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Getting Laser Eye Surgery in South Korea (LASEK): Was It The Right Decision?

Getting Laser Eye Surgery in South Korea (LASEK): Was It The Right Decision?

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Yes, I, an American, got LASEK laser eye surgery in South Korea.

Why on earth would an American go to South Korea to get surgery? Isn’t is scary and dirty?

Isn’t Asia full of sheisty doctors and ancient medical equipment?

Why on earth wouldn’t I get this surgery done in the USA where it would be safe, my doctor at least speaks English, and we know it would be clean and modern!

Surely I’m totally blind now. My eyeballs perhaps have rotted out of my skull and I wear sunnies to hide the unsightly sockets that once held my precious hazel colored eyeballs!

Surely, getting LASEK eye surgery in South Korea was the worst idea I’ve ever had, right?

…Or the best.

 

My L”eye”fe Story

Feel free to skip a few paragraphs down if you couldn’t care less about this and just want the info on getting LASEK eye surgery in South Korea. No offense taken…

*goes and cries in the corner*

My life being a four-eyed freak

If you’ve never had to wear glasses, you’ll never know what it’s like having to rely on glasses to see.

My fellow four-eyed friends are probably my main audience on this blog… so I KNOW you feel my pain!

My face has been adorned with glasses since the age of eight (maybe earlier). I literally don’t remember what life is like without glasses. It took me a while, but I eventually graduated to contacts. I remember like it was yesterday. I was about 13 years old and I had to set my alarm twenty minutes earlier for a few weeks because that’s how long it took me to get contacts in my eyeballs before school.

Wearing contacts and glasses isn’t the worst thing in the world. At least I’m lucky enough to be able to afford them. I thought contacts were going to be in my life forever.

Until…

Crystals in my eyes

I don’t recall the actual name of the infection, but my doctor described it as “crystals forming in my eyes.”

Which actually made sense, because in 2010 my eyes started to constantly get itchy and it felt like glass (or crystals) were in them when I blinked, and if I was outside on a sunny day (hello! I’m from Florida, that’s every day), it was so intense, it was hazardous for me to drive to work!

WTF is happening? Making a long story short, this infection started happening because of my contacts. I grew allergic to contacts. HOW AWFUL! What do I do now? After a series of months on eyes drops and only being able to wear my awful outdated glasses, I finally was given the OK to wear contacts again. However, I could only wear daily contacts now. Which, as you may know, cost more.

They ended up not being so bad and despite the extra cash, it was actually more convenient to just throw them out each night. But I’ve constantly had this lingering thought in my mind, what if this eventually happens again and I can only wear glasses?!

My life as a traveler with contacts

Then I started traveling. Having to wear dailies became a burden. Precious space in my backpack was now taken up by a plethora of contacts! At least I got them for a cheaper deal in Thailand, but I constantly had to carry around a bulky pack full of contacts. How annoying! And even more annoying…

Doing fun things was scary

Yes, doing normal things, fun things, was getting scary.

Going swimming in the ocean came with the risk of a small wave splashing my contacts out – it happened.

Me going surfing could end up with me being half blind after taking a spill – It happened!

Me snorkeling and clearing out my mask may cause a contact to swim away with the fishes – Guess what? IT HAPPENED!

I have literally BLINKED WRONG and had a contact pop out! I wish I was kidding…It’s happened multiple times.

Diving has long been on my list of things to do. I literally have dreamt of being a surfer since I was little because wouldn’t that be so cool? The ocean has always been a huge part of my life and still is, despite nearly dying in it this one time…

I love being in the water! Again, I’m a Florida chick over here! Duh. So wtf is a wannabe mermaid like me supposed to do? I just want to do normal things but constantly have a fear that I may lose a contact or two which is terrifying! I’m not SUPER blind (-4.00) but still blind enough to impose a risk on myself should I be 20-30 meters down below and can’t tell where my dive instructor is or perhaps out in the middle of the blue ocean on a board hardly able to see the shore… NO COOL. NOT SAFE.

Also – terrifying to think about. Again, I haven’t been diving because of this, because simply snorkeling and surfing and even swimming have caused my contacts to come flying out!

It’s not safe and I’m stuck for the rest of the day without a contact in one eye and quickly start getting headaches.

This blows.

(FYI – Yes, I’ve researched diving, surfing, etc while wearing contacts. People do it. I know I could. I did (just not diving). I didn’t like it and didn’t feel safe enough. Sure people go and nothing happens, but it’s just an added risk I didn’t want to think about or deal with. My safety is important and confidence is something you need to be safe out in the water.)

Finally fed up

I was done. I was done with the feeling of being scared to do things because I was wearing contacts. Done with not knowing what it’s like to wake up and not immediately grab my glasses, I was OVER living life like this. I wanted to do more, but my vision was holding me back.

There was just one problem…

I was too poor for laser eye surgery and I was terrified of getting it done. I’ve never had surgery done in my life, ever! I wanted it for so many years, yes, but I kept putting it off…

The cost of LASEK eyes surgery in the USA is over $4,000 or more. Who has that type of cash lying around?! NOT ME!

A promise to myself

I recently finished my hard-working year in Australia and I saved a pretty penny! I promised myself I would use some of the money to get LASEK eye surgery once and for all, and I decided I wasn’t going to get in the USA either!

I walked in for my check up pre-surgery and was welcomed by this sign lol

Getting LASEK – Laser Eye Surgery in South Korea

I did it. I finally did it! After years of wishing, hoping, and wanting, I FINALLY got the life changing surgery I’ve wanted my whole life. And to answer the question posed over 1000 words ago – It was the best decision of my life.

Everywhere you read about this surgery, you’ll notice everyone saying the same thing – “It’s life changing.” And they are right. I couldn’t be happier. Even now as I write this, my vision still isn’t 100% yet as it’s only been a few weeks, but it’s the single best thing I’ve ever done in my life and it has already started to change my life. I couldn’t be happier.

How I got LASEK eye surgery in South Korea

Research

RESEARCH EVERYTHING! I did, you should too. I mean, I’m telling you it’s the best thing ever, but everyone is different. To be fair, in my research, all I read were good things. There are way more people from the USA, Canada, UK, Australia and more coming over to South Korea to get LASEK than you would think. In fact, plenty of people need to get surgery or go to the doctor in a foreign country it’s not scary!

Always do your own research, it will also make you feel a bit better after reading tons of success stories.

Also, during my research, I found BoboandChichi.com where Megan tells about her experience getting LASEK eye surgery in South Korea and I felt SO much better after reading her account. Funny enough, I met her a few months later after reading her post while in the Philippines and we became actual friends.

She instilled more confidence in me to get it done and I even took her up on her recommendation on the exact eye clinic I should go to! I’ll link below.

Side note: Megan lived in South Korea for a few years! So if you’re around Seoul and need to know where to stay, she has a great guide for Seoul. The eye doctor we both went to is located in Gangnam. Yes… THAT Gangnam! I ended up staying in the Itaewon area, the bus ride over to Gangnam was about 20 minutes.

Ultimately, the two reasons I chose to get LASEK eye surgery in South Korea were:

  1. Quality doctors and facilities. Equal if not better than the USA.
  2. Cheaper price.

Mr. Choo and I on my check up day!

The lead-up

I put off making an appointment for months! I KNEW I was going to South Korea, I had a plane ticket, and I still couldn’t bring myself to actually make a solid appointment with the eye clinic. I was such a scaredy-cat, a total wuss.

Just a mere week or two before arriving in South Korea, I finally booked a date for a check-up. Only a check-up, though! Let’s not go crazy here…

I got the check-up and the news… I was a perfect candidate for the corrective eye surgery!

Mr. Choo, the gentleman whom I’ve been in contact with the most prior to this appointment and then during my check-up and surgery, was the kindest and most patient human ever. I flinched 235 times during the eye pressure test (the one with the air blowing in your eye). I would “eww and yyuuckkk” with every mention of the surgery’s details, which were outlined in detail for me.

He probably thought I was the most annoying patient ever but I would never know considering he was so nice the entire time. I would have hated me, that’s for sure.

About to get lasers in my eyeballs

Surgery day

Luckily, I had nearly a week on Jeju to occupy my mind and not think about the surgery which now had an official date. I was scheduled for February 28th, 2017, the exact day I flew from Jeju to Seoul! I’m kind of happy I did it like this because I was busy doing other things and didn’t have time to think about the surgery too much.

I walked in the clinic and succumbed to what felt like a million eye drops. Garrett was given the best seat in the house right in front of a massive TV. So he could watch the entire surgery! Uhhhh!

I was dressed in a hospital gown and I took my place on a bed surrounded by a massive mess of machines. I couldn’t see much as the eye drops and lack of glasses prevented me from understanding where I even was.

The doctor explained every action before performing them so I was fully prepared.

My only job: Watch the green light and don’t move. This was my SOLE job during the procedure.

It’s OK, Nina. You can do this! Green light, green light, it’s OK, it’s OK… Everything Is OK. Green light, green light…

This was my mantra.

I’m on the table, my one eyeball pried open with a speculum, and the surgery begins.

More drops, a few second waiting, doctor scraping eyeball, the laser machine making a noise, more eye drops, DONE. Next eye… same thing… THAT’S IT! The entire thing was less than 15 minutes.

I can’t believe that was it! I’m done! I survived! I didn’t freak out AT ALL! I DID IT!!!!

I was taken to a resting room, given more eye drops, and then I was sent home. I finally got it done!

I couldn’t believe it was over. I couldn’t believe it was that easy!

PRO TIP: (HA!) Everyone talks about the gross and weird smell of your eyeballs getting lasered (apparently it smells like burnt hair?) – Here’s an eye corrective surgery hack – breathe through your mouth! I was prepped and did NOT want to smell my eyeballs as it was the top thing everyone mentioned as being the weirdest and grossest thing about the surgery. So yeah, when you get told the lasers are coming, breath through the mouth.

The logistics of getting LASEK laser eye surgery in South Korea

Prep for LASEK surgery:

  • No contacts for a week – at least. I did 10 days to be safe. (Two weeks for hard contacts)
  • Have a friend. Doing this alone may be a bit trickier.
  • Get some food in your fridge/make sure that friend is willing to go get food for you, you won’t want to leave the house.
  • Make sure you’re in a comfortable place. If you’re like me and are staying at an Airbnb while in South Korea (which I would 100% recommend over a hotel!!) then make sure you’re unpacked and things are in a place where it makes sense for you. You don’t want to rummage through luggage when you’re blind.
  • Get movies or shows ready on your device for afterward and make sure they are ones you have seen before. You will only be listening, not watching.
  • Go get your favorite thing and have it ready. Whatever it is. Your fav stuffed animal, tons of chocolates, your fav food waiting for you, a brand new pajama outfit that you want to live in forever… whatever it is, you deserve it and you’ll want something comforting. Treat yo’self.

After my LASEK eye surgery in South Korea

  • Know that pain might happen. Megan didn’t have any pain. I DID! I had pain 24 hours after surgery and for the next day or two randomly but nothing that bad.
  • I didn’t leave the house for four days straight. I’m pretty sure I left a permanent “Nina mold” on our Airbnb’s bed.
  • Your life will revolve around eye drops. Set an alarm so you don’t forget. There will be two sets of eye drops at 4 times a day 5 minutes apart that are mandatory, emergency eye drops for pain when needed, and then regular wetting eye drops randomly in between.
  • Get sunnies ready for when you’re finally ready to emerge from the room for the first time. I suggest doing a night walk for your first time, then moving up to getting a coffee in the morning. Keep sunnies on you all the time, even at night because Seoul likes lights and even lights inside the grocery store can be bright.
  • GIRLS: No makeup for two weeks! I know… Scary! Also, it sucks because Korea has fun beauty products!
  • After one week you will have your protective contacts removed, be prepared for another day of possible pain. Luckily, I was spared this time and I was fine.
  • PRO TIPS: (or a tip if you’re a dummy like me) Don’t have “offensive” food cooked in your presence. I, not once, but twice, was in severe pain, and I didn’t understand why because I was practically bathing in my emergency eye drops, and it wasn’t working! Finally, after the second time, I realized it was because Garrett was cooking onions and chilis for our meal. From then on I left the room (aka sat outside in the freezing cold) while he cooked. So stupid. SO STUPID.

Surgery DONE!

Leaving South Korea

  • The doctors will give you paperwork and information regarding your surgery since you’re leaving South Korea. Ideally, you would stay for a few months to get your check-ups, but if this isn’t in the cards like it wasn’t for me, you have the papers to show your next doctor.
  • Get one last check-up! At mine, only 10 days after surgery, without even fulling healing, I was seeing  BETTER than 20/20! I could read the second to last line of letters! It was a bit blurry and I was seeing a double letter, BUT I was able to recognize the letter right away. How AMAZING!?
  • Make sure you get all your eye drops to take with you.
  • UPDATE: Since I had to leave, I was slightly concerned about seeing a different doctor after getting the surgery. However, Mr. Choo said I was looking fine and unless I had any trouble or major discomfort, I may not have to visit a doctor. One year later—I’m totally fine and haven’t seen a doctor!

Costs: LASEK eye surgery in South Korea VS USA

OK, so how much? This is the huge question, right?

How much is it in the USA? At least $4,000 USD!

Eye correction surgery costs in the USA are not cheap.

In South Korea? $1400 USD. (Including my plethora of prescription eyedrops)

That’s a massive price difference! I’m not sure what the doctors are offering back in the USA but my surgery also comes with a guarantee. Should I ever need another surgery ever in my life, I can go back at no cost. I would just need to pay for my eye drops.

That’s a pretty sweet deal!

In fact, we spent less than $1000 USD per person for three weeks in South Korea which included a sweet road trip around Jeju IslandWe went exploring AND got my surgery for much less than just surgery in the USA. I win!

Why LASEK and Not LASIK

There are 101 million posts on the differences, so I won’t go into detail but essentially, South Korea hardly even offers LASIK anymore. It’s an older procedure. The healing time is wicked fast but 90% of the issues stem from the flap made in LASIK.

LASEK has no flap, and therefore, fewer issues arise if any. Also, dry eyes in the long term are less likely. LASEK wins but the recovery process is longer which is why the busy people in the USA will probably never convert to the more modern method of LASEK.

Results of my LASEK eye surgery in South Korea & an UPDATE!

Like I mentioned, I’m still healing as I write this, but I’m doing normal things already and can see well enough! Things just have a slight haze or blur over them, but it doesn’t hinder my everyday life anymore. It’s getting better and better!

I’ll update here when I feel I’m fully healed and can see to let you know how long it took for me. It regularly takes 5-8 weeks before you’re totally healed and at 20/20.

At the time of writing it’s only been three weeks.

UPDATE: Totally 100% perfect now and couldn’t be any happier! It took probably about three months for my night vision to be on point, but otherwise, everything is great. Even my morning dry eyes died down after about six months, and a year later, I rarely have dry eyes.

Where to get LASEK laser eye surgery in South Korea

I went to EyeMedi for my LASEK surgery and I could not have been happier with my choice to do so! Lovely people, caring staff and doctors, yes, they speak English, modern equipment, and a clean office, everything was perfect. I would recommend them to anyone who asks.

Please tell them I say hello!

 

I hope this helps anyone who may be thinking of getting LASEK laser eye surgery in South Korea! If you have any questions for me don’t be shy. Ask in the comments!


Pin this if you’re four-eyed (or just love me)!

**Please note your experience might be different than mine. I’m just sharing what happened to me, what I did and experienced. This isn’t a guide for prepping for your actual surgery, only your doctor can provide that. This is simply me writing about my experience.

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Isaac

Tuesday 25th of February 2020

Hey, I just want to thank you for your blog post, it was the final push I needed to do the surgery myself. I basically just followed your footsteps and went to the same place and everything! I even showed mr. Choo your blog and how it got me there, he said something like ‘oh yeah!’ And seemed to remember you. The 4th day was my worst with pain and I honestly started to think what have I done, half way around the world and I ruined my eyes! The pain eventually went away and my vision only started to improve after that. It’s been about a month now and I still feel like the whole trip and basically mini vacation in Seoul is one crazy dream. I’m only getting happier and happier that I did go, and i think I’ll end my rant here by simply saying again, thank you so much!

Nina Ragusa

Wednesday 26th of February 2020

THIS IS AMAZING!!!!! Thanks soooo much for coming back here to comment and let me know, it means a lot! Also, I feel you, when I started to have pain I panicked and thought, fuck wth did I do!? haha. Luckily it's very short and mild and all is good now. Happy that you can SEE NOW! And got a mini vacay out it. Enjoy not waking up and having to put contacts in or grab your glasses <3 :)

Ana

Thursday 10th of October 2019

Hi Nina,

I found this post while researching the procedure in Korea and wanted to ask how your eyes have held up thus far.

Thank you :)

Nina Ragusa

Thursday 10th of October 2019

Doing well and still glasses-free :) Best thing I've done.

Alx

Monday 1st of October 2018

I couldn't believe the racist first paragraph. What is wrong with you?

"Asia is full of shiesty doctors and ancient medical equipment?" Literally no one I know has this belief about Asia. (I'm Australian fyi)

Honestly disgusting.

Nina Ragusa

Thursday 4th of October 2018

It's so obviously sarcasm and "beliefs of others who don't travel". If you bothered reading or even clicked a thing or two you'd see I lived in Asia for over four years, love it, and get most medical needs done there. Get a life, troll elsewhere.

Jeff, J

Wednesday 19th of September 2018

Hi there. Writing bits on it since I am a South Korean. Apparently, you had very stupid stereotype about South Korea as you mentioned there might be use of untrustworthy and ancient equipment at that ophthalmology. Dude. Have life. Do you even watch News or some related media instead of Netflix or MLB? South Korea is 12th world largest economy country in the world, and South Koreans' IQ is the highest in the world, similarly South Korean students' mathematics and science grades are also highest in the world.

Do you know Samsung, LG, Hyundai or K-pop or even long history? Do you know some parts of Apple i-phone are Samsung products? South Korea is ranked as the First country of shipbuilding, semi conductor, LED Screen and some medical technology industries and so on in the world?

And also you mentioned that South Korea medical charge was cheap it's because of corrupted and stupid government. Loads of people who studied hard and a lot like doctors and lawyers are not so appreciated even though they sacrificed their teen and young lives for studies to be respectful individuals. Look at the States where you are from, Doctors there are well paid right? Because they deserve it since they sacrificed their young lives and joy for studies while people like you complaining about lives and going out around without efforts. Fyi, most of medical charges are under the Government insurance that is one of reasons why medical charge is cheap. And you were lucky enough to have cheap medical charge even if you are a foreigner. You have to know the medical charge for foreigners and local citizens bear no resemblance to each other.

The point here is South Korea has been doing very well since we were one of poorest countries in the world just 50 years ago, and built this such a great country within a few decades. and bear in mind that South Korea is a lot different from typical Asia countries that you have associated with when you were thinking of Asia countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia etc.

And do not forget that South Korean Ophthalmologist during your stay in South Korea is the one who gave you procedure and offered you cheap price with gentle manner.

Nina Ragusa

Thursday 20th of September 2018

Hi Jeff - did you even read the whole post before commenting? lol.

will

Tuesday 5th of June 2018

Nice post. I use to teach English in Korea. I still have a very good friend living there. I'm debating going to visit this summer for Lasik. In California it's almost $5k. My insurance will only cover $250 per eye. Did they Dr say its ok to fly (altitude pressure)? I was thinking about staying in Korea for 2 weeks.

Nina Ragusa

Wednesday 6th of June 2018

I got surgery a few hours after being on a plane and then flew about 10 days later.