We’d reached 36,000 feet and had already been served our dinner. The plane was flying over the northeastern edges of Canada, about to start the long stretch over the Atlantic. That meant one thing – it was time to see how much of the long-haul flight I could nap through. I took out my contact lenses and settled down to sleep.
Just after I drifted off, I was jolted awake as screams rang out through the airplane. “Help! HELP!”
My eyes snapped open, but I couldn’t make out anything that was happening. I could just hear the screams, while everything in front of my eyes was a literal blur.
I frantically scrabbled for my glasses in the seat back pocket in front of me, but couldn’t find them. People were screaming even louder now, and a weird gasping, heaving noise had started up somewhere from the blurry shadows in front of my eyes.
At this point, I was in a full-on panic. I knew something bad was happening in my row, but I couldn’t see what at all.
I was sure we were going to die.
Somehow in the midst of my panic, I managed to find my glasses and quickly shoved them on. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust that felt like forever, but then things finally, finally slid into focus.
Relief flooded my body.
Yes, it was an emergency. No, we weren’t going to die.
A man at the end of my row was having trouble breathing – that’s what the gasping was about. People were still screaming, but now they were yelling for a doctor. It turned out to be that the man had enjoyed a glass of wine with his dinner…which interacted badly with a medication he was taking. He was going to be fine.
This man was sitting just three seats away from me.
Three seats away, and I couldn’t see a thing without my glasses. I couldn’t even make out a hazy outline of what was going on. I could only make out blurry shapes and shadows.
It was terrifying.
But it’s definitely not the only time being nearsighted was an issue while I was traveling.
I say ‘was’ an issue because I got the best gift anyone could ever give me this Christmas – brand new vision with LASIK surgery. It has been nothing short of life changing.
I haven’t been able to see clearly since….well, since I can remember.
I didn’t get glasses until seventh grade, because I’d been trying hard to hide the fact that I couldn’t see the board in class – or much of anything, really. When school wide vision testing day came around, the testers stopped testing me almost immediately after they started, as it was clear I had vision problems. They asked “How have you gotten by this long without glasses???”
I hated my glasses. I hated how they looked, but most of all, I hated how they felt. Having part of the world in focus while the sides were blurry was nauseating. They made me feel sick – literally.
So I switched to wearing contact lenses as soon as possible. I remember the first day I got them. It was like the whole world had been cleaned and was bright sparkling new and sharp.
But you can only wear contact lenses for so many hours each day before they start getting uncomfortable and bad for your eyes. You’re never completely free of your glasses.
I’m not sure when I first heard about eye surgery to fix your vision, but I do know that I wanted it as soon as I found out it existed.
And the more I traveled, the more I wanted to get corrective surgery on my eyes. It seemed like some sort of vision issue came up every time I travelled.
There was the time I was at El Rastro, the fabulous street market that takes over Madrid on Sunday mornings. During the metro ride over there, my left eye started getting increasingly dry and uncomfortable.
As soon as I got off the metro, I found a bar to duck into to use the bathroom. I gently took out my contact lens, and it came out of my eye in two pieces. It had torn in half while it was in my eye.
Before I’d even so much as glanced at the exciting stalls, I had to head back to my apartment – with one functional eye and one blurry one that made it crazy uncomfortable to even just sit on the metro.
There was the time I was on a train in Castilla y León, and I had to take out my contact lenses because my eyes were just too dry to keep them in place. I put on my glasses and instantly felt sick to my stomach. I tried to suck it up and ride out the dizzy spell, but it got worse and worse – the swaying of the train didn’t help.
I wanted to watch the countryside go by, but I couldn’t wear my contacts and I couldn’t wear my glasses. I had to pick between being able to see or being able to keep my dinner down.
Or there was the time I was at a foam party in Ibiza – which OK, I will admit is not the ideal place to wear contact lenses. Soapy suds flooded my eyes and got trapped behind my contact lenses. But there was no way I could take them out, so I just had to wait until my eye teared up enough to get the foam out of there.
My eyes were too sensitive to put my contacts in for the entire next day. (Yes, this one was totally my fault, but still!)
Or the many, many times I was on an airplane, and the seat back display was juuuust out of the range of where I could see clearly. Flying dries your eyes out, so it was too dry to have my contacts in, but my glasses made me dizzy – so I alternated between frustrated squinting and dizzy spells from wearing my glasses.
Or…well, there are tons of these little stories about my little eyes making a huge impact on a travel experience.
Your eyes are a big deal. Your whole experience is filtered through them. When your eyes are uncomfortable, even if it’s only a little bit, your entire body feels stressed and uncomfortable. A day when you’re having vision issues is frustrating at the very least.
Before getting surgery, I knew a whole lot about having vision issues. I was actually legally blind.
To give you an idea of what this is like, I stopped seeing things clearly about two feet in front of my face. This is what it was like:
As well as being uncomfortable, when you can’t see properly it makes you feel confused and uncertain. The whole world is much more difficult to navigate – and if your vision is as bad as mine was, it can be pretty much impossible.
Without glasses or contacts, I could see to do stuff like cross the street and avoid running into things, but things like street names were impossible to read. Imagine being stuck without being able to see properly in a foreign city you’ve never been to before.
If for some reason I was suddenly unable to see – like my contact fell out, or my glasses broke – then I’d have to go home.
So maybe at this point I’ve convinced you – if you’re able to see clearly, you lucky person – that it’s not quite as easy as just sticking on a pair of glasses or contact lenses.
And maybe you’ll see (ha) why something so little as being able to see when you wake up in the morning makes such a huge difference to your quality of life.
Maybe you’ll understand why getting told I was finally a good candidate for LASIK was one of happiest moments of my past year.
This December, I flew home for Christmas early so I could get my eyeballs magically lasered into shape. The whole flight home I kept thinking, “This is the last flight I’ll have to take without being able to see.”
When I flew back in January, things were different – in the best way possible.
I didn’t have to try to take out my contact lenses in a tiny airplane bathroom on a bumpy flight.
I didn’t have to choose between being uncomfortably nauseous with my glasses or being uncomfortably blind without them.
I didn’t have to frown awkwardly in the direction of the flight attendant, hoping I was actually making eye contact as I ordered my drink.
I didn’t have to stumble half-blindly to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
I didn’t have to squint at the screen on the back of the seat in front of me in hopes of being able to see it clearly without my glasses.
And I definitely didn’t wake up in terror while people around me were screaming – and panic because I couldn’t see what was going on.
Instead, I woke up and smiled as I looked around.
This time, everything from the seat back in front of me to the tip of the airplane wing outside to the clouds thousands of feet below was crystal-clear and sharp.
This time, I could just see.
Also, while I don’t want to bore you with the details of LASIK (it turns out some people don’t want to hear about every single second of your life-changing surgery!), I’ve written up the answers to the questions about the surgery and questions about LASIK and travel.
Of course, this is only my experience – everybody’s is different. And, er, I’m obviously not a doctor, so don’t take this as medical advice!
A) Does LASIK hurt?
Not during the procedure. The surgery doesn’t hurt (at worst it’s a little annoying).
But afterwards… the anesthetic drops do wear off and it IS painful for a short amount of time. Luckily, they give you drugs to help you sleep through the worst of it (yay drugs).
B) What do you mean, ‘painful’?
My eyes teared up and stung like crazy. It set in about 10-15 minutes after the surgery on the ride home. My mum drove me – it would have been impossible to drive myself home, as I couldn’t keep my eyes open because the light was so uncomfortable. When I got home I went straight to a darkened room and took the Xanax I’d been given to sleep.
It was so painful I couldn’t get to sleep, and I was worried something had gone wrong. I ended up taking a painkiller as well as the Xanax (we called and checked it was OK with the doctor’s office first), and then I finally fell asleep 10-15 minutes later.
So that part was obviously scary and it did hurt.
But when I woke up, the pain was completely gone. And even better, I could see!
C) What’s having LASIK surgery like?
Fast! I still can’t believe how quickly it was over.
I was really, really stressed out about the surgery – and I’d known for years I really wanted to have it. I was 100% sure about my decision, but I still nearly said “Wait stop!” when I sat down in the operating room.
Because, here’s the thing – you have to be awake during the surgery.
You can’t just knock out and forget about it, because you need to be able to focus your eyes. They do give you Xanax or something first though.
Anyway, they probably spend more time prepping you – double-checking your prescription, cleaning your eye area, marking your eye, adding anesthetic drops, and positing your eye so it’s held open – than they do on the surgery.
Once you’re under the machine, they make you focus on bright red and green lights. There’s some beeping, and you get some weird visual changes during the process.
Things slide in and out of focus and change colors. I saw some grey stripes with pink squares, and a lot of flashing lights. I didn’t completely lose my vision at any point, which happens – or maybe I did, and my brain made up the grey squares to make up for it.
It felt like I was watching a very strange music video (it helped that they had the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Don’t Stop” on in the background!).
It didn’t hurt at any point during the surgery, although looking at bright lights for a while can get annoying – and it did.
The worst was when they finished with one eye and moved over to the other. The completed eye had a sheer bandage over it that the the light shone through, and that was a little uncomfortable on my freshly operated eye. But that was as bad as it got.
D) How soon can you see afterwards?
I sat up after the surgery and gasped. I could see things sharply! It was a bit like looking through dirty glasses lenses or aquarium glass – things were a little cloudy, but not blurry at all.
Things got better pretty quickly for me. By the evening, it was hardly cloudy at all. The next day, it was great. Within days, I could see better that I’d ever seen with lenses or glasses.
For a while, my distance vision was even sharper than my near vision, which was weird. That effect goes away slightly, but my vision is still better than it ever was before.
E) Did you have any problems with your eyes or vision because of LASIK?
I did experience the halo effect for a couple of weeks (and this was at Christmas, so there were lots of lights around!). Bright lights were also a little painful to look at, and my eyes got tired faster.
I was worried it was going to be permanent. But this all went away within a few weeks, thank goodness.
Five months on, my eyes are still noticeably drier than they were before – and that’s normal. The first few days after the surgery, I was using a bottle a day of artificial tears. I ended up switching to a stronger gel that worked way better.
I’m still using artificial tears and eye lubricant daily, especially when I first wake up in the morning or late at night, but it’s down to just a few times a day now.
I also notice a little bit of blurriness if I spend too much time on the computer without taking a break, so I’m ultra-conscious of resting my eyes now!
I find that now that the days are getting sunnier here, my eyes are a tiny bit more sensitive to bright sun now. I got polarized sunglasses, and I make sure to wear them even when it’s not super sunny out – just in case.
All of these side effects are gradually but noticeably getting better every week. They’re also very, very minor.
And hey, my eyes are only five months away from having a pretty crazy surgery done on them – so it’s to be expected that they’ll take time to recover.
F) Would you do it again?
Yes, yes, and YES! This is seriously the closest thing to magic I’ve ever experienced in my life.
It’s amazing to be able to wake up in the morning and see. It’s amazing to never have my contact lens rip or break at an event and have to go home because I’m half blind. It’s amazing to not have to think about seeing.
Obviously, I know it’s an expensive procedure and I’m very lucky to have been able to get it done. I know not everyone can have it done just for financial reasons. But if you can, then I can’t say enough good things about it.
Every day, I still have at least one moment of “wow…I can SEE!”
G) Are there any special things to know about LASIK and travel, or traveling after LASIK?
As far as traveling activities go, I got a detailed list of when I could do certain things after the surgery. I could fly the next day if I wanted to, but no skydiving for three months!
Some things you can’t do for a little while – swimming, for instance – but it’s easy enough to plan around, as the longest bans my doctor gave me were for three months.
I also have to keep certain appointments to make sure my eyes are being checked regularly. That’s something to keep in mind if you’re traveling lots.
The only other big thing is flying.
Flying dries out your eyes at the best of times. I flew about six weeks after I’d had my surgery for the first time, and it absolutely made my eyes feel drier – both during the flight and for a few days afterwards.
So stock up on eye drops before you fly!
Oh, and of course, you might have even better vision than you did before getting surgery. That just means you’ll appreciate the amazing sights you get to see with new eyes – pretty much literally!
Things are even more beautiful, and it’s just so nice not to have to worry about your vision while you’re traveling.