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Finding a good LASIK surgeon

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My husband is one of those people who needed to wear eyeglasses from an early age, but refused to do so. Unfortunately, his eyesight had gotten worse over the years and eventually, without eyeglasses, he would only see silhouettes of people and objects. This made me worry a lot about him, especially that he’s miles away from us. I would fear him accidentally breaking or dropping his eyeglasses and I would simply not be there to be his guide. To help him cope in case such incident would take place, he actually kept three pairs of glasses.

With the technological advancements in the field of medicine, however, and after hearing countless stories of improved vision through LASIK (laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis) surgery, we decided that he too would go through the same procedure to improve his eyesight. And so, our search for the right doctor began months before he came home last December, although I could not say that it had been an easy task.

Where we started

My mother-in-law recommended her own ophthalmologist, who practices at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) and St. Luke’s Medical City, and is a graduate of Harvard School of Medicine. With her glowing recommendations and the doctor’s impressive educational background and years of experience (I looked him up online), I contacted his clinic at once to schedule an appointment. Unfortunately, I was told that he won’t be available in December. Apparently, he goes to the US and spends Christmas there every year.

A friend from the church also recommended a young ophthalmologist who performed LASIK surgery both on her and her husband a few years back. However, every time I would try to set an appointment with him, I would be told a different clinic address for the surgery. Somehow, from Asian Hospital, the machine got transferred to a small clinic at Alabang Town Center, then to another clinic at the Mall of Asia. I didn’t think that was a good sign, although I believed in my heart that he was a good doctor too, especially judging by one of his patient’s recommendation and condition now.

And then I met another doctor who was a neurologist-ophthalmologist and practices the profession both at Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital. I was easily at ease with her, especially that she offered information that I never even thought of asking. Impressed, not to mention the fact that we’re not getting positive signs from the other two doctors, my husband and I considered her. She was also recommended by a couple of friends from the church, but I later on found out that they were her patients for other cases and not for LASIK. That being said, although I wanted her to be the one, especially that she’s a churchmate too, and be done with the search, I had a nagging feeling that we had to look for another one.

The real dilemma

Two to three weeks before my husband’s arrival from Singapore, I started finalizing his schedule. It turned out that his relatives, particularly his mom and sister, were also getting anxious about it. They kept telling me to check on this particular doctor or so, do some thorough background research on the ones I’ve already shortlisted, etc. until I started having this nagging feeling that there might actually be someone out there more competent to perform the surgery, too.

I began looking up articles on how to choose the right physician to do LASIK surgery on you, things one should know both before and after LASIK surgery, including checking out online the profiles of the ophthalmologists listed in the online directories of eye clinics, including certain hospitals. I actually called up the medical institutions to get more information about some of these physicians, particularly on how often they perform LASIK surgery in a week or month, and I asked for referrals from the hospital staff, too. I even talked to some of the doctors themselves. I finally came up with a new list.

Digging through the pile

It’s amazing how much I discovered when I started researching! I learned that not all ophthalmologists can, will, or should perform LASIK surgery. From the articles I’ve read online, I realized that in other countries, particularly the US, one must have a license in LASIK surgery. Here, in the Philippines, however, the regulations do not appear to be that strict when it comes to LASIK surgery. Doctors who practice general ophthalmology may perform LASIK surgery, but those who specialize in cornea and refractive surgery are the ones who are most likely to be experienced in performing LASIK surgery.

Moreover, even ophthalmologists who seem to have very impressive titles do not necessarily mean they would perform LASIK surgery. While some have the integrity to admit that they are not well-trained to do LASIK surgery, there may be some who would claim that they can do the job despite probably just having assisted in one or two cases. For instance, there’s this doctor who agreed to do it, but when I called one of the hospitals she was supposedly affiliated with, her name was not even mentioned among those who perform LASIK surgery at that hospital.

Wondering if the staff I was talking to might be playing favorites or just forgot to mention her, I decided to call the same hospital several times, talked to three different personnel, asked the same question(s), and even dropped this particular doctor’s name. Yet, they all recommended other doctors and told me that she has never performed LASIK surgery at that particular hospital. Come to think of it, this doctor’s online profile doesn’t really say much about her experience at all, but because she was recommended by a friend, I had high hopes that she would be the one.

What I should have (also) done first

So far, I have learned that although recommendations are good, you still must do your research, which shouldn’t be that difficult, since you can now just easily look up a person’s profile online and call the hospital he/she is affiliated with to verify his/her credentials. One should not be easily impressed too by those who have double majors in the field of medicine either, or are simply affiliated with prestigious hospitals. Having the title(s) of a diplomate and/or fellow (at a prestigious medical school) coupled with years of experience in the field is more promising, don’t you think?

Moreover, I have learned that just like not all ophthalmologists are qualified to perform LASIK surgery, not all patients are also qualified to go through LASIK surgery. And that is why it’s imperative that the patient undergoes a thorough screening first, which typically lasts 2.5–4 hours. If you are told that it’s going to take much less than that, then you should start wondering how thorough their screening is. (I have checked with three or four eye centers, including a major hospital, and ironically, only the eye center at one of these hospitals told me that it would only last for 30 minutes to one hour.)

Two days before my husband’s arrival, I was already in panic. I have narrowed down the list to two doctors from a well-known private hospital, but I still wasn’t that sure about either of them. Thankfully, my sister-in-law, who also happens to be a medical doctor, but specializes in emergency medicine, finally stepped in and started ringing her fellow doctors from UP-PGH for referrals.

Meeting Dr. Right

My sister-in-law gave me three names (with contact info), which I immediately looked up online. One of them really stood out, and the fact that this doctor is affiliated with the Asian Eye Institute somehow gave me comfort. Perhaps it’s because the institution’s name suggests that eye care is their specialization, their doctors are trained solely to help patients with visual impairments, and they must be performing LASIK surgery on a regular basis.

I called the doctor then, and she was very friendly and accommodating. I liked the fact that although she knew I would call, she didn’t automatically assume that it was a done deal. She was gracious enough to tell us that we can just text her if we decide to go with her, and promised to prioritize us, especially that my husband would only be home for three weeks and it was almost Christmas. She also answered my questions, and offered to give us a discount because we were being recommended by a close friend of hers. Her name’s Dr. Maria Luisa Patricia C. Solis, and we were happy with our decision to choose her and their institute.

Four days after speaking with Dr. Solis on the phone, we went to the Asian Eye Institute at Rockwell Center, Makati City for my husband’s pre-surgery checkup. His eyes were thoroughly examined, which lasted for about 2.5 hours. We finally met Dr. Solis in person, and we learned that my husband was not a candidate for LASIK surgery. Certain conditions must be met, and he failed. His eye grade was simply too high and he had astigmatism. That didn’t mean, of course, that there was no more hope for him.

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Don’t get me wrong; I’m not stalking this lovely doctor nor am I getting compensated for recommending her and the Asian Eye Institute. I just want to show you some of the things I found out online about our preferred LASIK surgeon. And, because we were happy with her, I strongly recommend that you contact her too if you have concerns with your eyesight.

At the Asian Eye Institute

We were told that technically, a patient with that condition could still get LASIK surgery–some doctors would do that, especially for the money–but that won’t really help the patient in the long run, since LASIK would not address all the problems. My husband was recommended instead to go through PRK (photorefractive keratectomy). It is somewhat similar to LASIK surgery, but instead of creating a flap in the cornea, which is what they do in LASIK, the outer layers of his corneas would be scraped off.

PRK also requires longer healing period and the patient gets to experience more pain than those who undergoes LASIK. However, PRK is more advantageous, particularly to those who have an active lifestyle. Other advantages of PRK over LASIK were thoroughly explained to us by Dr. Solis, as well as exactly what would happen during the surgery, how to care for the eyes after surgery, and other things we should expect.

My husband and I came back to Asian Eye Institute in Makati the following morning for the surgery. We were immediately assisted when we arrived; the schedule was strictly observed. The actual surgery was only supposed to last for about 10 minutes, but I must have waited for nearly an hour because preparations had to be done to him before the surgery and he was made to rest for a few minutes after the surgery too plus, medicines must be administered to him first before he left the clinic.

We spent around PHP76,000++ in all, including the screening fee. That already comes with a 15% discount, by the way, because my husband’s an OFW, plus Dr. Solis had waived her consultation fee during the screening. (The refractive surgery package quoted to us originally amounted to nearly PHP80,000, including the screening fee.)

Asian Eye Institute’s Refractive Surgery Package includes the first batch of medicines the patient needs to take after the surgery,  which was good for 2–3 weeks, contact lens bandage, a pair of goggles to help protect the eyes from dust particles, followup checkups at any Asian Eye Institute branch, and whatever documentation a patient might need, such as medical certificate.

Caring for my patient after the surgery

At home, I didn’t really have problems caring for my husband. I have installed thick dark curtains in our bedroom to keep the sunlight from hurting his eyes. He usually only experienced intense pain in the morning when he wakes up and a few minutes before his scheduled medication (or when the effect of his medicines wear off), which only lasted for a few seconds though. He had to take four different eye drops at five minutes interval every four hours from 8 AM to 8 PM for about three weeks or until supplies ran out, then he’s given new prescription to take.

My husband was also able to watch TV and go out and water the plants (while wearing a polarized Ray-Ban) a day or two after his surgery. I had to help him take a bath though, particularly in shampooing his long hair, doing it salon-style. I got him a pair of swimming goggles to use when he takes a bath to avoid having the water get into his eyes, too, which he only had to use for a week or until after the contact lens bandage were removed from his eyes.

Patient managing on his own now

My husband is back in Singapore now, and he learned that two of his workmates also went through eye surgery during Christmas vacation. However, among the three of them, he was the only one whose eyes seemed to be healing fast and properly. And we believe that it must have something to do with the doctor. His workmates had problems because they didn’t have time to recuperate–something that Dr. Solis stressed to us is a must–they went back to work immediately. There was even a time when they asked my husband to have them use his eye drops because they didn’t bring any and they were experiencing so much pain in the eyes!

It’s amazing what a huge difference it makes when you have a doctor who really takes care of you, tries to manage your expectations well, anticipates the things you might need, and so on. Before my husband went back to Singapore, Dr. Solis, issued a medical certificate stressing that my husband must not work beyond office hours and a prescription that contained three different brands of medicines that he might find in Singapore in case what he’s using here isn’t available, including the name of a reputable eye clinic that he could visit in case he needed to see a doctor there.

Ideally, a PRK patient must go through followup checkups three days after the surgery (to remove the contact lens bandage), one week after the surgery, one month later, then three, six, nine, and twelve months after. Moreover, exposure to computer and TV screens should not be more than two hours a day, lubricant eye drops must be used at least four times a day or as needed, eye glasses that offer high UV protection must be worn when under the sun, smokes and dusty places must be avoided, as well as the beach and swimming pools for a certain period of time.

All is well that ends well

Of course, since my husband needs to go to work, he can’t really meet all those above requirements. For one, he has to work on the computer for more than two hours a day and he couldn’t come home every three months for his followup checkup. Nevertheless, he’s recuperating well. His vision has already greatly improved even when he was still here, and he could very well attain 20/20 vision on both eyes in the weeks to come. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean he would never have to wear a pair of eyeglasses again for the rest of his life.

Undergoing LASIK surgery is no guarantee that one will no longer need to wear a pair of reading glasses, especially when he gets old and gray. At 40, age-related macular degeneration begins, and apparently, no one’s exempted from it (and your good doctor should be able to manage your expectation by also telling you this).

In that case, was spending a lot of money and getting a LASIK surgery worth it? Of course! Nothing compares to seeing the happiness in my husband’s face because he can now see things clearly even without eyeglasses! Just try not to go through the same hassle as I did when looking for the right doctor, okay? You already know where to find one! ❤

“My eyes are my favorite part of me; not because they look good, but for how they see.” – Frau Feuerameise  

(Featured image from Unsplash by Clem Onojeghuo, edited with Canva and Bokeh app)

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