Throughout my whole life, I never wore spectacles or contact lenses. I spent the majority of my life at -2.50 +2.00 at 90° OU. I had what I felt was halfway decent distance vision with my spherical equivalent, so I could drive and perform other day-to-day tasks comfortably, and I got used to my vision as it was. I could enter my prescription into the operating microscope during surgery, so I was able to perform surgery without correction, too. To put it simply, I squinted and accommodated my way through life.
It wasn’t until I got involved with teaching, speaking and consulting that I began to notice my poor vision. After presentations at the podium, friends and colleagues would frequently tell me that I was squinting a lot on stage. I couldn’t even read the confidence monitor from the stage. At this point I realized that if I was going to continue speaking and teaching about vision correction and cataract surgery, it would be silly for me to have to use glasses in order to read my notes on the subject. So I decided to put my money where my mouth is.
Ultimately, having LASIK made me a better patient ambassador. Here, I share my own LASIK experiences and how the process has enabled me to be a better communicator when treating and engaging with patients.
PERSPECTIVE ON THE RESULTS
One of the primary factors that convinced me to get LASIK was the visual results we saw with great frequency after switching to the iDesign 2.0 Refractive Studio (Johnson & Johnson Vision). It’s a surprise to me now when a patient has only 20/20 visual acuity postoperatively. Patient outcomes after LASIK in our practice are most commonly better than 20/20 these days; usually 20/15, and often times 20/10. Those kinds of superhuman visual outcomes have become the norm in our practice, and I see how happy my patients are after surgery.
Not only can I communicate these results we have seen with LASIK candidates, but my experience has also empowered me to be more critical and willing to treat low amounts of refractive error. After my LASIK procedure, the refraction in one of my eyes was about -0.75 D and the other eye was plano. It was very clear to me that the plano eye was seeing better. Even though I was able to make out the 20/20 line with my -0.75 D eye, I could tell that the vision in my plano eye was considerably sharper. So I underwent a touch up a few months postop and am now enjoying 20/10 vision in both eyes.
Before I had LASIK, I might have been more conservative when considering the risk-benefit ratio and not retreated a partially satisfied patient. After all, his or her visual outcome was so much better than it was before LASIK, and the residual error so small. For example, if a patient was -6.00 D preoperatively and I improved that to -0.50 D with LASIK and he was not satisfied, I might feel frustrated or exasperated with him. Now I know that any small difference can be like night and day. Even with low levels of residual refractive error, I am more sympathetic and empathetic toward patients who have residual refractive errors and no longer try to just “talk them through it.” If a patient has even a -0.50 D residual error and a contact lens trial shows that small correction makes all the difference in the world to that patient, I will lift the flap and retreat that eye.
My father, Charles Williamson, MD, performed my procedure, and it was streamed on Facebook Live in its entirety. The video has since been viewed thousands of times. I think that, for patients who have been considering LASIK, seeing a surgeon — their own or any other ophthalmic surgeon — undergo this treatment goes a long way in helping to ease their minds.
It was a strange experience to go straight from never wearing correction to LASIK. The adjustment was different than it is for someone who is already accustomed to good vision using corrective methods.
My first-hand experience also enables me to speak to postoperative symptoms. The first couple of hours after a LASIK procedure can be uncomfortable for patients. Most people don’t talk about it because by that same evening, and certainly by the next morning, there’s no pain. In those first couple of hours, however, patients may experience a burning sensation or tearing. I can set patients up to expect this discomfort in the hours after surgery and any other minor symptoms they have postoperatively. If a patient notes slightly foggy vision during a day-1 postoperative visit, I can tell him or her that I experienced that as well. I tell the patient why it is happening, that it doesn’t last and that it is normal.
It helps patients when they know someone who’s gone through the procedure already, especially if that person is the surgeon who will be operating on them.
The benefits that LASIK has had on my life are immeasurable. I sit on my front porch drinking coffee with my wife and catch myself staring out at the world that I can now see clearly. I live in southern Louisiana, and we have beautiful oak trees that grace our front yard. I lose myself now watching the birds, squirrels and leaves of the trees. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I had never had corrected vision, so this has been truly transformational for me.
Socially, it’s nice to be able to recognize people’s faces from a distance. Before LASIK, if I was at a Louisiana State University football game or other large social event, I wouldn’t recognize people until I was right up close to them. I realized people must have thought I was being rude by not greeting them. Now I can recognize people from far away.
Another benefit to optimizing vision is increased safety. For me, driving at night was becoming more difficult, and I wanted to feel confident and secure driving my three young boys and others. Now, I feel safer on the road and more comfortable driving at night because I can see road signs clearly.
Having LASIK has benefited me as a surgeon as well. My operating days have become easier. In my high-volume cataract surgery practice, I sometimes do 30 or 35 cataract surgeries per morning. After operating for 7 hours, I almost always used to have a headache at the end of the day from constantly accommodating. Now I don’t experience those headaches.
Undergoing LASIK has benefited both my personal and professional life in many ways. I am more comfortable performing the day-to-day activities of my life, and I have become a better communicator with and ambassador for my patients. OM