The idea of traveling for a procedure that could change the way I see the world, like SMILE vision correction, never crossed my mind. Never had I dreamed that I would be living in a foreign country looking at cosmetic procedures beyond vision corrective surgery and all within a doable price range.
I can’t remember being able to see without the aid of glasses or contacts. My entire family wears corrective lenses. On top of that, I grew up in the lower middle class on welfare. I’m from a small city in Tennessee. We never took family vacations especially out of the country.
This is where Shin Medical comes in. I was researching both LASIK and liposuction (another blog on that topic later) when I found out an old colleague of mine was living and working in Seoul. We met up for dinner; I mentioned that I was looking into these procedures, and that’s how I found out he and a partner had started Shin Medical. They had undergone some procedures and thought about the frustrations of those who can’t speak Korean. BOOM! Shin Medical was born.
Having their help allowed me to take the plunge and have the SMILE vision correction surgery performed. I no longer had to research what clinics spoke English and then, which ones REALLY spoke English. Heads up if you’re looking into medical tourism: Many clinics that list English speaking are not fluent and it is frustrating to try and convey what you want to be done.
I had already looked into a couple of clinics when I was already over the language barrier and not in the mood to risk something so serious. I am a woman about convenience, so I was happy to let them do the heavy lifting for me. Shin Medical introduced me to B&VIIT Eye Center and the rest is history.
My experience is more convenient since I’m currently in Seoul. So after a few email exchanges with a wonderful woman named Rosa, I had my appointment set for my eye tests and (hopeful) surgery.
On the day of the surgery, I arrived at the building, headed to the appropriate floor, signed in at the desk, and sent an email to let Rosa know I had arrived. They allowed me to put my belongings in a secure locker and Rosa met me to translate and walk me through all the tests.
First, we started with a DNA test that would arrive later that day. There is a small chance that you may carry a gene that would cause eye correction surgery to fail. It’s rare, but if you have the gene they won’t perform the surgery.
Then, we went through a series of around 60 tests ranging from eyesight to refractive power to corneal thickness (super important) to tear-up time. Each test is designed to get to know your eye and determine if you can have a procedure and which options are available to you. I never know I could learn so much about my eyes!
After all the tests were complete, they walked me to a private consultation room and explained to me what my options were. They also gave me a pamphlet with all my eye information. Luckily for me, my eyes were prime candidates for any procedure available. Since I enjoy wearing artistic eye makeup and play sports, I went with SMILE. It was the most expensive option, but it has the lowest pain rating and recovery time.
Now, some of you might be wondering what is SMILE? I didn’t know either. It’s short for Small Incision Lenticule Extraction. Basically, it’s a mixture of LASEK and LASIK. Here’s a quick overview of all three in case you’re looking at having a procedure done too.
Types of Vision Correction
LASEK (Laser-Assisted Sub-Epithelial Keratectomy) uses only one laser and is said to be great against external impacts if you like to practice martial arts or sports. During the process, an alcohol solution is put on your eye. This solution loosens a thin layer of cells on your eye’s surface called the epithelium. Your surgeon uses the laser to remove this and reshape your cornea.
After the procedure, a special protective lens will be put on your eye while it heals. This lens is usually removed around day 4. LASEK is said to be great for those that play sports, have very thin corneas, very small eyes, or severe dry eye. It does take longer to heal than other procedures with an initial heal time around 3-4 days and 3-6 months of post-op care (that’s just eye drops).
Full disclosure, Rosa said she had this procedure around 10 years ago and that the healing process was a bit painful. Technology and techniques have changed, so I expect it’s more comfortable and less painful now.
LASIK (Laser-Assisted In-Situ Keratomileusis) uses two lasers: the first laser will create a very thin protective flap on the clear layer of your eye (your cornea). This protective flap will then be lifted, and the second laser will then be used to correct your vision. The flap is placed back in its original position.
LASIK has little downtime and pain. You’ll likely be able to resume your routine the following day. You will need to avoid impacts, so no sports. It’s a great option if you can’t take time from work, are sensitive to pain, need to correct astigmatism, and have a thick enough cornea.
SMILE is pretty much a mixture of the two above. A TINY incision is made with a laser. The laser creates a thin lenticule inside the cornea. Then, the surgeon removes the lenticule through the tiny incision to change the shape of the cornea.
The procedure is great if you want the fastest recovery, play sports, suffer from severe dry eyes, or need to correct myopia or astigmatism.
Okay, so I chose my procedure and we set the surgery time for later the same day. They asked me to arrive about an hour prior to get check-in and set up. I arrive on time and check in.
Rosa, who has been with me throughout the entire day, sits me down and explains the recovery eye drop regime. She explains the regime while showing me each drop. A few we go ahead and start putting in my eyes. She then explains that a few are for 2 weeks post-op and on.
She then hands me off to a nurse as I take my glasses off for the last time! The nurse takes my hand and leads me to the surgical area. We remove our shoes and step into a sealed room that then blows what I can only assume is something to make us sterile. Another door opens on the other side and I’m sat down so another nurse can take my blood. During the recovery, there is a set of eye drops that are made from your own blood!
Next, the nurse takes my hand again and leads me to a waiting room with giant comfy chairs. They ask me to lean my head back and close my eyes to prep them for surgery. I remain here for a moment while another nurse explains to me that there will be no pain and tries to calm my nerves. Next, I am led to the surgery room where I’m laid down in a machine. The surgeon arrives and walks me through the procedure once more.
The actual surgery
I’m told to look at the flashing green X and just focus on it for as long as possible. One eye finished. Onto the next, I stare at the green X. Next, they move back to the other eye. I can feel pressure, but no pain as a blur moves across my eyeball. It was an experience. Not a painful one, but one that is awkward to try and describe.
If I were to try, I would say it looked and felt as if someone was tending to a tiny garden in my eye. Gentle and without pain. It was over in less than 10 minutes!
So, now, I’m going to leave. I look around and thank everyone for their help. My eyes are foggy, but I can read things across the room. I took the subway home. On the subway, my eyes felt a little discomfort, but that subsided after I arrived home and put in some of the eyedrops. Nothing eventful until the next day, I woke up and could SEE!
I mean, really SEE! I had no pain, no fog. When I went for my 24 hours post-op, we aimed for 20/20 vision, but they had exceeded goals and within 24 hours, I had 15/20 vision!
It’s been three weeks since my procedure at the time of writing this. By publication, it will be a month. I am still telling myself I don’t need to remove my contacts when I go to bed, but it’s been an amazing experience.
If you have any questions, please let us know or if you would like an in-depth blog on the types of eye corrective surgeries available.