Medical Tourism – LASIK in Korea

By Jordan Karasek

(TL;DR is at the bottom)

On Saturday I got LASIK eye surgery! Without further ado, this is my story….

Background: Adrianne has wanted eye surgery for a long time and this desire was increased greatly thanks to our dear friend Sarah Ann, the one with us in South America. She got LASIK and loves it! Our friend figured that price of eye exams, glasses, and contacts would equal out to be the same as surgery over a few years.

Inspired, while living in Florida Adrianne checked what it would take to fix her eyes. The LASIK would cost $4,200 for her. I though I could get it done in the States for $3,000.

Fast forward to Korea! Medical tourism is indeed a great thing. Mostly everything in Korea is expensive, including food and technology, because it is not about the product but about how much you paid for it. However medical, with and without insurance, is cheap. A lot of people can save a few hundred or even a couple thousand dollars flying to Korea getting an operation and flying home.

Evaluation: Upon learning this fact we went to get our eyes checked in Daegu, the nearest big city. This was about a month ago. Based on reviews online, we went to Noon Eye Center. All their doctors speak some English and they employ an English interpreter for us waygooks.  I got my eyes tested with 12 or 14 different machines and received my results an hour later. I was praying that it would cost about 2 million won, but it turned out to be 1.2 million won, or about a thousand dollars. Our jaws dropped at how affordable it was and we immediately signed me up. My eyes were very sensitive to the dilation and my heard hurt some after the evaluation/consultation was finished. However, it was worth it. I slept well that night and was fine by morning.

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We were both happy that this was happening and that it was going to be so cheap. I, however, kept oscillating on the spectrum of being very excited and being psyched out. (“They are going to cut my eyes open!”) Fortunately, I was blessed with above average thick corneas. Unfortunately this means they can just cut my eye open with a blade instead of a laser. All ranges of hysteria came over me but I tried to maintain a cool calm demeanor. Then finally the day arrived: Saturday the 28th. We caught our street bus into town just in time to take our city bus to Daegu, where we traveled by metro to the eye clinic (It was complicated).

I waited and thought about needles, sandpaper, burning, mostly the possibility of a wrinkle in my eye. They told me that if I rub my eye after they CUT IT OPEN WITH A BLADE, my cornea was prone to wrinkling. Whatever that means. Our house is no short distance away so there must be no wrinkling. Apart from that I was focusing on A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Why? Because Adrianne suggested I read a book about it and because it expired in a couple days. I also was under the impression that I would not be able to read for a few days (I’m writing this post the day after with my x-ray vision so its not a problem).

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We got to eat in the cafeteria before my surgery, a lovely lukewarm Korean lunch with kimchi. Once it was my turn, the interpreter gave me paperwork to sign. She gave me another run down of how things would go and used very good hand gestures that freaked me out again about everything. Adrianne was sitting not to far away I just tried to look strong and confident. I was told something like this:

“Okay, now in just a few minutes we are going in. Again, like I said before you will lay down on the table and there will be a green light. Look at the green light always. Keep looking at the green light no mater what. They will put some drops on your eyes but keep looking at the green light. While looking at the green light they will cut your eye open. It will be like 10 seconds and for this time you cannot see the green light but do not move. It will be dark. Then just keep looking at the GREEN LIGHT and they will continue with the laser….green light, green light, green light….”

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Surgery: Armed and ready for the green light, we put on some gowns and went through a dust cleaning closet (not the type with dust pans and a broom). I sat in a dark room where they gave me 4 different drops. Each drop cleaned or numbed my eyes. Then they cleaned my face and made it all dry and itchy and told me not to touch it at all. Oh yeah, did I mention part of the reason I was freaking out was because I recently developed a n runny nose in combination with Monstro-the-Whale-type sneezing. I was just sure that while I was staring at this green light and they were cutting my eyes open I would have to sneeze, though thankfully I didn’t. I tell you this because I had to scratch my nose with a Q-tip. The doctor gave me some supper strong nasal spray that burned nicely but didn’t make me have to sneeze and kept the runny-ness at bay.

Finally I was up, trying to remember everything I was told and to not think about it at all. I laid down and they covered me with blankets. Put a few layers over my face with a hole in it for one eye. I saw the green light and I knew it was going to be okay. Then they turned on the lights and I knew this was going to feel like forever. I closed my eyes for a bit to give them a rest, which I should have been doing while in the waiting room. Then my eyes were spread open by a metal machine, which didn’t hurt but felt weird. They put more drops in my eyes and poured cool water, or so I thought, all the while I stared at the green light. The green light blinks so that it doesn’t move around but it sometimes had me thinking that I had moved or closed my eyes when I hadn’t really.

After the water, they put the cutting device on my eye. I could still see the green light though it was blurry and all sorts of shapes. Then the cut happened and it scared  me. Nobody told me that the darkness would look like a crazy static-y TV and that I would not only hear vibrations I would feel them all over my face and especially my eye. It only really lasted about 3 or 5 seconds, not 10. That is when I watched God look into my soul as, still looking at the green light now that it had appeared again, I saw them flap a thin section of my cornea away. At this point I started singing to myself “It is well with my soul” to comfort me and to not thing about what was happening. I tried to just look at the green light. By this time 5 minutes in the green light was at the end of a vortex of light. They then washed my eye with some stuff, told me the laser was coming and to stare at the green light repeatedly. The laser lasted like 5 seconds, but I could smell and kind of taste something burnt.

They washed my eye again and put lots of drops. Told me I was doing well. They folded my cornea back over and then put more drops, and I think they like glued it into place with something blue. Either way they were touching my eye lightly and I was done….with the first eye.

It is at this moment that I realized I had to keep my eyes open way longer than just the 10 seconds of blade and 7 seconds of laser but for the entire 10 or 15 minutes it took to do the procedure (that is total for both eyes). They removed my eye clamps, shifted the face covering to my other eye, and hooked my eyelids up. So my lids where tired. They spread my eye lids and it hurt. I thought, “Oh no. I don’t think I can do this again with it hurting,” so I spoke up. They put some numbing drops in, and it still hurt but they continued. The pain disappeared right as they were bringing over the cutting tool.

Aftermath: I made it through the second eye, looking at that green light, and thinking about God making all things well. After finishing, I went to another room and they let me rest. Everything was blurry but I could still see some. They added some more drops and then sent me out. That was it. I was done. I then had to keep telling myself to not touch my eyes. Do not scratch, rub, or touch. Our wonderful translator was able to secure us an overnight room at the clinic. That evening I felt well enough to walk to Burger King and eat. We ended up staying the night because I had a check-up early the next morning.  Adrianne read to me more about Biblical Womanhood and then I slept like a baby ( I woke up every couple of hours). I would get up, put drops in, go to the bathroom, and ever so carefully wipe all the gunk out of my eyes that was sealing them shut. I also get to wear clear goggles with slits for sleeping. Fun. That was how I got LASIK.

TL;DR: Noon Eye Center is phenomenal. Highly recommend. Cost was 1.2 million won total. The evaluations were time consuming and tired my eyes, but not big hassle. The surgery appointment was about 2 hours, but most of that was being inspected by the doctor and signing papers. The surgery wasn’t painful, but keeping my eyes open for 15 minutes was uncomfortable. I didn’t sleep well, but the drop kept my eyes hydrated. The next-morning checkup literally took 5 minutes. By 24 hours my vision was pretty clear. By 48 hours I felt better than ever. My eyes have never felt so good. So worth it.

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Categories: South Korea | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “Medical Tourism – LASIK in Korea

  1. Tanya Karasek

    So glad you are doing well and seeing so well! Thanks for filling in the gaps..very interesting account of a surgical procedure in another country.

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