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My Best Outdoors ‘Gear’ Investment Yet? LASIK

(Photo/Sean McCoy)
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Corrective eye surgery changed the way I play outdoors. LASIK removed one of the more arduous elements of camping, hiking, mountaineering, and hunting.

Lasik personal experience
Photo by Sean McCoy

Two years ago, I awoke in a tent at 4:00 a.m. and started fumbling for my contact lens case. My buddy woke up next to me, opened the tent door, and started making coffee. He’d recently had LASIK eye surgery, and his need for contacts was gone.

I was jealous. I poked my dirty fingers (good luck getting truly clean at 4 a.m. while camping) into the case and dabbed the grubby contacts into my already tired eyes. Ouch! It was going to be a long day.

Fast forward 9 months, and all that’s gone. Since spring, I’ve enjoyed the freedom of no glasses or contacts for the first time in more than 25 years. Sure, it’s something of a luxury. And it’s also expensive. But in this short time, I’d already say it was the best $5,000 I’ve ever spent.

LASIK for the Outdoors

While eye surgery is definitely not for everyone, I was a good candidate. After visiting a LASIK provider in Denver, I decided to take the leap. Only your doctor can tell you if it’s right for you, and results vary.

My results were good.

And it has changed the way I live in the outdoors. For those who haven’t worn glasses or contacts, it’s hard to explain the amount of thought, effort, and planning that these simple devices require.

LASIK first hand account
Photo by Willem Bermel

Contacts need to be taken out nightly. Mine did, anyway, or my eyes would sting and hurt for days. That means cleaning fingers, digging into eyes, and then reinserting contacts in the morning. Even though my vision was good with contacts, I often just wore glasses to simplify things.

But even glasses bring some complexity. You don’t want to squish them in your backpack, so a case is a must. You probably will need sunglasses if outdoors, so more questions arise: Do you have prescription sunglasses? Or do you switch to contacts once the sun rises? Photochromic lenses are an option, but good ones are expensive and tend to look kind of funny in non-sporting situations.

LASIK, at least for me, was the solution.

LASIK: What It’s Like

LASIK surgery is a weird experience. After an initial consultation, it all happens really fast.

I went to LasikPlus in Denver, lured by what seemed to be really good prices and good reviews. Let me warn you now — you probably won’t get the treatment for three-figure prices. Even with lots of advertised specials in the hundreds of dollars per eye, my cost came in around $5,000.

Insurance might take some of the bite out of it, but don’t assume a big discount — check with your doctor and insurance company on that too.

After the consultation, I was back for surgery in a week. There, they offered me some water and a Valium as a nurse checked my vitals. I sat in a small waiting room for about 10 minutes before being called in by the doctor.

He walked me into a dimly lit room, and I sat down on a soft table. And then things got intense.

Spoiler: LASIK isn’t exactly pleasant. Thankfully, it’s fast. Other than the Valium, I was wide awake. For about 15 minutes, the doctor cranked my numbed eyes open and shaped them with lasers. I couldn’t go into detail about the procedure, but from a patient’s perspective, it’s very strange and not very comfortable. A lot of it is like watching a surreal light show while your eyelids are sorely pressed open.

But after about 5 minutes per eye and a few minutes to move me from spot to spot in the room, it was over.

Poof, I could see — no glasses needed. An Uber ride home (my wife was working) and off to bed.

The next morning, my vision was nearly perfect.

LASIK: What Happened Next

Nine months later, my eyesight is still great. It isn’t always perfect, especially after reading or working on a computer for hours. But it’s good enough, probably better than it was with contacts or glasses.

For the first couple months after surgery, I had the typical “halo” effect at night in which bright lights seem to have a bit of a haze around them. But that quickly faded. Each day my vision improved to the point that it now seems razor-sharp the majority of the time.

And that, to me, is amazing. Since the surgery, I’ve been hiking for several multiday trips, mountaineering, hunting, fishing, and traveling internationally. And in every expedition or trip, I find myself thankful for LASIK. It eliminated a very annoying part of everyday life: glasses and contacts.

Time to paddle out into the surf lineup or don a dive mask? No problem. I don’t need to worry about contacts falling out. Want to skin up a mountain at night? I don’t have to worry about my glasses fogging up when I start working up a sweat.

The list goes on and on. As someone who values a lot of time in the outdoors, LASIK has simplified and improved my life in hundreds of small ways already, and it’s been less than a year since my procedure.

I know the surgery comes with risks, and I chose to take them. I know not everyone is so fortunate, but I’m glad I took the leap.

It’s also an expensive choice. But most providers offer some kind of payment program. It took a big chunk of my salary to pay for it. But not only does it come with a lifetime guarantee of enhancement procedures if needed, it’s so far been worth every penny.

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