Lasik in Gwangju, South Korea

LASIK in Korea

I got my first pair of glasses at the tender age of sixteen. The thin wire frames were awkward and the last thing I wanted to be seen wearing. I’d occasionally break them out in math class, but I was fine without them. My vision exponentially declined in college thanks to my transcriptionist job, leaving me in a dark creepy room staring at a computer for hours. Glasses or contacts were necessary since then. I wore them interchangeably, but despised both for different reasons. Glasses gave me headaches and contacts were inconvenient and could be uncomfortable.

Then I heard about LASIK. Whoever invented LASIK is either a lunatic or a genius. Or both. Several of my friends opted to undergo the eye-correcting and life-changing procedure in Korea. The medical facilities are quite nice here. Additonally, the procedure is safe and very cheap (compared to the states); flying to Korea to get the procedure may even be cheaper than getting it in the states. My cost was 1,000,000 South Korean won for both eyes, which amounts to a little less than $1,000 USD. That’s about the cost PER eye in the states.

I went to the place that all of the expats recommend in Gwangju – 밝은안과. The consultation consisted of a circuit of scary machines measuring all kinds of things you never knew about your eyeballs. The doctor said that I’m a good candidate for either LASIK or LASEK. Thinking about the shorter recovery time, I opted for the former. I penciled in the following Thursday for the operation.

Lasik in Gwangju, South Korea

The building near the Gwangju Bus Terminal (Usquare)

Contacts were not allowed for the week prior, so I had the joy of wearing my scratchy and headache-inducing glasses. By the time Thursday rolled around, I was ready to toss those babies for good. My boyfriend was in the Philippines and my poor friend suddenly got a bad case of food poisoning, so I ventured to the eye clinic solo.

After a few eye tests, the woman threw a robe at me to put over my clothes and a hairnet on my head. Other patients were nervously waiting their turn. You can see inside the operating room where a half dozen people were under lasers. I turned my head away from the screen revealing people’s eyeballs being poked. It gave me the shivers. I saw a girl come out of her operation and was laughing hysterically with her friends. She’s alive. Let’s do this. “Lianne Bo-ron-jo”. My turn.

Without my specs, I followed the doctor, stumbling and waving my arms in front of me like a zombie because my vision was that bad. I took off my shoes, Asian style, and was prompted to sit on the chair where a teddy bear was waiting for me to squeeze. We became very intimate for ten minutes. The nurse first tied my forehead and chin down to the chair so I wouldn’t budge. Then, they cleaned my cheeks and forehead before covering my entire eye with tape and cutting a slit into it. I couldn’t blink; I felt like Alex in A Clockwork Orange. To avoid dryness, they constantly put drops in my eyes, sometimes it seemed like a waterfall uncomfortably flowing into my eyeballs. The doctor was calming and thankfully spoke English. He guided me throughout the whole procedure. He first put a lot of pressure on my left eyeball, squeezing it with some kind of device. Everything went black and to put it simply, it freaked me out. I regained vision, albeit blurry. I think he already cut the flap in my cornea by that point. I’m gracious I didn’t see a knife. Next, he instructed me to stare at a red light for thirty seconds while the machine made an intimidating pounding sound. “Focus, focus!” I told myself. Part of me wanted to look away, but that’ll just screw everything up. When the laser was done correcting my vision, the doctor put the flap back down with some sort of paintbrush-like tool. I hated every second of him poking my eyeball with this brush. I didn’t feel a thing, but having to watch it made me cringe. I must have suffocated the teddy bear to death. Sorry. R.I.P. Ah, well that’s over. Now I had to do it all over with my right eye. I dreaded the brushing part, but I sucked it up and it was over in no time. The procedure wasn’t at all painful, just a little uncomfortable.

I walked back into the lobby with my somewhat blurry vision. I couldn’t look at the woman, just at my toes. At the moment, I just felt paralyzed, traumatized by how much my eyeballs were poked and squeezed and stroked. I looked down as I answered her questions with terse responses as if I was being interrogated after being assaulted. After ten minutes of closing my eyes, the doctor looked at them with a machine and called it a success. “You’re a great patient.” Why thank you.

I walked downstairs to the pharmacy to get the prescribed eye drops. Feeling all right, I walked outside with my sunglasses and caught the bus to my apartment. I was able to see just fine, but towards the end of the ride, my eyelids got heavy. I walked back to my place only able to see my feet out of my half-opened left eye. My right eye refused to see the light.

When I got home, I popped on This American Life which I purposefully set up on my laptop and laid in bed for hours. I couldn’t open my eyes and they were sensitive to light, so I tried falling asleep. I called Adam when he got service in the Philippines and I still felt like it was difficult to speak. I felt like I was on drugs or just plain traumatized. I then slept through the night, and did it mighty well.

The next morning, however, was fantastic. I was able to see the toes in front of me. I was even able to see the details on my Korean artsy wallpaper, my jacket hanging on my chair, the dried out leaves with which I hastily decorated my windows (some people have a thing for leaves, okay??!!). I didn’t have to reach for my glasses, even my instincts told me so. It felt good to reach for eye drops instead. My eyes burned a little bit that day, but I was well enough to bake six loaves of banana bread and meet a Korean man who bought some loaves and sold some to his coworkers as well. I later met up with my good friends downtown for a delicious dinner to celebrate my birthday (which was the following day) and Paula’s last day in Korea. Dinner was followed by pitchers of IPA, a philosophical chocolate banana cake made by the lovely baker Meg and service (free) pizza pies. I technically wasn’t supposed to drink, but I had a beer anyway. Don’t tell my doctor. I’m happy I finally like IPAs now. It was wonderful to be able to see my beautiful friend’s faces in HD vision. Tears welled up as I said my goodbyes to inspirational Paula, but I will certainly see her again some time this year in Japan. It has been a few days since the procedure, and my vision is better than ever. I couldn’t shower or wash my face for three days and makeup is off limits for a while. I’m consuming more eye drops than coffee.

The moral of the story: I love LASIK and would highly recommend it for all of my fellow glasses/contact folk out there.

Describes how I feel after LASIK.


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