The View from the Dream Eye Center
My entire life I have depended on contact lenses to see. This did not bother me too much in America, but once I moved to Korea and started traveling around the world, I realized the huge inconvenience of contact lenses. You always need to carry solution and a contact case and sometimes you forget. This often caused me to sleep in my lenses, which besides for being extremely uncomfortable, is also dangerous while traveling in places with far from perfect sanitary conditions. Fortunately, Seoul is famous for performing laser eye surgery and after hearing many testimonials from happy friends, I knew it was time to do it for myself.
My whole life is built around my eyes. All of my passions: photography, writing, traveling, reading, and art require vision. So to say I was a little apprehensive about having part of my cornea shaved off is a bit of an understatement. The more I researched the procedure, however, the more comfortable I became. Seoul is home to many great eye centers, but one place in particular kept popping up in my research, The Dream Eye Center. The Dream Eye Center is located in Gangnam on the 14th floor of a skyscraper.
When I decided that this was the place to go, I reserved a free two hour consultation to have my eyes checked. The day I arrived for the consultation I was impressed by the immaculate office space and the friendly, English speaking, staff. I can speak Korean at an intermediate level, but when you have a serious medical procedure done, the ability to speak in your native language is vital. After all, this is surgery on your eyes. The office is huge and takes up nearly an entire floor of the building. Gangnam has the most expensive real estate prices in Seoul, so the fact that these doctors could afford such a space put me even more at ease. They must be doing something right.
For two hours my eyes were put through a gauntlet of tests. One test they performed even took pictures of the back of my eyeballs! I went through so many tests that most of them were completely new to me, but the entire time the directions were clear and I felt extremely comfortable and intrigued by the results. My vision was tested and it was -2.75 in both eyes. Then, they showed me what my vision could be like after the surgery. Most likely it will be 20/20, but some people receive even better results and I have friends that now have 20/13 vision because of surgery! Before my doctor's visit I was unaware that vision beyond 20/20 was even possible. By the end of my consultation I felt extremely excited about the procedure and I made the appointment for two days later on Friday night. That way I would have the weekend to recover and live like a vampire.
My results ruled out LASIK because my cornea was too thin, so my only option was the less pain LASEK. LASIK and LASEK have different benefits and drawbacks, but here is a basic breakdown. During the LASIK procedure the doctor has to make a larger cut to the cornea in order to make a flap. This flap is then reattached, and although more nerves are damaged in this procedure, the recovery time is much faster and LASIK patients can have great vision in one or two days.
LASEK has a much longer recovery time and typically causes more pain, but as I mentioned earlier, I didn't have a choice because of my thin cornea. Even if my cornea was thick enough, however, I was planning on doing LASEK anyway. I am a very active person. I do crossfit five to six days a week and I'm always traveling or putting my body through challenging experiences. Because of this, LASEK was a much better option for me. In LASEK the surgery depth is smaller and the corneal epithelium grows back naturally. Although this takes a lot longer to recover from, it is much safer in the long run. I would much rather take the long route to perfect vision and not have to worry about a flap in my cornea coming off if I'm ever hit in the face (which is highly likely with the crazy shenanigans I do).
The week leading up to my consultation and surgery I didn't wear my contacts because they actually change your eye's shape and the doctor needs your eyes to be in a more natural state. The day of surgery I was nervous, but also eager and excited. I arrived at the office at 6:40 in the evening and the attendant checked my eyes one final time. After that I sat in the waiting room for ten minutes and then was brought back for my procedure. First they took a vile of my blood to make my own personal eye drops to quicken my recovery. I thought this was really cool, but no the eye drops were not the color of blood. Once this was finished, I put on my gown, was given anesthetic eye drops, and was taken to the procedure room.
In the center of the operating room I saw the laser machine, my doctor, and his three attendants. I was led to the table, given the choice to hold a stuffed animal, I said yes, and then I lay down and was covered by a blanket. My head was situated under the machine and I was told to always stare at the green laser. My head was locked firmly in place and the doctor said each eye would take five minutes or less. At this point I'm sure most of you are wondering what if you move your head somehow, or blink? Will you be blinded by the laser or doctor’s scalpel? I'm here to assure you that this will not happen, not only because of the doctor's secure setup, but because of your own fear. I've never sat so still in my entire life; I was even worried about breathing too much. Even if you did manage to move somehow the laser instantly stops if it loses focus on your eye.
Once the procedure started the light became intensely bright. Due to my green eyes, this was the most uncomfortable part of the procedure. My pain level, however, was fine because my eyes were numb. After that I could see the doctor's instrument travel across the surface of my eye removing parts of the cornea and reshaping it. Did I mention they also corrected my astigmatism in both eyes? Technology is magnificent, isn't it? I remember laying there and thinking to myself that this is what an alien abduction must be like. The doctor turned on the laser and told me to expect a slight burning smell and to keep focusing on the light. Don't worry; it's just your eye being cooked for a few seconds. Before I knew it, the laser was shut off and then the doctor put more drops and ice cold water in my eye. He also covered the eye in a protective contact lens that I had to wear for the first week during the critical regrowth period of the cornea. I was shocked when he said that it was finished. I even spoke to him in Korean, while he switched eyes, which they all found humorous. I'm glad I made somebody laugh.
On the other eye, the same procedure was repeated, and in under eight minutes my surgery was over. I sat up on the table, relinquished my stuffed animal, and was guided to the relaxation room even though my vision was already better than my vision from eight minutes before! Once in the room, I was encouraged to lie down, close my eyes, and listen to music. Before your surgery, you actually get to choose a music genre to listen to while you recover. This is another personal touch, along with the stuffed animal, that really impressed me with the Dream Eye Center. I chose music soundtracks for my genre and I broke into a smile when "Try Everything" from Zootopia came on. My journey for perfect vision was underway.
Before I left the office, I was given the lowdown on all of the drops I needed to take and how to take care of my eyes over the next several days. The first night I was completely fine, and most of the next day was great too. That night, however, I had a hard time sitting in a dim restaurant because the light above us was reflecting off the metal table and making my eyes water. I could barely look up at my fiancé or the food on the table. Besides for increased light sensitivity, I also woke up during the night over the first three days because my eyes were gushing fluid. It felt like I had woken from a nightmare and was bawling because of it, but it was just an inconvenience. I never had any serious pain, and since I already had dry eyes, I've noticed no difference in eye comfort since the eye surgery.
Now, as I write this, it's been about two weeks since the surgery and I’m ecstatic about the results so far. My surgery cost 1,500,000 KRW which equals about 1,350 U.S. dollars. LASEK is the best money I’ve ever spent. Although my vision is still slightly blurry, it can take about a month to achieve perfect vision, I can see landscapes better. Things like buildings, trees, and cars now look more detailed and vibrant. It’s like someone pressed a switch and I went from living in a blurry world to a crystal clear one. It's understandable to be apprehensive about getting laser eye surgery, but don't let that stop you from doing it. For the rest of my life, at least until old age, I will have perfect vision and never have to depend on lenses or glasses. I still have to pinch myself when I go to remove my lenses before bed, and then remember that I don't have any in! It's moments like this when a smile breaks across my face and I can't believe how fortunate I am. Thanks to the Dream Eye Center my life will never be the same.
Contact Information for the Dream Eye Center can be found at hellolasik.com
The original foundations of Gyeongbokgung Palace were put down in 1395. Since then many invaders have come and gone, but the palace is still there. Gyeongbokgung (경복궁) is my favorite place in Seoul. I always feel in awe of the gates, gently sloping roofs, intricate paintings, and colorful wooden beams. So last week when I found myself in the area after renewing my passport at the US Embassy, I decided to take a lunch break at the palace and surround myself with its glorious history.
The first thing you see when you approach Gyeongbokgung is the impressive Gwanghwamun Gate. This gate was destroyed by the Japanese during their occupation, but rebuilt in 1968. The gate stands facing the modern skyline of Seoul. Nearby large billboards glow with ads selling makeup, cars, and cellphones while underneath streams of tourists and Korean office employees dart in and out of traffic. Behind Gwanghwamun, however, lies the magnificence of Korea's past. Three beautifully arched entrance ways with giant red doors open up to a remarkable view of the inner buildings and rising majestically behind them is Bugaksan mountain. This view is one of my favorites in Seoul and never ceases to stop me in my tracks and make me reflect.
During lunch the palace is much quieter than normal. Most people in the palace are Korean couples and tourists dressed in elaborate hanbok, Korean traditional clothing. Flowers have started to open on the trees and the air has finally lost the harsh slap of winter. I like to wander around the buildings and enjoy the silence. The only sounds are the soil crunching beneath my feet and the occasional laughter of a passing couple or family. It's incredible that I can stand in the same place, and enjoy the same scenery, that for hundreds of years was enjoyed by Kings and Queens. I like to imagine them strolling around just like me occasionally stopping to enjoy music, calligraphy, or the beauty of a flower in spring.