The Dry Eye Zone

Rebecca's Blog

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Newsblurb: A Korean journalist gets LASIK

I usually glance through these things and delete them. This one arrested my attention. It's an interesting and candid story of a journalist undergoing LASIK to find out what it was like. - I wish Abby Elin had had a similar outcome - sigh. On the other hand, this journalist is only 5 weeks out and I wonder where she'll be in dry eye tears a year hence.

Finally... I was really tickled at the - perhaps - unwittingly apt use of the term 'refractory surgery' rather than 'refractive surgery'.

Pains, Gains, Perils of Laser Eye Surgery

Corrective laser eye surgeries have become quite common in South Korea over the past decade but many are still concerned about the safety of such operations. After weeks of searching the Internet and asking for advice, this reporter, with poor vision in both eyes, decided to give it a try and see how it really works out.

Among hundreds of eye clinics in Seoul, I chose one of the busiest. The BGN Eye Clinic, near Gangnam Station, where eye and cosmetic surgeons are operating is in a kind of industrial cluster. It was also one of most heavily advertised on the Internet, and its prices looked higher than average....

An optometrist greeted me at the door. Young and immaculately dressed, he spoke in the manner of an insurance salesman rather than a medical worker. He seemed knowledgeable about all kinds of eye surgeries, fielding my tricky questions confidently.

His attitude was contagious. After two hours of consultation and check-ups, I was convinced that I wouldn't be one of the tiny, unfortunate minority of patients who suffer side effects after surgery....

``You can opt for the blade type if you are really concerned about price,'' he said, though his lecture so far had scared me enough that I didn't want to downgrade myself to steel from laser only to save some money. (Later, I learned that many surgeons in the United States still prefer the blade operation because it is quicker and therefore less harrowing to most patients.)

Then we talked about price. Refractory operations, like cosmetic surgery, are not covered by medical insurance in Korea. The optometrist asked for 2.6 million won ($2,250) for both eyes, which was about double the rate of smaller clinics. I said that was beyond my budget. The price immediately went down to 2.3 million won.

Then he made a curious offer ― if I promised to write a review of my operation on the clinic's Web site, he would give me a further 100,000-won reduction. I turned down the offer, but anyway, the ``discount'' was granted.

The bill included the cost of the operation and eye checkups but not medicine, which cost another 30,000 won....

ith my eyeball exposed widely liked an orange peeled halfway, I could feel the doctor put some kind of metal ring on it. As he muttered "suction," the eye was sucked into the vacuum hose and held tight inside it. This was a very uncomfortable sensation. A waterfall of tears ran down. A second felt like a year.

Once the eyeball was anchored on the vacuum hose, the rest of the operation was relatively easy. The nurse counted to 15 while the laser sliced the skin of the cornea to make a flap. Then another laser beam hit the inside the flap to remove excessive tissues of the cornea. I could see nothing but flashing lights of red and orange, but there was a faint smell of burning flesh. After a minute or so, the doctor closed the flap into its original place so it can heal with the rest of the cornea.

The operation on the right eye took no more than five minutes but I was already exhausted by then. The same procedure went on for the left eye. This time, the suction hose failed to suck my eyeball correctly two times, making me very uneasy....

From the next morning, I could see things quite clearly. I returned to work the second day after the operation. The vision improved week by week until it reached 1.0 a month after, equivalent to 20/20 in America, and considered the average of people with healthy eyes....

Five weeks have passed and there have been no serious side effects apart from the occasional dryness of the eyes. But I'm not at ease yet. One of my cousins had LASIK a few years ago and she had to have a further operation a year after the first one. Her doctor said it was because she had a keloidal skin, which is allergic to scars and can affect the healing process of the wound. I, too, have had this problem before. My optometrist at BGN clinic said this doesn't cause trouble, usually....

Lifestyle and career can also be an important issue when considering refractory operations. It is no secret that eye surgeons themselves prefer wearing glasses or contact lenses to surgery, because their job requires reliable and acute vision. Even my surgeon at BGN was wearing glasses when I saw him outside the hospital. After all, the risk is for the patients to take.
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