The thing everyone says after having LASIK is ‘I wish I’d done it sooner.’ It’s so true, I wish I’d done it years ago. Goodness knows, it would have been worth it just for the convenience, but if you factor in the cost of glasses, contact lenses and cleaning solution, it becomes all the more worthwhile. In fact, the earlier you get it done (within reason, and once your eyesight is stable) the more money you save.
I’ve been wearing glasses for as long as I can remember. My mother would repeatedly tell me to not to sneak-read in my dimly lit bedroom because it would ruin my eyesight and make me need glasses. And that was bad because glasses are ugly and the damage done to your eyes was irreversible. As a child, it appears that I took the latter part of that advice very seriously because it wasn’t until I could no longer make out the squiggles on the whiteboard that I told my mum that I thought I needed an eye check. At my first eye examination, the optometrist told me that my prescription was -4.00. In both eyes.
Needless to say, the optometrist was not impressed. Looking back, I now know that my short sightedness was probably genetic but my nine year old self wished I hadn’t read in bed, or in the car or watched as much TV. I hated my glasses. I hated how much they fogged up when I ate a hot bowl of laksa, or got smudgy and had to be cleaned about fifteen times a day. When I was fourteen, I finally managed to convince my parents that I needed contact lenses. They were better for things like sport, but no less work. Still, I was grateful to have them – and tried to stretch out their use for as long as possible by wearing monthly contacts for two months, a habit that I carried on into my twenties.
I had wanted LASIK throughout my twenties but never really had the means to pay for it. What really strikes me about it is that conceptually, it’s not dissimilar to dental braces – I kind of wish that my parents had paid for it and let me pay them back over time. It wasn’t cheap, and it wasn’t until I looked at the cost of getting a good pair of glasses made recently that it really got me thinking. I had briefly entertained the thought of getting LASIK done in Australia, but the price alone was enough to make my eyes water.
I’ve put my experience below in FAQ form to less wordy and make it easier to follow. It’s still a very long post and quite detailed for those who are considering laser eye surgery. I have also written a follow up post about SMILE vs LASIK enhancement here.
I’m short sighted in both eyes -6.00, with 0.25 astigmatism in the left eye. I own some cheapie glasses but prefer to wear contacts – I’d wear them from 9am to 9pm pretty much every day. I never had much of a problem with dry eyes in Australia but it became more of an issue in the dusty Sri Lankan surroundings, combined with having the air conditioning on more in a hot country. I’m not paranoid, but I tend to ask lots of questions and read lots and lot of online forums, reviews, reports and studies – after all, I’ve only got one set of eyes.
Why I chose Optimax
I had been to other clinics before – Canberra Eye Laser in Australia and Advance Vision in Damansara Uptown, KL. Both looked good on paper and offered the initial consultation free, but I wasn’t sold. Canberra Eye Laser was way out of my price range – in fact, I could fly to KL, have a short holiday and get my surgery done for the same price as it would cost to do the surgery in Australia. So I figured I might as well find a reputable clinic in Malaysia and get some good food and a short holiday out of it. (Update: 3 years on, my partner decided to do the same and get LASIK at Optimax too).
I started researching my KL options. Advance Vision sounded great on forums but the optometrist on duty couldn’t answer my question about microkeratome vs bladeless LASIK and didn’t call me back to follow up. Their prices were almost too cheap and I wasn’t confident in entrusting my vision to them, or in the knowledge that my eyes would get the follow up care I wanted.
I have to admit I wasn’t convinced about Optimax before I attended either, partly because they seemed to have so many promotions – I was looking for a reputable clinic, not a bargain basement deal on my eyes. What convinced me was that my mother had done her surgery there – over fifteen years ago and was happy with it. At the end of the day, Optimax ticked all the boxes for me – they’re reputable, they have experienced surgeons and a long history of satisfied patients – they’ve looked after 100,000 patients over 20 years. Plus, the staff were really good at responding to messages via Facebook and email. Being overseas, it was very helpful to be able to message over Facebook for appointments.
There are companies offering cheaper LASIK but I just wasn’t comfortable going the cheaper option for something as valuable as my eyesight.
I paid RM195 (± AU$70) for the initial assessment, but it was significantly more comprehensive than the other two had been. Over the course of two hours, my optometrist, Charles Boey, looked at corneal thickness, topography, colour vision, dry eye, just to name a few. The wait times between each check was minimal – I’m only mentioning this as at my surgery, a fellow patient mentioned that he had waited 4-5 hours for all his LASIK assessment tests to be complete at ISEC. I knew it was the clinic for me when he noticed a small scratch in my left eye that none of the other optometrists had pointed out before. Charles wanted to be sure about which surgery was right for me, and took me into Dr Chuah’s office for a second opinion. I was still quite worried and unsure about my options – at this stage they were recommending ASA (which is more painful). I asked Charles to take me to see Dr Stephen Chung for a third opinion – fortunately for me, Dr Chung saw no issue with the scratch and said I would be eligible for both LASIK or SMILE.
The math (prices are for both eyes)
$20 a pair of contacts x 12 months= $240, $10 cleaning solution per month, $150 glasses cost per year = $510 per year (and I’ve been conservative with estimates; glasses often cost upwards of $300 and monthly lenses are the cheapest you can get)
- Canberra Eye Laser – AU$6400 LASIK; $7000 SMILE
- Advance Vision –
only offers blade LASIK procedurenow offers bladeless LASIK as of 2017. RM2888/AU$962 for power under -5.00, RM5588/$1862 for higher power/more complex cases both inc lifetime enhancement
- Tun Hussein Onn Eye Hospital (half govt owned, half private) – RM8000/AU$2666 LASIK, RM12000/AU$4000 SMILE –3 months follow up only, no lifetime guarantee
- Vista Eye Specialist – LASIK only. RM6216/AU$2072 inc 12 months enhancement; RM10336/AU$3445 inc lifetime enhancement guarantee, SMILE not offered
- Optimax – RM10600/AU$3533 for LASIK; RM13800/AU$4600 for SMILE* 12 months follow up included, lifetime enhancement guarantee
Please note that each clinic has their own conditions for their lifetime enhancement guarantee.
*It’s worth enquiring about current promotions – you get discounts for paying with certain credit cards – check the bottom of this post for my referral discount
Am I suitable for LASIK/SMILE/laser eye surgery?
That’s a question for your optometrist to answer. It depends on your degree of shortsightedness, corneal thickness, propensity for dry eye and whole lot of other things. I’m a little wary of the ‘free assessment’ some clinics run partly because they’re not particularly thorough. I don’t want to be told I’m a good candidate for surgery when I’m not.
What should I do if I’m travelling?
It’s actually pretty easy to fit LASIK into a short trip to KL. It might be wise to do an assessment in your home country just to get an idea – you don’t want to fly all the way to KL only to be told you’re not suitable. Optimax don’t accept assessments from other clinics; they are liable for your eye health and so need to run the tests themselves.
You would ideally do the assessment on Day #1, then come back on Day #2 for surgery. On Day #3 you’d come back for a follow up, but if all goes well, you should be cleared to fly from then – you’ll just need to use extra eye drops as your eyes can get dry from cabin pressure. You can do all follow up checks in your home country and just send the scans over to the team at Optimax to monitor – easy peasy.
Types of laser eye surgery
I’m not going to go into this in great detail, but here’s the summary. For more info, look at Optimax’s info page.
- PRK/ASA/LASEK: The top layer of the cornea is removed to allow the laser to be applied to the eye. Most suitable for those who have a scratch on their cornea, dry eyes, or have thin corneas. Oldest procedure and also the most painful.
- LASIK: A flap is cut to allow the laser to be applied to the eye. Two types – blade (microkeratome) or bladeless (laser). Vision recovery and stability is generally quicker than SMILE, but it is considered more invasive. Pretty well tested and over 28 million surgeries have been performed worldwide.
- ReLEx SMILE: A laser is used to create a lenticule in the cornea, and is removed through a micro incision. The newest procedure and also the least invasive. Takes longer for vision to stabilize but there are less dry eye symptoms. Yet to gain USFDA approval, but approved and currently in use in countries such as Australia and UK.
If you are tossing up between SMILE and LASIK, read about my experience with LASIK here – yes I’ve done both and I compare them for you!
What happens in the initial consult?
My eye assessment at Optimax took 2-3 hours, and cost RM195 at time of writing – you’ll find more details here. As I mentioned above, the ‘free assessments’ other clinics run are nowhere near as thorough. During this assessment, Optimax run lots of tests including the usual one that involves reading alphabets off a chart. There’s also the ones that blows a puff of air in your eye (to test pressure), ones to check corneal thickness, topography, colour vision, dry eye, just to name a few. Part of the assessment involves dilating your pupils, which makes it harder to focus – the effects last for about 24 hours and I could barely read shopping labels afterwards, so factor this in if you plan to go back into the office to work. The dilation also makes your eyes more sensitive to light, so make sure to bring a pair of sunnies along. Your optometrist will explain to you the different procedures and give you time to ask any questions you might have. It’s recommended that you don’t drive after this assessment.
You will come in to meet with your surgeon and make payment another day. My surgeon was the super lovely Dr Yen – I know there are a lot of recommended doctors on the forums, but I felt really lucky to get her. She’s really patient, sweet and gentle.
Can I do my assessment and surgery on the same day?
You technically can if you have stopped wearing your contacts for at least a week prior to the assessment date. However, my optometrist advised against it because your pupils are dilated making it harder for your eyes to focus during the surgery.
How do I prepare for the surgery? What should I bring?
Contact lenses change the shape of your eye, so you shouldn’t wear soft contact lenses for a week before surgery – I opted to be on the safe side and stopped wearing them for three weeks before my surgery. If you’re not squeamish, I recommend watching videos of other people’s surgery – I found it helpful to know what to expect in the theatre. I also practiced taking deep breaths and counting to 30 seconds (approx. how long the laser takes).Some tips include:
- Wash your hair the night before surgery because you won’t be able to wash it for a couple of days afterwards
- Bring a good pair of sunglasses,
- Bring a hair tie/bobby pin if you need to pull your hair back and
- Bring a jumper in case you get cold.
- You won’t be able to drive after the surgery so get a friend to drive you there and/or back.
On the day of the surgery
Make sure to get a good night’s rest. I was advised to arrive an hour before my surgery – I read and signed some waiver forms, then was taken to the surgery room to get ready. I have never had any sort of surgery before, so I started to get excited nervous from here. I, with my partner Nick accompanying me, was asked to remove my shoes and wait in the patients’ waiting area. While waiting in a comfy armchair, the surgery room doors opened and a patient walked out, guided by a nurse. He was blinking a lot and his eyes were a little watery, but he had a look of wide-eyed wonderment about him, ‘I can see, I can see…’ he kept saying, while looking around the room at things. I couldn’t help but share his excitement; it definitely helped ease my nerves.
A nurse named Molly came and introduced herself to me, then explained the after care instructions and medication. Surprisingly, it’s just antiseptic drops and refresh drops – no eye shields required for SMILE!
I was then taken to a waiting room where I was given a set of scrubs, a cap for my hair and some sort of sock things for my feet. Dr Yen came in and asked how I was feeling, I don’t remember exactly but I think I was some sort of crazy mix of ‘yeah, let’s go!’ and ‘OMG what am I doing?’ She explained that they start with my right eye – the laser will create the lenticule and micro incision, then she would remove the lenticule before proceeding to repeat the procedure on the second eye. Don’t squint or close the eye that’s not being operated on she said – it will be covered with a shield anyway. She gently reminded me that the laser part of the procedure will take 26 seconds, and that I am to look at the blinking green light, and halfway through the light will disappear – don’t panic, she said, from that point on, just try to not move my eyes around too much. She asked if I have any questions, and I shook my head. I hand over my glasses for the last time and I remember thinking that I couldn’t even read the time. Dr Yen returns a while later and examines my eyes one last time before the surgery. She places a tiny pen mark on each eye, then administers some numbing drops. (I know some places give you Valium, but I suspect this is for the very nervous patients).
During the surgery
A few minutes later, I am taken into the operating theatre and told to lie on the bed. A second round of numbing drops are administered. Dr Yen reminded me that they will start with my right eye, then covered my left eye with a shield. I could hear a second voice in the theatre, I thought it was Dr Chung – I was very lucky to have two supervising surgeons because I was a slightly more complicated case. A metal device was used to keep my eyelids open, then my eye was rinsed with saline. It was a little weird not being able to blink, but it doesn’t hurt at all, and my eyes aren’t dry. Dr Yen checked that I couldn’t feel anything in my eye, then told me that we were going to begin.
I could see the machine move towards me, and it finally dawned on me that this was it! I have a final moment of nervous excitement before I hear ‘suction on’. I could see a blinking green light, then felt the machine lightly touch my eye. I could hear someone counting and realised that there was a nurse gently touching my hand to reassure me. I just focused on breathing – in and out, in and out, in and out. There was a spiral shape winding round from the outside in – this was me seeing the laser cutting the lenticule, just like in the video. The green light disappeared and I continued to focus on my breathing. ‘Ok, finished,’ I heard Dr Yen say. It hardly felt like any time at all. She removed the lenticule – during this part I can feel a light pressure on my eye but that’s it. It’s not even slightly uncomfortable but it does take quite a few seconds. My eye is rinsed and a foam sponge is used to sort of squeegee the eye. Onto the second eye – more numbing drops, and I definitely thought I could feel what’s going on in my left eye a bit more, but it’s not painful or uncomfortable. The left eye went well, said Dr Yen, reassuring me that the scratch on my cornea wasn’t an issue.
I’m guided out of the theatre and taken back to the waiting room. The whole process has only taken about ten minutes, Nick tells me. I wanted to close my eyes to rest them, but I could already see much better than I did without glasses. I could tell the time from the clock on the wall, I could read the posters… it was amazing! My eyes were watering a lot and felt a little gritty – like when you get sand in them at the beach. It was not painful, just mildly uncomfortable. I thanked Dr Yen profusely and then apparently hugged her (I don’t remember this). (Ok, so on reflection, I must have been super zen for this first surgery. I remember a lot more about my LASIK – if you want to hear how that went, read about it here.)
After the surgery
Outside the building, everything is really bright. I tried to not open my eyes much. I went home and headed straight for bed – I didn’t think I’d be tired but all the adrenalin has caught up with me. My eyes have started to feel a little more gritty at this point. I wasn’t given a sleeping tablet, and even if I was, I don’t think I would’ve needed it anyway. I slept from 11 until 2pm. Even in that short space of time, I could see clearer than I did before I went to bed. My eyes still felt sandy, so I went back to sleep. When I woke up, it’s 4pm and although everything is still quite bright, I felt pretty good. My eyes feel totally fine and I’m staring at things with newfound amazement, my vision’s a little hazy but I could see a lot more than I did before. ‘I can see,’ I keep repeating over and over to Mum and Nick. By 7pm, I was out on the town for dinner (sunnies still on) and didn’t get home til midnight. Pretty amazing for someone who had surgery at 10am that morning!
At my follow up the next morning, I could read the 20/20 line. Details and writing on the road signs in the far distance were a bit fuzzy, and I had a slight difficulty focusing but I’ve been cleared to drive. I have to stress that my vision wasn’t perfect – I was more than happy with it, but it wasn’t crystal clear, or high definition, as some other places would have you believe. I say this because I want to manage your expectations; everyone has different recovery times. I opted for SMILE which has longer recovery time, my friends who did LASIK have said theirs was 100% by the next day. Anyway, I’m pretty chuffed at my new eyesight and I insist on driving myself home.
Over the next few days, I found that I have a little trouble focusing on text that’s far away, and my eyes remain a bit sensitive to light; I think my eyes are still adjusting, and Dr Yen has told me that it can take months to stabilise. I can still see well enough to drive, read my phone, read books – it’s just that far away details aren’t super sharp. I keep dozing off, then waking myself to go to the bathroom and remove my contacts, only to realise I’m not wearing them – it’s really amazing to have perfect eyesight.
At the one week mark, my vision has regressed back to -0.75 but I can still read the 20/20 line unaided. It’s not great and I found it difficult to see in low light situations – in daylight, it was perfectly fine. It’s quite frustrating but I knew that I was in good hands with Dr Yen and Optimax. It’s really important that if you’re considering laser eye surgery, you realise that everyone heals differently and at a time like this (which can be frustrating) you’ll be glad that you paid more to be in the hands of an experienced doctor at a reputable clinic. Optimax reassured me that if my vision worsens to -1.00 that I would be covered under their Vision for Life guarantee and be eligible for follow up surgery – but they advised me to just wait it out while my eyes stabilised. It was definitely a little frustrating, but true enough, the blurriness started fading away.
It can be disorienting, some days things would be clear and some days they would be the slightest bit blurry, but I only really noticed these things when I was really trying to be nitpicky. Most of the time, it’s just amazing to be without glasses or contacts! My dry eye over all this time was very minimal, and although I was using refresh drops to help healing, I had to remind myself to put them in. At my monthly check up, my visual acuity is 6/6 in both eyes, with prescription of -0.25 in both eyes with -0.25 astigmatism in my left.
Optimax includes 12 months of follow up in the surgery cost. I’m due for my 6 month check up in a few weeks.
UPDATE June 2018: Approx 3 years on, after being unhappy with my vision at night and in low light situations, Optimax has recommended that I get an enhancement. You can read about it here.
I can’t stress how amazing it is to not rely on glasses. I can see the clock in the mornings and at night. I don’t have to worry about falling asleep with my contact lenses in. Travel is so much easier because I can grab an overnight bag and go. I have much less dry eyes than I did wearing my contacts. I can open the oven door without fogging up my glasses.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Optimax. I don’t think I got special treatment, I’ve watched them with their other customers and they were always very friendly, professional, thorough and they respond to messages.
Disclaimer: My laser eye surgery was sponsored by Optimax Eye Specialist, Malaysia. All opinions are my own. In 2018, my partner also had his eyes done at Optimax (not sponsored) and is happy with the result.
I can honestly say that getting my eyes done at Optimax was the best thing to happen to me this year. I wouldn’t have entrusted the safety of my eyes to a clinic that I don’t feel 100% confident about. It’s one of those areas where I’d be happy to pay more to be in the hands of an experienced surgeon who belongs to a reputable clinic. Like with all things on this blog, I have a strict rule about not recommending anything that I wouldn’t be happy to pay for myself.
To say that it’s life changing is an understatement – it’s like having perfect eyesight but being able to appreciate it more because you know what it was like before. No more dry eyes, no more worrying you’ve forgotten to pack solution/contacts case/glasses/spare contacts or what if my contact pops out/what if I forget a lens case etc.
EXCLUSIVE PROMO CODE: Optimax are offering RM 200 off per eye for all A Kitchen Cat readers who book in with the referral code #tashLASIK or show a screenshot of my Instagram. This discount is applicable to all LASIK treatment except TESA. Fees for complete eye examination still apply.
I am happy to answer any questions you might have about my experience, so please drop a comment below. What I can’t do is answer your questions on eligibility for surgery or prices – please call Optimax directly, you can also send them a message via their Facebook page.