LASIK surgery ruined my eyes

I let my friend talk me into the procedure, and now I'm in hell.

Published August 29, 2006 10:32AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I had LASIK eye surgery a year and a half ago. Since then I have had a load of problems, including constantly dry eyes, halos, starbursts, bad night vision, etc. It has radically changed my life for the worse. I'm depressed, angry, crying at night or taking days off just to lie in bed all day. I'm also having suicidal thoughts. It has sucked the life out of me.

I'm angry at myself for making the decision to go along with this procedure. I'm angry at my surgeon for downplaying the risks and possible consequences. Since I'm reading more and more about my problems, I know now that I was not a good candidate for this kind of surgery.

But mostly I'm angry at my best friend. You see, I'm nothing of a risk taker. My motto is better safe than sorry. My best friend, whom I've known for 25 years, pushed me to do it, constantly calling me a cheapskate and a chicken. He hates glasses, so he would definitely have the surgery if he had the cash. (I make more money than he does.) His advice counted a lot to me and I thought he was the kick in the ass I needed. I don't like to get pity from people or have them think that I'm a poor unlucky sucker, so I've never told my friend about my surgical problems.

The main problem is that I blame him for my condition. I know that I would never have done the procedure if he had not pushed me. Now, every time I see him, I just want to punch him or yell at him!

What should I do? First, how can I deal with my pain? And second, should I keep seeing my best friend or just cut any contact with him?


Angry After Bad Surgery

Dear Angry,

I feel bad for you. You took a risk and suffered significant harm as a result. You are certainly not alone. Courts have awarded as much as $7.25 million in damages in suits over botched LASIK procedures.

But let's be clear about one thing: When we make decisions freely, no matter what role others play, the responsibility for the decision is ours. It cannot be otherwise. It may be that the doctor botched the procedure and bears responsibility for that. It may be that your friend urged you to take the risk. But you, not your friend and not the doctor, must take responsibility for the decision to risk it.

That is quite different from taking responsibility for the result. The result may be the doctor's fault. It may also be the fault of the equipment, or an accident that no one could have foreseen. But in dealing with the psychic pain, the regret, the bitterness, the self-recrimination, it helps to be clear: You made a decision to take a risk and it turned out bad. You take responsibility for the decision, but not the result. The result was out of your hands.

You made the best decision you could make under the circumstances. You were not very rigorous and thorough in your investigation. But that doesn't mean there's something wrong with you. You did what a lot of people do.

"I didn't do too much research on doctors; I used the one whom my insurance gave a discount for," states one lucky customer whose surgery turned out well. She took a risk, too, without much rigorous research, and it turned out just fine. She was lucky. You were not.

So I suggest that you first truly accept what has happened: You made a decision to take a risk and it turned out bad. It wasn't a hugely stupid decision; it was simply a decision to take a risk. Perhaps the risk was greater than you knew. But at heart it was the same thing we do when we drive a car on a rainy freeway at night, walk barefoot on the beach, jump out of trees, leave the door unlocked, eat certain foods: We trust, based on past experience, that things are going to be OK.

Now your job is to live with what has happened. One thing that will help you is to learn all you can about how to maximize and preserve the vision you have left. Identify those activities that are most troublesome and find ways around them. Become an expert. That will be empowering.

Another thing that will help you live with your damaged eyesight is to use your experience to help others avoid the same fate.

The Food and Drug Administration suggests that if you have a bad result with a medical procedure you report the results. Taking such action can help fix whatever problems exist with LASIK eye surgery.

You may want to consider legal remedies as well. As I say, you are certainly not alone.

I think you should tell your friend what happened. He may be enthusiastic and persuasive but irresponsible. He needs to know that his words have consequences. You're not whining if you tell him. You're just reporting the truth. And if you continue to hang out with him, just don't take any of his advice in the future.

As far as legal remedies go, I can't advise you what to do. For one thing, I'm not a lawyer. For another thing, I'm afraid you might actually take my advice!

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