10 minutes ‘til freedom

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Lauren Padden
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Glasses starting in the sixth grade, contacts in high school and more than 15 years of dependence on both. Ten minutes staring at a laser reversed all that; that's all it took to see clearly.

The journey of sight has taken me different places over the past 15 years, but the path to seeing clearly without assistance was a road travelled in less than six months.

The voyage began here at Incirlik when I made my appointment with the optometry clinic. I had a normal eye exam and was informed I was a good candidate for laser refractive surgery. I received and routed my commander's authorization letter for signatures and got my appointment for more extensive eye tests.

My tests were sent off to the U.S. Air Force Refractive Surgery Program and then the Army eye centers for approval and three months later I was scheduled for my surgery at the Joint Warfighter Refractive Surgery Center, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, as well as the pre-operative and post-operative eye surgery appointments.

The morning I arrived for my preoperative appointment at LRMC, I found myself in a dark room with six other hopefuls awaiting more eye tests that were performed best after sitting in the dark. After the exams were performed and my test results were analyzed by the optometrist, I was relieved to be called to his office and given the good news that the following day I was going to get the Photorefractive Keratectomy eye surgery or PRK. The next part I will never forget because I was sent to the pharmacy where I was given a shopping bag of drugs.

When surgery day arrived I didn't think I was ever going to survive through to the next evening. My stomach, besides growling from lack of food, was so anxious that I was glad food was not present.
However, a nurse effortlessly described the procedure and gave our group a briefing on the drugs we would be dependent on for the next few months. Once you think about how many of these surgeries are performed throughout the year I was comforted.

I walked in a room and laid down on what is similar to a dentist's chair. Numbing drops were administered into my right eye while my left eye was covered. Soon after the drops took effect I remember what reminds me of a spinning tooth brush going across my eye. After my eye was clean, I looked at the laser for the allotted time for my prescription which was about 17 seconds. A pre-cancer treatment was then administered to my eyes for 30 seconds.

Once the procedure was complete, I sat up and the doctor asked me if I could read the clock 10 feet away. I couldn't get out the words for a few seconds then I blurted out "Of course I can read the clock!" It didn't even hit me right away that I wasn't wearing my glasses and I could read the clock. Don't be fooled, I could read the clock but it wasn't the 20/20 vision I was expecting to have right after the surgery. The numbers were there and readable but it was as though I was looking through a sheer curtain.

As the day progressed I noticed that my eyes felt like an eye lash was stuck in them. Not painful but rather uncomfortable. I began the eye drop treatments and pain killers and slept the day away with a frozen eye mask on my eyes. Minus my husband's nagging to wake me up for my regimen of eye drops, it was a fairly easy day. (I must also add the eye drops have a wonderful effect that I never knew before. Your eyes are actually connected to your mouth so when administering the eye drops minutes later you are literally left with a nasty taste in your mouth.)

Through a constant veil of tears moisturizing my eyes, I saw the doctor the next day for my one day post-op. The appointment revealed a great victory: 20/30 vision! After the one day post-op appointment my routine remained the same: eat... take eye drops... sleep, repeat. I couldn't really keep my eyes open longer than five minutes at a time anyways. However, day three was a great day. My eyes were open, I watched TV and we went out and enjoyed the German countryside. I constantly wore my sunglasses and was affectionately called Raylene Charles (instead of Ray Charles) by my friends for wearing my sunglasses indoors. My sight was a constant flux of clear and blurry for the next two weeks.

My one week post-op brought another victory: 20/25 vision in my left eye and 20/30 in my right! I also saw a few of the other patients from my group and asked how they did. I have always had a high tolerance for pain but I also learned everyone reacts differently to the procedure. One of the other patients on the other hand mentioned that the first two nights he didn't sleep well because of the pain.

A few days later I was back on station and adjusting into my normal routine at work with a few modifications. First, my computer monitor brightness was set to the lowest possible setting, and the lights above my desk had to be off. Despite the aforementioned adjustments because it's still too bright in the room, occasionally I will also type with my sunglasses on.

Week three finally rolled around and it was time to see the base optometrist for my check up. This brought the arrival of the words I was waiting to hear: 20/20 vision!

One month later I still have fairly dry eyes throughout the day and the nasty taste accompanying the eye drops has finally been subdued by my discovery that eating a spoonful of peanut butter after administering the drops killed the taste.

There are halos around lights at night and I am still sensitive to light occasionally but with each day it seems easier to forget I once wore glasses.

Despite how happy I am with my results, understand that each patient will have varying effects and this was an elective surgery. I did the research, talked to others that had the procedure done and weighed the pros and cons as well as the risk involved before I underwent the procedure. While I was in Germany I witnessed people get turned down because their eye wasn't the right shape or there were other things particular to them that disqualified them.

The best part of the whole thing came two weeks after the procedure. I was at home and setting my clock which was off time due to a power outage. As I was resetting the time I didn't have my watch on so I asked my husband what time it was. Sarcastically he replied, "That time," as he pointed to his watch six feet away on the dresser. He couldn't read the small digital face but I stared intently at it and couldn't believe it as I read out loud 10:54. Shocked, my husband quickly got up and grabbed the watch and amazingly I was right. At that point I didn't care about the numbers 20/20 I suddenly felt like I had a super power that others didn't have and I loved it.