My Laser Eye Surgery Experience In Nigeria

Ozzy Etomi
Jan 8 · 10 min read

I took myself on my first solo (in a long time) trip in December 2019, a one week getaway that every inch of my body and soul needed, and for the first time ever I swam in the Ocean. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in the ocean before, usually a water between my toes, wading waist deep affair.

On a summer in Ibiza, I remember as my friends all jumped off the yacht into the crystal clear water, and someone teased me that I was too chicken to jump in, and I pointed to my eyes and shrugged, “contacts and salt water don’t mix”.

My glasses journey began at 7 years old with a prescription of short-sightedness at -2, and ended somewhere in my 30’s with a prescription of -6.

I never appreciated how much of an impact glasses and contacts had on my life until my laser eye surgery in November of last year, when I found myself with (semi) perfect vision almost overnight. All of a sudden, I can lay on my side in bed and read a book with my head squashed against the pillow without worrying about waking up to lopsided glasses. I can open my eyes and I don’t have to immediately do the blind feel-around before I am rewarded with sight. I can swim without worrying about having contacts in, or moving around blindly because I have to take my glasses off. I can work out without my glasses sliding off, I can eat without worrying about touching spicy food, in case I need to wear my contacts later and dip a pepper flavored finger in my eye. I can wear make up on any day I feel like not just on the on the day I wear my contacts, simply because I can actually see what I am doing. I can go on and on but bottom line is, this has been one of the best decisions I ever made.

I promised to provide information about my surgery and it’s taken me a while but here is all the info you need to know:

The Decision

The first thing I needed to do was choose where I would have the surgery. I had a consultation booked in Philadelphia prior to this, where I was refused (boo!) because I was pregnant and again because I was breastfeeding [FYI, a side effect of pregnancy is that it can change your vision — I have a friend who got 20/20 vision after pregnancy, and a friend who needed glasses after, so yeah, they sent me packing]. I had another test done in London, to determine if I was eligible in which the doctor pretty much said I was, but I was unable to get any appointments in the time I was there.

In hindsight, I’m pretty happy I didn’t get it done in either of those places. The first thing you need to know about lasik is that its not a magic wand. Depending on your own body, patients take different lengths of time to heal, and getting 20/20 vision can take up to 3 months, and your doctor will be monitoring you closely within that time frame. So its best to do it in a place where you know you’ll at least be in for up to 2 months in a stretch, so you can keep up with all the follow up appointments with your surgeon.

I was getting pretty frustrated as my desire to get rid of the glasses life was growing with each passing day, and one day a lightbulb went off in my head and I wondered if people ever got it done in Nigeria. A little research, a twitter ask later, it turns out LOADS of people had gotten their procedure done in Lagos, although I could only find one person’s online account of her experience. I became super encouraged and I shortlisted a couple of recommended hospitals. I eventually chose one that seemed to be the best in the field:

Eye Foundation Hospital & Laser Center (they have 3 offices — lekki, V/I and Ikeja, but the procedure gets done in V/I).

Pre-Surgery Consultation

So before you can get laser eye surgery, you must first have a consultation with the surgeon to determine if you are even eligible to have the procedure. I called and booked an appointment (to which I arrived to and they ‘forgot’ to tell me the surgeon was out of the country — I was super pissed, but you know, whats another less than seamless experience to further build your character as a Nigerian?). I rescheduled (and I must say everything was super professional after that).

The consultation pretty much consists of about 3–4 tests, which involve things like measuring your eye pressure, and examining the back of your eyes under different machines, to ensure that you are a candidate for the surgery. After spending what felt like HOURS there, my doctor confirmed that I was a good candidate for surgery. She explained that we generally use the term lasik for everything but there are actually different kinds of procedures that are recommended — LASIK, SMILE or PRK. For my short-sighted eyes (-6 prescription), she suggested SMILE which is apparently the newest & best in Lasik technology, especially for myopia.

I did a little research and as far as I could tell: Smile has shorter healing times as it doesn’t involved actually cutting open the flap unlike other laser surgeries, and it had less side effects than previous technology (like dry eyes etc).

She also informed me that because I constantly wear contacts, we would need to schedule the appointment about 3–4 weeks after my initial consultation in order for my cornea to go back to its normal shape and for the eyes to rest. So we scheduled the surgery for November 13th.

Damage:

Registration : N15,000 (eye roll — i hate that you fill out a form and pay to open a file at hospitals.. highway robbery!)

Consultation/ tests: N100,000 (although i ended up paying about 125k because I did glaucoma tests that isn’t part of the laser eye surgery tests but because she told me that people with myopia should get tested every 3–6 months for deterioration in the back of their eyes and I had never done. I did have some deterioration that she said we need to watch to make sure it doesn’t escalate)

3 Weeks Wait

Nothing eventful happened here. I had a date set for my procedure, and I knew cheating and wearing contacts would reset the wait time so I had to wear glasses for 3 weeks straight which was a bit annoying, especially because I had to attend a wedding.

Even though I am a naturally curious person, the type to go online and read everything in and out about the procedure, this time, for some reason I didn’t. I read everything around post-surgery recovery and people’s lasik experience, but i did NOT google what the surgery was like OR any horror stories because I didn’t want to get freaked out!

Surgery Day!

I arrived at the hospital for my 10am appointment. I had the standard procedure vision and eye tests done and was taken to the waiting area outside the theater. My sister accompanied me for moral support (even though I low key thought she would have to guide me out of the place and into my car, but no, no such dramatic event took place).

I had to wait for over an hour while they sterilized every nook and cranny of the room and all equipment involved. Next, one of the nurses administered anesthetic eyedrops to my eyes and waited a few seconds while it kicked in.

Next drops that went in were sterilizing drops, after which my vision had a sort of yellow tint. He then took a swab and wiped the entire surface of my eyeball (which was more uncomfortable mentally than anything else. Imagine someone wiping your eyeballs!)

Then I had to take off any jewelry etc, put my hair in a hairnet, and my feet in some bathroom slippers, and I put on the operation room gown. Now my heart was beating fast cos eeeek, it was happening, omg my eyes! What if I got blind after (no such thing has ever happened in the history of Lasik, my doctor assures me).

Next, they led me to the operation room and I had to lay on the table and the doctor arrived. I asked them to talk me through every moment of the procedure while it was happening and explain what was being done and why. The doctor told me the entire procedure would be 10 minutes or less (!!). All I had to do was lay back, stare into the machine and focus on a green light. After which she would come in and do some cleaning etc and it will be all done. The eyes were to be done one after the other, not at the same time.

They placed a material over my face to isolate one eye, and applied more anesthetic (I was like please drown the eye with it, i don’t want to feel a thing!) They also clamped my eyes open so i couldn’t blink or close it.

Finally it was time to go underneath the laser machine (I was screaming internally). I kid you not, it was like 15 seconds long. All i had to do was stare at a blinking green light which gradually became more blurry (Am i the only one who thought laser eye surgery had to do with actual light lasers? I never thought laser as in laser cut — but thats what the machine was doing. making a teeny incision in my eye)

If you want to know what the procedure looks like you can watch it here

After this I’m taken out from under the machine and my eyesight is completely blurry. The surgeon then comes in and makes the corrections to the eye. It (seemed like) a whole lot of poking and prodding (that I can’t really feel), wiping, cleaning etc that was mildly uncomfortable at most. We did the repeat for the second eye, and voila it was all done! Total time: less than 10 minutes. The prepping and everything else was far longer than the actual procedure.

My right eye remained blurry but I could almost immediately see the clearer vision in the left eye although it was inflamed and uncomfortable from the procedure. I was given 3 eye drops to take home, and administer hourly — steroid drops, antibiotic drops and moisture drops, and dark glasses to protect my eyes from the sun.

Damage:

Surgery: N1,100,000 (which comes up to about $1,500 per eye)

Post-surgical things: N20,000 (Glasses & eye drops, although I think it was a deposit because they replaced my eye drops several times)

Post Surgery Recovery

Me, the next day, at dinner with friends.. no-glasses life activated!

I was advised to a day or two off work, so when I got home, I went to bed immediately after letting down the blinds to make sure my room was properly dark. At this point my eyes hurt, and were very weepy. I administered the drops while thinking (God, who sent me?), and alternated between napping/ keeping my eyes shut, and listening to podcasts. The doctor told me no screens for 24 hours, and that my eyes would experience light sensitivity especially at night.

After a few hours, around maybe 6pm (think I did the procedure around 12.30), both eyes felt relatively normal, the inflammation and sensitivity seems to be under control, in that I could now comfortably open both eyes, and I already had near perfect vision in my left eye. My right eye vision however was still blurred. Of course, I proceeded to immediately use my phone and I even watched some TV, smh. I had a follow up appointment the next day in which she confirmed everything had gone swimmingly with my left eye, but she suspected my right eye had a rare side effect known as DLK (occurs 1 in every 500 procedures), which ended up being CTK, which basically resolves on its own.

I became an eye drop wielding machine, anyone that has been around me in the past few months knows all about me and my eye drops that are always diligently arranged beside me!

(Long story short, the right eye is about 80% there now, its a waiting game)

Verdict

My eyes are pretty much normal now, my vision appears to be 20/20 mostly due to the left eye dominating the brain. The light sensitivity disappeared over the course of about 2–3 weeks, and I stopped seeing starbursts & halos around things like headlights, meaning I could drive at night again.

I would 100% recommend this procedure and Dr. Abimbola Ashaye, the surgical consultant at Eye Foundation Hospital. Even though my right eye developed a complication, it had nothing to do with the doctor (or doing the surgery in Nigeria), just my own bodily reaction to surgery. She and the nurses have been really lovely with following up and frequently checking my eyes and reassuring me that everything is okay (I didn’t believe them at first!) I am apparently the second patient in her history of being a surgeon that has had this condition, and like she said, (and anal research on my part has told me) it is resolving on its own.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I absolutely love being free of glasses and contact lenses! Hope this helps someone who is curious about the process :)

Ozzy Etomi

Written by

I write about gender, culture, feminism and shared human experiences. Working on my first book. My personal website is www.ozzyetomi.com

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