In my late teens I started work on a new newspaper being launched in my city.
I was fresh out of journalism college and keen to start work in the newsroom with fancy new computers. Computers with green screens and fluorescent green type flickering across it. Remember them, for that was technology back in the day!
Soon after I was having to wear glasses. Soon after that I was a contact lens wearer.
And that’s been me for the past 20-plus years.
Fast forward to today and I have perfect vision without the aid of lenses of any description other than the one in my actual eye.
For I have had laser eye surgery courtesy of Optical Express and it’s been a marvel.
I agonised over whether to accept the offer to be part of Optical Express’s Team 21 blogger outreach initiative because, well IT’S MY EYES.
I’m not the bravest of folk. My mum had her eyes lasered 17 years ago. I do not have her pioneering sense of adventure.
So I went along for a consultation at my local branch. I didn’t have to say yes if I really didn’t want to go ahead with it, so I figured I didn’t have anything to lose.
The optometrist I met was fabulous. Knowledgeable, patient, answered every question I asked, had had the surgery herself (along with her mum and her sister).
I left feeling rather excited that this thing that I had never even considered before now was just a couple of weeks away. For yes, I booked myself in there and then. I’m having the Advanced CustomVue Wavefront LASEK surgery*. Oooooo. I am going to be bionic. Sort of.
So here is a breakdown of my experience of laser eye surgery.
Not everyone is the same, just as not all laser eye surgery is the same. I have thin corneas apparently. Not sure if that is something I’m supposed to be embarrassed about, but it did mean I had slightly different surgery to many of the other Team 21 members.
My prescription isn’t huge -3 in one eye, -3.5 in the other, but I can’t see without my glasses. The first thing I do every single morning is reach for the bedside table to check they are there.
I am surprisingly completely lacking in nerves. I do manage to send a whole cup of water flying across the waiting area at Optical Express, but that’s more to do with me being clumsy that anxious.
All the tests from the consultation day are repeated (cornea thickness, prescription, a machine that you staaaare at and try not to blink) which takes a good couple of hours. Then the surgeon looks over my results and finally, after all that, I get to meet him.
My surgeon is Alex George and he’s very professional and matter of fact. He says that all looks in order and in just a few minutes we can go through for the surgery.
The room is quite big, with a large, white contraption in the middle which I have to lie underneath.
I settle back onto the bed and take my glasses off and a nurse appears above me giving me instructions. Her face is a blur but she is absolutely lovely and instantly puts me at ease.
Remember to breathe
The smell is the gas from the machine
Nothing will hurt or feel uncomfortable. Nothing
You will feel like you’re underwater when things are done to your eyes
Please. Try. To. Relax
Then the eye drops go in. Lots and lots and lots of anaesthetic eyedrops.
One of the things I’m most worried about is having to keep my eyes open long enough for the laser to do it’s thing. Your eyes are ‘clamped’ open with some device, but I can honestly say it wasn’t uncomfortable or irritating or stopping me from blinking. I hardly knew it was there.
The surgeon begins. He fiddles around with my first eye. I’ve no idea what he’s doing – I don’t want to know – but I feel like I’m underwater. Then the laser does it’s thing. It’s kind of like staring into the cosmos and you get to see all these cool star bursts and planets and worm holes. Only I really didn’t like it. It’s not uncomfortable or unpleasant, I just don’t like it. When things are happening to me I’m not entirely comfortable with I close my eyes. Only here I can’t. I HAVE to look.
We move onto the next eye. It takes no time at all. In fact it’s all finished and it’s been ridiculously quick.
Nothing hurts or feels even slightly uncomfortable in any way, shape or form. It’s just really really weird.
The nurse is over me again. And it’s hazy and watery and strange, but by jove I can SEE her.
I am now in the recovery room. I feel absolutely fine – what recovery? The name is a bit of a misnomer. Another member of the team is running me through the aftercare. Eyedrops. Lots and lots of eyedrops. Can’t wear make up for a week (EEK), can’t swim, must be careful showering. Can’t play rugby. Damn it.
My mum drives me the half hour journey home and I go straight to bed. I can never usually nap during the day. I fall fast asleep for a good two hours.
Four hours after surgery I have this stinging sensation – kind of what you get when you cut up a million onions. I’m guessing.
I’m chowing down on pain killers to make sure I get a decent night’s sleep.
At night I have to wear an attractive pair of goggles to ensure I don’t rub my eyes or poke myself in the eyeball during the night. I look ridiculous and I don’t care.
Awful night’s sleep. Awful. I woke every two hours to pain in my one eye. It’s not really bad but it’s bad enough that I can’t sleep, so I get up at apply the anaesthetic drops I’ve been sent home with. You’re supposed to use them sparingly and only in emergencies, but if i don’t use them I swear I won’t sleep.
I wake to discover someone shining a 2,000w bulb directly on my face. It’s only the November sunlight shining through the curtains, but MY GOD the light sensitivity is fierce.
I spend the whole day in the biggest sunglasses I can lay my hands on. And I am weeping. Weeping weeping weeping. I cannot believe how much water is coming out of my eyes.
The kids think I look hilarious. I’m not laughing.
I am back at Optical Express for a check up. All is well, but I have to navigate a shopping mall and the glaringly bright lights of the store and so when I sit and have my check up I can barely open my eyelids!
All is well though. Everything is healing as it should and I just need to give it time.
A lovely friend invites us over for dinner so I don’t have to stand in a kitchen and attempt to cook. We arrive at her house about 8pm in the dark (I’m still wearing sunglasses) and she’s dimmed all the lights god bless her, and the front door opens to them all wearing shades. Love them.
I sit there in the dimmest light all night still wearing my shades.
I don’t feel as though I’ve chopped quite so many onions this time, but my eyes are still watering for Britain.
One of the things I’ve learnt is you really do need to prepare before you go in. Answer any emails, cut your toe nails, wax your legs because you will NOT be doing it afterwards if you’ve had my kind of surgery.
Also warn everyone you’re going to be in a bad mood.
I start hearing about other members of Team 21 and their recovery has been SO much better than mine and I start to think I’ve done something wrong or I’m a freak of nature.
But upon investigation it turns out the surgery I had – LASEK – does take longer to recover from. Like two weeks after the surgery it turns out. And it can be more painful to recover from.
Bloody thin corneas.
I have a much better night’s sleep.
I am back for another eye appointment to have the ‘lens bandages’ removed. This time there is no pain or discomfort or raging light sensitivity. But everything is still blurry. I’m convinced the minute those lenses come out all will come into sharp focus. Disappointingly it doesn’t.
My mother in law and I go shopping afterwards and for the first time every I don’t enjoy it because I just can’t see everything clearly.
It’s been a week since the surgery and I wake up in the mornings and SEE. I look out of my kitchen window and can see the oak tree in the distance that I could NEVER have seen without my lenses or my glasses.
I’m not quite there yet. Apparently it could take up to a year for my eyes to fully repair. It took a good week before I could use the computer or feel confident enough to drive, which wasn’t fully explained to me when I was told I was having LASEK surgery. And as my job is computer based and I do the school run every day, this was very limiting.
I also have slight ‘ghosting’ around things but I’m told this is because my eyes are still swollen and I need to keep up with the anti-inflammatory eye drops and that things will crisp up after five or six weeks.
It’s been a long road to get here and the recovery has been tough. But it’s been totally worth it. If not ONLY for the reason that I no longer have to stand there fiddling with my contact lenses every night; removing, cleaning, fishing out from the plughole.
I’m afraid I’ve become one of those annoying people who spouts: “It’s the best thing I ever did!”
NOTE: I’ve just been back for my two-week post surgery appointment and everything is healing really well and in the eye test I can read the sight test for 20/20 vision – AND two rows below that. The letters are still a little out of focus but the optometrist tells me that will sharpen up in a couple of weeks.
Surgery is a major success.
* Wavefront technology was originally developed for use in high powered telescopes to reduce distortions when viewing distant objects in space. Now, it’s being used to identify, measure and correct people’s eyes 24 times more precisely than with conventional methods used for glasses and contact lenses, apparently.
There are lots of other interesting reads of people’s experiences of laser eye surgery with Optical Express on their Facebook page from bloggers like me. Lots of different experiences and different surgeries, so if you’re thinking of going down this route, pop over for a read.
The difference between LASIK and LASEK surgery
LASIK: A flap is cut in the cornea of the eye, peeled back and the laser does it’s thing re-shaping the inner surface of the eye.
LASEK: If you have thin corneas and/or play contact sports there is a danger this flap can be dislodged following treatment. So instead, a solution is used to loosen the outer layer of the eye, it is then moved and the laser reshapes the outer surface of the eye. A bandage lens is applied to protect the eye as this layer of cells re-grows.