Lost In Korea: Seeing 20/20 in Korea

Dispatches from the Road, Health & Safety, south korea — By on June 19, 2012 at 12:00 pm

by Kissairis Munoz

Special to The Lost Girls

Thinking of getting a medical procedure done in a different country? Here’s my story about getting laser eye surgery in Korea and a few suggestions to make sure you get the most out of it.

I’ve had terrible eyesight for the majority of my life. I remember carefully selecting my first pair of glasses in the first grade (pink and purple frames — some things never change), excited about being able to see clearly again. But after another 19 years of wearing glasses and contact lenses, having contacts rip, not being able to see in the ocean, and being pretty much blind as a bat without glasses or contacts, I was So. Over. It.

I’d thought about getting laser surgery before in the US but the cost was fairly prohibitive. It wasn’t until I landed in Korea that I started to consider it seriously again. It seemed like everyone I met, both Korean and foreign, had gotten the procedure. Everyone raved about the results—and the price. It’s a fraction of the price here than back in the States. With good word of mouth and a free consultation to determine whether you’re an eligible candidate, I figured I had nothing to lose.

After reading countless reviews and research, I settled on an eye clinic in Gangnam, one of Seoul’s trendy neighborhoods. I’d read that the place was slightly more expensive than other clinics, but it had several things going for it that were important to me. The main one was that the staff and doctors spoke English really well. I’d had friends who’d gone to Korean-only doctors and although they’d had great experiences, they always needed to coordinate visits with a Korean-speaking friend to translate. I wanted to be able to ask my own questions, and I knew I’d have a lot.

The follow-up care was also a factor. Included in the price of my surgery was the actual procedure, all my follow-up visits and eye care (like eye drops) — for life. Not a bad deal. Finally, I’d read impressive reviews from other foreigners.

After a lengthy two-hour consultation one Saturday afternoon, after my eyes were poked, prodded, opened, closed, and dilated to no end, the doctor gave me the good news. I could get the surgery done! It wasn’t LASIK, the popular option in the US, but rather LASEK, a similar procedure with a longer recovery time but a more reliable track record. I made the appointment that same day for Friday, April 13, crossing my fingers that all the superstitions about the day wouldn’t prove to be true. I think it worked because the procedure couldn’t have gone more smoothly.

Upon arrival, my nurse (that’s right, my own private nurse!) had me watch a video that demonstrated what’d be happening in a few minutes. After guiding me into a medical gown and slippers, I was led into the surgery room. Once the doctor came in, I knew I’d made the right choice in having someone speak English; before any move he made, he would explain what he was about to do and how I’d feel. Although it still felt funny having my eyes propped open and then burned with a laser, it helped to know what to expect. The entire procedure took less than 20 minutes, not even long to get scared during. Well… not much.

By the time I hopped off the operating bed, I could see much better than I ever had been able to without glasses or contacts. Although the first few days after surgery were uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful, a few days of discomfort was definitely worth it to me to never have to worry about wearing glasses or contacts again. And the best part? After just 10 days, my eyes were at 20/20 vision! Now, two months later, both eyes are even better than that and my recovery has gone really well. And all for just under $1,500.

If you want to get something similar done in another country, I’d suggest keeping a few things in mind. First, will you be able to communicate with the doctors to ask questions, learn about risks, etc? While you certainly can have someone translate, I personally think it’s so much easier and you’ll feel more at ease being able to hear and understand answers yourself straight from the doctor’s mouth.

Second, make sure you understand all the risks and what will be covered if something does go wrong. If you’re getting something done that requires follow-up care, make sure the procedure is scheduled far enough in advance to allow you to get the care you need. Additionally, if you’re returning to your home country, it’s wise to search and make sure there’s someone in your area who can deal with anything that might arise after you’ve left the original country. You don’t want a problem to arise later and realize the closest doctor who can help you is a 5-hour drive.

I had a wonderful experience with my doctors and the whole procedure. I found the level of attention and care they gave me to be superior to anything I’ve received in the US and at a real bargain price. So if you need a pricier medical procedure done, you might want to consider having it done elsewhere. As for me, I’m just enjoying life with perfect vision.

Photo credit: peretzp, Capt’Gorgeous, Oswoldo Rubio/flickr

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