Getting LASIK: Why I’m doing it, and what I learned in the process

Updated: Sep. 16, 2019 at 8:15 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - You may have noticed I’ve looked a little different this week. I usually don’t wear my glasses on air. In fact, I never do.

I’ve worn contacts since I was a teenager. I swam and ran and it just made life easier to almost immediately switch to contacts.

I’ve been wearing my glasses in preparation for LASIK - basically a laser procedure to correct my vision, so I don’t have to wear contacts or glasses.

My mornings obviously start early. By 3:30 a.m., I’m getting ready for 12 News Today. Whether it’s looking at scripts or curling my hair and putting on makeup before the show, that’s early!

And my evenings are sometimes out of my control. I have three kids 5 and under. Even if everyone is sleeping, there’s constant laundry and picking up, and packing lunches, and checking school calendars, and coordinating after school activities.

The stuff every parent in America does, and sometimes you can’t control how long that takes.

And when you’re burning the candle at both ends, you’re tired. A lot of mornings, I’m tired. My heart and soul are full of joy. But my eyes, aren’t.

The idea of putting in contacts is exhausting. The idea of wearing glasses, though, is worse for me. I hate having something on my face.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time to make my life a little bit easier. You can’t be pregnant or nursing when you get LASIK, so if you do the backwards math on my family, I’ve had about 6 years to look forward to this.

This summer, I made an appointment with Dr. Whitten for a consultation. Dr. Mark Whitten is a local doctor who does the LASIK procedure.

“LASIK is a procedure where we basically take a laser and reshape your eyeball into the shape of a pair of glasses," Whitten explained. "So I’m actually making a pair of glasses out of your eyeballs. And that’s why you’re able to see.”

And that should make a big difference - because my prescription is strong! But apparently, Whitten has seen worse.

“You’re about half of what Tiger was when I lasered him,” laughed Whitten as we were talking.

You heard that right, Whitten did LASIK on Tiger Woods’ eyes. And that’s not all.

“.... a number of basketball players and I saw an Olympic swimmer Tom Dolan ... and Dorothy Hamil ... and Wonder Woman!” listed Whitten.

He’s put a list on his website.

Whitten is a Richmond native who started learning about and performing LASIK when the procedure was new.

“I think I did one of the first procedures after the FDA approved this back in 1985,” said Whitten.

In addition to working on celebrities, he’s done the procedure on thousands of other people, like me.

“You’re just as important as anyone else I ever work on,” he reassured me.

Skipping ahead to the procedure ... what’s crazy is the actual reshaping of the eye takes SECONDS.

“As long as the first eye goes well, we go over and do the second eye,” said Whitten. “And then usually the next morning, 99 percent of people drive themselves back to see me because they’re seeing that well. Just like they wake up thinking they’re wearing their contact lenses, but they’re not.”

The healing process, for me, will mean some changes for a short time on TV - like no eye makeup to prevent infection.

“We try to keep you out of environments that could cause infections,” said Dr. Whitten. “Such as eye makeup or hot tubs, swimming pools, where lots of bugs are and kids are in the pool ...or the river. We even ask you to wear goggles for the first week while you shower.”

Seeing me with no eye makeup on TV is weird for me, and maybe for you. My eyelashes are real, but very fair. You probably won’t see them! And I’ll probably look tired.

But once we get through it, the good news is, I’ll be able to see. And THAT is a gift, and it’s been a dream of mine for a long time.

How do you know if you’re a good candidate for LASIK?

Actually, you can find out pretty easily. Most LASIK locations will give you a free consultation. It’s not a bait and switch trap. They actually check your eyes to see if you’re a candidate for free.

If your cornea is thick enough, and the other issues they check for check out, they’ll probably sit you down for a meeting with the “financial guy (or gal)” to see if you want to pay for it.

But the actual appointment, took maybe 20 minutes. It’s quick. Less invasive than a regular eye check.

How much does it cost?

You know, this, like most medical events, depends. Here’s my story. My eye doctor (Dr. Spittle) recommended Dr. Whitten. So, I started there. But I also called around for other quotes to see how Dr. Whitten’s prices compared.

I called my insurance to ask questions. I wanted to know whether any part of the process was covered by my insurance. And I also wanted to know if any of the cost would at least go toward my annual family deductible.

The answer was no and no. But, my employer does offer a small rebate for making “healthy choices.” LASIK was one of those choices, but I had to go to specific doctors.

Armed with that information, I called Dr. Whitten back. They let me know they were running a promotional special in August/September, which saved me a decent amount of money.

Also, they let me donate $500 of my cost to the Tiger Woods Foundation, which felt nice.

That said, I called a lot of doctors. And on average, expect roughly $2,500 per eye. Ask about promotions that may get you a discount. Ask about rebates/insurance options. I’ve even found a Groupon for LASIK since I started this process.

In the end, I felt like I landed with a doctor I trusted, at a price I felt was fair.

Why do you have to wear the glasses for a week before the procedure?

“For those wearing contacts, like you, it can slightly change the shape of the eye. And when your eyeball changes shape, you change prescription!" Whitten said. "After all, I’m changing the shape of your eye with a laser and that’s why it works. But if you change the shape with the contact lens and then I laser you without knowing what your real shape is, I could get the wrong prescription.”

What’s the process like?

“So, I think the hardest part is the mental part, you’re under a laser, things are happening to them, because it’s not a painful procedure. We use numbing drops and you can’t feel anything,” Whitten said. “And in fact, as you’re watching the procedure yourself, the laser is watching. If you move at all, the laser is locked on. SO pretty much idiot proof during the procedure. Cause it won’t laser you unless you’re in the right spot.”

The laser cuts a flap in your eye, folds it back, and then lasers the prescription onto the eyeball. And then, the doctor lowers the flap back down.

“It effectively heals you very quickly by doing it with your own tissue, so generally most people 99% of people – when they’re good candidates - they see well the next day. As long as they’re careful for a week, then they do very well.” Whitten said.

One eye is done at a time. Dr. Whitten will make sure I can see with one, then do the other one.

“As long as the first eye goes well, we go over and do the second eye," he said. "And then usually the next morning, 99 percent of people drive themselves back to see me because they’re seeing that well! Just like they wake up thinking they’re wearing their contact lenses, but they’re not.”

And yes, they do offer you a pill to relax while they hold your eye open. More on this after I actually experience it. I may even share the video of the procedure and take questions.

Are you worried about what could go wrong?

Of course! That’s normal. But, I did my research. And Dr. Whitten also ran my numbers against millions of other LASIK recipients and based on our matching data, I’m projected to have a very good outcome.

Here’s what he had to say: “There are not many things that can go wrong with LASIK. In fact, less than 1% of people have problems after LASIK.”

Also, there is ability to go back in after the procedure and fix things, if you can believe it!

Why did I do it?

Where do I begin on this one? It’s important for me to tell everyone out there wearing glasses that you look great. I like the way glasses look. I don’t even dislike the way glasses look on me. It’s more how I feel.

I’m not comfortable having something on my face. I don’t like the feeling of my glasses on my face when I’m trying to go for a long run. I can’t wear them swimming, and I can’t see to do flip-turns and workouts in the pool without them (or contacts).

I don’t like waking up to a crying kid having a nightmare, or a sick kid throwing up, only to have to fumble around with my hands first to find my glasses to get my kid.

I don’t like playing defense holding my kids because they want to grab my glasses.

I don’t like thinking about finding my glasses before I could help my kids get to safety in the middle of a nighttime fire. I know that’s morbid and unlikely, but I think about the escape ladders and fire extinguishers, and fumbling for glasses is part of my escape plan.

I don’t like not having peripheral vision.

I don’t like when my eyelashes hit my glasses.

I don’t like when I get dressed or undressed and my clothes catch on my glasses.

I don’t like trying to put an IFB in my ear (to hear during a broadcast) while working around glasses.

I don’t like showering without being able to see what I’m doing. Without glasses or contacts, it’s tough.

And I just don’t like always having to put contacts in tired eyes.

I don’t like having to switch out torn or bothersome contacts while I’m wearing work makeup. And then having smears on my eyes I have to correct.

I don’t like when I’m having eye problems and can’t wear my contacts on air.

It’s a lot of first-world problems, but the reality is, there are a lot of reasons my life would be a lot simpler and more comfortable with LASIK. It’s similar, for me, to braces. Just worth the change.

Recovery? We will see! I’ll keep you posted!

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