Before you panic thinking I had some kind of medical condition and didn’t inform you, my dear family and friends, I want to state that I simply had lasers fix my eyes so I don’t have to wear glasses or contacts anymore.
Lasik eye surgery is an elective procedure to correct myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism. It’s been around for more than 25 years, getting safer and better as technology improves. There’s little to no pain, recovery takes a day, no blood, no stitches, no general anaesthesia. You just walk out of the surgery room, straight back to your life and you can go back to work the next day. Read more about it here.
I don’t remember when I first heard of LASIK or when I seriously started considering getting LASIK.
I discovered I had myopia in secondary school. I probably had it for a really long time before then, but I had never had an eye test my entire life. In Kenya, I don’t ever remember having any vision tests when I was young. When Jeremy, my son, was in kindergarten here in Japan, I think they had the eye tests (in addition to hearing, dental, pin worm, cognitive and other tests) done annually from around 3 years old.
In secondary school, I always sat in front of the classroom because I wanted to see the blackboard clearly. I realized I had myopia when I sat at the back one time, and realized I was the only one who couldn’t see the blackboard. My classmates around me could clearly take down the notes and I had to copy from their notebooks. I went back to my seat in front of the class after that and didn’t think much about it.
When I entered university, I, of course, sat in front during lecturers. Unfortunately, my myopia had gotten worse, and even at the front, I could no longer see the board clearly. I told my parents I wanted to get glasses and they thought I just wanted to get glasses to look cool. Nobody in our family wears glasses, they argued.
It was true that I thought glasses looked cool. (And we called them spectacles or specs for a long time, until Americans influenced us more than the British colonized us.)
Yet, here I am, almost 13 years later, burning my corneas with lasers so I don’t have to wear glasses anymore. How times change.
Anyway, my father told me to go to Kikuyu Eye Hospital to get my eyes properly checked by the best eye doctors *ophthalmologists* in East Africa, and not just the opticians and optometrists along Moi Avenue who just wanted to sell you glasses.
At Kikuyu Hospital, I was diagnosed with Myopia and given my first prescription glasses. Finally, I could see everything around me so clearly. So this is what the rest of you had been seeing?
A couple of years later, I got a more stylish pair of glasses. Since then, I’ve had two or three more pairs.
When I came to Japan in 2014, I was content with my glasses at first. But gradually, my vision had become worse and without my glasses, I couldn’t even drive. I couldn’t read road signs, forgetting my glasses was not just a minor inconvenience as it had been in Kenya.
Contact Lenses for Lush Lashes
A few inconveniences of wearing glasses could be sorted out by wearing contact lenses. Like if I wanted my thick, mascara-coated eyelashes to be seen, I’d wear contacts. Also, big eyes are considered beautiful in Japan and my glasses were covering them up. If I wanted to wear sunglasses, or I was going to watch a 3D movie, then contacts it was. I bought the daily soft lenses and went through an entire struggle learning to put on contacts and take them out. I need to write a book on that whole journey. How to not blink as your finger puts a foreign object directly onto your eye.
But soon enough, even contacts weren’t enough. Even when I got the two-week ones that could last longer.
I couldn’t wear contacts when swimming. So, I couldn’t see well around me, couldn’t tell the time on the clock to know when it was time to get out of the pool. If I went out to the sea, the same thing. The joys of scuba diving were lost on me. If I came back after a night out, I couldn’t go to sleep right away. I had to take out my contact lenses and soak them in the lens solution overnight. If I had contacts on too long, they would dry out. If I was flying and knew I’d fall asleep/have irregular sleep, it was back to glasses.
There was a permanent solution to it all: Lasik surgery. I did some research online. Watched videos. Talked to people or read about who had had Lasik or PRK (also uses lasers but it’s a little different).
I heard it’s cheaper to get it in South Korea, which has the best cosmetic surgeons in the world. But we happen to be in the middle of a pandemic, COVID-19. I can’t just fly to South Korea to get it done. Luckily, we are now working from home so this felt like a good time as any to finally get it done.
After Googling about Lasik clinics in Tokyo, I settled on Shinagawa Lasik Clinic because they have an English page on the website and a representative who speaks English who will guide you throughout the entire process.
I dialed the number on the website and Richard Masuda, the English rep, picked up the phone. I thought I would just ask some general questions, and ask for a consultation. He said, the examination is free (except for a ¥10,000 DNA test) so I could just book any time to go do it one morning. And if I was a good candidate for Lasik, then I could have the surgery that same afternoon. Oh, it was that simple? Yes. However, if I didn’t want to go through with it, it was fine. I had up to 3 months after the free assessment tests to make the decision. If I didn’t get surgery within the 3 months, I’d have to repeat the tests. I decided to go for the tests on 6/22.
With Lasik, you can literally go back to work the next day, but I took a couple of leave days, to be on the safe side.
I arrived at the clinic in Ginza on Monday, June 22nd at 9:30am. It’s called Shinagawa Kinshi Clinic but it’s actually in Ginza. My appointment was for 10am so I decided to get a 7-11 Latte and watch the trains from the 13th floor where the clinic is located, as I waited.
At around 10am, I went to the reception and they asked me if I had had chocolate or coffee. Unfortunately, I had and they asked me to rinse out my mouth because one of the tests was an Avellion DNA test to check for any corneal abnormalities. Testing positive means you are not a good candidate for LASIK. Richard then helped me fill in the forms and explained what they all meant. There is no hurry to sign the consent forms for the tests and if you need more time, it’s acceptable to cancel the whole thing and go home to first read the terms and conditions.
I signed the forms and was then led through a series of various eye tests to check my visual acuity, corneal thickness, the shape of eyes, astigmatism, night vision, etc. They put some stinging eye drops into my eyes, the medical assistant apologizing profusely the whole time, to dilate my pupils so the doctor could look deep into my eye (and brain probably LOL). Then they gave me a cotton swab to collect DNA cells from my inner cheek and by noon I was done. I was told to go for lunch and come back by 4pm to have the surgery of the results were all OK.
Infidel at Starbucks
I went to Cafe Gusto for a cheap lunch, with Infidel as my companion. I really enjoyed reading that book. Then I went to Starbucks where I made one ‘tall’ Yuzu Lemon Tea last a whole two hours, as I read my book and occasionally looked up to admire the tall Japanese guy working on his MacBook opposite me on the table. When I cast my eyes downward to read my book, I could feel his eyes on me as he stole glances. So this is how you guys pass time at Starbucks? Hehehe. When I rose to leave at 3:45PM, he finally looked me straight in the eye, and I asked him if he was writing a book, he had been typing furiously. He said, no he was working. He started small talk – where are you from, how long have you been in Japan, your Japanese is so sugoi, so amazing – I cut him short and told him I had a LASIK surgery to get done. He said, why don’t we exchange line, I said sure, let’s arrange a date to answer all your questions (and some of mine as well). Truly Infidel behaviour.
I went back to the clinic and was informed that I had passed all the tests and could have the surgery as planned. I put all my stuff in a locker, took off my glasses for the last time, wore a hair cap, and followed the nurse and Richard to the theatre. I was all calm until the moment I had to lie down face up under the machine which I knew was going to cut open a thin layer of my eye’s epithelium to expose the cornea. I felt it was too late to chicken out.
In a way, I was glad Richard was there. He psychologically held my hand, encouraging me to take deep threats, to relax, this will all be over soon. He can also physically hold your hand if you felt scared. The first step was to create the corneal flap. The hardest part was when they used clamps to keep your eyes open. There was someone there the whole time generously ‘pouring’ anaesthetic eye drops into your eyes and gently wiping away the overflowing ‘tears’. When your eye is in position, you are told to stare at the blinking green light. Then there is some suction as the machine keeps your eye in position. Then the surgeon says lights off, everything goes dark and you feel nothing as the machine uses a laser to create the flap. The countdown begins, I remember clearly hearing 26 seconds, 10 seconds, done. The lights came on and the surgeon moved the machine over to the left eye to repeat the process.
Since I had myopia of -3 and just a touch of astigmatism on my right eye, I had chosen to use a cheaper machine which didn’t combine corneal flap creation and laser sculpting. So I had to get up with blurry vision after the corneal flaps were created and walk the short distance to the next room for the laser sculpting.
I remember I had a feeling that something was very, very wrong and I just wanted to be held by my mummy and sleep and wish everything could go back to normal. My eyes weren’t in any pain though.
The next step took even less time, except this time my eyelashes were taped first. Then the clamps to keep my eyes open. I could feel and see the surgeon lifting the corneal flap. Then he told me to look at the blinking green light. He aligned the lasers, which were blinking read. The room went dark. Someone counted… 10 seconds, 7 seconds… I smelled the singeing. Then the surgeon replaced the corneal flap and I could feel him brushing it smooth. Then the other eye. Then more singeing, a smell like when hair or wool catches fire. Countdown was from 7 seconds I think. The surgeon smoothing the flap. More numbing eye drops. It was over.
お疲れ様です。 Good job, the surgeon said.
Arigatou gozaimashita, Richard and I answered. I walked out. I could see, but it was a bit cloudy like when you have been swimming with eyes open underwater for a long time.
I rested for a while and then Richard got me eye drops and explained to me how to put them on every hour. By the time, the feeling in me eyes had returned and it felt like I had crushed onions in my eyes. Stingy, but bearable.
My housemate came to pick me up and we rode on public transport home. The lights were too bright for me, probably because my pupils must have been still dilated. I had to wear dark glasses to make it more bearable.
By the time I went to bed that night, I could already see so clearly.
The Next Day Checkup
When I woke up in the morning after a deep sleep, I was pain-free! I was seeing clearly, better than vision 20-20.
I went back to the clinic by myself. I was still sensitive to light so I wore sunglasses, but overall it was nice seeing in HD, better than glasses (my lenses had -2.25 power but my myopia was -3).
The doctor looked deep into my eyes, and then declared that my cornea was healing normally and I should continue using the eye drops as instructed and come back for another checkup after one week.
One Week Later
Last Monday, on June 29th, I went back for the one-week checkup. I was declared healed.
Surprisingly, my vision had come down a bit compared to Day 2. That’s because my cornea is now healing, on the day after everything was fresh. On day 2, I could read the bottom line with either eye, very clearly. One week later, only with my left eye. My right eye could see up to the second-to-last line. This is better than the target anyway, and might become better or slightly worse as the healing process goes on. Still better than 20/20 vision.
I can now go back to running, I still have another 120 days left to run in 2020. I can wear eye makeup. I still shouldn’t swim or go to the onsen for a month. I’m still using the eye drops, but just 2 or 3 times a day. I wake up with dry eyes but it’s been getting better and the eye drops help.
Yesterday as I was going out, I kept thinking I had forgotten something. Ah, my glasses. Then I remembered, I don’t need those anymore. Not for a long time to come.
I went outside to enjoy my life in HD.
I took some photos with my housemate who just graduated with her master’s degree in psychology.
I’ll go back to the clinic for another checkup after 3 months.
P.S. The cost of LASIK will vary depending on how your assessment goes which determines which machines will be used. Also if you have a referral code, it can give you a discount. If you want a referral code, let me know.