Medical Tourism in Istanbul

I’ve worn glasses since I was eight and contact lenses since I was 12. They don’t normally give contacts to 12-year-olds, but since that was the same year I got braces, I wasn’t about to be that girl with glasses and braces. Luckily my dad helped me convince my optometrist that I was an especially mature 12-year-old and wouldn’t store my contacts on the edge of a can of Coke at night or only give them a quick saliva wash every fourth day.

I tried out my new lenses on the first day of sixth grade (along with my striped tee, demin miniskirt and too much Wet n’ Wild brown lipstick). Once I got to school, I realized I couldn’t see much of anything and when I got home that day, I informed my dad that the contacts were crap and they didn’t work. “Are you sure you actually put them in?” he asked. “Yes, of course I put them in,” I said. Later, I found two dried and crumpled lenses on the bathroom floor.

Since then, contact lens wearing has just become a part of my daily life and generally not too much of a pain in the ass except for when I drop hundreds to order new contacts every few months. Or that time two summers ago when my lenses contributed to me getting a corneal abrasion while camping and I ended up in middle of nowhere emergency room. On the ride back to DC, I threw up the painkillers I’d been given in a Taco Bell bag in my friend’s car and then again barefoot on the highway whilst wearing a pirate bandana tied tightly over my eyes. That wasn’t pretty. Or at least I assumed it wasn’t pretty because I couldn’t see anything for days.

So when Mr.YemenEm suggested we put money in a flexible spending account for me to get Lasik this year, I thought it was a great idea. Then we pretty much forgot about it until recently when we realized that money had to be spent by the end of December. A small problem considering we live in Yemen, which is not really a country where I’d feel comfortable having my eyeballs penetrated. But we were planning a five-day trip to Istanbul. So, I Googled “Lasik in Istanbul” and came up with an appealing option: Medical tourism. We found a company that offered packages that include laser eye surgery with an experienced surgeon, three nights at a luxury hotel, and a private tour of the city with a guide. After being informed by my kindly optometrist in DC that “Turkey has amazing technology, I think you’ll find this to be life-changing and I don’t see why you shouldn’t do it,” we booked.

We arrived in Istanbul on Oct. 27 and had a lovely time touring the city, which started with getting picked up at our gate in a golf cart and driven through the airport to the VIP passport line. Not bad. We spent a few days seeing the sights and eating the food, and you best belee I ate cheese with every meal. Observation on Istanbul: Nearly everyone in the city is Muslim, but it certainly didn’t feel like a particularly conservative city. Unlike Sana’a where every woman is covered in drapey black except for her eyes, headscarves weren’t even the norm, from what I saw. However, I didn’t see anyone wearing skirts. Women’s clothes, for the most part, were loose fitting, but still stylish. And, often, of 20 people in a restaurant, Mr.YemenEm and I would be the only ones drinking wine, while others sipped tea. (The alcohol tax in Turkey is sky high. We had Bloody Marys for brunch one day and they were $25 a pop). Anyways, I found Istanbul to be romantic, historic, beautiful, yet also very crowded, which was really nice after being confined to a hotel for nearly three months.

On day three of our vacation, it was time for me to go under the laser. We arrived at the clinic and I was relieved to see it looked legit and not at all like the shanty under a highway overpass that I was picturing in my worst-case scenario. They explained that a laser would zap 28 tiny holes in a circle around my iris in each eye, which would effectively unattach a tissue-paper thin layer of eyeball on the surface of my cornea. The doctor would then peel that flap back like opening a book, ew, and then the laser would zippity zap the exposed cornea, reshaping it into perfection and thus giving me good vision. Then the corneal flap would be placed back on and I’d start to heal. While the process sounded horrific, I knew it wouldn’t last long, so told myself to toughen up and get on with it. Mr.YemenEm declined to watch.

I laid down in the chair, the doctor popped open my numb eyeball with few plastic suction devices. I’d rather not relive what followed. Let’s just say, seeing a wire pick device pulling open and then shutting a flap of membrane on one’s eye is absolutely surreal and terrifying. The laser part wasn’t bad though. And then it was over. After sitting around for a while and trying to forget what had just happened to my eyes, we were driven back to our fancy hotel and I laid on our plush hotel bed while tears streamed out of my burning eyes and Mr.YemenEm watched some sub-par Adam Sandler comedy. Then, a few hours later we went to a delicious Italian dinner and I wore sunglasses in a dark restaurant.

Six days out, we’re back in Sana’a. My vision is still quite blurry (but about a million times better than it was before). I have burst blood vessels in my left eye and can’t wear eye makeup for the next few weeks, so I’m not looking my best. I’d love to be one of those people who declare “Lasik is the best thing I’ve ever done!” and hopefully I will be that person in a few weeks.  Or else we’re looking at another trip back to Istanbul for a touch-up. And while I’d love to eat more Turkish food and walk around a quaint yet bustling city, I do not want a metallic object skimming over my eyeball ever again.

To seeing things clearly,



  1. Hi,
    I’m considering getting Lasik in Istanbul. Did your vision improve or did you require another visit?

    1. Hi Derya, Yes, my vision did improve, but it took about a year or more for me to be fully satisfied with the results. Luckily, I didn’t need to go back to Istanbul (not that I would have minded another trip to Istanbul).

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