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Team 21: Ruth Arnold – Why I’m Not Suitable For Laser Eye Surgery

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I remember when we first discovered I couldn’t see very well. I was probably about seven, and we’d been driving as a family somewhere in the car. On the way back,my Mum suddenly got all excited and started saying “Look, it’s the Red Arrows”.

I couldn’t see what she was talking about. She was pointing at the sky, but all I could see was sky. Eventually she lent me her glasses, everything came into focus, and I could see the aeroplanes up there! Shortly afterwards came my first trip to the opticians, and my first pair of National Health glasses. I started off just needing my glasses to read the blackboard at school, but my eyesight gradually deteriorated until by the time I was in the Sixth form I had to wear them all the time.

I’ve never liked wearing glasses. I hate having something permanently in front of my face, and I am always very self-conscious about them. For my 17th birthday my Mum bought me my first pair of contact lenses, and it was life-changing. I went through the hard graft of getting my eyes used to rigid gas permeable lenses (and trust me, the first few times you wear them it feels like you have big lumps of grit in your eye), and have worn them ever since.

I first became aware of the existence of laser eye surgery about 10 years ago, when a couple of my good friends had it. Both raved about the treatment and said it was truly life-changing to wake up and be able to read the time on the clock without having to find their glasses on the bedside table first, or how much easier it made their family swimming trips.

I was interested, but felt slightly squeamish about the whole thing so never made too much of an effort to find out more. It always remained something I was intrigued by, and when I was pregnant with the geekdaughter there was a couple who were both opticians in our NCT antenatal class, and I briefly talked to them about laser eye surgery. When I told them my prescription the wife pulled a face. “That’s similar to my husband, and I won’t let him have it done!”.

An image of me and my children

So I got into the habit of dismissing any further thoughts of laser eye surgery any time they popped into my head. Until the email arrived from Optical Express. They were inviting me to become part of their “Team 21? – a group of bloggers being offered laser eye surgery to celebrate their 21st anniversary of providing this treatment. After establishing that yes, they really were serious, I cautiously agreed to go along for a consultation.

The consultation took place at my closest Optical Express branch- the Trafford Centre in Manchester. I left the geekdaddy to entertain the kids while I went in for what turned out to be the most comprehensive eye examination I have ever had in my life.

I had been warned to allow up to two hours for the whole experience, and it took about that long in the end. I went through the full spectrum of standard tests, including the one where they puff air into your eyes, which always makes me jump. In addition, my eyes were scanned and measured to see if they could be operated on. I saw several different members of staff during the process, and they were all friendly and approachable.

The culmination of the tests was a very thorough eyesight examination with the optician who also examined my scan results and advised me on which treatment would be most suitable. A word of caution at this point – part of this examination involved putting drops in my eyes to force the pupils to dilate fully. That made it extremely difficult to see, an effect that lasted a few hours after the consultation. I would not have been able to drive home on my own, so if you are going for this consultation, make sure you have someone else with you to bring you home afterwards.

Anyway, back to my consultation. The optician confirmed some stuff I already knew – I am very short sighted, and I have quite a large astigmatism. Both of these conditions can be treated with laser eye surgery, but there is another factor – the thickness of your cornea. Because laser eye surgery basically involves re-sculpting your cornea to correct your eyesight, the surgeons have to be sure that you have enough cornea to support some of it being lasered away. And when they took the measurements it became clear that my corneas were not thick enough to support the correction of my prescription through laser eye surgery.

Optical Express did inform me that they offer another procedure which would be suitable for correcting my prescription – Phakic Intraocular Lens surgery. This basically involves permanently inserting a contact lens beneath the surface of the eye. It’s a much more complex procedure, and has to be done over a longer period – whereas with laser eye surgery both eyes are treated in the same session, for phakic intraocular lens surgery each eye is treated separately, one week apart.

Unsurprisingly, it’s also a more expensive process. If I wanted to explore that as a possibility my next step would be another consultation, with the surgeon who would undertake the procedure, to talk through the details. This all started sounding a lot more complex to me, so at that point I decided to not take things any further, and leave my eyes the way they are.

Am I disappointed I can’t have laser eye surgery? Yes and no. I always knew my prescription was complex, so was never sure I would be suitable for the procedure, so I hadn’t completely set my heart on having it done, if that makes sense. Whilst I would love to be able to see the moment I wake up in the morning, and go swimming without having to wear my glasses, I can at least cope with my eyesight the way it is – after all, I’ve been doing that for years.

So whilst I can’t make any comments on what it’s like to have laser eye surgery, I would certainly encourage anyone even vaguely interested in having it done to go along for a free consultation and find out if it’s an option for you.

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