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The pain of PRK

by Lyndsey Rowland, staff writer


Editor’s note: In the Nov. 1 issue, Kalamalama published Lindsey Rowland’s article about the different types of corrective eye surgery available to people who wanted to permently improve their vision. Since then, she has had personal experience of one of the surgeries.


I chose to go with PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy), which reshapes the eye by completely removing its surface layer (epithelium) in contrast to LASIK or LASEK surgery, which cut a flap in the surface and then replace the flap after the laser reshapes the cornea. For me, PRK was not an option, as it is the only eye correcting surgery approved by the Army for Aviation Flight School.


As my November article recommended, I researched my doctors thoroughly and chose Dr. John Olkowski, M.D. of Eyesight Hawai‘i. My decision was based on many things, from how professional the website looked to the fact that they had some of the most up-to-date lasers available.

Dr. Olkowski’s office also offered the “CareCredit program,” a family heathcare card designed to help people pay for medical care that their insurance does not cover. It allowed me to charge the surgery and pay it off in monthly installments.

I arrived on surgery day with a few jitters, but after a valium I was doing fine. The doctor put a device over my eye to hold the eyelids open, and he put in numbing drops, but they were not enough. As the doctor started working on my eye with a device that looked like something the dentist would use to clean plaque off your teeth, I could still feel the layer of my eye being removed, and I almost jumped out of my seat. The doctor put more numbing drops in, thank God.

After the surgery, which only took 10 minutes, I was moved to a room where I napped for a few minutes until the doctor checked my eyes and sent me home. I was given a bag full of goodies: eyes drops, anti-bacterial drops, numbing drops, dark glasses, and eye protectors for nighttime. The whole surgical appointment only took an hour and a half, and most of it had been filling out paper work and getting instructions.

My eyes stung a bit when I left, and I couldn’t really see much at all. A friend drove me home. I went straight to bed. The doctor’s brochure had warned of 24-28 hours of “post-operative pain,” but not for me. I had three days of constant pain. The brochure also said I could go back to work the next day: also wrong.

I don’t consider myself a wimp, but the post-surgery pain was some of the worst pain I have ever had. It reminded me of putting a contact lens into an infected eye and then trying to close the eye with a little stone stuck under the eyelid.

I used the two bottles of numbing drops that came with my care kit within the first 24-hours. Finally, I could take it no longer and had to call the doctor to get a prescription for painkillers.
PRK is the only laser eye surgery that has this kind of pain. LASEK and LASIK have less surface area to heal and therefore are less painful.

The doctor had placed contact lens on my eyes immediately after the surgery to hold everything together and protect them. I ended up taking out the lenses on the third day because the anti-bacteria drops I was using had clouded them. Once the contact lenses were removed, I began to get a sense of how my vision was improving.

On the fourth day I had my first post-surgical appointment to check on the progress of my surgery. The doctor said my eyes looked really good. He gave me more drops and told me I didn’t need to come back for at least a month. I was driving again and actually seeing pretty well by this point. My eyes were super sensitive and dry, but I was seeing things I would never have seen without my contacts.

Three weeks later, without glasses or contacts, I can see just as well as I did with them. My eyes are still sensitive to the sun, but that too will improve.

Dr Olkowski was professional and supportive every step of the way. He prescribed painkillers when I needed them, and he explained why I was feeling the pain. I am 100 percent happy I had PRK. It was not fun, but definitely worth it in the long run.

Still, if you were not trying to get into Army Aviation School, I would recommend going with LASEK or LASIK.


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