When Dr. Maria Woodward opted to have Photorefractive Keratectomy (PRK) surgery on April 1st of this year, she entered the doors of Emory Vision as a patient, rather than as a physician. When I asked her to describe the experience, she replied, “One word: surreal.”
Dr. Woodward’s description is understandable, especially when you consider how accustomed she is to being on the other side of the operating table. However, she knew that she was in incredibly capable hands with Dr. Randleman, who performed her surgery.
But before I continue with her story, I’ll explain some differences and similarities between LASIK and PRK. PRK corrects vision through the reshaping of the surface of the cornea, which involves the removal of the epithelium, the outer layer of cells that cover the cornea. After the laser reshapes the corneal surface, a new epithelium grows back over the treated area, which usually takes 3-7 days. In LASIK surgery, the surgeon uses a surgical instrument to create a protective flap in the cornea, allowing him or her to sculpt the cornea with a laser. The flap is then folded back into place and bonds securely without the need for stitches. The recovery for LASIK is just under 24 hours. PRK and LASIK yield the exact same results; however, PRK results are slightly slower to appear.
According to Dr. Woodward, nearly 20% of her patients undergo PRK, as opposed to LASIK. Example PRK candidates include military personnel, fighter pilots, professional athletes, or anyone involved in everyday situations that involve higher risks of trauma to their eyes. PRK is also performed when the cornea is too thin for LASIK, or when there are mild irregularities in the shape of the cornea.
On the day of surgery, Dr. Woodward was caught a little off guard by her nervousness: “I woke up and asked myself: Am I really doing this today? It’s one thing to talk about having the procedure done, and another thing entirely to actually go ahead with it,” she said.
“The surgery itself was actually much easier than I expected,” she added. “I think knowing exactly what was going to happen actually made it a very smooth process.”
Now, post-surgery, Dr. Woodward feels an even greater empathy and understanding for what patients feel when they experience a PRK (or LASIK) procedure. She learned extra tips to help facilitate PRK patient recovery, like using an egg timer or phone alarm to remind them of when to administer drops, storing drops in the refrigerator to keep them cool, and even listening to music or ‘This American Life’ on NPR during recovery.
She can also truly identify with the sense of joy her patients feel from their newfound ability to see life with absolute clarity.
Do you have thoughts or questions about PRK surgery? If so, be sure to share them with me in the comments.