Thursday, July 14, 2011

This Post is About Lasers and Features My Face a Lot

A couple of months ago in this right here blog I wrote about the awesomely-priced eyewear available here in Korea. If you have a couple of minutes, you can refresh your memory of that glorious post by clicking here. The other thing Korea does super cheaply? Laser eye surgery. 

Korea's trying to become a destination for medical tourism - in February the South Korean government flew over two New Zealand women for weight loss surgery as a promo (proof) - and I've become a medical tourist. With good reason - my surgery cost me 1.8 million won (a smidge over $2,000 NZD) a third of the price I would have been charged at home.

I went for two consultations - one at Eye Medi in Gangnam, Seoul, and the other a little closer to home at Pureun Eye Center in Jeonju. The consultations are intense, you're subjected to two hours of testing and prodding and checking and eye-puff-receiving, including a nasty paper in the eyes experience to check dryness:


... and some pupil-enlarging eye drops that make you look drugged out and mess up your close vision for 4 hours (or 24 hours if you pull an all-nighter to watch your boyfriend run a 5K).Pro tip: I found that if I took my glasses off and my close vision improved. I could see clearly for about 10cm, meaning I could use my cellphone.

See that thin ring of brown? That's my iris. Spaced out expression unplanned, I swear.
Both clinics were great - EyeMedi has an English-speaking staff member named Cathy, who is fantastic, she sat with me through all the tests and texted me a few days later to see if I was okay. A friend had recommended the clinic after getting LASEK, saying Cathy was on hand during the operation for reassurance. The clinic even paid for a hotel for my friend to recover in overnight, amazing service!

Pureun's staff aren't as fluent in English, but they did their best to make me feel comfortable during my two hours with them (when they weren't poking me in the eye.) The two doctors I saw spoke fairly good English, and one in particular (Dr Kim) did a great job answering all of my questions and explaining all of the procedures in detail. Dr Kim performs Lasik, not the Lasek surgery I was after but he told me he'd accompany me to surgery if I wanted him to. The Lasek surgeon at Pureun doesn't speak English fluently.

Ultimately, I decided on Pureun - mainly because it's an 2 hour return trip for checkups rather than the 6 hour haul to Seoul and back. The prices were the same at both clinics, although EyeMedi offered me the surgery for 1.6 million after I said I wouldn't be getting my eyes zapped there.

2 weeks after my consultation, I rocked up to Pureun scared out of my wits. The technicians ushered me into a small changing room where I put on some splendid pyjamas and my bravest face:

Ajumma style!
I waited for about an hour (when I wasn't reading consent forms and spending a lot of time on Facebook) before being whisked off for a final eye test. When the technician told me to leave my glasses with Tom I thought - this is it! No more of these awful things! And then I had a horrible rush of glasses nostalgia, picturing us (me and glasses) running in meadows and climbing trees and such, which was quickly replaced by the thought of being able to open a dishwasher like a normal person.

Apparently being pre-surgery does odd things to my imagination.

I had to wait while the previous surgery finished up, tense with nerves. Being without my glasses was necessary but made the situation worse, I did not enjoy being in a strange fuzzy room while an ajumma inspected me with her one good eye. After what seemed like an eternity (three minutes) a nurse took me into the operating theatre and rubbed iodine all over my face. It was a weird moment of calm for me, and felt like some kind of spa treatment.

I was told to lie on the operating table and the zapping started. The procedure took about 10 minutes in total, 10 minutes of staring at a light while my vision blurred and cleared and blurred again. Not sure if I've stressed this enough, but I was very nervous. Fortunately Dr Kim was in the theatre with me to hold my hand and offer some comforting words. The procedure was completely painless, except for the sticky bandage they plastered over my eye socket which stung as they peeled it off. The grossest part - and I'd read about this - was the smell of what I thought was burning hair. Turns out that's what burning flesh smells like, too.

The worst part came after the surgery, when I was sent downstairs for a blood sample. It was horribly painful, after the nurse had taken out the needle she pinched the crook of my arm until I felt like crying. I was left with a bruise that only faded yesterday. The blood was for ... eye drops. The clinic let the sample settle overnight and siphoned off some plasma which I have to drip into my eyes 4 times a day. Gross huh? Yeah, super gross.

Before I left the office I got these babies taped to my eyes. I had to wear them at night for two weeks, to prevent me from scratching. I also had to wear them all the way home which increased my already high Daily Stare Quota.

 I'm sure Tom loves waking up to my googly face every morning.
Along with my stylish eyewear is a list of things I can't do:
  • shower (4 days)
  • wash my hair (2 weeks)
  • exercise (2 weeks)
  • go swimming (1 month)
  • drive a car (3 months)
  • look at a computer screen for more than 30 minutes (indefinitely)
I had my third post-op eye test yesterday and my vision's 20/20 for the first time in 12 years. After the surgery I took 2 days off school to recover, the only time I have felt any pain was when I let them get too dry. It took about a week before I could comfortably walk around and use a computer, and now two weeks later things are slightly blurry but that should clear up soon.

I won't lie, there were a number of occasions during that first week where I freaked out that I'd messed up my vision forever, and I started using the bumpy yellow things on the pavement to get around, but the first time I was able to read something other than the biggest letter on the eye chart, things started to feel pretty special. 


  1. I drove my car to work 2 days after my Lasik in the US.... >.> :D

  2. Jealous! I read that Lasek is safer than Lasik which is why I made the choice. My eyes are super blurry today because I'm so tired! :(