After years of curiosity, months of indecision and, irresistibly, the promise of free treatment, I went under the knife – or rather the laser – in the name of investigative journalism.
Optical Express has looked after my teeth for long enough so, given its name, eyes should present no problem. I was in safe, steady hands: David Teenan, a surgeon who fixes facial bulbs as nonchalantly as a car mechanic fixes tyres, told me he was prohibited from drinking coffee during working hours. Shame his bosses weren’t so strict on him bringing Sting’s Greatest Hits to work.
Laser eye surgery is merely the latest manifestation of a premature, oddly eco-friendly mid-life crisis, following the downgrade from carbon-crazy sporty roadster to diesel-efficient family car (minus the family). Prior to last week, my vision had gradually deteriorated for more than a decade, partly as a result of some genetic deficiency shared by billions worldwide and partly because of the flickering screen on my Atex Crash-and-Freeze Classic (MK I) that IT promised to replace eight years ago.
Failing eyesight is an occupational hazard for a journalist. At least, that’s my excuse. I have suffered shortsightedness for as long as I can remember, which is not that long.
I first encountered the milky hopelessness during a standard grade double maths period. Differentiation? I could not differentiate between Mr Cavanagh’s seemingly psychotic array of xs and ys, far less mould them into a formulaic masterpiece.
Trouble was, he also coached the school fitba’ team and regularly took retribution when it came to selecting the starting line-up. Which brings me to this critical question.
I never confessed to waning eyesight until I was released by Queens Parks age 16 ¾: might this have cost me along and lucrative career? If only I had a talent implant to go with the laser surgery. Having emboldened myself for surgery, it was a surprise to discover the number of friends and colleagues ready to belittle my anxiety.
“Ach, I had it done months ago,” they chimed, with an irritating boastfulness only I could detect. “It’s easy. The best thing you’ll ever do.”
Now, there are many outstanding ambitions in life, but having my corneal flap removed and my poor, underdeveloped eyes stung by a computer-driven contraption does not rank in the top 10 of “things to do before I die”. But of course, they were right.
The Australian accent is oddly soothing when you are being told, graphically, what Dr Teenan is going to inflict on your baby browns. So impressive a procedure is laser eye surgery, I even had my own counsellor, Louise. She was sympathetic to my every question, even the involuntary and deadly serious one: “How long after surgery can I start wearing my contacts again?” When fumbling blindly for your prescription Guess goggles becomes part of the morning ritual, old habits die hard. She had the last laugh by predicting I will need reading glasses at 40.
Jill, my laser optometrist, decided on my behalf which procedure was most suitable, a relief since there are more permutations than a Jimmy Calderwood tactics board. For starters, LASIK/LASEK treatments may sound the same but there is a whole visual world of difference: while the former treats the inner corneal layers, the latter is surface-based.
IntraLase removes the need for a hammer and chisel around the corneal flap, while Wavefront technology makes you see through cast-iron vaults and around corners.
Since I wasn’t picking up the tab, we went for the BluRay of eye ops: LASIK with Wavefront IntraLase. Pity those poor Betamax customers, I thought, aloofly.
The pain was like nothing I had experienced before.
Sorry just a joke for those of you still undecided. The operating theatre was strangely therapeutic. Well at least compared with the waiting room, where the only other patient happened to be a former companion who would doubtless have berated me for my unchivalrous past behaviour had she not been: a) preoccupied with imminent surgery; b) wearing Ugly Betty’s specs; c) celebrating her birthday or; d) being comforted by her mother. Phew.
In truth, the operation was not as harrowing as I had expected – that is, during the sleepless night before, reminiscent of the drill-to-eye-socket scene in Hostel.
I was in good company, too. A host of celebrities have undergone, and since endorsed, laser eye surgery – among them Tiger Woods, Brad Pitt, Nicole Kidman, Jessica Simpson and, wait for it, Cheryl Baker. Apparently she had no problem making her mind up. A six side team took turns to comfort and soothe – one surgeon, two laser technicians, one laser manager, one laser nurse and a patient carer.
One of them even turned down Message in a Bottle on request and confirmed that, had I arrived 24 hours earlier, I could have had my vision restored to the delights of Folsom Prison Blues. The discomfort of the eye clamps aside, the operation was no more than occasionally uncomfortable.
Bluntly, I have been more traumatised upstairs in the dental clinic by Hans’s anaesthetic syringe and ropey Austrian humor. The discomfort lasted about five minutes per eye (or Spirits in the Material World followed by Synchronicity I) before being escorted out with a bag full of eye drops to a waiting car of petrified parents.
Recovery time varies but immediate rest is demanded by mothers and surgeons alike. I slept in my parents bed for the first time since I was elected Man of the House when my father was on nightshift. I was 24.
My dad, bless him was a constant source of reassurance before the op: “Make sure you get one of those white sticks – and do they supply a free guide dog?”
This from a man who reads the Herald (or more commonly Nuts magazine) from the same distance Phil Taylor throws a dart.
The real pain is the price, but even then, popularity has risen in correlation with affordability. The basic procedure costs £395 per eye, while the blue ray equivalent will set you back around £1000 per eye.
Vision is restored gradually but impressively. In fact the morning after, I could see my mum throw my good white linen shirt in with the colour bundle from two rooms away, and watch my dad slaver over page 3’s news in briefs. Clearly.
The Herald – 3rd September 2007