If you have perfect or near-perfect vision, imagine that one day you wake up and the world is kind of blurry. Within a week, you can see nothing with any clarity farther than 6 inches in front of your face. Now imagine living with that for over a decade. That’s how bad my vision was for most of my life.
Starting around grade school, it became hard to see the blackboard. And then hard to see road signs. And then I could hold my hand out at arms’ length, and my fingers were a blur. Every year I’d go for an eye exam, and they would tell me my vision had gotten worse by a half point or more.
For those of you who also have terrible eyes, I had a +6.5 in my left and a +7.0 in my right eye. For those who don’t have bad vision, just know that I was basically blinder than a bat (which, btw, is a totally inaccurate saying, but what can you do.)
If this were prehistoric times, I would be eaten by a Saber-tooth before you could say “hunter-gatherer”. Thank goodness we live in an era of modern medicine, so that I have the benefits of human technology to keep me alive, functioning, and productive.
Biannual eye exams, vision insurance, super thick glasses lenses, new frames every few years, two packs of contacts per month, a few contact cases and 2-packs of contact solution really adds up, especially when you are a high school student, a super poor college kid, and then a similarly broke graduate student.
I looked into LASIK eye surgery many many times, but kept getting sidetracked by the fact that most reputable places won’t even think about touching your eyes until 24, and the cost. The cost is pretty pricey, but varies widely. Most surgeons charge between $1000 – $2500 per eye, so $2,000 – $5,000 total. Yikes.
While I was a graduate student making only $10,500/year, I didn’t think this was at all possible. However, when I eventually decided to make the hard choice to leave the pursuit of a PhD in exchange for a different career path, I wound up in a job making $14/hr.
Now, this is not a hugely Earth-shattering amount of money, but it was significantly higher than the minimum wage, and enabled me to start saving a larger percentage of my take-home pay each month.
I had already paid down a big chunk from my (admittedly minuscule compared to average) undergraduate loans, and now finally had a 401K to contribute to. This career path was working out great for me, I totally loved it and was secure in the position. My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I lived together, were both quite frugal, and made more than 4x our rent per month combined.
It felt like the time had finally come.
Are you ready for LASIK?
If you are considering undergoing LASIK yourself, there are several things to keep in mind:
- Are you at least 18 years of age or older? Your eyes continue to grow and change shape until your mid-20s, so you shouldn’t be undergoing a procedure like this until then
- Can you handle the financial impact? If you are under crushing student loan / car loan / credit card debt, and are paying more than 20% of your income towards such things, maybe wait…
- Are you squeamish about pain or eye drops? Some people flinch and can’t handle it; if so find a family member/S.O./close friend to help, because at 2am when you’re in pain, you need those drops
- Has your prescription remained stable for at least 1 year? You don’t want your eyes to change as soon as you get the surgery
- LASIK is irreversible. You cannot un-laser your eyeballs
- There are a lot of very serious risks and possible side effects. Not to scare you away, but just know about it and be prepared to deal with these things
- This will not prevent age-related decline in eyesight. You may still need reading glasses again in your 40s, in fact you likely will. LASIK does not change that, but the younger you are when you do the surgery, the better you recover and the longer it lasts
Even if you think you are 100% ready for this, and cannot wait to throw your contact case or glasses in the trash, make sure you are aware of the risks, and have all your questions answered. Find a qualified physician who performs the procedure, and ask him or her lotttttttts of questions.
If they are good at what they do, they will likely answer many right up front, they will encourage you to ask, and they will answer honestly and thoughtfully, not just pressure you with a sales pitch.
Finding the right Doc:
If you are considering LASIK, you probably already have an optometrist you see regularly. You can ask them, if you like and trust them, for recommendations. Or you can ask around with your friends, coworkers, roommates, or family. You will definitely need at a minimum, a pre-surgical exam for the doctor to get an idea of the baseline status of your eyes.
You are able to go for a second opinion, or really to as many docs as you like, before making your decision. Talk to your insurance too, and see if they will cover anything at all: the pre or post-op exam, the eye drops, special eye coverings or sunglasses, etc. Make sure you understand the total cost, and any payment options available. Ask about the typical recovery time, and any symptoms you may have or that you should be concerned about.
Some sites or doctors will request you stop wearing contact lenses, if you do, for a few weeks’ beforehand, though my eye doctor did not. They told me my eyes were at the border of how bad they could get before nothing more could be done. So I decided to take the plunge.
One day, while living in Colorado, I heard an ad on the radio. Basically one of the nations’ top eye docs had his office right down the road from my office, and was running a holiday special. They were charging about $3000 for both eyes, if you came in for your free consult before the end of the month.
I had to use a special credit card account through a company called Care Credit. This was mandated by the office that did my procedure, I did not have a choice in the matter. Luckily, I had very good credit (always have) and qualified right away. I don’t think their screening was very thorough anyhow.
The terms were set with a planned repayment program, with no interest at all as long as you paid the total by or before the end of 3 years post surgery. Not a problem for me, in fact I paid a little extra a few times, and my very last payment (the only debt carried by myself or fiancee at the time) I timed to be the morning of our wedding day, so we could officially start our marriage debt free!
I signed up for the card, finished the pre-op exam, and scheduled the surgery date. I was so nervous, but also really excited! My mom, who is a registered nurse, volunteered to come out to stay with me for a few days too, to help with the drop administration and recovery part. I’m a lucky girl. 🙂
The procedure & recovery
The doc I used was great about preparing me for the day of surgery. They went over what would happen each step of the way, so I had a reasonable expectation of sensations and timeline.
- You get to the office, and they put you in a room. You get numbing eye drops, and then sit back to relax for about 30 minutes while they take effect.
- A doc or tech comes to get you, and leads you to the laser room. At this point, everything is super blurry, so I definitely held their arm and trusted they knew what they were doing.
- You lay back on the surgery chair/table, and they lower a big device over your face. Starting with one side, they have a clamp to hold your eyelid open. Your eye is numb, so it mostly doesn’t hurt, but the clamp thing puts a lot of pressure on your ocular bones; that part did hurt and gave me a headache 🙁
- The world slowly goes black as they laser the lens and peel it back. You also smell burning, which is super freaky. But I was warned, so I was ready for it.
- After about 2 minutes, the world becomes bright and blurry again as they replace the lens.
- The pressure is removed, and the big machine moves to your other eye and clamps it open.
- Repeat the black – burning smell – back to light on the other side.
- Pressure is finally gone, you can sit up and leave.
- They give you plastic eye guards (so you can’t unthinkingly scratch your eyes and for while you sleep), pain drops and antibiotic drops, and send you on your way home.
- You must put in both drops every 4 hours. Trust me, you want the numbing ones. Because about 8 hours after, right before I could put in drops again, my eyes were on FIRE. I wanted to cry because it hurt so much, but that would just make it hurt more.
- The pain only lasts about 24 hours, then it kind of goes away to just a dull throb, with a little dryness lingering a week or so. Keep using the drops as long as they tell you to.
- You go for a post-surgical checkup exam after about a month.
I KID YOU NOT, the second I sat up from the procedure, I could read the pictures on the walls, and the name tag on the shirt of the nurse helping me from the room. Modern medicine is miraculous.
I was driving the very next day. IT WAS A MIRACLE, forreal.
Other than the worst hour (the hour in the middle of the night right before I was allowed to put the numbing drops in again) there wasn’t very much pain at all. And the dryness went away within a week or so, though I think I wore the (really sexy) eye covers to bed for about a month. You do not want to tear the lens in your sleep!
Since having LASIK done, I have never once regretted it. I no longer have to worry about whether I have enough contact solution or where my glasses are. I can go swimming and not worry about losing a lens, or ride a jet ski, or read late at night, or a myriad of other things you don’t really think about with good vision.
The only lingering side effect? Onions bother me now.
I know some people will say “That’s silly, onions bother everyone”. Not true, as a foodie, I’ve diced my fair share of onions and then some. And they have never made me tear up. But post-LASIK, as soon as knife hits flesh on an onion, here come the waterworks. In terms of trade-off, I’ll take it.
Almost 4 years later, it still hits me once in a while what a miraculous thing eyesight is, and how blessed I am to have 20/20 vision now.
How much did I spend vs save?
Clearly, from a lifestyle perspective, I think LASIK was well worth it.
But, was is a sound financial decision? I ran the numbers, and you can see for yourself. I added up what I would spend in a typical year on glasses and contacts, these numbers may vary based on how good your vision insurance is, where you buy your lenses, what brand/type you use, how often you change them, etc. This is just based on my experiences, in Ohio and Colorado prices.
- 12 contact lenses = ~$38 per box x 2 eyes = $76 (+tax)
Year’s supply = $152 (+tax)
- Contact solution = ~$4 per 3 months x 4 = $16
- Contact cases = $2 (I’d lose at least one per year)
Yearly cost = approx. $170
LASIK surgery performed at 26 should last me approximately 20-25 years, meaning the cost of not buying contacts (plus about $200 for new glasses roughly every 4 years) would be:
Total over 20 years: ($170 x 20) + 800 = $4200
And if it lasts me even longer, then so much the better! Therefore, at a minimum, if LASiK lasts 20 years and I paid $3000, then I will have saved myself $1200. Along with a lot of headache and annoyance, which is worth even more than that to me.