Short story: Everything went perfectly smoothly and I have 20/20 vision now. It's awesome. Read on if you want details (some of which may be somewhat squeam-inducing, so use your own judgment).
The day before surgery I had to start taking antibiotic eye drops every several hours. Since I don't wear contacts or makeup, there wasn't much else to do differently from normal. So nothing too bad about that. I spent more time on mental preparation, though.
Between Wednesday and Thursday nights I actually watched about an hour's worth of LASIK videos on YouTube. This is probably not recommendable for everyone, but I really like knowing precisely what I'm getting into. If I can't face it in something as safe as a video, I probably shouldn't be doing it in real life, right? Anyway, I put on some good music and just practiced getting used to the procedure and feeling relaxed around it. I figure if kids can supposedly get desensitized to violence by playing video games, we could probably put the same principle to more positive use. (I did, however, deliberately avoid videos with titles like "LASIK Gone Wrong" and such.) I didn't fall asleep very easily the night before surgery, but I used some of the time to visualize what it would all probably look like from the patient's point of view.
Still, I was a bit on the nervous side on Friday morning. By coincidence, I had a regular physical exam scheduled for the same day, right before surgery. The nurse mentioned that my blood pressure was fine, but that my pulse was a tad high. "Yeah," I said, "Let me explain that...."
Mom drove me down to Dr. Hyver's office in Santa Clara around 12:45. They did some of the same tests and examinations of my eyes as on my initial consultations, and some different ones as well. I was having Wavefront (Custom) LASIK, so they get a custom topographical map of my eyes and use it to program the laser specifically for me. (With regular LASIK you just get a standard treatment based on your prescription.) I've heard that you can get a Valium at this stage of the proceedings as well, but I didn't. Maybe they only give it to the folks who look nervous on the outside. Anyway, there was some more waiting at this point, before the actual operation, so you have a bit more time to get sufficiently nervous about it, just in case you weren't already. I used the time to take deep breaths and get myself to the point where my body was basically in a holding pattern without nervous symptoms and my mind was a little distanced, where it could remain calmer.
In the operating room, the assistants attired me in stuff to keep my hair out of the way and the eye drops out of my ears, then had me lay down on the operating table and slathered my eyes in numbing drops. They offered me something to hold onto ("Umm-letmethink-yes") and I got a small teddy bear and a stuffed chihuahua. I never actually got to see the stuffed animals, since I had to keep my eyes closed until the operation (at which point my eyes were otherwise engaged) but I amused myself during the wait by figuring out what they looked like by feel. Come to think of it, I never actually saw Dr. Hyver that day, either. It sounded like him, though, so I figure he was there.
They put a patch over my left eye first, so it wouldn't see what happened to the right eye and run away. They taped my right eyelids back and then put some little metal spreaders in there to open the lids further. This is the point in the videos where it starts looking freaky, because an eye that unnaturally open just automatically looks painful and scared. It wasn't actually too bad having it done, though. The part I most disliked, though, was the next bit, where they put the metal ring around my eye to hold it still. It puts a considerable amount of downward pressure pushing into the eye socket, which isn't very comfortable. But it was nice to know my eye couldn't move, because then they slid another piece of equipment over, blocking my field of vision, and I could hear the sound of a miniature buzz saw slicing my cornea open. I didn't feel it at all on my right eye, and only slightly on my left (not even quite enough to really be called "painful," but I could feel it). The info sheet they gave me before the operation described this whole stage a bit vaguely as "preparing the eye."
So then all that stuff came off, and Dr. Hyver folded back the flap he'd cut in my cornea (it was still attached at the top of my eye). It made the yellow and blue light I was staring at go all wavy and watery, which was kind of pretty, then it settled down into just being fuzzy. Then they fired up the laser, which makes a sound like a tiny jackhammer while it's running. Visually, there's nothing scary about the laser. You just focus on the light in front of your eye for about 30-60 seconds or so, and that's it. The smell was a bit more disconcerting, like burnt rubber. I couldn't feel a thing, but it did take a bit of concentration to keep focused.
Once the laser was done, they put my corneal flap back in place, gave it a lot of eye drops, and smoothed it all into place with a little brush, until it had sort of suctioned itself back into place. After that, you just have to trust it to hold itself there until it heals and seals itself again. Then they took off the spreaders and the tape, let me close my right eye, put a patch on it, and moved on to the left, where we went through the whole thing again. It doesn't take very long; I was probably in the operating room for no more than 15 minutes total. Dr. Hyver kept up a comforting monologue the whole time, not necessarily saying exactly what he was doing, but letting me know precisely what I'd be seeing or feeling at each stage of things, which was helpful and reassuring.
Overall, it wasn't at all bad. And in a way, it's easier than watching the videos, because you can only see the tools and lights, not the gross eye bits getting cut up. The thing about doing all this on the eyes, though, is that it takes your complete attention. If it were a foot operation or something, I could imagine being able to ignore it, but with the eyes there's just nowhere to hide. Especially since you have to "help" by keeping your focus on the laser's light, which actually takes some concentration. A couple times, though, I picked up a bit from the part of my mind with the constant background soundtrack. I think it was playing Värttinä tunes mostly. "Seelinnikoi" in particular is now associated with LASIK for me.
After the operation I got to rest in a dim room for a few minutes, then a doctor came in to take a look at my eyes and confirm that they were looking okay. Then I got my eye drops and instructions and was sent home with dark glasses to cut down on the brighter-than-usual sunlight. Mom drove me back to her apartment for the initial recovery period.
The instructions included keeping my eyes closed for four hours after surgery. I managed to doze a little bit, but couldn't really sleep, though I did keep my eyes closed the whole time. Mom kept me company and we listened to some audio books to pass the time. (James Thurber and P.G. Wodehouse stories make for good, light listening.) I was told to expect some burning scratchiness and irritations, but I didn't really have a problem with it. The preventative Ibuprofen I took might have helped. It did feel like I had a bit of crud in my eye sometimes, but if I kept my eyes mostly still it wasn't a problem. Got a bit of a headache, though, probably as much from deliberately keeping my eyes closed all that time as anything else.
When my four hours were up, I took off the eye covering that was keeping things dark for me, and it felt like I was in bright sunlight even before I opened my eyes. In reality, it was dark outside and Mom had only turned on one bulb in the living room lamp. Pretty dim by regular standards. I opened my eyes in a dark room first and then got adjusted to the light very quickly. At this point, my vision was good, but kind of fuzzy, as if I had just woken up. (And I'm not allowed to rub my eyes for 2 months, so I can't clear them that way.) We went for a nighttime walk and I could see the halos around lights in the dark. They're not too bad -- kind of like seeing the lights through a fog, or through textured glass -- and they're supposed to go away eventually anyway.
I'm on antibiotic and anti-inflammatory eye drops for 5 days, and regular artificial tear drops for as long as I like. For 10 days I have to sleep in a special cover that will keep anything from touching my eyes. It's kind of uncomfortable and annoying, but it would suck to dislodge my corneal flap, too, so I'm motivated to deal with it at least.
The Next Day
This morning I went back for a post-op checkup. My vision was still a bit fuzzy (more noticeably at the computer), but I could see perfectly well to drive myself down there. They measured me at 20/20 for the right eye, and my left could even read some of the 20/15 line. This is compared to 20/300 without glasses before. The fuzziness clears up as the cornea continues healing, and as of this afternoon it was already much better, though it still has occasional weird moments. The eye drops help that. There's no pain at all, though I've got a bit of phantom limb syndrome for my glasses. I tried to see the cut in my cornea in the mirror, but everything looks perfectly normal. I can read and work at the computer just fine, though I'm trying to take it easy and not strain my eyes too much, giving them frequent rests. I've also just enjoyed walking around downtown, going to the library and the grocery store, and just looking at things, seeing what I can see, reminding myself that I'm not actually wearing my glasses. It's a little surreal.
Watch for further posts about life without glasses, once I've lived it a bit more.