The shields are to protect my eyes from any accidental trauma, and to help keep out dust and debris. I have to wear them continuously 'till my post-op exam tomorrow morning, and then only at night for the next week. This is to keep the corneal flap from dislodging. I can't rub my eyes for three months for that reason. No baseball for a week (it's too dusty,) no swimming for two weeks, no hot tubs for four. Antibiotic and steroid eyedrops four times a day for a week to aid healing of the flap. I'll probably get a pair of clear sport sunglasses to wear this fall during baseball, just as a precaution.
Right now, I can see pretty clearly looking across the room, which is considerably better than when I woke up this morning. The shields aren't meant as long-term optical instruments, so they do cloud my vision a little bit. My vision will improve gradually over the next couple of weeks, and a little bit more over the next couple of months.
What I had done was a more recent evolution of the LASIK procedure commonly called "custom LASIK". Instead of punching in the numbers from the usual optical measurement device that everyone who wears glasses is familiar with, a wavefront analysis machine is used to scan the eye to determine its actual shape. That data is fed into the surgical laser's computer. The work was done by Dr. David Schanzlin of UCSD's Shiley Eye Center.
After the scan, I moved to an ordinary eye exam room, where the scan's data was double-checked with the traditional measurement device. I was given anesthetic eyedrops. The doctor made registration marks on my cornea with some kind of pen. That took some effort to sit still during... I didn't feel it at all in my left eye, but I did feel it mildly in my right. It was uncomfortable, but I knew it was part of the process, and I trusted that everyone involved knew what they were doing, and that was enough to get through it.
Next, they moved me into the laser suite. They sat me on a chair which tilts flat under the laser. I got more eyedrops (nobody said what they were, but either anesthetic or antibiotic probably,) my left eye was covered and my right eyelids were taped and propped open. We seemed to be proceeding at a good clip, so I held back on asking if this was when they'd start showing me violent images and playing Beethoven. My eye was rinsed and dried, gauze was laid down, and then they applied the microkeratome to cut the corneal flap.
It's fortunate that you can't focus on anything that close to the eye. All I saw was a ring that descended down and past my field of view. I could feel a quiet humming sound, and felt a faint vibration further back in my skull, but I didn't feel the flap being cut. It was difficult to hold any constant image past this point. With my left eye open but seeing only darkness, and my right eye becoming blurry, it was hard even to keep the red target light in view. Dan warned me that at this point, my vision should go all gray. (The doctor said it would go dark.) It didn't... it was just very fuzzy. The red target light went from a crisp dot (it was an LED, I could see the shadow of the reflector and wires) to a fuzzy circle filling the quarter center of my field of view.
Then they start the laser. About fifteen seconds of popping noises, then the corneal surface was rinsed, dried, and the flap was folded down again. The excimer laser used is ultraviolet, so you see nothing happening. Lather, rinse, and repeat with the left eye. More eyedrops (probably saline lubricating drops) were put in each eye, Dr. Schanzlin took a look at my eyes through the traditional scope, and declared that the work looked fine. Then they taped the shields in place. About 20 minutes after I walked into the laser suite, I walked out again. Five minutes later, they handed me my post-op medications, sunglasses, then went over the directions I had to follow, and I walked back out the front door.
The experience is a very unusual sensation. I can understand why someone would be very unsettled by it. You know somone is touching with, and even cutting, your eye, and it's all very fuzzy so you can't see it. They give you a Valium when you get there (and you spend more than half an hour sitting in the lobby while it takes effect) to keep you relaxed. As an engineer, I was looking at it coming in as some kind of new, unfamiliar experience, and tried to keep my sense of surprise in check.
The atmosphere in the office is very subdued and relaxed, everyone speaks in soft, calm, pleasant voices. The only time I felt at all nervous was when I first sat down on the surgical chair, did I really want to go through with this? But I got past that quickly, being satisfied that the staff's reputation was well-deserved. You can't do this if you don't trust the people doing the work, and I think they do everything they can to help you feel calm and comfortable.
I immediately noticed that cars on the other side of the parking lot were clearly visible. Street signs were sharp and clear, which were not on the ride there. I've been out of my contacts for a week, and didn't even put my glasses on once this morning. I felt only mildly out of it from the Valium. Just slightly uneasy, enough that I won't drive, but I didn't have any problems navigating the house or up stairs. (This isn't surprising, I was still quite coherent and coordinated when drunk in college.) It'll be nice to take these shields off tomorrow morning.