I Am Not Brave
At least, not when it comes to medical stuff. I avoid hospitals and doctors at all costs. My admission into the hospital during my pregnancy was literally the first time in my then 26 years of life I had ever set foot into a hospital as a legitimate patient. So it should come as no surprise that it took me a year to talk myself into even asking about possibly having LASIK done to correct my vision.
LASIK in a Foreign Country?!
Yeah. It sounded iffy to me as well. We’ve all heard the stigma at one time or another, or listened to the horror stories of people flying to Mexico to have a procedure done only to have it backfire in a grotesque way. However, since coming to South Korea with my husband, my eyes have been opened to just how backwards (and far behind) some aspects of American Healthcare truly are.
I am, by nature, and investigator. I like making informed decisions. So I did my homework – talking to multiple other people who had already had the procedure done and even consulting with my on base physician to get his honest opinion about the quality of care I might expect from a Korean eye clinic. The response was a resounding –YES– to having this procedure done here, in South Korea, not only because it was far more affordable than it would be in America, but also because the quality of care is leaps and bounds ahead of what is even available in the states.
Where to Go?
So the verdict was in. This was a good place to have LASIK done. The question was, which clinic should I go to? In a country where I don’t speak the native language, I worried about finding the right place where I would feel comfortable or even be able to have a conversation with the doctor. In literally every instance when I spoke to other patients who had previously had this operation, they highly recommended a clinic in Gangnam, Seoul called Glory Seoul Eye Clinic. But as I said before, I’m a researcher. So I began looking for information online about the clinic and reading testimonials from more and more patients, many of them foreign. They all said essentially the same thing: “This place is awesome!”
Part 1: The Exams
Unlike in America, there is no requirement for meeting with a constellation of other eye doctors to get their approval for the surgery. I sent the clinic an email via their Facebook page, made an appointment, and arrived on a Friday morning. Glory Seoul staffs their own tech and does their own (very extensive) testing. I’d been asked to remove my contacts and wear only glasses for the week leading up to this appointment, and believe me nothing makes you want to have your eyes zapped than wearing old glasses that are several prescriptions off for a week. The waiting room at Glory Seoul was absolutely packed, but the overall feeling of the clinic is that it is very professional, organized, and methodical about moving through so many patients. I was not the only American there, which was a relief. And the techs who performed my exams were able to communicate with me in English fairly well. They ran a barrage of tests from the dreaded puff of air on the eyeball, to staring at the hot air balloon and making sure my tear production was appropriate, to far more in depth tests I’d never had done before. Overall, the process took about two hours. Thank goodness there was a free coffee bar in the lobby!
Part 2: The Doctor
Once the exams were complete and my results had all been charted, I met with Dr. William Kim. He showed me all my results, and explained that my eyes were very healthy and that I would be a perfect candidate for LASIK or LASEK. He explained the difference between the two operations (I wasn’t even aware there were two), and let me decide which worked best for me. I chose LASIK because it’s less invasive and has a much shorter recovery time. Dr. Kim then explained that I’d be receiving a prescription for three kinds of drops; artificial tears, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory to be used post procedure. I was given lots of pages of information about how to care for my eyes post-op (all in English). The big kicker, though? I could have the operation done THE SAME DAY.
Part 3: The Surgery
I had no idea what to expect. For all the talking I’d done to previous patients, anxiety and an overactive imagination had me shaking like a leaf as I was taken back to the operation room. They had me lie down on a rolling table, put my head in a cradle, and (attempt) to relax. First, they put numerous drops into my eyes and cleaned around them with alcohol swabs (if you plan on having this done, don’t wear makeup that day). I’m going to assume some of those drops numbed my eyeballs because the first machine that was lowered down over my head like something from an alien abduction was the one intended to make the cuts in the outermost layer of my eyeball. Did it hurt? No, absolutely not. I didn’t feel anything but weird pressure. Was it freaky? Absolutely. Before the machine goes to work, they insert a rubbery ring around your eyeball to hold your lids back. You won’t feel much of this, but it’s a strange sensation. When the cuts are made, your vision goes black for a moment and then everything is very hazy. “Just breathe, it’ll be fine, this is normal,” the doctor kept telling me. He was very good about letting me know what was happening and even counting down the various parts of the procedure. Once I was rolled over to the actual eye-zapper laser (technical term), having the procedure itself done took 18 seconds per eye. There was no pain, just a smell like burning hair as the laser reshaped my eye. Once the doctor closed the flaps and placed a bandage lens over my eye – I could already see more clearly than I could without my glasses before. WEIRD BUT AWESOME!!
I walked out of the clinic less than an hour later, able to see. It was hazy, yes, but I could read street signs with my naked eye – something I hadn’t been able to do since 5th grade.
Part 4: Post-Operation & Recovery
About two hours after the procedure, the numbing drops began to wear off. I didn’t feel pain. But what I did feel was like a sunburn on my eyeballs and a fierce headache. My eyes felt tired and irritated, which is understandable considering what I’d just put them through. But as a giant pansy, I started to freak out a little.
This is where those prescription drops come in, which I was able to pick up on my way out the door at the pharmacy downstairs (super convenient!). I turned all the lights in the hotel room off, as they made the headache worse, and assumed the fetal position on the bed. I applied the artificial tears religiously every ten minutes and did the first round of the medicinal drops. I also took two ibuprofen and settled into 2 hours later – I was like a new human. A new human that could SEE, that is. I had the procedure at 2 PM and by 6 PM when we went to dinner, I could see my husband and son sitting across the table. I could read the menu. I could see the city lights outside our hotel window.
That night, I slept in the dorky plastic goggles I was given to protect my eyes. A few times, more out of nerves than need, I awoke and applied more of the artificial tears. The next morning, I threw open the curtains and I could see clearly!!! There was a small amount of glare off things that were bright like my phone screen or lights, but it wasn’t unbearable. I kept with the drops, and returned to the clinic at 11 AM for my follow up appointment. Once again, they did several exams on my eyes and checked how my vision had improved. Dr. Kim was very pleased with my results and said that my vision will continue to improve as the week goes on. He removed my bandage lenses (painless), and advised me not to apply any eye make up or rub my eyes for the next week.
What Comes Next . . .
I throw away my glasses. I flush my contacts. I start a new life free of the fear of being caught without either of those things! I can’t express how that feels. It’s like having an ball and chain cut from my foot that I’ve been dragging around since I was 11 years old. The future is bright – and I’ll actually be able to see it!
For more information about GLORY SEOUL EYE CLINIC, visit their website or Facebook page. This post reflects only my experience, and I took no pictures within the clinic to respect the privacy of the other patients. https://www.gloryseouleyeclinic.com/