to is taken from your paycheck in even amounts over the year, but you are able to use 100% of it upfront. It's basically an interest-free, tax-free, loan. Also, if you quit your job or get laid off you don't have to pay any of it back.
Anyway, the point of explain all of that is to say that scheduled my surgery for January 2, 2019 as that was the first day I could do it and use the flex money. The other reason I chose that date is because the first week of the year is an easier week to take off work. I asked the doctor multiple times and was reassured that I would be able to go back to my desk job in about 6 or 7 days, in fact, the day after surgery he said I could go back the next day if I wanted to. However, one of my regrets (which I'll get into in another post) is that I didn't take off enough time. Ideally, taking 10+ days off work after PRK surgery seems like the best plan to me. Have the surgery on a Wednesday or Thursday and then take the rest of that week and the following week off.
With all of that settled, I pretty much spent December reading as much as I could. I would search for "PRK negative side effects" and get a little antsy about the whole thing, and then I would watch people YouTube videos, reddit posts, blogs, etc. and remember that that vast majority of people ended up with perfect vision and limited complications.
My wife never really spent time to research it because the idea of it freaked her out. In my recovery period, she started reading about what the heck I just did to my eyes and said she never would have let me do it if she had known what it was. So take that story and decided if its a good idea or not to have your significant other involved in your decision process.
I'll stop here, but stay tuned for my post on the day of the surgery.